If you want to do your bit for the environment, there is a growing range of motorcycle cleaning and maintenance products that are eco-friendly.
By eco-friendly we mean products that are biodegradable or free from synthetic chemicals, made from natural or recycled materials or, in the case of the pressure washer, they don’t use electricity.
Traditionally car-cleaning has been incredibly un-environmentally friendly. Harsh chemicals and increasingly abrasive detergents have been produced in the quest to cut down the time it takes to clean your vehicle or get it that tint bit cleaner. Yes, these products work but they also play havoc with the local ecosystem on their journey from your drain to the local river or water-treatment facility.
What does biodegradable mean?
Something that’s biodegradable can be broken down by organisms such as fungi, bacteria or other microorganisms. The product will eventually be broken down into its basic components and blend back into the earth, with no or very few toxins left behind.
Plant-based products are biodegradable whereas most man-made chemicals will take 100s of years to breakdown, if at all and in the process they will be detrimental to the environment.
Doing your bit
While we appreciate that cleaning and maintaining your motorcycle isn’t going to cause bush fires in Australia, destroy the Amazon or cause the ice shelf to melt (and if it does, you definitely need to change your technique) but if you can use a product that doesn’t cause harm to your local environment when it gets washed down the drain, then why wouldn’t you?
Eco-Friendly Motorcycle Cleaning Solutions
Most of the stuff that can damage your local habitat is the actual products you use to shift the grease and road grime. Here’s a list of products that have a lesser impact.
Biodegradable motorcycle cleaners
One of the most popular cleaners is this Muc-Off Nano Tech Bike Cleaner and it’s 100% biodegradable. I find this stuff is great when sprayed onto a pre-rinsed motorbike and left for 5 minutes before applying a little elbow-grease and then rinsing off.
Likewise, Motul make this bike cleaner which is safe for all surfaces and also biodegradable.
If you like to save money, you can buy in bulk. This biodegradable motorcycle cleaner is in gel form and comes in a 5-litre tub. Drop a capful in a bucket of warm water and you’ll be cutting through the road grime in no time.
You can also opt for a biodegradable waterless wash if you just want to give your bike a quick once-over. However, in my experience, you need plenty of water to do a good job of getting your bike clean.
Dirtbusters sell this enzyme-based cleaner that is eco-friendly and biodegradable. Ideal as a good road-film remover when added to a bucket of warm water or used neat in built-up zones.
This is another good citrus-based cleaner. If you’ve ever used them, you’ll know how good they are at cutting through road-film. In a spray bottle like this, you can use it to get into those often-neglected areas.
Also, take a look at this car wash solution from Fragile Earth products. It’s biodegradable and the 500ml bottle can be diluted to make 25-litres of cleaning solution. Add it to a spray bottle and that’s easily 25 washes.
Wheels and the lower parts of the bike, like the radiator, belly pan, rear shock and swingarm can get coated in road crud, which is made worse when the surface is hot, like the radiator, engine casings and exhaust.
By far the best cleaner I’ve used for these areas is the Bilberry Wheel Cleaner. It’s available in a 500ml spray, 1-litre bottle or 5-litre bottle. You can dilute it down with water to around 1:5 ratio and spray it on those areas and leave it to work its magic for a few minutes. It’ll make those tricky areas effortless to clean. The bonus is, it’s 100% biodegradable.
Wax & Polish
You can use pure beeswax on your fairing to give it a good shine but beeswax alone isn’t that good at dealing with the elements. A better bet is to get a carnauba-based wax like this one. It’s almost impossible to get a bodywork wax that’s pure carnauba (a plant-sourced wax) as they require other ingredients, including beeswax and other petroleum-based products to ensure it adheres to the bodywork.
However, a decent carnauba wax like the one linked to above contains a majority of natural ingredients and is, therefore, more eco-friendly than a synthetic wax.
Muc Off sell this biodegradable chain cleaner. It’s also pretty handy for removing any stubborn oil or grease marks. The cynics among you will note that the product you’re removing isn’t that eco-friendly; chain lube is fairly nasty stuff but it makes sense not to throw more chemicals at it and so a chain cleaner that can be broken down makes sense.
Eco-Friendly Motorcycle Cleaning Kit
It’s not just the actual cleaning solutions that can be friendly to the environment, you can use cleaning apparatus that has a lower environmental footprint.
Cleaning Mitts & Sponges
While you could replace your sponge (which is made of plastic) with a natural one, natural sponges are seriously expensive (think 50p for a cheap man-made sponge versus £15 for a natural one) and natural sponges also fall apart quite quickly when used for car or motorcycle washing.
A cellulose sponge is another option but if you’ve ever felt one, they’re quite rough and could be in danger of scratching your bodywork.
Instead, grab a natural lambswool cleaning mitt. A mitt is so much easier to use than a sponge as you barely need to grip it. And unlike a sponge it won’t cling onto all the grime; just stick it in the washing machine when you’re done and it’ll come out as new.
Microfibre Cleaning Cloths
Regular microfibre cloths are made from made-made materials, such as polyester, which is a form of plastic. These cloths shed their fibres, which end up in the local habitat. If you wash them in the washing machine, the same applies.
So why not replace these with a set of microfibre cleaning cloths made from natural materials. These ones are designed to clean up after babies but you can use them to clean your baby too. Your two-wheeled baby.
They’re made from a 50/50 cotton and bamboo mix, so entirely natural and because they’re designed to be used on the softest thing known to man (a baby’s bottom) they’re also safe to use on your precious motorcycle.
If you’re in the market for a new bucket to rinse your sponges off in, then check out these recycled plastic buckets which are made from 95% recycled materials.
If you don’t have power where you keep your bike or you just want to go cable-free then why not use a hand-pump pressure spray like this one.
Sure, it’s not going to blast off the dirt like a proper pressure washer could but as an efficient way to rinse out little nooks and crannies, it’s a good bet and far better than just lobbing a bucket of water over the bike.
Other Eco Friendly Products
Air filter cleaner
If you have a foam air filter you can properly clean it with this Putoline Bio cleaner.
Eco-friendly chain lube
If you have an O-ring chain the main function of any chain lube is to prevent the external parts from weathering and rusting. Even then it’s a good idea to use lube to give the sprockets and plates an easier time.
The trade-off here is that if you don’t use lube, you’ll wear through your chain more quickly and you have to then add up the cost of some standard chain lube versus a whole used motorcycle drive chain and what happens to that when you’re done with it?
Therefore anything should will work. If you operate the bike in cold temperatures you might make sure whatever you use doesn’t get too solid when it is cold or it will just flake off.
With that in mind, you could use a plant-based oil like rapeseed oil or a bicycle-specific chain lube will also do the job. You just want to be careful that you don’t apply too much as a motorcycle travels at far higher speeds than a bicycle and so fling will be an issue if you coat the chain in a lube like this.
Disposing of Engine Oil
If you do a bit of your own servicing then you’ll know you have to do something with your used engine oil. It’s easy to dispose of it properly.
Firstly, grab one of these engine oil drain cans. They enable you to easily drain your oil, then seal the bottle making it easy to transport it to a recycling facility.
Then just visit this website: oilbankline.org.uk to find the nearest recycling facility where you can tip your used oil into a large tank where it will be re-used or properly disposed of.
Pouring your engine oil down the drain is a serious damaging thing to do as a mains drain will just take whatever’s in it down to a river. If you’re seen doing this, you could end up with a visit from the Environment Agency and a big fine.
Disposing of Brake and Clutch Fluid
Just like with engine oil, your local recycling facility should also have bins for other fluids. If you can’t see one labelled for hydraulic fluid or other fluids such as coolant then there should be a ‘catch-all’ bin that you can pour anything in to so that it can be safely disposed of.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This is a popular mantra among those who are conscious of their effect on the planet and it can easily be applied to motorcycle maintenance.
You can cover your bike in all the chemicals in the world but if you replace chemicals with some warm water and a bit of elbow grease, you’ll reduce the volume of products you need and get just as good a result.
You can buy in bulk to cut down on packaging and get better economies of scale but you can also reuse household cleaning bottles and make up your own cleaning solutions. Sprays are great as they allow you to direct the cleaning product onto the area you want to clean, meaning you can get a better result, with less product.
When you’re throwing out old socks or T-shirts, if your clothing isn’t fit for the charity shop, you can cut them up and use them as cleaning cloths. Wash them in the washing machine and you’ll get plenty of use from those socks yet..
When disposing of consumables such as engine oil, tyres or batteries, remember to recycle them. Your local recycling facility will dispose of them correctly, either by reusing the engine oil or sending the batteries off to a facility that can extract the components and use them in other products.