Bicycle Tips

Bike Wash 101: Cleaning Tools, Parts To Wash & Steps To Take

Bike Wash 101: Bicycle Cleaning Equipment & How To Wash

Regardless of whether you’re riding a bike as a newfound hobby or you’re preparing for an upcoming race – a couple of things stay the same for any bike – be it a ready-made or custom bicycle; maintenance, proper care, and washing.

In today’s article, we’ll be zooming into washing – the essential bike wash equipment you’ll need, bike components to wash, and the steps to take when cleaning these parts. Whether it’s washing a road bike or mountain bike – we’ll be covering the washing basics from top to bottom.

Your bicycle is an assemblage of moving parts. Whenever it’s exposed to dirt, mud, and debris – these components start to deteriorate, and that’s when it may call for bike servicing. Especially after a muddy ride on the trails – it’ll make you all the more want to get your bike washed and spotless immediately.

Still, even if your bike isn’t covered entirely in dirt and mud – it’ll still need some TLC (aka tender loving care) every now and then. Clean parts wear out less fast than dirty ones, so it goes to say how important a bicycle wash is. A bike that is maintained and cleaned regularly and properly will ensure a pristine look and better safety and performance, so it’s extremely important to know how to wash your bicycle properly.

If you’re planning to get your bike washed sometime soon or you’re just about to get right into it – read on and learn how to wash a bike at home with our comprehensive bike wash guide before you get to work!

Basic Bike Wash Equipment

Basic bike wash equipment used to wash a bicycle

  • Clean Rags (or you may even opt for old cotton T-shirts; it’s cost-saving!):
    Not sure where to begin or how to wash a bicycle? It starts with clean rags – an absolute necessity for general cleaning – be it for grease, oil, or wax-related tasks and basic cleaning and drying.
  • Water Source: Consider using a bucket or hose when washing your bike. But be careful when using a hose, particularly a high-pressure one, as it may damage sensitive bearing systems throughout the bicycle. Alternatively, you may also consider a jet wash/pressure washer – but be sure not to point it directly at suspensions or bearing seals. 
  • Brushes: Ideally, have a kit with brushes of several sizes, shapes, and bristle stiffness on hand. Soft-bristled brushes are handy for removing road grime and softened mud, those with stiff bristles will make it a smoother process when lifting stubborn grime. A large, soft-bristled brush or sponge is great for the wheels and frame (as any wheel builder would say), whereas a cone-shaped brush is ideal for hard-to-reach places. Finally, get hold of a toothbrush-type brush (or even an old toothbrush) with stiff curved bristles for cleaning the mechs and cassettes, and a brush when applying degreasers.
  • Bike Cleaning Solution or Soap: The purpose of this type of solution is to help loosen and remove grime without causing damage to the paintwork or material your bicycle is built from. When choosing one, ensure the selected cleaner is safe for use on both carbon and metal. On the other hand, you may also consider diluted dishwashing soap for frame cleaning.
  • Chain Lubricant: Lubricating your chain is key to lengthening the lifespan of your drivetrain. There are two main types of lube: dry and wet. Dry lube is best used in a dry environment. Grit and dirt stick less to dry lube, but dry lube will rinse off easily if you’ll be cycling in the rain.

    Wet lube excels in wet conditions. It strongly adheres to your drivetrain, making it less likely to be washed off in rainy conditions. However, with wet lube, grime and grit are more likely to stick to your drivetrain, so it’s important to remove any excess lube.
  • Chain Cleaning Device (if you don’t own one, a stiff-bristled toothbrush works too): A chain cleaning sponge (aka a sponge with a groove cut at the top) makes chain cleaning a lot smoother – simply grab the chain in the sponge’s groove then turn the cranks. Alternatively, there are plenty of drivetrain-specific brushes out there for cleaning cassettes, chainrings, and chains.
  • Brake Cleaner: A proper cleaning of your disc brakes will wash away all the grit and grime that builds up on pads or in a caliper. With a great brake cleaner, it will remove grease, oil, grit, and brake fluid, without affecting brake performance. It may also help to reduce squeal and ensure a longer lifespan.
  • Degreaser: A bike-specific degreaser’s (avoid turpentine or kerosene) job is to clean up gummy components like your bike chain and other moving parts. Maintaining a clean drivetrain is important – if neglected, dirt will quicken wear throughout the transmission, affect shifting performance, and lower efficiency.

    With a degreaser, it’ll break down grime and grease without brute force and make the work of removing built-up greasy crud from your cassette and drivetrain easier. 
  • Bike Cleaning Spray:An excellent choice for cleaning bike parts with stubborn dried-on crud and mud. It can be used as a standalone from a cleaning solution, or alongside it. Mainly, its purpose is for removing any stubborn dirt and is effective for cleaning your bike when there isn’t sufficient time for a more thorough wash. After applying it, the spray can be left to work its magic for a couple of minutes before being wiped or rinsed off. Most dirt and mud should come off after, otherwise, the use of brushes can be put to use for hard-to-reach areas.
  • Bike Polish: This comes last, after the bike is completely free from dirt and grit. It comes to play for adding a protective polish to the bike frame and components. Our pro tip? Opt for a spray with a moisture dispersant and PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene aka what Teflon is). The dispersant works by expelling water from the bike for protection against corrosion, whereas the PTFE leaves a shiny finish after being applied. And the perks don’t end for PTFE, dirt is less likely to stick to it, making it easier to clean your bike for the next wash.

    Before you start applying a spray polish, we suggest removing the wheels and making sure not to get spray on any of the braking parts or braking surfaces. If any polish, substance, or oil (which is built to reduce friction) is found on your brake pads, brake track or discs – the brake system will be contaminated. This may result in dangerous rides as your bike’s safety is compromised – contaminated brakes will reduce the ability to slow down. At this point, it’s best to remove your brakes and clean them. 
  • Bike Stand (optional, but highly recommended): Besides preparing all the bike wash equipment that you’ll need – consider getting a bike stand if it’s within your budget. Perfect for positioning your bike at a comfortable height, it makes the bike washing process a lot easier! Not to mention, it will also let you remove the wheels or turn the pedals so you can easily clean all the moving and hard-to-reach areas. Still, not forgetting our pro tip – don’t wash the bike upside down as water will enter parts you don’t want it to and lead to even more problems. Save yourself the trouble!

How To Wash A Bike: Parts To Clean & The Steps You Should Take

Dirty bike on a workstand in need of a bike wash

Set-Up Phase

Step #1: Grab two clean buckets filled with water and a generous spurt of dish soap or bike cleaning solution. Lay out your rags, brushes, sponges, and other cleaning tools that you’ll be using.

Step #2: Skip this step if you won’t be using a bike stand. 

If you’ll be using one, great! It’ll make the entire process a whole lot easier – making all the nooks and crannies easier to reach. Make sure you place the stand on a level, flat ground – if it’s in the wrong place, with the weight of the bike it will actually topple forward. 

The clamp should be at shoulder level height so it’s not too difficult to lift the bike up and clamp it in place – this will let you work on various parts of the bike, be it spinning the gears or adjusting the saddle. But if you need to work on the lower part of the bike, such as the bottom bracket, you should slide the stand all the way down so it’s clamping the seat with the bike all the way down to the floor.

On the other hand, if you have to clamp it to the frame, the top tube, don’t do it too tightly especially if it’s a carbon frame – it might squeeze and crack the carbon.

Step #3: Now, remove the wheels. You may also consider inserting a chain keeper – it’s a great guide for the chain once the cassette is taken out – to ensure tension is kept on the drivetrain. If you don’t feel there’s a need for it, you can skip this step – but it’s a good addition to prevent your chain from falling off the bike or folding up on itself when working on it.

1. Wash the frame

A close-up of a dirty bike frame that is about to be cleaned

Must-have cleaning essentials:

  • 2 buckets of water (1 with soap or bike cleaning solution and 1 with clean water)
  • Soft sponge
  • Clean, dry rags
  • Brush (or toothbrush)

With the bucket of warm water mixed with soap or bike cleaning solution and a brush, scrub off the grime and dirt gently. Soap up the frame and dip a clean, soft sponge into the bucket working your way from front to back and top down, washing the handlebars, headset, top tube, seat post, seat stays, front fork and brakes. 

If you have disc brakes, ensure that you keep soap away from the brake pads and rotors. Then, clean your rotors using a specific rotor cleaner or rubbing alcohol. Now, finish by scrubbing the chainrings, chainstays, cogs, and cranks. 

Once you’re done with all the scrubbing, brush and rinse all the parts in the same order with a bucket of clean water. Last but not least, dry your bike thoroughly with clean, dry rags. These are the basic steps to start with if you’re washing a road bike frame or any other bicycle frame.

After you’ve washed the frame, next comes your suspension! (Only applicable if yours is a mountain bike, otherwise, you’re done for now and you can skip this step.)

With a soft sponge, wash the suspension stanchions and dropper post. Keep in mind not to use the same sponge on the brake rotors and use a separate, clean sponge instead. When doing so, rinse gently with water from a bucket, and never apply water pressure using a jet washer.

2. Clean your wheels

Bike mechanic using a sponge to scrub the dirt off the bike wheel

Must-have cleaning essentials:

  • Brushes
  • Sponge
  • 2 buckets of water (1 with soap or bike cleaning solution and 1 with clean water)

If you’re figuring out how to wash your bicycle wheels next – you’ll need to start with bringing in lots of brushes. Ideally, get hold of softer, larger brushes for the rims and tires so you can reach into every nook and cranny with little effort. Dip the brush into the bucket, then beginning at the valve, scrub all the way around the tire. Clean the hub and spokes, and turn the wheel to reach the opposite side.

Repeat on your other wheel and rinse. Take note: if you have disc brakes, clean the rotors using the soft side of a clean sponge alongside soap (or your bike cleaning solution) and water.

3. Wash your drivetrain

Bike mechanic holding the pedal while washing the drivetrain

Must-have cleaning essentials:

  • Degreaser
  • Brush (or an old toothbrush)
  • Bike cleaning solution or soap
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Bucket of water
  • Lubricant

Use a specific brush for your drivetrain alone, either a stiff-bristled brush or even an old toothbrush – don’t ever use it on any other part of your bike, especially the brakes – potentially contaminating your braking surface with chain dirt will impact its performance, resulting in a replacement of brake pads even.

Now, dip the brush into a bucket of water and scrub the chainrings. Alternatively, you can spray degreaser on the chainrings and derailleurs and scrub them using a brush – the dirt should come off pretty easily. (If you’re following the second step, wash the degreaser off with soap before using water.) Rinse with a gentle stream of water, and repeat if there is still any remaining dirt. Then, hold onto your rear wheel and drip your bike cleaning solution or sap onto the cassette, scrub, and rinse. If necessary, repeat this step. 

Next, apply lubricant to the drivetrain to ensure your gear operates smoothly. But, use lubricant with caution or the frame will be dirty or your floor will be full of lubricant drip. Once done, make sure to always wipe off any excess lube from the drivetrain using a lint-free cloth to prevent lint from being stuck on the parts.

4. Clean and lubricate the chain

Bicycle mechanic using a cloth to clean and lubricate the chain

Must-have cleaning essentials:

  • Water for rinsing
  • Cloth/rag
  • Brushes (or toothbrushes)
  • Lubricant
  • Degreaser

If you own a chain cleaning device – proceed using it to clean the chain to make the process more thorough, easy, and less messy. Otherwise, get ready to grab these three tools: degreaser, brushes, and rags. 

If the chains aren’t too dirty, then a rag and degreaser will suffice. But if there’s too much built-up grime, the brush will come in handy for cleaning the cassette and derailleur(s). With a degreaser and turn the cranks backward, this will make sure it gets on each link. After around five to 10 cycles, rinse with a gentle stream of water. 

Then, before moving onto lubricant – make sure the chain is completely dry – otherwise, the lube will not be able to penetrate properly into the chainlinks.

Next, comes your lubricant – proper cleaning and lubricating regularly is necessary to slow the rate of chain wear as it’s the bike’s most at risk lubricated component. Generally, lubricate the chain whenever it appears dry or squeaks. Lubing after wet rides will especially help to prevent the chain from rusting.

Once the degreaser has dried, apply drops of lube onto the chain slowly, making sure there’s some on every link. Now, let the lube dry and wipe off any excess lube to prevent more dirt from getting onto it. 

5. Wipe the discs or braking surface down

A close shot of bicycle disc brakes that needs to be wiped down

Must-have cleaning essentials:

  • Steel wool or fine sandpaper
  • Brushes
  • Rags or cloths
  • Water for rinsing 
  • Brake cleaner, if necessary

Start off by disconnecting your bike’s brake calipers from the frame or fork if necessary – it’ll make the cleaning process a lot easier. Use a brush to remove any coarse dirt and rinse the brakes with water. Then, remove any rust using steel wool, or with fine sandpaper, remove any bumps you can find.

After which, wash the disc brake to remove residues that may be built from the brake pads being grounded up. If needed, consider using a brake cleaner to make it even more hassle-free – it’s designed to easily remove dirt, grime, oil, grease, and brake dust from all braking components. On top of these pros, it can boost braking performance and is easy-to-apply, which means minimal effort for preparation and cleaning.

Once all is done, use a clean rag or cloth to clean the disc brakes till they’re dry. Then, go ahead and assemble the brake calipers if they’re removed!

6. Use bike cleaning spray and bike polish for the finishing touches (recommended, but not necessary)

Bicycle mechanic using a cloth damped with bike cleaning spray to polish the bike

If you have the time, consider using bike cleaning spray and bike polish. The former is perfect for better ensuring that any sort of dirt and grime are removed, while the latter gives it a protective polish so that your next bicycle wash is a lot easier and smoother – be it when washing your road bike or mountain bike next. It may not be a must, but they’re good to have to beautify the bike and give it the TLC that it deserves!


A close-up view of the bicycle after washing it

When it comes to your precious bike – a good, regular bicycle wash can go a long way in maintaining performance, lengthening the lifespan of bike parts, saving money in the long run, and undoubtedly – giving your bike the shine it deserves to be featured on your IG feed.

And with what we’ve just gone through, you now know how to wash a bike! This also serves as an excellent start for DIY bike wash beginners or a reminder for those who are already washing their bikes regularly.

With a clean bike or in the midst of a bike wash, especially after rides on rocky, muddy trails – it’ll make it tons easier to spot any issues in your bike and ensure it’s safe to ride. When you do notice odd, squeaky sounds or any damaged parts – servicing or replacement may be necessary to keep your treasured bike in good shape. If you think it’s high time for servicing or just a simple bike assessment – consider visiting our experienced and knowledgeable mechanics at AttitudeBikes. We are more than glad to help get your bike in tip-top shape so it’s ready to set off for the next ride!

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