How to properly clean your motorcycle and prevent rust

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Properly clean your bike and prep it for winter and it’ll survive the salt that can lead to corrosion and rust damage. Products like ACF-50, XCP Rust Blocker, Scottoiler FS 365 and ACS TC 200 are popular among bikers when it comes to keeping rust at bay, but how best to spray them on?

Keeping your bike clean isn’t just about winter protection though – besides keeping it looking its best in the summer, a well-presented motorcycle will sell for more money. A few hours’ effort can make the difference of hundreds of pounds; as any professional bike buyer will tell you, first impressions count for a lot.

Whether you’re looking to fully winter-proof your motorbike, or simply give it a clean for the summer, we’ll take you through the simple steps…

 

What tools do I need to clean my motorcycle?

My advice would be to keep it simple – all you really need is a hose, some cleaning product and a long-reach brush. I used to use one like this, which is the same as those used by some pro valet companies, but do bear in mind that you should be careful of the metal around the head. Thanks to a YouTube viewer, I now use these Vikan 556452 all-plastic long-handled brushes: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/261404110415 

Of course, the right tools will make any job easier, so here are my optional extras for cleaning:

• Jet wash

• Chain brush

• Snow foam lance

• Power dryer

• Rear paddock stand if you don’t have a centre stand

• Front paddock stand to make it easier to spin the front wheel. ALWAYS put the front paddock stand in AFTER the rear, and remove it first.

 

How to clean your motorcycle

 

Is a jet wash safe on a motorbike?

Like any tool, it should be used with care – don’t go too close to any bearings or you could start to blow the grease out. Also don’t drive it directly into any switchgear or connectors – you can point it at them, but keep a good couple of feet away, so the jet has lost its power. The fins on your radiator can be vulnerable to bending too, so just be careful.

I use the Kärcher K4 Full Control, which allows you to adjust the force from the pressure washer – I have it just off full power.

When choosing a pressure washer, look for one that has a commonly used connector at the lance – this will allow you to buy a snow foam attachment if you want. I bought mine from Clean Your Car – it’s similar to this and only requires a small amount of this snow foam fluid to be diluted into the bottle to cover a bike.

 

What’s the best motorcycle cleaner?

It’s very hard to give a scientific answer to the best cleaner – having used dozens over the years, I’ve found products like SDoc100 Cleaning Gel to be extremely effective, but it can work out very expensive; I like to use a lot, so have been known to get through a whole bottle when cleaning a particularly dirty bike.

I’d suggest you simply use the cleaner you prefer; I buy a 5lt bottle of Bilt Hamber Surfex HD then dilute it to around 10% in one bottle and 50% in another for really dirty parts – these are the sprayers and bottles I use.

What I find makes a real difference when cleaning a bike is making sure you cover everything with cleaning product, and use the long-reach brush to agitate it.

 

Where and when should I clean my bike?

For your own safety, it’s probably best to do it outside, rather than on the living room carpet, but try to choose somewhere shaded as cleaning products shouldn’t be allowed to dry on the bike. Make sure there’s plenty of light though, so you can see any areas you’ve missed, and do consider where the dirt you wash off is going to drain to.

Make sure your engine and exhaust have cooled off before washing; the surfaces should be resistant to thermal shock as bikes need to work in the rain, but you don’t want to burn yourself.

 

Step by step guide to cleaning your motorcycle

Step 1 (OPTIONAL): If you have a snow lance, cover the bike with foam then leave it for a few minutes to soften the dirt.

Step 2: Rinse the bike off thoroughly with a hose or power washer to get as much of the dirt and grit off as you can – make sure it’s thoroughly wetted.

Step 3: Spray on your cleaner and work it in with a brush. Keep rinsing the brush or dipping it in a bucket to ensure there’s no grit trapped that could cause scratches. On cars, it’s generally best to start at the top and work your way down, but on a bike I tend to start on the dirtiest areas to avoid these splashing onto the smaller body panels after I’ve cleaned them. Remember that a bike isn’t like a car – a lot of what you clean is engine and chassis.

Do a section at a time then rinse if it’s a hot day, to avoid the cleaner from drying on, but you must be methodical – pick defined areas, like lower engine, swing-arm, sections between frame rails etc, to make sure you do each part.

I clean the wheels last, as they’re the biggest pain, and they’re much easier with paddock stands as you can spin them. Find the valve, then work clockwise or anticlockwise from there until you’ve done the whole wheel. Don’t forget the awkward areas behind the brake discs… that’s why the long-reach brush is so useful.

Step 4: Give the bike another thorough rinse to ensure all the cleaner is gone

Step 5: Using a microfibre or waffle drying cloth, thoroughly dry the bike – the cloth should be clean when you’ve finished, but if you are seeing dirt on it, you’ve missed a bit when cleaning.

Step 6 (OPTIONAL): A bike dryer is optional, but it’s worth having (I use a Brühl) as you can get all the water out that’s laying in the nooks and crannies of your engine, not to mention the radiator. Some people start their bike to cook the water off, but some of this steam will condense around the electrics beneath your tank. You could use an air-line from a compressor, but that air can be a little damp if not filtered, and could carry some corrosion from inside its tank.

 

That’s it – your bike should now be thoroughly clean…

 

How to clean your motorcycle

 

How often should I clean my bike?

If you’re riding dry roads in the summer, you won’t need to clean it that often, though keeping the dust off is worthwhile. But bear in mind that the first few nice days in Spring will likely see salt still on the roads that can find its way onto your bike.

In the winter, it’s more important to keep your motorcycle clean, but if you do a good job of applying corrosion protectant before the bad weather sets in, you’ll get away with a quick rinse every so often, just to keep the worst of the grime off your bike.

 

How do I clean my motorcycle chain?

This should be part of the cleaning process, and really isn’t complicated. You could use your long-reach brush, but I’d recommend a chain brush like this one. Just spray your cleaner onto the chain and spin the wheel to run the chain through the brush – keep going until it’s clean, and once it’s dry, don’t forget to put some lube on. Cleaning the chain while the engine’s running is very dangerous; don’t be lazy!

If your bike’s got a belt or shaft drive, grab a cuppa and sit back smugly…

 

Should I wax my bike?

Some wax on the gloss painted surfaces will give a great shine – I use Collinite, but keep in mind that you’ll need a toothbrush to get the hardened wax out of any nooks and crannies… of which there are many on a bike. An easier option is to use a speed detailer like this, or I’ve also had good results with Bullet carnauba wax, but the finish won’t last as long.

 

What’s the difference between auto wax and polish?

A polish typically has a slight cutting action, which is why you mustn’t use it on matte finishes. It’s used to get a normal gloss finish looking as good as possible, removing any very light surface scratches in the surface.

A wax is effectively a coating that sits on top of the paint and protects it. Thicker waxes that come in a tub can be a little harder to apply, and aren’t always ideal on a bike as the residue sits in the panel seams, but if you’re willing to put the work in, they’ll leave gloss surfaces looking great.

 

How do I clean a matte-painted motorcycle?

You need to be extra careful to avoid scratches on matte-paints, as of course they can’t be polished out. Also avoid getting corrosion protectants on them, as they can leave the surface looking patchy until thoroughly cleaned again. AutoGlym points out that its Fast Glass polish is useful for spot-cleaning matte finishes as it’s very fluid, so won’t clog the dips in the paint surface, or polish off the peaks.

If you want to add some protection to the paint, there are products designed for matte finishes; AutoGlym for instance recommends its Rapid Aqua Wax and Extra Gloss Protection, as they’re liquid-based so will better follow the microscopic contours of the paint.

 

What’s the best product to stop my bike going rusty?

I carried out a seven-month-long test of corrosion protectants, which you can read here. The results clearly show that, generally, the products designed specifically as corrosion protectants tend to outshine the more generic ones… but there are some very important anomalies to be aware of.

The chances are you’ll be looking at XCP Rust Blocker, ACS TC200, SDoc100 Corrosion Protectant, ACF-50 or Scottoiler FS 365; while the best can last up to five months longer in lab testing, it’s important to read the reviews to understand which will suit you as their methods of application can vary significantly. Also be aware that not every product on sale that calls itself a motorcycle protectant will actually give you any protection from the winter conditions; please do read all the reviews.

 

How to clean your motorcycle

 

How to apply ACF-50, XCP Rust Blocker, ACS TC200 and SDoc

All of the leading corrosion protectants are available in a simple aerosol can – with the bike thoroughly clean, just spray the product lightly over all the metal surfaces, except the brake discs and calipers. You must make sure you don’t get any on your tyres or any brake surfaces (including the disc hangers, as it can creep out); basically, keep it off your wheels altogether.

Many of these products make unpainted dark plastics look fresh too, and they won’t affect your electrics. Don’t worry too much if they get on your saddle or pegs – they don’t tend to make them that slippery unless you put a lot on, but it’s best to wipe them off, not least to stop them soaking into your textile kit.

Make sure you treat all your painted and unpainted metal surfaces, and not just the ones that are easy to reach – lay on the ground and make sure you blow it up under the swingarm, and deep into the engine crevices; it’s important that it can reach the nooks and crannies where water and filth can lay. Again, you don’t need a lot – it shouldn’t be dripping off, and any excess can be wiped off with a clean cloth.

I apply corrosion protectant with a paint gun and compressor, which makes it easier to get a fine coat misted deep into the hidden parts of the engine, but you do need to mask off your wheels entirely. You’ll also need to choose a product that’s available in a bottle.

 

Do I need to reapply my corrosion protectant after washing?

The leading products will stand up to a rinse with plain water, so just keep the worst of the grime swilled off with a hose during winter.

Without knowing what cleaning product you use, and how aggressive you are with it, it’s impossible to say if your choice of corrosion protectant will be as effective after a thorough wash. However, as applying it is so quick and easy, I’d recommend that after a thorough wash with a cleaner, you do give your bike a once over again. It not only keeps it protected, it helps to give your motorcycle that factory finish that not only makes it look great, but can significantly increase its value when you come to sell it on…

 

How to clean and rust proof your bike

Step-by-step guide to giving your motorcycle a perfect finish

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