How to Properly Wash Your Bike
January 31, 2023
Taking the time to wash your bike on a regular basis helps to keep its parts working well. In other words, a clean bike will last longer and ride better … plus of course, it’ll stay looking pretty dang snazzy!
Although a quick rinse is usually sufficient after a rainy day ride, it’s important to give your fine steed a thorough cleaning on a regular basis no matter the weather and dirt exposure.
The frequency will depend on how often you ride, and/or the dirtier your bike gets, but aim to soap up at least once a month.
To simply rinse your bike, you’ll need a hose for the rinse, and a clean cloth to dry everything off. A bike stand or other way to lift the bike up from the ground will help keep dirt from getting back on your bike as you rinse.
If using a hose, be sure to set the nozzle to a low to medium stream setting. It’s important NOT to use high pressure, or to directly spray the hubs, bottom bracket or anywhere else with bearings as direct spray can push grease out from the bearings.
After rinsing, turn your bike upside down to let any water drain from inside the frame.
No hose? No problem. Just rinse with a water bottle filled with fresh water!
The Full Treatment
Roll up your sleeves and get nice and soapy to clean off the grime and grease that accumulates from ride to ride.
Here’s what you’ll need for a full-on bike wash:
- A bucket of warm, soapy water or a surfactant like Bontrager Bike Wash or Finish Line Super Bike Wash
- An assortment of brushes, like those found in Park Tool’s BCB-4.2 bike cleaning brush set which includes a gear brush, a bottle brush, a combo bristle and sponge brush, and a frame cleaning sponge
- Solvent for the chain such as Finish Line Speed or Citrus degreasers, or ParkTool’s CB-4 Bio ChainBrite
- Lube for the chain and derailleur; Dumonde Tech is our favorite because it lasts the longest and is best in class for protection of your chain.
- Clean, dry towel
Clean the Chain
Grab the degreaser and apply all of the way around the chain, backpedaling four to five rotations. Let the degreaser work its magic for a few rotations or until clean, then rinse the chain with a light stream from the hose, or water bottle. For tougher grime, apply some bike soap/wash directly to the stubborn area, and keeping the chain firmly held in a sponge, turn the cranks. Re-rinse.
Clean the Drivetrain
Using your stiffest-bristled brush wetted down in the soapy water, get to scrubbing that cassette. (Note that the cassette can be removed off of the bike to be fully soaked and cleaned if necessary.)
The bottle brush will come in handy for getting after the nitty gritty; don’t be shy, tackle that stuff well, pay attention to the buildup in the rear derailleur and other tight places.
Rinse with a light stream from the hose, or water bottle. Repeat if needed.
Note: after a bike wash, soap residue on the brake rotors may cause brakes to squeal, and you might find a decrease in braking power. Burn off this residue by applying the brakes as you ride slowly and carefully, before riding at speed.
Clean the Frame
You’ll need both a bristle brush and sponge to clean your frame. Starting from the front, use soapy water as you make your way to the back.
Soft, big brushes will do the trick for your rims and tires. Be sure to wash your hub and spokes, and pay attention to both sides of each wheel. If you run disc brakes, it’s best to use rubbing alcohol on a paper towel to clean the rotor.
If your bike is equipped with front suspension, you’ll actually want to clean it after each and every ride with mild, soapy water, rinsing with a very light pressure water spray (taking care not to spray water directly at the seal/upper tube junction). Wipe dry with a clean soft cloth.
Do NOT use any solvents or degreasers on your fork or shock as these can damage exterior finish and anodized parts. If you don’t have access to water, at the very least wipe off the dust wipers and seals after your ride.
Before you start drying your bike, flip it upside down to let any water drain from inside frame. Then, grab a clean, absorbent cloth like an old towel or similar fabric and give your steed a thorough drying. A smaller rag works best for drying the drivetrain, chain, and wheels.
Lube the Chain
Finally, your bike wash won’t be complete without lubing the chain.
To apply the lube, backpedal while applying a thin stream to one revolution of chain. Make sure you don’t spray lube on or near the rotor as you apply it. Backpedal slowly (to prevent the lube from flicking onto the rotor) for four or five rotations to ensure the lube is evenly distributed.
Finally, wipe the chain to remove any excess lube. Using a towel, put the chain between your left index finger and thumb (use the bottom chain, moving from cassette to front ring), and backpedal once again until any excess lube is wiped off.
Don’t have the time to thoroughly wash your bike? Bring it in to Epicenter Cycling and we’ll treat it like a star with a full bike wash detailing that includes removing the drivetrain and soaking it our eco-friendly parts washer.
Mountain bikes especially benefit from a regular cleaning routine.