How To wash a motorcycle in 7 steps

Washing a motorcycle is part of the maintenance process and needs to be done to avoid dirt and grime damaging the bike over time. It is an easy process that takes a little work and time but it’s always nice to see your machine looking shiny and new. Although it may seem like a straight forward process to wash a motorcycle, there are a few tips and tricks to make the process easier, more thorough and avoiding causing any potential problems or damage to the motorcycle down the road. Rinse it down, sponge clean with soapy water, rinse it down again and dry with micro-fiber cloth. Clean the wheels and chain separately.

Don’t forget to keep your motorcycle garaged and covered if possible to help keep the motorcycle clean from dust and the elements. Motorcycle covers are cheap and is definitely needed for outside storage, although an old sheet will do for inside storage.

What equipment is needed?

A motorcycle can be cleaned with a few simple items found around the house…but it is recommended to conduct a thorough clean of the motorcycle using the equipment listed below to maximise your results.

  • Motorcycle specific cleaner (soap suds)
  • 2 buckets (for the 2 bucket method listed below)
  • Hose – A normal garden hose is fine, a high pressure hose can be used but be careful not to damage electrics, internal engine parts or the chain and bearings with the high pressure.
  • Sponge – Make sure it won’t damage your paintwork (personally I use a micro-fibre cloth)
  • Chamois or micro-fibre cloth – For drying the motorcycle after the wash (compressed air or a blower can help with this also)
  • Chain cleaner and chain lube – motorcycle specific so the o-rings aren’t damaged
  • Rags – to plug the exhaust or help clean any super dirty parts such as wheels and the underside of the bike
  • Brushes – to clean the hard to reach or difficult and dirty parts of the motorcycle such as wheels

The 2 bucket method

After using the hose to rinse off as much dirt and grime as possible it’s time to begin washing the motorcycle with a sponge and soapy water using the 2 bucket method. This method of washing your motorcycle is ideal to keep dirt from scratching paint or delicate parts of the bike. Have 1 bucket filled with your motorcycle cleaner mixed with water (soap suds) and 1 bucket filled with clean water. Soak your clean sponge or cleaning cloth in the motorcycle cleaner bucket (soap suds) and begin cleaning your motorcycle from top to bottom. Rinse the sponge or cleaning cloth in the clean water bucket, then soak in the motorcycle cleaner bucket for round 2. Constantly rinsing your cleaning cloth in the clean water bucket will wash the dirt off the sponge stopping the motorcycle cleaning bucket from being contaminated with dirt particles that can scratch paint.

For an extremely dirty motorcycle its advised to change out the clean water bucket when needed to keep the sponge or cleaning cloth as clean as possible. The aim of the game is to not rub dirt into your motorcycle with a dirty sponge or cloth.

7 Steps for the perfect motorcycle wash

1. Prepare the motorcycle

Make sure the motorcycle is cool, a hot engine and cold water can cause damage. Set up the motorcycle in a shady area as direct sunlight will make the soap dry faster causing water streaks and spots. It’s advised to set up in a clear area on concrete, although cleaning over grass is a much more environmental option. Be careful of the rear stand or side stand sinking into the ground and tipping your motorcycle over if on grass –  helping the environment may not be worth a damaged motorcycle.

2. Clean the chain

Once the motorcycle is set up and ready to wash, it’s a good idea to clean the chain first. It is much easier to clean a motorcycle chain with the bike up on a rear stand although it can be done without one. That way the rear wheel can spin easily giving full access to all areas of the chain. Spray the chain with motorcycle specific chain cleaner to loosen up grime that can then be wiped or hosed off. Use a brush (or chain specific brush) on a heavily soiled chain with stubborn grime to help loosen it up.  

3. Hose down the motorcycle

Use a normal garden hose or similar to rinse the motorcycle down. This is to remove as much dirt and grime as possible before the motorcycle is cleaned with a soapy sponge. It’s fine to use a high pressure hose as long as spraying electricals, engine parts or the chain and bearings is avoided as the high pressure may cause damage.

4. Clean the wheels

The wheels are usually the dirtiest part of a motorcycle. Road grime mixed with dirt can be difficult to remove from the wheels, so using a brush and a specific wheel cleaner or degreaser can make the job easier. Do not use your motorcycle cleaning sponge on wheels. They are far too dirty and will contaminate the rest of the motorcycle. 

5. Wash the motorcycle with sponge and cleaning solution

Its highly recommended to use the 2 bucket method to clean a motorcycle. Soak your sponge in the soap suds and get to washing from top to bottom. Don’t allow soapy water to dry on the motorcycle during this process.

6. Rinse the motorcycle

Once the motorcycle has been cleaned from top to bottom with soapy water, it’s time to rinse this soapy water off. You may need to rinse the motorcycle several times during the cleaning process if it’s a hot day and the soapy water is drying quickly.

7. Dry the motorcycle and lubricate chain

Using a chamois or micro-fiber cloth dry the motorcycle to avoid streak or spots on the paintwork. A air compressor or blower can help dry water that has pooled in hard to reach places if plausible. Once the motorcycle is dry, lubricate the chain with a motorcycle specific lubrication. This will keep your chain in good condition, help protect it and should be designed not to fling off the chain at high speed. Using too much chain lube can increase the chance it flings off the chain onto your wheels.

Quick tips to make things easier
  • If you don’t trust yourself to keep water out of the exhaust, plug it with a rag
  • For extremely dirty motorcycles, a pre-rinse spray may be a good idea to help loosen up heavily soiled areas without the need to apply loads of elbow grease (you want to avoid hard scrubbing)
  • Get as much dirt off the bike as possible before touching it to minimise scratches on the paintwork
  • Cleaning and lubricating your chain isn’t necessarily required each time the bike is washed. Avoid getting the chain wet if you don’t plan on doing a chain clean and lube.
  • Re-lube the chain if you get it wet
  • Waxing the motorcycle after a good wash can be done if you want that showroom shine and some extra protection
  • Using an air-compressor or a blower can help get water out of hard to reach places when drying the motorcycle after a wash
  • If riding on salted roads in winter, try to use cool water during the cleaning process as warmer water can worsen the effect of the salt
  • Try to avoid wetting any bearings as water can wash away grease and create corrosion

Washing a motorcycle is a regular chore that needs to be done to keep a bike fresh and keep the chain in good condition. It’s part of the motorcycle maintenance procedure and helps to keep you close to your bike and makes it a bit easier to notice any potential problems or issues that need addressing. Keeping up with your motorcycle maintenance will help keep the rider safe and the machine in good condition. It can save you on extra maintenance costs in the future and will also help keep some resale value in the motorcycle if you decide to upgrade in the future.