With riding season fast approaching, it’s time for a good spring cleaning. That means knowing how to wash a motorcycle properly is a must before getting it back on the open road.
Allowing dirt and grime to build up on your paint and metal finishes is an open invite for rust and corrosion to enter your two-wheeled temple, so a good wash is key – which we’ll go over here. Plus, we’ll share some key points to make sure your efforts aren’t doing more harm than good.
Race Prep: Gather Your Motorcycle Cleaning Supplies
Before we even get into how to wash your motorcycle, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job.
Here are the basics you’ll need to get the job done right:
Whether you’re the classic big blue microfiber sponge type or you prefer one of those washing mittens that look like the alien-shaped creatures seen under a microscope, just make sure your sponge is non-abrasive and, most importantly, squeaky-clean.
Yes, that’s “buckets” – as in plural. One bucket for your clean soap and water, and the other for wringing and rinsing your sponge.
If you try to do it all out of one bucket, you’ll be dumping the grime you wipe off your bike back into your wash water, and then soaking it right back up into your sponge. Washing with a dirty sponge means rubbing coarse particles and harsh road buildups like salt and tar right back into your finish, which will wear away your clear coat over time.
No need to get fancy here, two big ol’ orange buckets from Home Depot will do the trick, but if you want to get hardcore about keeping your wash water clean, you can pick up an inexpensive dirt trap from brands like Chemical Guys that help keep unwelcome dirt and debris separated from your wash water.
Not everyone will need a brush every time they wash their motorcycle, but if you’re like us and seem to have a magnet for gunk on your wheels and undercarriage, chances are you’re going to want a dedicated brush or two to handle the heavy stuff.
Again, no need to spend an arm and a leg here, as simple sponge brushes from a craft store will often do the trick. But for the really stubborn stuff, you may want to consider picking up a dedicated wheel brush or something similar.
Don’t overthink it. Pretty much any cloth that is soft, clean, and absorbent will handle hand-drying duties just fine. We’ve used everything from old towels to t-shirts to get the job done.
However, if only the best will do for your bike, you can always pick up a reusable chamois or a microfiber drying towel to make sure spots and streaks aren’t even a remote possibility. Go full Vince Offer and get a ShamWow for all we care, just make sure it’s clean!
Starting Line: Rinse Your Motorcycle Thoroughly
Ok, time to get down to business.
Start by wheeling your motorcycle into an area without direct sunlight to help keep water spots and streaks from forming as you wash.
Spray down the bike thoroughly with water, taking care to avoid spraying water directly into any areas containing exposed wiring like your instrument cluster or any gaps around your seat leading into the battery box or fuse bank.
Allow your initial spray down to soak in for several minutes to help soften up any crusty bugs or caked up dirt and oil.
While you wait, you can go ahead and prepare your two wash buckets.
Main Event: Break Out the Soap
Fill your first bucket with the recommended mixture of soap and clean water.
The second bucket should be filled with clean water and used for rinsing your sponge to keep it clean.
Start by soaking the sponge (remember to get a quality one!) in the wash bucket, soap up your bike, then rinse in the second bucket as you go.
Just like a car, you’ll want to take the washing process in sections, first soaping one area, then rinsing it completely before moving on to the next.
Keep working away in sections, saving the bottom sections, like the wheels and undercarriage, for last to ensure you’re not allowing any wash runoff to accumulate in these areas.
Give your wheels a once-over with the sponge, then switch to your dedicated brushes as needed to get into tight spaces or scrub away tough buildup.
Pro Tip: When you finish washing, or are in-between sections, make sure you’re keeping your washing sponge in your rinse bucket rather than putting it down on the ground where it can pick up dirt and debris.
Finish Line: Final Rinse and Dry
Once you’ve worked through each section of the bike and are satisfied with the results, you’ll want to give it a final rinse, again from top to bottom.
When you’ve rinsed the bike to your heart’s content, immediately put your drying cloth of choice to work to prevent water spots and streaking from forming on your finish.
After you’ve thoroughly hand-dried the bike, it’s time to clean and lubricate your chain with your choice of brush and cleaning product (or opt for a chain cleaning kit). This is also a good time to check and adjust your chain tension while you’re down there.
Now that you’ve got everything shined up and looking nice, go ahead and start the bike up and let it run for a few minutes to allow the engine and exhaust to heat up and evaporate any water you couldn’t get to with your towel.
Treating yourself to a nice long test ride is a well-deserved treat and a great way to make sure any residual water is blown off the bike. Just be mindful that your brake pads and rotors will need a few miles to dry out and get back to their usual bite after a wash.
Podium Finish: After Wash Care Options
Sometimes a full waxing is in order after a thorough wash, but if you don’t feel like spending the time and effort that traditional carnauba waxing requires, there are some quick “detail in a can” products out there that can really add that extra shine to your bike with a quick spray and once-over with a microfiber towel.
We like Maxima Speed Wax or the tried-and-true Original Bike Spirits Spray Cleaner and Polish to add a quick layer of shine and protection on just about any surface from paint to plastic before hitting the road.
Final Thoughts for How to Wash a Motorcycle
Learning how to wash a motorcycle properly will prevent rust and corrosion and gives you a chance to conduct a thorough inspection of your machine as well.
Get the most out of your wash time by taking a look at consumables like your chain, brake pads, tires, and fluid levels while you’re at it to ensure your motorcycle is truly road-ready this season.
And if you are a DIYer, be sure to read our top choices of what to include in your motorcycle toolkit!