How to clean your bike

clean bike vs dirty bike Set aside 30 minutes this weekend to get down and dirty with your bike. If you do you will keep that new bike feeling for longer and enjoy a smoother ride with crisp gear shifting. Can’t beat it! So make sure before you head home today you pickup any of these bits you need from your local bike shop and then take a look at these easy instructions to clean your bike like the pro’s do, avoiding some of the common mistakes.

For a clean bike you will need:

All the equipment you need to get your bike clean

Everyone cleans their bike in a different way. In my experience, after much research and honing this is the most efficient way I have found. I can usually get my bike looking brand new in less than 25 minutes. You may want to print off these instructions for reference while you clean your bike. Let’s get started.

Clean bike chain

A clean bike chain will easily shift through the gears. If you have a dirty one then it will be slow to shift and will wear down your expensive drivetrain.

Cleaning the bike chain

  1. Put the bike in the lowest gear and pedal backwards running it through a damp cloth. Sometimes this stage may be enough to get the chain clean.
  2. If its not then you will need to apply some degreaser onto the chain and allow it to sink in for 3-5 minutes. Don’t be overzealous as this is strong stuff. When the degreaser is applied rotate the chain to work it in.
  3. Dampen a toothbrush or cloth and wipe the entire chain removing any degreaser and dirt making sure to get in between each chain link
  4. Finally using a clean soft rag dry the chain massaging each link to make sure there is no degreaser left.

Rear sprockets and mech

Scrub the rear sprockets with hot water and a brush.

Clean the sprockets using a brushAgain use a little degreaser if it is being really stubborn.

To get to the mud wedged deep inside the sprockets use a flat screwdriver or thin stick to gently poke it out. Remember dirt attracts more dirt so the more thorough you are at this stage the less likely it is you will need to clean it again in the near future.

Get any additional dirt out using a small screwdriver

Finally wipe using a dry cloth with a flossing motion to remove anything left. This stage is important as no degreaser should remain. The effort you are putting in now helps the gears shift more efficiently.

Clean bike using a cloth in flossing motion

Moving on to the rear mech. Here you want to use a brush to remove any big chunks of dirt.

Cleaning bike picture of brush in rear mechThen poke carefully with a thin screwdriver to remove any trapped dirt. Make sure you clean both sides of the rear mech.

Picture of the dirt coming off a rear mechFinally apply some degreaser and use an old toothbrush to remove anything that remains.

Front mech

Use a brush to get off any dirt from the front mech. A toothbrush can be useful here to get to any parts that are hard to reach.

Use a brush to clean the front mechUse a cloth to floss the front mech so as to get in-between the different parts.

Use a cloth to clean the front mech

Give the bike frame some love

Using a clean cloth work your way around the frame using hot water and a cloth. I tend not to use washing-up liquid as it often contains salt which can rust the bike if not washed away properly.

General bike clean

It’s worth quickly going over the rims with a clean cloth to get off any extra dirt that could get caught in the brake pads.

Go over the rim with a clean clothBrake pads are often ignored but are worth going over with the toothbrush. Also when doing your brake pads check they do not need replacing and that there are no metal bits stuck to them that need removing. Gently remove any stuck metal bits with a small screwdriver. If the brake block surface has become shiny, use some sandpaper to roughen it. Finally do the pedals and other parts of the bike with hot water and a cloth.

Polish for that extra special bike

By polishing the frame you prevent it picking up more dirt. Saddles can also benefit from some polish.

Final stage: Apply lube to moving parts

If all the components are dry then you can apply some lube.

Start off with the chain. Use a chain lubricant and apply sparingly on each link by moving the chain around. Allow to dry and then remove any excess with a cloth. This can feel counter intuitive as you have just lubed it but the only lube your bike needs is the one that sinks into the cracks. The excess simply gathers dirt. As a test the chain should feel only very slightly damp from the lube.

Final stage of getting to a clean bike is lubricationThe same rules apply for the jockey wheels. They don’t need much as they gather most of it from the chain moving around.

Lube the jockey wheelsUse your fingers to apply lube to the front and rear mech. Aim to apply lube to any pivots.

Lube pivotsMove on to the handlebars. Lube should be added to the brake lever pivots and the gear shifters. As always use a cloth to wipe away any excess.

Lube bike brake lever

Finally apply a tiny bit of lube to exposed springs in the brakes (not the brake pad itself!) and any cables near the housing where they move around.
If anything else is squeaking use white lithium grease, work it in by moving the part around and wipe away any excess.

Common mistakes, further tips and discussion

bike cleaning with a pressure hoseIf you want to supercharge your bike cleaning routine it is much easier with a bike stand. You can either buy one or make your own. There is a lot of debate (yes people debate about bike cleaning) as to whether to hose down your bike using a pressure hose as the pro’s do. The truth is a pressure hose can cause damage to the bearings and the frame. Therefore, someone that is not sure about what they are doing is best just using a sponge and water which improves the long term life of a bike.

If there is one further cleaning routine I would follow it is cleaning the brake and shift cables and lubricating them. For instructions on this see this bicycle tutor video.

I personally don’t recommend removing the bike chain for cleaning as it can cause damage. You can do a perfectly acceptable job with it remaining on the bike.

Get the gear!

The gear isn’t necessary but it can make the job a lot easier. If you do splash out on the cleaning gear then make sure you get the right stuff that is recommended. Usually it is slightly cheaper to buy online than walk into a shop.

muc off degreaser Muc-off degreaser – staple part of any cyclists toolkit finish wet lube for post clean Finish line cross country lube – requires less frequent application than other chain lubes
cleaning kit for bike Pedro’s Bicycle Cleaning Kit – just as good as other cleaning tool kits but at half the price chain bike clean kit Chain cleaning kit – I have reviewed the Bikehut chain cleaning kit and it’s great for when you are a bit lazy.

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26 Responses to How to clean your bike

  1. Craig 09/10/2009 at 7:37 am #

    What are you saying my bike is dirty – I can’t give you a before and after like that as a casual cyclist my bike is cleaned after every trip. Which is a 10 min job rather than the old days of half an hour once a month when it was ridden every day.

  2. Alex 09/10/2009 at 8:55 am #

    People generally advice that you avoid using WD40 (can’t remember why). You should make sure you lubricate using a suitable oil (e.g. a dry old in summer, wet in winter).

  3. Andreas 09/10/2009 at 10:07 am #

    Craig – good to hear you clean after every ride! It saves you many hours of effort later.

    Alex: That is right – WD-40 is unsuitable for fast moving parts – “Bicycle chains, on the other hand, are far too heavy and fast-moving for the lubricating power of WD-40 to have any effect at all. As a matter of fact, WD-40 will actually strip away any existing lubricant and leave your drivetrain dry – metal on metal. Basically, spraying this stuff on your chain is worse than using no lubricant at all!” From Bicycle Tutor

  4. Teresa 09/10/2009 at 10:34 am #

    For the frame i use baby wipes – a tip recommended to me by a fellow roadie. Don’t ask me why or how, but baby wipes leave the frame gleaming. And to make it tragically even more technical, Tesco own seem to work best – all the others fall to bits. :o)

    From Andreas: Great tip! Who would have thought baby wipes would be so useful in a bike clean!

    • Jonathan 17/09/2010 at 10:51 pm #

      Thanks for the tip, and for 90p a bargain! Gave my bike the perfect finish after degreasing and getting the muck off.

    • David 04/02/2011 at 8:26 pm #

      Baby wipes clean everything, I think they’re alcohol based or something but I use them on everything but lens elements :D

  5. Adam 09/10/2009 at 10:49 am #

    Using an oily cloth on wheel rims – as in the picture – (if you have rim brakes – caliper, cantilever or other) can prove to be interesting the next time you ride the bike. I learned this the hard way as a ten year old. Ouch.

    From Andreas: Adam, you are right that picture gives off totally the wrong impression! Will update with a better picture now

  6. Jay 09/10/2009 at 9:02 pm #

    Another way to get the hidden grime off those machined wheel rims is just a paper towel and some ammonia. Just attended a class at the local LBS on brake and gear maintenance its amazing how much grime came off the rims of a bike that had just been built a few days ago.

  7. Dottie 11/10/2009 at 7:15 pm #

    This is great – thanks!

  8. danceralamode 18/10/2009 at 9:54 pm #

    Now I feel like I need to get down and dirty with my bicycle! I love your blog! Can I request a DIY article to get my brakes to stop squealing?

  9. Andreas 19/10/2009 at 8:49 am #

    Ah – your talking about toeing-in! Luckily its fairly simple to do. You just make sure that the front part of the brake pad is touching the rim first. This stops the annoying squealing sound. To do this just use an Allen key to loose the brake pad then move the washers into the correct position. Try searching on google for toeing in bicycle brakes.
    Hope that helps and you no longer have to listen to horrible squealing sounds!

  10. Bex 20/10/2009 at 1:32 pm #

    hey!! your before and after photos are of different bikes.. no fair!
    :-)

  11. Andreas 20/10/2009 at 11:03 pm #

    haha believe it or not they are the same one!

  12. rourke 28/12/2010 at 3:12 pm #

    best way by far ! thanks

  13. Chris 19/01/2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Very helpful tips you can use cheap but clean paint brushs on the front mech also the rear even use dare i say again paint brushs for all the drive system But PLEASE dont touch the brakes (disc or v type)
    Regards
    Chris.

  14. David Cohen 17/02/2011 at 9:03 am #

    For the rims I use methylated spirit and run it around the rims using kitchen roll – this really works, and shows that it’s really amazing how much dirt is collected in the rims.

  15. Mark 02/05/2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I have been using a pressure washer for 6 years to clean my chain, gears and derailures with no bad effects. I am careful not to point the jet in to the sides of the bottom bracket and wheel bearings and have not had any bearing related problems. I would highly recommend the jet wash method as it is a quick and very thorough way to clean off accumulated oil and dirt. And you don’t need to use degreasers which means a thin layer of oil remains on the components afterwards! Just don’t point the jet in to the sides of bearings and you’ll be fine.
    I would say it has extended the life of my chain etc. by years. I use my bike every day for work and cover about about 30 miles a week!

  16. Peter 05/04/2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Good article. Make sure you don’t get too much degreaser on your rear cassette. Too much and it gets into the hub and can strip out the grease, leading to some (expensive) replacement of bearings.

  17. Sarah 11/08/2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Thanks for this article; followed it today to help with my first proper bike clean and I’m really pleased with the results. :)

  18. james 24/01/2013 at 10:53 am #

    thanks for the guide – we do appreciate the time you take to write this!

    i’m just getting back into cycling (commuting) and this recent snow/ice/sleet/rain/black ice/mud/salt has made itself known to my nice new Daily 1. so i’m buying a few essentials tomorrow and will have a shiny new bike over the weekend.

    thanks :)

  19. Rache 08/07/2013 at 8:00 pm #

    I have been trying to search for a good article that`s up to date on how to clean my road bike but no luck. I`m new to road biking and want to make sure i don`t end up with a rusty old frame etc. Is this good and up to date advise to follow?

  20. Minibus Hire Herts 20/09/2014 at 8:24 am #

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and
    was wondering what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% positive.
    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you

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