Whether you're selling your bike or just want it to look its best, detailing a motorcycle pays big dividends. Here's a collection of detailing tips from a professional. Suds away!
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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How to Clean a Motorcycle: Pro tips for detailing a motorcycle
Getting your bike professionally detailed can cost a bundle, from $200 all the way up to $600 for a complete job with the optional protectant package. So it makes sense that you’d want to do it yourself to save the dough.
To learn the right way to detail a bike, we consulted Renny Doyle, owner of Attention To Details, a school for professional detailers. Renny walked us through his step-by-step tips for detailing a motorcycle. His motorcycle cleaning technique may seem like overkill, especially his recommendation for multiple rinse/dry cycles, but that’s how he achieves perfection. He can detail a bike in less than four hours. But you’d better plan on a full day. And, you probably won’t save any money on the first round because of the investment in cleaners and tools. But after that, you’ll detail like the pros and save money every time.
You can find cleaning products and tools at auto parts stores and online. The highlighted products below are all available through our affiliation with Amazon.com.
How to Clean a Motorcycle: Remove the leather and start with a light wash
Motorcycle Wash Photo 1: Prewash with a damp mitt and suds
Dip the mitt into soapy water and wring out the excess. Then wipe the damp mitt over the entire bike. Avoid soaking the dash gauges, buttons and switches.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 2: Clean the wheels
Spray the wheels and spokes with wheel cleaner and let it soak for about 30 seconds. Then brush the rim and spokes with a boar-bristle brush. Rinse everything with water and dry with the blower and towel.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 3: Clean and polish the dash
Squirt a small dollop of polish onto a microfiber towel and work it into the dash using a random circular motion. Continue wiping until the haze is almost gone. Then wipe off the remaining product with a clean towel.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 4: Clean the engine and drivetrain
Spray cleaner on all engine and drivetrain components and let it penetrate for about one minute. Brush the greasy areas with a boar-bristle brush. Rinse off the cleaner. Blow dry. Repeat if necessary.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 5: Shine up the chrome
Apply polish to a cotton rag and polish the chrome until the haze almost disappears. Wipe off any remaining haze with a clean section of the rag.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 6: Clean and protect the leather
Apply the leather cleaner to a sponge and gently work it into the leather. Then wipe dry and apply the conditioner with a different sponge. Wipe with a rag and let dry. If you need to repair the leather, try out these leather repair tips.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 7: Do a full rinse
Rinse again with water and blast off the final rinse with a blower or compressed air. Wipe off any remaining water drops to prevent spotting.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 8: Blow it dry
Starting at the top, blow the water down and to the front and back. Use a compressor set to 70 psi or less, or use a power blower like the one shown.
Motorcycle Wash Photo 9: Apply paint sealant
Spray sealant onto the paint and spread evenly with a wax applicator sponge, working in small sections. Immediately buff the paint with a microfiber towel. Don’t let the product dry before buffing.
Work in a shaded area and don’t start cleaning until the engine is cool to the touch. Remove the seat and leather saddlebags and set them aside. Then cover the battery with plastic sheeting and seal off the exhaust pipe (or pipes) with plastic wrap and a rubber band.
Next, do a prerinse with plain water to remove surface dust and grit. A fireman’s-style garden hose nozzle works great because you can dial in a different spray pattern for each area of the bike. You can also use a pressure washer to rinse the bike, but dial down the pressure to its lowest setting and maintain a healthy distance from the bike to avoid damaging the softer metal and plastic parts. Use a gentle stream around wheel hubs to avoid forcing water into the bearings.
Follow the rinse with a prewash (Photo 1). Use a gentle car wash soap (Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo and Conditioner is one choice), a microfiber wash mitt, and separate soap and rinse buckets. The prewash is just to remove the light road dirt and mud. So don’t go scrubbing the really dirty and greasy areas with your mitt. Save those for the special cleaners you’ll use later on. Rinse off the suds and dry the bike right away to prevent water spots. Rather than hand-wiping the entire bike, use a power blower (such as the Metro SK-1 Motorcycle Dryer) or compressed air, keeping the pressure under 70 psi. Wipe off any remaining water with a waffle-weave microfiber towel.
Next, clean the engine, transmission, chain or driveshaft housing with a spray cleaner like S100 Total Cycle Cleaner and brushes (Photo 4). If the S100 product isn’t strong enough to remove caked-on grease, dilute a heavy-duty degreaser 4 to 1 with water, or cut a mild degreaser like Simple Green 50/50 with water. Apply the diluted degreaser and expect to put some elbow grease into the job. Don’t ever apply full-strength degreaser to your bike.
Before you polish the chrome, switch out your microfiber towel for a smooth 100% cotton rag. You can use an old T-shirt or dish towel as long as you cut off the seams first. Seams that are stitched with synthetic thread can scratch chrome, and the seams can retain grit. Then use the Meguiars M205 polish that you used on the dash (Photo 5).
Clean the leather seat and saddlebags with Leather Therapy Wash and Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner, or Meguiar’s D180 (Photo 6). These products rejuvenate and condition the leather, and they don’t contain any slick additives, so you won’t slide off the seat.
Next, use a new batch of soapy water to remove any remaining traces of the cleaners. Then rinse and dry the bike completely (Photos 7 and 8).
Clean and treat rubber foot pegs/rests and pedals with 303 Aerospace Protectant. The product contains UV inhibitors to prevent rubber degradation and dries to a nonslip matte finish. Then seal painted areas with Sonax Polymer Net Shield (Photo 9).
Removing Dried Wax
The best way to remove old dried-on wax is to apply new wax and let it soften the old. But if it’s still stuck in crevices, use a household steam cleaner and direct the steam right onto the dried wax. Then wipe it clean with a rag.
How to Clean a Motorcycle: Remove melted rubber from exhaust pipes
Household oven cleaner
Use household oven cleaner to remove melted boot heel residue from hot exhaust pipes.
Use household oven cleaner to remove melted boot heel residue from hot exhaust pipes. Test it first on your bike by spraying it in an inconspicuous spot on the chrome. If it doesn’t discolor the chrome, run the bike until the pipe is warm. Then spray the oven cleaner directly onto the melted rubber and let it soak in for a few minutes. Wipe it off with a cotton towel. Find out why bringing car wax into your kitchen is a brilliant idea, too!
Avoid These Motorcycle Cleaning Mistakes
Never use full-strength automotive or household degreaser products. They can permanently stain aluminum and strip off paint. Also avoid dishwashing detergent and household spray cleaners.
Never let cleaners sit on the parts for more than a few minutes, and always rinse the cleaned areas with water. Never allow cleaners, even diluted degreaser, to dry on the bike.
Never use scrub pads or coarse wheel brushes anywhere on the bike.
Work in the shade and dry each component after you rinse it to avoid water spotting.
Never use tire dressing on your bike. The silicone in those products presents a slipping/safety hazard.
Required Tools for this how to clean a motorcycle project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Air gun blow nozzle
Garden hose spray nozzle
Microfiber wash mitt
Required Materials for this how to clean a motorcycle project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
303 Aerospace protectant
Gentle car wash soap
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