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Easy Motorcycle Cleaning and Polishing Guide

motorcycle cleaning guide - Easy Motorcycle Cleaning and Polishing Guide

For any biker, having a gleaming bike is a sense of pride but, life often gets in the way, and you can’t be bothered to clean it as meticulously as you’d like. Professional valets can do the job for you, but it’s not something most of us can afford to do; especially if you’re a clean-freak. You can spend around £80 – £150 at a time on a professional valet service.

Cleaning your bike at home won’t obtain an exact professional look, but this straightforward step-by-step guide can teach you techniques that add a level of finesse to your routine and give your bike a professional looking finish. Plus, it’s a lot more sensitive on your budget!

From start to finish, it should take around an hour to achieve these results so it won’t eat into your day too much and you can concentrate on getting out on the road again.

The products you’ll need:

For an initial investment of around £90 the consumables will last you a year. A lot of these products won’t need replacing, even for the more frequent cleaners.

The essentials

Two plastic buckets (B&Q do them for 99p)

A decent set of brushes – £16.99 – for five brushes that cover every component you’ll be cleaning

Cleaning mitt – £4.92 – better than a sponge, explained below

Chamois – £5.89 – I use one of these and cut it into three

Microfibre cloths – colour coded so you know which ones to use at each stage

Citrus cleaner – £24.99 for two 5l bottles or this smaller Muc Off spray bottle for £8

Wheel cleaner – £8.75  – this stuff is easily the best I’ve used

Car shampoo – £15.00 – top rated by over 100 Amazon customers

Detailing Wax – £13.60 this 500ml can will last you 30-plus applications

Nice to have but not essential

Brings plastics back to life – this stuff is amazing. £9.49 for 500ml

Bug remover – good for shifting the little critters £5.49 for 400ml

Bug remover sponge – handy sponge helps agitate stubborn bugs

Two Buckets Is The Key

Some guides suggest using a pressure washer for cleaning your bike. Here, we recommend a simple set up of two buckets and a microfibre mitt. Using a pressure washer can strip grease from components if you go banzai with it but you’re more than likely going to peel or tear decals. A pressure washer is OK but you just don’t need one – you’re cleaning a motorbike, not the Forth Bridge.

The other advantage of using a wash mitt and some good old-fashioned elbow grease is that you’ll spot any marks or scratches and be able to do a thorough job. 

Often, sponges are a go-to item for cleaning cars and bikes alike except you could be causing damage to your paintwork over time. Sponges tend to trap grit in their holes, which remains on the surface. Gradually, swirls and scratches appear on your paintwork. Microfibre cloths have “noodles” with smaller fibres which release grit more effectively and you can bung them in the washing machine to spruce them up.

The two-bucket method involves filling one bucket with cold water and the other with warm water and your added car shampoo. It may sound simple, but a lot of bikers say it makes a massive difference.

Use the bucket with the soapy water on your bike first but rinse the mitt off in the cold water bucket. Most of the dirt and grit will remain separate to your cleaning solution, so you’re not spreading it back onto your bike over time.

The cleaning process

Pre-wash rinse

It may sound obvious but water – and lots of it – is the best way to get your bike clean.

Regardless if your bike has been needing a clean for a while or you cleaned it last week, it’s a good idea to give it a pre-wash rinse. It will help loosen up any hardened areas that hand washing alone won’t budge.

Use a hose with a spray attachment or a poor man’s sprinkler (thumb over the end of a hose) to give the bike a good soaking.

The areas to focus on are the front-end of the bike and in and around the rear wheel where you’ll get the most build-up.

Now the bike’s wet, go over it with your citrus cleaning spray and spray a liberal misting of citrus cleaner over the entire bike. Get low to the ground and spray it up  and around the fairing, radiator, rear shock and under the seat unit.

Always work from the top down

The lower parts of your bike will pick up more road crud than the upper parts, so if you wash the top of the bike first, gravity will take care of the rest, keeping the lower parts of the bike soaked with cleaning solution for longer. Plus if you work form the wheels up, you’ll just drag dirt up the bodywork leaving a streaky finish.

Wheels first

I put a diluted solution of Bilberry Wheel Cleaner in an old household cleaner squirty bottle. Using the wheel cleaner, spray onto the wheels and brake calipers with a liberal coating, concentrating on the areas that have a thick covering of dirt.

This wheel cleaner is acid-free and safe to use on all wheel types. After waiting a couple of minutes, take your wheel cleaning brush from the brush set and gently clean in and around the wheels including behind the brake discs and close to the hub.

It’s essential you use this brush just for your wheels because it will get incredibly dirty and you don’t want this transferring to the rest of your bike. Once you’ve loosened all the dirt, give the wheels a rinse with a hose.

Exhaust second

The Valet Pro Bilberry Wheel Cleaner can be used on exhausts as it’s acid-free. Applying a coating underneath the exhaust where a build-up of road muck occurs. This will quickly remove heat-hardened material. 

Fly treatment

If you’ve ploughed through a thousand flies on your travels you might need a bit of insect remover to help shift them.

Motul E7 Insect Remover is a fantastic spray that removes insects and organic residue. The specific design of the insect remover makes it safe to use on motorcycle bodywork, mirrors and other plastics without causing damage.

Spray the insect remover onto the stubborn sun-baked flies and tar specks, leave to work for a couple of minutes.

Shampoo stage

Complete this process twice to get that gleaming finish. It helps get rid of all dirt layers that have built up over time within the bike’s paintwork.

Add your shampoo to your bucket of warm water. Working from the bike’s highest point down, use the shampoo bucket and mitt to clean one panel at a time. Rinse off in the cold water and repeat this process for all your bike. Once you’ve washed everywhere, give the whole bike a rinse off with the hose before starting your second wash. 

Ideally you’ll freshen up your bucket of warm water and add in more shampoo but this part isn’t essential. Go through the washing process a final time.

With the majority of the bodywork all clean and good to go, check over the areas with insect marks or road tar and give them a bit more of a scrub with your microfibre cloth or mitt to remove them.

Back to the wheels. Apply another quick misting of the wheel cleaner and use your wheel cleaning brush and an old rag to work your way around the wheel. It shouldn’t be too dirty but the brush alone won’t remove all the dirt from the paintwork. Then rinse everything off with the hose.

Streak-free drying

I use different coloured microfibre cloths, with each colour to do a different job, so they don’t carry dirt over from one process to the next.

For example, I use the blue one during the cleaning process to help get rid of stubborn marks and dirt in harder to reach places. Yellow for drying the bodywork and the white ones for polishing.

Just like shampooing, start from the top down and dry off your bike one area at a time. I use the chamois to start with as it’s a bit of magic and does the work for you. Any little bits of dirt I wipe off with a microfibre cloth, so the chamois stays cleaner.

The bottom area of your bike will probably have some slight residual dirt, so make sure to use your yellow cloths first to keep the chamois grit-free.

Once you’ve removed most of the water and any remaining specks of dirt, you can use your chamois and microfibre clothe to complete the drying. The chamois recommended is rather large, but the good news is, you can cut it into three, and you’ll always have stock.

Rather than folding it up and rubbing it around to dry, do it like the professionals and lay it on top of the area you’re drying. Rubbing the chamois around can cause any remaining grit to get trapped between the leather and the bike, scratching the paintwork. Wring it out before moving onto another area, and that’s it!

Simple polishing

Now it’s time to take out those white microfibre cloths to begin polishing. If you’ve never polished before, it’s best to do this part by hand – a machine polisher is overkill.

Polishing removes minute layers of paint to create a smoother surface; getting rid of any previous scratches and swirls while you’re at it.

If you want to apply a separate polish and wax, it will make this process longer, but the Muc-Off Miracle Shine we use in this guide contains carnauba wax (the hardest naturally occurring wax known to man for all you quiz fans!) and will repel water and dirt particles. The reviews received are excellent, and most say they notice a fantastic depth to the shine and lasts a long period between reapplications with minimal white residue.

Take your white microfibre cloth and apply a small amount of the Muc Off Miracle Shine. It needs to be a thin area of coverage so if you need to spread it about before application, you can. Using light pressure, apply the polish to one panel at a time in a circular motion. Once the panel is covered, leave to dry and move onto the next panel.

When you’ve applied the polish to all panels, and they’re dry, turn your cloth over to the clean side and buff out the Miracle Shine. Use the same light pressure as before with a circular motion.

You’re good to go

motorcycle cleaning guide valet uk - Easy Motorcycle Cleaning and Polishing Guide

Get your bike looking like it’s brand new again

That’s that! All done! The more you apply these techniques, the easier and quicker the process will become. The protective nature of the products used during the cleaning process should lengthen the time in between cleans but for added protection and care, rinse down your bike to take off grit and prevent caked on build ups. A good sign to look out for when your bike needs a full clean again is water stops beading on the surface.

Motorcycle Cleaning Top Tips

Avoid jet-washers. Yes, I know our guide already told you this, but they aren’t necessary. You end up causing more work for yourself by having to protect the delicate areas and damage anything if you don’t. Stick to cloths and brush sets!

Although it’s tempting to top up on a tan and enjoy the summer rays, try to avoid direct sunlight and midday when the sun is at its hottest. The heat will only dry out areas prematurely causing streaks and a mediocre result. Shaded areas or the start and end of the day are best.

It's a common rumour that washing up liquid contains salt which corrodes the bike, that isn't true. The simple fact is, washing up liquid will clean a bike but not as well as an automotive cleaner as it will strip all the wax from your paintwork leaving you with a dull finish. If you never re-waxed the bike, then it would start to corrode faster than if you were using a less harsh cleaner.

Chasing perfection

Touching up plastics: Muc-Off Silicone Shine 500ml – £9.49

Like all black motor plastics, it fades over time. To get that brand-new look again, Muc-Off Silicone Shine is an excellent addition to your arsenal.

Silicone Shine is entirely safe to use on all areas of your bike and won’t swell or soften any rubbers or plastics. When it’s dried completely, it provides a seriously shiny protective layer to stop build ups of dirt. 

To touch up plastics; switchgear, clocks and tail-tidys, spray a little onto a microfibre cloth, buff the surface and leave to dry.

Word of warning: If any spray happens to get onto your seat, handlebars, and most importantly, tyres, remove immediately. You don’t want to lose control once you get out on the road!

Refreshing metal: Meguiar’s G13005EU NXT Generation All Metal Polish 142g – £9.76

If the metal areas like the frame and rearsets or any chrome on your bike have dulled from oxidation, it will take away from the overall look of your clean and polish.

Meguiar’s NXT Generation All Metal Polish can be used on wheels, exhausts and other metal areas. It adds protection against corrosion and is safe to use on polished, cast and billet aluminium, chrome and stainless steel.

Making sure the bike is clean and dry, take a pea-sized amount on an old rag or a spare microfibre cloth and apply to the metal surfaces. Leave on for a minute and buff out using a forward-backwards motion rather than a circular one you used for the plastics. Once the rag or cloth has turned black, you can move on to a new section.

It won’t take too long to complete, a typical beam frame or pair of exhausts should take no more than 5 minutes.

Professional motorcycle valet services

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Get someone else to do it for you.

If you’re selling a motorbike that’s worth a few quid, a professional valet can help you get it sold. It might not add any value to the bike but it will make sure it stands out from the crowd, gets more interest from buyers and helps you sell it faster.

If you want to treat your bike to a professional valet there are specialist motorcycle valet companies and mobile motorcycle valets across the UK.

An experienced valet will get your bike looking tip-top. The opened image of the Panigale is a bike that was valeted by Ultimate Valet.

Here are some good specialist UK motorcycle valet firms:

Auto Cleanse – North East

Design by Detail – London

Mo Clean – Motorcycle specialist. London-based but mobile

Blade Detailing – Bournemouth

Parker’s – Devon

Shine My Ride – Motorcycle specialist. Somerset

Hi-Shine – Kent

Moto Valet – Motorcycle specialist. Gloucestershire

2 Machs – Motorcycle specialist. Cheshire.

Motorcycle corrosion treatment

If you ride in all weathers you’ll keep your bike in better nick if you have it treated to withstand all the UK’s winter roads can throw at you. All Year Biker offers an ACF50 treatment service, to keep your bike looking fresh.

FAQ

Are hand car washes safe for motorcycles?

car jetwash motorcycle - Easy Motorcycle Cleaning and Polishing GuideThere’s not a lot wrong with going to the local Eastern European car wash and getting your bike cleaned by 17 Bulgarians armed with cleaning cloths. They tend to do quite a good job but just keep an eye on where they aim their pressure washers. Some outfits are good and know a bike needs a bit more care and attention compared to the average car.

It’s common for them to use a diluted patio cleaner as their wheel cleaner, as it cuts through the crud on wheels which is fine for a BMW 3-series but for bikes with sticker kits and more plastic, you just have to watch where they aim it.

Sometimes they do silly things like apply tyre dressing (which is bloody slippery), so check they’re not doing that. Also they clean 10s of cars a day and you could argue that their cleaning mitts aren’t as grit-free as your one at home.

So keep a close eye out on your first time and if they do a good job, you’re sorted.

Is it ok to use washing up liquid to clean my bike?
Yes, it is. The urban myth is that dishwashing liquid like Fairy contains a salt which corrodes the bike or the paintwork. While it does contain a salt, it’s a not a chloride, which when left will become acid, which is what would corrode parts. The issue with washing up liquid is that it’ll strip off any paint protection on the bodywork, i.e. wax, leaving you with a dull finish and bodywork that’s not protected against the elements. If you use Fairy liquid, you will need to re-wax your bodywork.