How to clean your bike

Here's the lowdown on how to keep your bike road bike clean and running smoothly for years to come

Cleaning a dirty road bike
(Image credit: Future)

We know the feeling: you’ve just made it back after a tough slog over the hills and all you want to do is grab some food (opens in new tab) and jump in the shower. But in the hurry for freshness and sustenance, it's important not to neglect cleaning your bike.

If it's not done immediately, chances are you won’t get round to it before the next time you head out for a ride – and so will begin a vicious cycle that’ll only build into a crescendo of seized components, un-cooperative gears and squeaky brakes. 

Fortunately, cleaning your bike properly can be done in just a handful of minutes – once you have a clear idea of the procedure and the right equipment. So, without further ado, let’s get into how to clean your bike.

How to clean your bike: step by step guide

How to clean your bike

1. Rinse the frame down

Start by giving the frame a basic wipe. This can be with a sponge and bucket of water or a hose – just don't use a high pressure washer as this will force water into the bearings.

Spray the bike with a bike cleaning product, and then, with more clean water, use a soft bristled brush to give the bike a scrub.

Don't be tempted to substitute the bike cleaning product and soft brush with washing up liquid and a kitchen sponge – this can result in a scratched or even colour faded frame.

2. Use degreaser on the derailleurs and chain

Next, spray the derailleurs and chain with a degreasing agent and give them a good (but gentle) scrub. You might find this easiest with the wheel still in the bike or, as you'll need to take the wheels out later anyway, a chain-keeper will help to keep tension in the chain.

3. Use degreaser on the cassette and chainrings

Spray more degreaser over the chainrings and cassette and give them a scrub. Using a gear brush really helps you to get into the cassette cogs.

If the chain still looks grimy, you can use a chain cleaner: simply fill the unit with a degreaser, snap it on and rotate the pedal backwards to feed the chain through. Dispose of the degreaser safely when you're done.

4. Clean the braking surface and pads

You should still clean the rims of your bike whatever braking system you're using. But for rim brakes, it is particularly important to give the braking surface a good wash and wipe – and then repeat for the pads, checking for any debris that might have wedged itself in.

For disc brakes, make sure the cleaning product you're using is suitable to use on disc brakes. Some general purpose bike cleaners are, but if yours isn't, make sure to use a dedicated brake cleaner or some isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the rotors and spray onto the brake pads.

5. Rinse the frame, dry and lube the chain

Rinse the soap suds off the bike, dry the chain with an old rag and apply chain lube (opens in new tab)to the chain and the pivot points on the derailleurs

What you need for cleaning your bike

Muc off complete cleaning kit

(Image credit: Muc off)

To clean your bike effectively, there's essentially six broad categories of equipment you'll need. The good news is, you'll likely already have half of them around at home and everything else can be found quite cheaply if you shop around. 

  1. Brushes
  2. Cleaning fluid
  3. Degreaser
  4. Lube
  5. Towel
  6. Bucket

But if you're time-pressed – or simply prefer simplicity – there is always the option to go in for a bike cleaning bundle (opens in new tab) from brands such as Muc Off, Bike Hut or Weldtite. These kits include everything you need in one easy package.

Bike cleaning brushes

Muc Off cleaning brushes

(Image credit: Muc Off)

To really clean out all the nooks and crannies of a bike, specialist brushes do make the job a lot easier – whether that’s getting in between the cassette sprockets, around the jockey wheels or any parts of the frame prone to collecting dirt. Larger, softer brushes really help with quickly cleaning down large areas of the frame without causing scratches. 

Cheaper brushes are, of course, kinder on the wallet initially. But investing a little more can get you a higher build quality which will see the brushes last for longer

Bike cleaning fluid

Muc Off general cleaner

(Image credit: Muc Off)

There’s a whole range of bike cleaners out there which promise many, many different things. One point we like to check is whether the product is safe to use on disc brakes – there’s nothing wrong with having multiple products for multiple purposes, but cutting down on clutter does make things easier.

Likewise, some concentrated bike cleaners can double up as degreasers in their undiluted form – saving yet another cleaning product there. Buying concentrates tends to be easier on the wallet and on the environment too, as it significantly reduces the volumes of water being needlessly shipped around when you’re adding it yourself at home from the tap.

Sticking with environmental concerns, another quality we like to look for is how friendly the cleaning product is to wildlife. As there is the choice, it’s always better to go with cleaners which are specifically formulated not to poison water ways.

Bike degreaser

Weldtite degreaser

(Image credit: Weldtite)

To cut through the grime of a chain, a dedicated degreaser is often needed. It’s typically cheaper and more environmentally friendly to get refills and use a squirty bottle, but aerosols do make it much easier to reach those hard-to-get-at places – just make sure not to get it in your bearings.

As with general purpose cleaners, there is often the option to go for a product specifically formulated to minimise the ecological impact, which is always a good thing. 

Chain lubricant

Finish Line lube

(Image credit: Finish Line)

After stripping all the gunk off your chain, the next step is to add some chain
lubrication
(opens in new tab) to keep it running smoothly, efficiently, and to protect against rust. Depending on the conditions, you’ll either want to use a wet lube or a dry lube.

Wet lubes, as their name suggests, are best for wet conditions. They cling tendanciously to the chain and are much more resistant to being washed off than a dry lube. The downside is, in dry conditions, they also have a tendency to collect dust and debris, making a gritty paste that’s no good for the longevity of your drivetrain and is a bit of a pain to clean.

Dry lubes, on the other hand, are best used in dry conditions. A good quality one will repel dust, keeping your drivetrain squeaky clean. They also tend to be slightly more efficient than wet lubes, saving you a few watts. The downside for dry lubes is that they can be quickly washed off in wet conditions, leaving you with an unprotected chain.

Towel

Microfibre towels

(Image credit: Amazon)

If you don’t dry your bike after cleaning, you risk leaving streaky water marks all over it. A microfibre cleaning towel will avoid this and not leave any lint on your pride and joy.

The final step to cleaning your bike is drying it off, removing any water that might cause streaky marks or corrode parts of your bike. A microfibre cleaning cloth is the best tool for this job, as they don’t leave any unsightly lint in their wake. You can get ‘bike-specific’ ones, but you’ll save a lot of money simply going for an automotive or general cleaning set – they are essentially the same thing.

Bucket

How to clean your bike general purpose bucket

You probably already have a bucket you can use, but more is always helpful. You could have one for soapy water, one for plain water and use another as simply a handy way of carrying around your cleaning supplies. 

The bucket doesn’t have to be anything fancy and between 5 and 10 litres is a good volume to aim for.

Bike cleaning FAQs

Can cleaning your bike properly negate the need for a winter bike?

Do you still need a winter bike if you clean your summer bike reguarly?

A lot of riders like to have a winter bike set up for trudging through the driving rain and general muck involved in logging off-season miles. This bike will generally be made from a heavier and cheaper material than the summer beast, and is often fitted with mudguards and puncture dodging resilient tyres.

The sad truth is that very often these hard working winter bikes receive half as much maintenance attention as our summer-ready race bikes. This certainly shouldn't be the case: the long suffering mile-munchers are often experiencing twice as much hardship each week than the thoroughbred race machines will come across all year.

Of course, it's always worth bearing in mind that if a rider can be dedicated enough to clean their bike after every ride, there's actually very little need to lug around the trusty winter steed in order to keep the summer bike in good condition.

Unless you're after the 'train heavy, race light' effect or simply want a more comfortable set up for the winter, with a proper cleaning routine in place you could skimp on a winter bike, leaving more cash for buying upgrades and more space for bike storage. Just make sure you can bear to fit mudguards for club runs or risk being very unpopular.

Whichever bike you choose to ride, a wipe after every ride and weekly deep clean will keep it all running smoothly regardless what the weather throws at you both.

how to clean your bike

A traditional winter road bike wears mudguards and is often made of aluminium or steel

What products do I need to clean my bike?

  • Bucket - avoid a hose or jet wash
  • Sponge or soft bristled brush (no kitchen scourers!)
  • Gear brush: this has bristles on one end and a serrated plastic on the other, for reaching between the cogs
  • Chain cleaning tool if the chain is very dirty
  • Bike cleaner, degreaser and chain lube

Why should I clean my bike?

Cleaning your bike regularly will help keep it running smoothly, and it also gives you a chance to give the frame and components a quick once over, giving you a much greater chance of spotting potential problems (such as a crack in the frame) before they develop.

Plus, as the video proves, it takes less than seven minutes (even if you stop to explain every step!)

How do I clean the chain on my bike?

As outlined in the steps above, the chain needs to be cleaned with a good degreaser. Spray or wipe it on, leave it to soak in, and then wipe off with a rag. Once you're happy that the chain is clean you can dry it with a clean rag and apply a thin layer of chain lube. Don't forget to give the same treatment to the chainrings and cassette.

How do I prevent the chain on my bike from rusting?

Dry it down properly after its wash, and apply chain lube. This will prevent rust from building up and will also keep the chain running smoothly.

Can I use WD40/GT85 to clean my bike?

WD40 and GT85 are both water dispersants. They will dislodge thick muck, grime and dirt - so it's good to use when you've got a lot of built up grease on your chain and gears, or a stuck part that's become rusted. It will get everything looking very shiny. It isn't a lubricant, so you do need to use a chain lube after use and you shouldn't get them near your rims or brakes.

Can I clean my bike with baby wipes?

Baby wipes are very mild and therefore won't do your bike any harm. They're great for giving your frame a quick wipe down between proper washes, especially if you don't have easy access to outside space. They won't get deep into built up oil as a proper degreaser will, so baby-wipe washes shouldn't replace the proper treatment.

Can I use a pressure washer or hose to clean my bike?

You can - but it's really not a good idea. The jet will get dirt off the bike, but it'll also push water into the bearings and cause them to age more quickly.

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