If you’re looking to quickly clean off your motorcycle or dirtbike, there are a few best practices you should follow. But one question I thought I’d answer is: Is it safe to wash your motorcycle at a carwash? I’ll break down why this isn’t such a good idea, and present a few alternatives that could potentially save you a ton of money.
Believe it or not, there are YouTube videos of guys actually riding bikes through automatic carwashes…which is a dumb idea but quite funny. In addition to automatic washes obviously not being the smartest idea, here’s why your standard self-serve car wash is not typically the greatest idea either. As a disclaimer, we are not responsible for any damages that may ensue.Free eBook: 25 Essential Detailing Products for Beginners
High pressure can cause damage
High pressure is really the biggest threat to washing a bike in a carwash, because it can cause damage to your bike’s internals and exterior depending on the amount of pressure used. You also don’t want to expose leather to water (for obvious reasons) without having a towel or chamois on hand.
While it’s fine to use a hose to remove dirt on tires as long as you know what you’re doing. here are a few reasons why these high pressure wands found at carwashes can be problematic:
Grease and bearings
Using high pressure can be detrimental to wheel bearings, removing grease and allowing water to enter where it doesn’t need to be. You also want to make sure that you avoid shock/fork seals, hubs, and suspension bearings as water can penetrate allowing grease to escape (leading to rusting).
In other cases, water can do damage to exposed electronics when hit with high pressure. Modern bikes are built to withstand rain to a certain degree, but you want to avoid any electrical connections like switches, plug wires, or the starter.
Damage to the chain
Cleaning your bike’s chain is critically important, but using pressure is a no-no. Many manufacturers use rubber grommets (O, X, or Z rings) that basically help to keep grease in and water out. You should always use a chain cleaner vs. blasting it to avoid any problems (like rusting) that high pressure can accelerate.
Don’t wash a bike while hot
Even if you happen to get caught in the rain (which happens), you may know that water spots resulting from making contact with hot pipes or your engine can be super-difficult to remove once dried.
In extreme cases cracking can occur
If you’re at a carwash, chances are your bike is still pretty hot. The biggest reason you want to avoid cold water is that hot metal expands and returns to its normal shape after cooling down. Dousing it with hot water can cause heads to crack in extreme cases.
Water can take paint off of engines or turn them milky white
If you have a painted engine, applying cold water can remove it quite easily, as I’ve heard numerous accounts online of guys ruining the paint when attempting to wash a hot bike.
More commonly, your engine will probably turn a milky white color which can be hard to get rid of. There are several negative effects of washing a hot bike that I’ve heard of, but most extreme cases are from when cold water is introduced to a hot motor.
Tips for Safely Washing Your Motorcycle
- Wait at least 10 minutes (if not longer) for the engine to cool down
- Avoid high pressure
- Don’t spray your motorcycle down with exposed leather – work in sections
- Use non-detergent based soaps (some detergent-based car wash soaps can react with aluminum)
- Use degreaser instead of soap/water to clean dirty engines
If you must, find a car wash with a low pressure sprayer, and use water sparingly if you have to, avoiding the areas mentioned. While I have heard accounts of guys washing their motorcycles at car washes and having no problem, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Most car washes I’ve been to use pretty high pressure and make it very difficult to take your time (since many are coin operated and only give you about a minute to wash and rinse everything). Brushes and soaps used at these washes you really don’t want to use on your bike to avoid scratching.
Handwash using a cleaner intended for motorcycles
There is a good guide here at ArtofManliness.com that details how to properly handwash a motorcycle that you might want to check out. One product that is a pretty standard product for cleaning products is made by S100. They carry a complete line of cleaning products exclusively for motorcycles.
There are also a bunch of waterless products designed specifically for being on the road with a motorcycle that you can check out. Wizards offers a complete motorcycle detailing kit here on Amazon that includes everything you need while on the road – from bike wash to bug releaser.
Have anything to add as it relates to washing your bike? Leave a comment below.