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Washing a Bicycle With Car Soap and Hose? Read This

Like cars, it’s important to wash your bicycle from time to time to prolong its life. If you typically ride in muddy conditions it’s critical to avoid preventable wear and tear from rocks dirt.

While washing a bike is similar to how you wash your car, there are a few key differences to keep in mind.

In this post, I’ll explain how washing a bike is a bit different than a car, and finish with 5 key steps to washing a bicycle for beginners.

Can you wash a bicycle like a car?

Yes and no. When it comes to rinsing, cleaning, or protecting a bike’s frame, it’s very similar. You can simply spray it down with a low-pressure garden hose as a good first step to knock off any loose dirt.

Low-pressure really isn’t going to hurt a bike or even soap for that matter so long as you add proper lubrication to your chain afterward.

The difference in washing a bicycle vs a car

The main difference between washing a car vs washing a bike is that to properly clean every component of a bicycle, you’ll first need to disassemble it.

While rinsing with soap and water can keep the frame clean, to properly wash all your bike’s components you’ll need to know how to remove various parts of your bike.

To start, there are plenty of videos online that outline what tools you need depending on your bike.

But the short answer is yes, using a hose and soap to wash your bike’s frame is perfectly fine.

For relatively clean bikes, one option is to pick up a bottle of WD-40 bike cleaner here on Amazon. This is a good choice for frequent (maintenance) washing, as opposed to heavier jobs that require soap.

Soap is ideal for carrying heavy mud or dirt particles away.

Should you wash your bike with car soap?

bucket with suds

It depends. While there is some debate as to what soaps are good and bad for certain areas of your bike (like brakes), any car soap that doesn’t contain wax is generally a good choice. 

Soap is great at carrying away dirt, but as a best practice try to avoid getting liquid wax on areas like brake pads. Typically any car soap will do here.

If you want to use a professional product designed for bikes, Muc-Off makes a line of bike cleaners in spray bottles here on Amazon that can be a good portable choice for keeping your bike clean on the road.

Keep in mind that many people prefer spray-on products for cleaning bikes after rinsing (which is perfectly okay when applied correctly).

However, if your bike is covered in mud, pollen, or a layer of dirt, you’ll want to first rinse it off with soap and water to avoid scratching the frame.

Can you use dish liquid to wash a bicycle?

For amateurs, it’s okay to wash a bicycle with dish liquid if it’s all you have so long as you wash it off thoroughly. Keep in mind dish liquid has degreasing properties, and will remove any wax you have applied to your bike’s frame.

It’s technically more of a degreasing agent than a soap.

Many people are hesitant to use dish liquid due to its salt and degreasing properties, but in the concentrations, you’re dealing with it’s nothing to really worry about.

I personally would opt for car soap for washing and rinsing your bike’s frame, as it is generally better suited for washing painted surfaces and produces much thicker soap.

It also won’t strip off previously applied wax which is a good thing.

Should you apply car wax to a bicycle?

If you’re looking to protect your bike’s frame, using traditional car wax is the ideal way to do this as long as you don’t have a matte finish. Assuming you don’t make contact with areas like your brake pads or rotors, car waxes are simply meant to add a layer of protection.

For matte frames and forks, a matte detailer and sealant like this one by Chemical Guys is a great choice for this application. 

The video below does a great job of describing why waxes are used for shiny surfaces, and spray on sealants for matte finishes.

Since most bikes have glossy finishes, you really can’t go wrong with a good carnauba wax in paste form. I personally prefer Meguiars products, but any will do.

While I’m a big fan of spray sealants for cars, since you’ll be avoiding areas like brake pads and the chain, you may be better off applying wax by hand.

Should you wash a bike at a self-service car wash?

Generally, it’s best to avoid self-service car washes since high-pressure sprayers can damage your bearings.

While bearings are generally sealed pretty well for modern bikes (especially if you apply grease to the wells), high-pressure water can be problematic.

Can you still use a hose to rinse your bike?

For beginners, it’s okay to rinse off your bike with low pressure from time to time if you’re on the road and it’s an emergency.

Just be careful around areas like hubs and headsets that contain bearings. If you wash your bike more frequently, you really won’t need a hose but rather a spray-on cleaner.

5 tips for washing a bicycle for beginners

While this isn’t a post to describe exactly how to clean a bicycle, here are a few tips for properly washing your bike as a beginner:

  1. Use a bike work stand
  2. Purchase or rent the tools needed for disassembly 
  3. Purchase bike cleaning accessories (like a bike chain brush tool)
  4. Grease the chain when finished (and bearings if necessary)
  5. Avoid high pressure

I hope this post has been helpful! For more tips on washing cars (as well as your bike!) check out the Quick Tips section.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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