Keeping your bike clean is an effective way of ensuring it works correctly and safely, while making sure it stays looking good. Clean components wear out less quickly than dirty ones - so a well-kept bike will also perform better than a grubby one, and won't require as much maintenance.
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There's a vast arsenal of filth-fighting weaponry available for removing grime, cleaning drivetrains and adding the finishing touches to a bike, but choosing what products to use can be time consuming. We've put together this guide to give you an idea of some essential cleaning products: what they are and what to use them for.
Essential bike cleaning products
Soft-bristled brushes are useful for removing softened mud and road grime, while ones with stiffer bristles should make easier work of lifting stubborn dirt.
Choose a kit that contains brushes of varying shapes and bristle stiffness. A large, soft-bristled brush or sponge is good for the frame and wheels and a cone-shaped brush is better for hard-to-reach areas. A toothbrush-type brush with stiff curved bristles can be used for cassettes and mechs, and you'll also want a brush to use when applying degreasers.
2. Bucket, hosepipe and sponge
Some of the simplest items on your bike maintenance checklist, but also some of the most important. You're going to need water to wash the bike, whether you go for a good old-fashioned bucket, a garden hosepipe or a pressure washer.
Give the bike a good soaking to help loosen any dirt, then rinse again with fresh, clean water near the end of the process to wash off any residue from the cleaning products you use.
If you use a pressure washer, take care not to point the full power jet up close into joints around the bottom bracket or headset as you risk blasting dirt in and washing the lubricating grease out, although seals are much better on modern bikes than they used to be.
3. Bike cleaning solutions
Bike cleaning solutions are designed to help loosen and remove dirt without damaging the paintwork or material your bike is constructed from. Make sure the cleaner you choose is safe for use on both metal and carbon.
Many are concentrated, so need to be diluted before use. A tried-and-tested starting point to a thorough clean is often a bucket of water and washing up liquid. But a dedicated cleaning solution is more effective than Fairy Liquid at removing the worst of the nasty stuff.
4. Bike cleaning spray
Bike cleaning spray is a good choice if your bike is really dirty or has dried on mud and crud. You can use it instead of or as well as a cleaning solution. After being applied, a cleaning spray can be left to work for a few minutes, before being rinsed or wiped off. Most mud and grime should lift off with a good cleaning spray, and brushes can be used to tackle the worst areas.
There are lots of cleaning sprays available, and they should speed up the purging process by eating into whatever grime is on your bike. They're useful for lifting any dirt that refuses to let go, and are an effective way of washing your bike if there's not enough time available for a more comprehensive clean.
Degreasers break down grease and grime without brute force, and are ideal for getting the built up greasy crud off your drivetrain and cassette. There are eco-friendly options available too, such as the Weldtite Pure degreaser shown above. Some products, such as Purple Harry’s Cleaner and Degreaser (also shown above), combine cleaning and degreasing in one.
Degreaser is used to clean your chain and other moving parts. Keeping the drivechain clean is vital. If ignored, dirt will speed up wear throughout the transmission, impact on shifting performance and reduce efficiency. It’s possible to get really vicious with removing every molecule of muck from a chain by dunking it in petrol, although that risks removing all the lubrication from inside the rollers and pins.
A chain cleaning sponge (essentially a sponge with a groove cut into the top) makes cleaning a chain easy — just grab the chain in the sponge's groove and turn the cranks. There are also lots of drivetrain-specific brushes available for cleaning chainrings, cassettes and chains.
6. Brake cleaner
Disc brakes benefit from a decent clean, to blast away the grit and grime that builds up in a calliper and on pads.
A good brake cleaner should remove oil, grit, grease and brake fluid, without affecting brake performance. Muc-Off even claims its brake cleaner rehydrates brake pads to prolong life and reduce squeal.
7. Bike polish
Once your bike is free from dirt, the last job is to add a protective polish to the frame and components. Sprays that contains a moisture dispersant and PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, which is what Teflon is), are good choices. The dispersant expels water from the bike, protecting it against corrosion, while the PTFE creates a shiny finish where applied. The advantage of using a product such as this is that dirt finds it harder to stick to the PTFE, making your bike easier to clean next time round.
We recommend removing wheels before applying a spray polish, also taking care not to get spray on any of the braking components or braking surfaces. If any polish, oil or substance designed to reduce friction gets on to your brake pads, discs or brake track, it'll contaminate your brake system. Contaminated brakes will severely reduce your ability to slow down, making your bike unsafe. In this case it's likely you'll need to strip and clean your brakes.
You can also get a finishing spray for suspension forks and shocks, which help lubricate and ward off dirt on the moving surfaces.
The best bike cleaning products
From bike cleaning sprays to pressure washers, we've tested a wide selection of bike cleaning products to help you find the best.
Maxima SC1 Polish
Price: 12oz aerosol can: £9.99 / US$10.50 / AU$19.99
- Helps keeps the bike looking shiny and fresh
- Also lubricates suspension
- Keep it away from braking surfaces and components!
Kärcher K2 Compact Pressure Washer
Price: £85 / US$119.99 / AU$N/A
- Compact but powerful
- Versatile — great for bikes, but also useful in the garden and for other cleaning situations
- Different spray lance options for different jet shapes
Finish Line Suspension Spray
Price: £7.99 / US$8.79 / AU$8.79
- Easy to apply, but spray can get on other parts of the bike
- Reduces friction, giving a smoother, quieter suspension system
- Take care to avoid getting it on brakes
Brite Ride Foam Bike Wash
Price: £5.99 / US$N/A / AU$N/A
- Sprays on as a foam which avoids run-off
- Also works as a degreaser
Pedros Green Fizz bike wash
Price (500ml): £6.99 / US$8.48 / AU$10.99
- Concentrated so a little goes a long way, or can be diluted down
- Environmentally friendly
- Lifts dirt exceptionally well
Hope Sh1t Shifter bike wash
Price: £5.99 / US$8.49 / AU$10.99
- Cleans dirt and cuts through grease
- Also works on disc brakes