Congratulations! You are the new owner of a motorcycle and it is truly one of the best feelings in the world. You will, of course, want to take your bike out immediately and ride everywhere. All that riding means your shiny motorcycle is going to be dusty, dirty, and muddy, which is why you are searching ‘how to wash your motorcycle’ on the web. Well, look no further because we have all the steps to keep your chrome shining, your windshield clear, and your chain running smooth.
You can ask five different motorcycle owners how often they wash their bike and how to clean a motorcycle and you can get five different answers, but, as a general rule for all bike owners, washing your bike at least once every two weeks will be beneficial to keep your bike looking great and running smoothly. Washing your bike more often will always have it ready for you to take show-stopping photos for social media.
There are certain circumstances that may warrant an immediate wash after riding, such as a muddy bike, a windshield full of bug guts, an extreme coating of dust, etc, but we will give you the breakdown of what a basic bike wash entails for all the newbies out there.
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How to Get Started
What You'll Need
- 2 buckets
- 2 dirt traps (not necessary but will make sure dirt or grit is trapped)
- Microfiber car washing mitt
- Microfiber towels for drying
- Motorcycle spray cleaner
- Motorcycle wax
- Tire brush
- Plexiglass cleaner (if you have a windshield)
Other Supplies Needed:
- A muffler plug (or a cloth to plug exhaust with)
- Chain lube
- Garden Hose
The Two Bucket Method
We’ve found the best way to wash a motorcycle is to use the two bucket method. The two bucket method uses one bucket with plain water and one bucket with soapy water. The separate buckets make sure that any dirt or grit will be removed from your cleaning mitt in the water bucket instead of the soap bucket, which could potentially scratch your paint or chrome.
Having the correct cleaning supplies in your toolkit will keep your bike looking great and operating correctly. If you don’t have the right cleaner or drying cloths, you could end up doing some serious damage to your bike’s paint or chrome. When it comes to what to wash your motorcycle with, the best answer is a microfiber cleaning mitt, but if you can find a microfiber glove will work best for detailing.
Making the correct purchases on cleaning supplies when you purchase your bike is a small investment to make sure your bigger investment stays clean and functional for years to come.
Setting Up Your Washing Area
You’ll want to set up your workplace on a flat surface in the shade. Washing your motorcycle in direct sunlight can cause the chemicals and/or water to dry faster when you apply it to your bike, which can cause annoying water spots and streaks. Defeats the purpose, right? Set up your buckets and, if you are using them, place your dirt traps in the bottom. Fill one of your buckets with water and the other with water and automotive soap (follow the directions on the product for correct use.) Please, please, for the love of all that is good in the world, never use dishwashing soap to clean your motorcycle.
Before you get to spraying down your motorcycle, take a minute to plug the exhaust. You can do this with a muffler plug, a rag, or you can put a disposable latex glove over the opening of your exhaust. Water pooling inside the exhaust is more common with pipes that are angled upwards, but it’s a lot better to be safe than sorry when it comes to keeping your bike safe.
Remember: NEVER wash your bike when it’s hot! If you were out riding recently, let it cool down completely. Mixing cold water and a hot bike can leave you with damage to the exterior of your bike. A rule of thumb is if you can put the backside of your hand on your paint without it burning your hand it is good to wash.
First Spray of Your Motorcycle
Now that you are done setting your workspace and prepping your bike, it’s time to get down to business.
The first step is to spray your dry motorcycle with a specialized motorcycle cleaning spray to make it easier for you to remove any of the dirt, dust, and other unwanted particles from your bike because chances are, there will be some gunk on there that isn’t going to want to come off. After letting the spray work its magic to get the top layer of grime off, spray your bike down with a hose on normal spray pressure. Be sure to not use a super pressurized water stream on your motorcycle, as this can cause damage to your paint and the engine.
Pro Tip: The less time you spend scrubbing your bike, the less potential to damage the exterior with any grit that is hiding on your bike.
Washing Your Windshield
If you have a windshield, this is the time to spray it down to loosen any debris. If you have a large bug collection on your ride, it’s a good idea to take a very wet, non-scratch, towel and lay it across the windshield so it can soak through all the bugs that tried to hitch a ride with you. After a few minutes, gently wipe the same towel to remove all of your loosened bug friends. The goal is for the spraying and soaking to remove most of the grime, so you don’t have to do much else. The idea is to minimize the risk of scratching your windshield by letting the spraying and soaking do most of the work.
When cleaning your windshield, here are some things to remember:
Never use paper towels to wipe your windshield. The material difference between a car and a motorcycle windshield is very different and anything besides a soft cloth can leave you with scratches.
Don’t use aggressive cleaning agents such as Windex or any cleaner with alcohol in it. These harsh chemicals can break down the plastic used in the windshield and compromise its integrity.
Be mindful to be gentle when cleaning your windshield. The plastic is easily scratched and any debris that is left on the surface when you are drying can cause damage to the surface.
Washing Your Wheels
Next, you’ll want to show some love to your wheels and give them a deep clean. By washing the wheels before the body of your bike you are making sure you don’t get any wheel gunk on your freshly-cleaned motorcycle and have to go through the process again. You’ll need a brush specifically designed for wheels and spokes to get the best clean, while not damaging any parts of your wheel. You can get a motorcycle detailing kit that includes specific tools to use for your tires, but it isn’t necessary to get an optimal tire clean.
Dip your wheel brush in the soapy washer bucket and get to scrubbing! It might take little elbow grease and several brush cleanings (dip in the water bucket first) to get the grime off your wheels. After you are satisfied with your wheels, spray them down with the hose. Inspect for any crevices that still might be dirty and get your small detailing brush, such as a toothbrush, out and clean the smaller areas that might have been missed initially. After the final wheel detailing, spray the wheels and the entire bike with your hose.
Washing Your Motorcycle with Soap
Now that your wheels are spotless, it’s time to clean the rest of your motorcycle. You want to start by dipping your microfiber mitt into your soapy bucket and clean from the top of your bike and work your way down the bottom. Working from top to bottom ensures you aren’t bringing large pieces of grit from the bottom of your bike to the top, where they could scratch your paint and/or chrome. Breaking your bike into sections while cleaning will allow you to get a streak-free shine and make sure that it is drying as evenly as possible.
If you have bug guts stuck on your bike, the easiest way to get them off is to let the soapy water soak on your bike. Scrubbing at these problem areas will get your bike clean, but it will also leave smears and streaks of the big remnants (ew) and you don’t want that when the objective is to get a spotless shine.
Your bike has been soaked, sudsed, and scrubbed… now what? Now it’s time for a final spray down with the hose. No matter how dirty your bike is, you should always resist the urge to use a high-pressure water stream on your bike; there’s always a chance that the water can take off decals, damage the paint, or get inside electric housing.
Drying Your Motorcycle
The next step is to dry your bike. There are tricks to getting your bike to dry without any swirls or spots and that trick is...AIR. No, we don’t mean riding your bike around the block to air dry it, which is counterintuitive considering you just spent all that time cleaning it; not to mention that it won’t actually dry every part of your bike. The easiest way to get a swirl and spot-free dry is to use an appliance that blows air. We’ve had great results from using a leaf blower or a shop vac on reverse; pretty much anything that blows air quickly is going to save you time and energy verse the traditional way of wiping down your bike with a towel.
If the old school method of drying your bike is what you prefer (hey, who are we to knock tradition?) then you are going to want to use a fast-drying, non-scratch towel to quickly and safely absorb the water droplets that are left on your bike to get your desired, spotless shine.
TLC for Your Bike Chain
After all of the soaping and rinsing off your bike, the chances are pretty high that your bike chain got wet in the process. Re-applying lubricant to your chain is an important step and ensures you get a smooth ride when you hit the streets again. There are tons of motorcycle lubricants out there, so it is best to go off your manufacturer's recommendations and make sure to apply using the product's instructions.
You should be thoroughly cleaning and lubing your motorcycle chain every 300-500 miles, but lubing your chain after each time you clean your motorcycle to keep it running smoothly.
Final Steps in the Washing Process
Waxing Your Bike
Congrats, you’ve made it to the end of the washing process. Not too bad, was it? After all that hard work, we know you’ll want to keep it shining for more than one ride, which is why you need to finish it off with a wax sealant. This is the last step to your motorcycle detailing because it will seal in your bike's deep shine, remove any lingering water spots, act as a protective layer from the elements including UV protection on painted surfaces, and make it easier to wash the next time. Apply the wax per the instructions on the product.
Just like with motorcycle cleaners and chain lube, there are countless motorcycle waxes out there; liquid wax, spray wax, carnauba wax, etc., and everyone will have a different answer if you ask them for the best motorcycle wax. To pick the best one for your bike, do your research.
Care for your Chrome
If your bike has aluminum or chrome parts (looking at you, Harley-Davidson owners) you will want to finish this process by using some metal wax to get those parts shining as bright as you can get them. Dull chrome on a freshly-waxed bike isn’t a good look for anyone.
There you have it. Now is the time to kick back admire all of your hard work. Make sure your sunglasses because your bike will be shining bright. Oh, and don't forget to take photos!
Do you have any tips for washing your bike or a favorite cleaner? Let us know!