How you might be damaging your bike when you clean it

Avoid these cleaning mistakes to keep your bike in top condition and prevent any unnecessary scratches or problems

Clock14:13, Monday 6th November 2023

If you love your bike, you'll want to keep it looking its best. This should include giving it a good clean after a ride to get rid of any dirt and grime, especially during the wet and cold winter months.

However, if you don't clean your bike in the right way, you could actually be doing it more harm than good. From the use of inappropriate products to unintentionally scratching your frame, there are a number of things to avoid, which is why adopting the best techniques and practices is important.

To help you out, we've identified some of the key mistakes we've seen so you can avoid them when you start cleaning your bike. So without further ado, let's get into it…

Read more: Easy and effective on-the-bike chain cleaning

1. Not using a bike stand

We know that it's not always possible to have a bike stand at your disposal, but if you do it will make your life so much easier. Not only will it secure your bike and stop it from falling over or moving whilst being washed, it also gives you greater access to all areas of the bike for cleaning.

2. Premature contact washes

You might be keen to get straight in there with a sponge and cleaning brushes, but hold on! This shouldn’t be the first step. If you immediately start scrubbing a dirty bike you’ll likely drag abrasive grit and dirt across the bike’s surfaces which can cause micro scratches and contaminate your tools.

So in order to preserve the look of your frame, we recommend a pre-wash. This involves hosing down your bike with some low-pressure water before adding a bike-specific prewash or detergent that will loosen any dirt build-up on the frame. After leaving the bike to soak for a few minutes, hosing it off with low-pressure water will clean the frame of most contaminants that could cause harm to the finish of your bike.

If you've gone to the effort of waxing your chain, it's worthwhile removing it and putting it to one side whilst cleaning the rest of your bike. This way, you won't accidentally introduce cleaning products that might break the wax coating down.

3. Pressure washing

This is a divisive topic. If you look around most WorldTour mechanic stations, you'll see pressure washers being used. While using one is generally fine you should be aware of the best techniques to avoid unnecessary damage.

Some pressure washers are simply not designed for use on bikes, because the pressure at which they deliver water is too high for the delicate components of a bike. If you're going to use one make sure it's either adjustable or lower pressure.

It's also important to hold the nozzle at a good distance from the bike itself. Too close and water can be forced into bearings and components. As long as you're mindful of proximity and where you're actually aiming the water, you should be fine to use a pressure washer without any problems.

4. Using incorrect products

After the prewash it's time for the contact wash. Using the correct tools here will help prevent any cosmetic damage. It’s best to use a clean microfibre wash mitt for the frame, keeping it away from areas that might introduce contamination.

Bike specific cleaning brushes can then be used on the drivetrain and other component areas.

Using a mix of warm water and a bike-specific cleaner gives the best results and will decontaminate the frame so it's ready for any paint protection products you might add later.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a bike-specific cleaner then cautiously using something like washing up liquid is fine as an alternative. We say cautiously because washing up liquid is designed specifically to break down fats and greases from cooking, which means it can also start to break down the greases in bearings, which may be cause you problems further down the line.

5. Contaminating brakes

This is something that can easily happen with both rim and disc brakes and can be an expensive error to correct. The main culprit is when the spray from aerosol degreasers or lubricants carry beyond where they are actually required. So try and avoid using aerosol products in the first place if possible. Instead use a spray-on product that gives you a lot more control over its application.

If your brakes do become contaminated then using a clean microfibre cloth with some bike-specific brake cleaner should help restore their performance.

Read more: Seven common disc brake mistakes to avoid

6. Not drying your bike

Perhaps the easiest mistake to make is not properly drying your bike after cleaning it. If you live somewhere hot with low humidity, then leaving your bike to dry naturally is not as big an issue. However, if you live somewhere cooler and with higher humidity, you need to make sure you remove any sitting water from components in order to reduce rust or corrosion developing.

The premium way to do this is with an air compressor – the method used by WorldTour mechanics. This not only dries external surfaces but also encourages water away from internal components such as the bottom bracket or headset.

Okay, so that might not be the most practical for most of us but a decent alternative is to store your bike in a room with a dehumidifier. This will draw out any moisture that has found its way into your components and help prevent corrosion.

The easiest thing you can do though is to dry off the worst of the water with a clean microfibre cloth before you store it away. Think about where you're going to store it. Keeping it in a damp and cold environment is going to cause components to degrade far quicker than if they're kept in a more controlled environment.

So there you have it. Hopefully these key bits of advise will help protect your bike from damage, increase the life of your components and generally keep your bike looking better for longer.

Do you have any more great tips for cleaning your bike? Or things we should definitely avoid? If so, make sure to let us know in the comments below.

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