How To Wash a Motorcycle
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A consistent wash schedule for your motorcycle will keep it looking social media ready, as well as keep its parts in healthy shape. It doesn’t need a wash every single day (though it won’t hurt), but regular care will keep it in tip-top order.
Unlike cars that primarily keep their parts tucked away and hidden from the elements, motorcycles leave many mechanical parts exposed to the road’s detrimental typhoon of filth. So although the process of washing a car is similar to the process of washing a motorcycle, there are small differences that require special attention.
Nobody else is lining up to clean your motorcycle, so it’s up to you to protect your investment for the duration of its life. The Drive’s crack informational team is here to show you how to get the job done.
Let’s get it.
Basics of Washing a Motorcycle
Estimated Time Needed: Half-hour
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Exterior
Motorcycle Wash Safety
Washing a motorcycle is a simple, low-risk task, but cleaning products could be toxic. Be sure not to get any soaps, waxes, shines, detailers, or grime in your eyes, mouth, or open wounds. Wear gloves if you want to keep your hands clean from the chemicals.
- Nitrile gloves (optional)
Everything You’ll Need To Wash a Motorcycle
Using the wrong items, such as a dishtowel or dish soap to clean your bike could damage the paint. And there are thousands of different cleaning options, each of which has a different mission, uses different chemicals, should be applied differently, and reacts uniquely to various materials. Always read the instructions on the cleaners you’re using.
As for what’s needed, a few cheap purchases, some of which you’ll only have to buy once, will greatly upgrade the effectiveness of your next wash. Here’s what you need:
- Water hose
- Two buckets
- Two dirt traps
- Microfiber Car Wash Mitt
- Microfiber Towels
- Motorcycle Cleaner
- Wheel Brush (Note: Never use your wheel cleaning device on the vehicle body)
- Small detail brush
- Plexiglass cleaner
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable for your motorcycle's wash, will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
Related post: Best Motorcycle Windshield Cleaners
You’ll also need a flat workspace if you want to wash your motorcycle properly, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Here’s How To Wash Your Motorcycle with the Two-Bucket Method
The two-bucket method aims to reduce the amount of dirt and grime in your wash mitt that could potentially damage a vehicle’s paint. One bucket is filled with plain water for rinsing, while the other is mixed with soap. At the start, rinse the mitt with the hose and in the plain water bucket. Then dip it in the soapy water and start washing the vehicle.
Once that section is complete, thoroughly rinse the dirty mitt in the plain water before once again dipping the mitt in the soapy water. The hope is that most of the dirt falls to the bottom of the buckets and is trapped by the guards. If the vehicle is extra dirty, it’s never a bad idea to dump out dirty water mid-wash and replace it with fresh clean water.
Now, let’s do this!
- With dirt traps at the bottom of each bucket, fill both with water and add the soap to one.
- Locate any areas with heavy dirt or grime on the motorcycle, spray with a high-pressure targeted setting, agitate with a mitt, and rinse.
- Rinse the rest of the motorcycle, top, body, wheels, and underneath, with the hose. Let the water momentarily soak to soften the dirt, but don’t let it dry.
- Using the wheel-specific brush, clean the wheels first. You don’t want to finish washing the bike, then have to worry about splashing and dirtying it right back up by washing the wheels last.
- After a thorough scrub, rinse the wheels.
- Use the small detail brush to break up or clean any hard-to-reach corners and crevices and spray the whole vehicle again.
- With a lathered up mitt, start washing the motorcycle from the top and proceed down toward the ground.
- Wash and rinse the motorcycle in sections to help prevent dried streaks and/or water spots.
- Once all parts of the motorcycle have been washed, rinse the entire vehicle again.
- Use one towel to quickly soak up the large majority of the water around the whole motorcycle.
- Use a second dry towel to detail dry.
- Clean the Motorcycle Chain
Everything You'll Need to Clean and Lubricate Your Motorcycle Chain
Many motorcycles are driven by a chain, and it's crucial to keep these chains clean and lubricated. Regular plain chains and sealed chains, those with o-rings included into the chain design, require slightly different care, but both can be cleaned with motorcycle chain cleaner and kerosene. Make sure the bike is turned off, and let's walk through the process.
- Liquid-proof gloves
- Safety Glasses
- Motorcycle Lift or stand
- Kerosene or Wheel Cleaner
- Motorcycle Chain Cleaner
- Motorcycle Chain Lubricant*
- Motorcycle grunge brush or regular soft-bristled brush
- Old, but clean, towel, rag, shirt, or sock
*There is an endless variety of chain lubricants out there, and everybody has their own personal favorites. To determine what you need, read your motorcycle manual for the suggested type of lubricant and how to apply it.
- Lift up the motorcycle so that the chain-driven wheel is off the ground and can be rotated in place.
- While rotating the wheel and chain, spray the chain with kerosene or wheel cleaner.
- After a moment of soaking, use your brush to scrub the chain and break up grime.
- Wipe the dirt and cleaner away with a towel or rag.
- Repeat steps 2-4 until you feel comfortable with the level of cleanliness.
- Wipe chain dry.
- For plain metal chains, apply lubricant heavily. For sealed chains apply a small amount of chain lubricant. Be sure to hit the inside of the chain, the outside of the chain as well as both side portions.
- Gently wipe off excess lubricant from the chain and clean the surrounding area of chain lube.
Great work, you're ready to ride.
For any specialty motorcycle equipment and chain maintenance needs, visit our fanatic friends at RevZilla.
Get Help With Washing Your Motorcycle From a Mechanic On JustAnswer
The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.
So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you.
Pro Tips to Washing a Motorcycle
The Drive’s editors have washed countless rides over the years, and we’ve picked up a handful of pro tips along the way. Check these out.
- Wear clothes with soft surfaces. Jeans, for example, have metal that could scratch the motorcycle.
- Always park in the shade, and if there isn’t any, wait for it. In the sun, the heat could dry washing chemicals or water streaks onto your vehicle.
- Don’t ignore the splash guards and underneath the bike. Just because these sections aren’t visible does not excuse half-effort cleaning. These spots are hit with more dirt and grime than any other part of the vehicle and require extra attention to get it all off.
How Often Do You Need To Wash Your Motorcycle?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s important to wash your motorcycle at least every two weeks. Obsessives will do it every week, or sometimes more frequently. Additionally, irregular dirt such as road salt and bug guts require immediate attention to prevent paint or metal damage. Here are a number of common reasons to wash your bike more often.
Common Reasons to Wash Your Motorcycle More Often
- Road salt
- Animal droppings
- Insect assaults
- Dirt and mud
- Tree sap
- Tar and other road grime
- Stagnant water
- Brake dust
How Much Does It Cost To Wash a Motorcycle?
We always recommend hand-washing a motorcycle, and affordable wash kits are available for less than $25. More professional products can cost more than $100 in total.
Maintaining a Clean Motorcycle
Once a motorcycle is washed, there are several ways to elevate its cleanliness, smoothness, and shine. To give you that extra sparkle, follow The Drive’s other detailing and cleaning guides to add protection and gloss to your ride:
Featured Motorcycle Washing Products
Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org