How to clean a bike in a flat or apartment

Just because you’re limited on outdoor space, it doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your bike in tip-top condition

Clock16:57, Friday 17th November 2023

No one enjoys cleaning their bike, especially after a chilly winter ride. With a warm shower beckoning, it can be tempting to leave your precious steed caked in dirt and grime - after all, how much harm can it do?

A lot! While a one-off failure to clean your bike probably won’t cause any issues, consistently failing to do so can soon lead to problems. Luckily, cleaning a bike is relatively easy if you live in a house, but what if you’re restricted to a flat or apartment with no access to a hose or a garden?

Although cleaning a bike in a flat or apartment is tricky, it can be done. Here are our top tips to help.

In the shower

The most obvious solutions are often the best and it’s the same here in the form of a shower, although you probably shouldn’t tell any of your housemates or family members what you’re doing. Using a shower has one big advantage over using a hose, too: warm water.

Before starting, remove any objects from around the shower - things like pristine white towels which definitely wouldn’t remain pristine for very long. If you have an enclosed shower the job will be easier as it’ll contain any splashing dirt or grime.

The process is then very similar to cleaning a bike outdoors, here’s how:

  1. Rinse the whole frame with water and then spray it with a dedicated bike cleaner. Some cyclists use washing up liquid but be cautious if doing this as it can strip grease from the bearings and other parts. Wipe the frame down using a cloth or sponge.
  2. Apply degreaser to the chain, cassette and crankset. Turn the cranks as you apply this so that the degreaser is covering the full cassette and crankset.
  3. Use a brush to scrub the chain, crankset and cassette, plus the pulley wheels - don’t forget these as this is where a lot of gunk and dirt gathers.
  4. The hard part is done! Next, rinse the full frame to wash away dirt and suds - try to avoid blasting sensitive areas like the hubs and bearings as this can wash away grease.
  5. Dry the frame and components with an old towel or cloth - we’d avoid using your fancy towels here.
  6. To finish off, spray WD-40 into any small crevices or parts where water could still be lurking to prevent rust from forming.

This should leave your bike gleaming, but you’ll want to clean the drivetrain with a degreaser around two to three times to restore it to its full former glory. Unfortunately, dirt and grime can work their way into every crevice on a bike, so a more thorough clean will be required every so often; this will need to be more frequent during winter.

Petrol station

At this early point, we’ve already exhausted all of the options within an apartment or flat, but that doesn’t mean that you’re out of solutions.

If your bike is especially dirty, simply carrying it through your home can make a mess. Rather than incurring the wrath of any flatmates, why not wheel it down to a nearby petrol station? Most have pressure washers which are designed for cars, but they’re also great for washing bikes. We can’t actually claim this idea for ourselves, as it was passed on to GCN’s Ollie Bridgewood from former WorldTour pro Nicolas Roche.

While it’s a WorldTour hack, you should still proceed with caution. Jet washers are designed for cars, so they’re incredibly powerful. Either select a lower setting or stand far back from your bike. Also avoid directing the torrent of water directly at sensitive parts or bearings, as you may end up doing more damage than good.

As long as you’re careful though, using a jet washer should be fine and it’s a method professional mechanics use. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.

Use buckets

Just because you don’t have access to a hose, that doesn’t mean that you can’t clean your bike outdoors - you simply need good old-fashioned buckets.

This can be a labour-intensive method, especially if you live on a higher floor, as you’ll need to use two buckets. Fill the first with soapy water and the second with clear water. Use the clear water to clean your sponge or cloth before dipping it into the soapy water, that way your soapy water won’t end up full of dirt - more importantly still, you won’t be cleaning your precious bike with dirty water.

Once you’re finished cleaning, refill one of the buckets with clean water and pour this over the bike to clear away any residual suds.

While this method won’t be as effective as the previous two, it’s still a much better alternative than leaving your bike dirty.

Check out more cycling maintenance guides on the ‘How To’ section of the GCN website, linked here.

Or, if you hibernate throughout winter, head over to our indoor cycling page for inspiration, advice and our latest guides.

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