Rinsing off mountain bikes after a ride

How to wash your bike

Why wash your bike? Keeping your bike clean comes with a bunch of benefits. The biggest bonus is that clean, properly lubed components roll smoother and last longer without grit wearing them down.

When you’re cleaning your bike, it also gives you a chance to notice any potential minor maintenance issues before they become big problems. Plus, stuff like fixing a dropped chain is way nicer (and easier) to do on a clean bike than a sandy, greasy, muddy one.

What you’ll need

Heads up: cleaning a bike gets a little messy, so leave your good jeans and favourite t-shirt out of the equation. Wear something that can get grubby. Expect to take about 15 minutes once you’ve gathered your supplies; it might be a little longer for your first cleaning.

  • Dirty bike
  • A place to wash it – you can lean your bike against a fence or hook the seat over a low-hanging branch
  • Clean rags – strips of old cotton towels, t-shirts or even socks work great
  • Chain lube
  • Degreaser / chain cleaning liquid
  • Chain cleaning tool (optional)
  • Bike cleaning brushes – an old toothbrush can work in a pinch
  • Bike wash or good quality biodegradable dishsoap
  • Bucket or 2 of warm water
  • Hose (optional)

How to wash your bike

Important: Keep lube away from disc brake pads and rotors. Some people even cover them with a plastic bag and elastic bands.

Wash and scrub

If you’re using a hose, go gentle. Don’t blast your bike with high-pressure water or you could jam grit deeper in or get water in your bearings (bad).

  1. Get sudsy: Top up your bucket with warm water. If you’re using detergent, add a small amount to get bubbles going.
  2. Wet the frame: Give your frame an once-over with water from the hose or bucket to get the worst of the mud off.
  3. Spray on cleaner: If you’re using bike wash, spray it on the frame. Read the directions to see how long to let it sit for.
  4. Gently scrub: Use a large bike cleaning brush to scrub the bike wash, or to scrub your warm soapy water on your bike. Don’t forget the bottom bracket, cassette and wheels. As you scrub, keep an eye out for cracks or damage you may not have noticed before.
  5. Rinse: Rinse off all the bike wash or soap with the hose, clean water from a bucket, or a water bottle filled with clean water.
  6. Towel off the frame: With a clean dry towel.

then Clean your chain and cassette

  1. Degrease cassette: Use a gear cleaning brush or old toothbrush dipped in degreaser to clean your cassette sprockets.
  2. Degrease chain: For light chain cleaning, soak a clean rag in some degreaser. For filthier chains, use a chain-cleaning tool with degreaser.
  3. Wipe off degreaser: Thoroughly rinse degreaser off with water, and wipe chain dry with a clean rag.
  4. Lube your chain: Don’t go overboard with chain lube. Lightly drag the lube nozzle over the dry chain to get one drop on every link (spin the pedals at the same time).
  5. Wipe off excess lube: Grab a clean, dry rag and wipe the chain to remove excess lube.

Note: If there’s lots of grime embedded in your chain, it might be time for a good soaking. Take the chain off entirely, fill an old container with some degreaser and soak your chain in it for a few minutes. Make sure to rinse the chain well before you re-install it on your bike.

When to wash your bike

Muddy bike

If you’ve never washed your bike and you’ve been riding it often, that’s a sign to give it a wash. After any ride that leaves your bike muddy, sandy, or with dirt chunks or road grime jammed in crevices, you should rinse off the worst of it, and then give it the attention it needs. That might mean a quick spray with bike wash and another rinse, or a full wash if it still looks grimy.

Mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes will need more washing than road bikes. Dry riding conditions make washing less critical, but even road riding or commuting kicks up grit that can wear components – keep it clean to keep it rolling smoothly.

All bikes will benefit from frequent chain maintenance. After one or two long rides or after wet rides, clean and lube your chain. If you’re bike commuting regularly, a once a week chain cleaning and lubing will keep it running smooth.

More bike maintenance tips

Want to learn more about caring for your bike? Check out bike maintenance clinics at your local MEC store.