How to Detail Your Motorcycle

Feb 1, 2024

Tags:DIYownerguide

DIY motorcycle detailing motorcycle being washed how to detail motorcycle yourself

Let’s be honest, cleaning and detailing your motorcycle is either an exciting, day-long activity once every season/once a year, OR, it’s a dreaded task that you put off. You might even love keeping your bike clean, but you’re not exactly sure what things you need to make it shine. In this guide, we’ll go over what you need to clean your motorcycle, considerations, steps, and tips for how to detail your bike yourself.

What You’ll Need:

The tools and products you need for motorcycle detailing will depend on your bike’s condition, the level of detail you want, and how much you’re willing to spend. Here's a general list of essentials for deep detail with some popular brand suggestions:

Cleaning:

  • Bucket/Water
  • Microfiber wash mitt - Scratch resistant
  • Microfiber towels- Plenty of these!
  • Motorcycle wash- Choose a dedicated motorcycle wash or a gentle car wash. Avoid dish soap (see below).. (S100, Muc-Off, Bike Brite)
  • Bug and tar remover (BugSlide, 3D, Turtle Wax)
  • Wheel cleaner (Chemical Guys, Meguiar's, Muc-Off)
  • Glass cleaner (Meguiar, Honda, Optimum)

Polishing and Waxing:

  • Polishing compound
  • Microfiber polishing pads
  • Carnauba or synthetic wax
  • Tire shine (optional)

Other Gear:

  • Hose
  • Brushes- Different types for wheels, chains, and tight spaces.
  • Chain cleaner and lubricant- Not particularly necessary unless it's way too gunky, and you need to re-lubricate after you clean. 
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner (optional)
  • Spray bottle- This can be helpful for evening applying some of your supplies if they don’t come in spray bottles already
  • Drying towel- High-quality microfiber is always good- don’t clean your bike just to end up with watermarks.

Optional Upgrades:

  • Clay bar- Removes surface contaminants for a smoother finish.
  • Scratch remover
  • Paint sealant- Especially important for newer bikes- this won’t prevent all of the dings and scratches from rocks and debris, but will help for sure. Helpful on older bikes to preserve paint where the coating may have gotten scratched.
  • Detailing spray- Quick touch-up for dust and minor dirt.
  • Pressure washer- Saves time and water, BUT seriously, use this with caution- it can hurt your paint. You also need to make sure to avoid getting your electronics/leather soaked. They’re waterproof but not impossible to damage.

Can I use Dawn Dish soap to wash my motorcycle?

Using Dawn dish soap on your motorcycle isn't a good idea. It's harsh on the bike's paint and protective coatings. It can strip away waxes and sealants, potentially leaving residue and drying out plastic and rubber parts. It's better to use a motorcycle-specific cleaner for safe and effective cleaning.

Considerations Before Detailing Your Motorcycle: Age & Location

  • Motorcycle age: Older motorcycles naturally have more wear and tear than newer bikes. Treat older motorcycles more gently, with less abrasive cleaning products that don’t damage potentially scratched or worn paint/coatings/plastic/chrome. Be careful with lubricating things like your chains, cables, and hinges on older bikes too, since it's a little bit easier to damage them. 
  • How often do you ride it? How often you ride affects motorcycle detailing. Frequent riders need more regular cleaning and protective measures with increased exposure to road elements. Occasional riders should focus on thorough cleaning and long-term protection, checking for issues from prolonged inactivity. 
  • Do you rent your bike? If you’re renting your motorcycle, it’s safe to say that the appearance of your bike and its condition is important to get good reviews from riders. Consider creating a detailing schedule to stay up-to-date on keeping it clean. 
  • Live near a beach? Salt in the air can lead to faster corrosion - protectant coatings and frequent washing are important to avoid buildup. 
  • Live in a city? Busy roads mean more oil and grime buildup. A degreaser might be needed more often. 
  • Live in a rural area? Dirt, mud, and bugs will probably be more of an issue. Consider investing in a better bug and tar remover and avoid letting smushed bugs linger for too long, which can cause paint damage down the road.
  • Live in desert conditions? Avoid washing in direct sunlight/heat. You also need to ensure all of the sand/dirt is washed off before scrubbing- you’ll quickly scratch your paint. 
  • Live wear it snows? Road salt can quickly corrode the metal on your bike. If you drive in the winter, make sure you keep your bike clean. Avoid washing in areas where the water will quickly freeze, which can cause ice buildup. 
  • Do you cover your bike or keep it uncovered? Bikes stored outside that are exposed to the elements naturally need to be cleaned and protected more often. However, garage-kept bikes still need cleaning up to keep them optimal. 

Step 1: Preparation

Park the bike in a shaded area and make sure the engine is cool.

Step 2: Rinse Your Motorcycle

Gently rinse the motorcycle with water to remove loose dirt and debris.

Step 3: Clean/Wash

Using a soft sponge or cloth, wash the bike starting at the top and working your way down. Do not clean your tires and wheels at this step. Fill your bucket with water and soap. Use your bug/tar remover.

Optional Step 3.5: Use a Clay Bar with Lubricant

Take the clay bar and knead it into a flat shape that's easy to hold. Glide the clay bar over the surface of your motorcycle. You should feel resistance at first—this is the bar picking up tiny particles from the paint. Keep gliding until the surface feels smooth.

Step 4: Clean Your Wheels and Tires

Clean the wheels and tires separately using a brush and a wheel-specific cleaner. You risk scratching your paint and coating quickly if you use the same sponge or do this in the wrong order!

Step 5: Rinse Again

 Thoroughly rinse off all soap and cleaner from the motorcycle. Make sure all of the suds are gone and the cleaner so that there aren’t any streaks. 

Step 6: Dry

Use a microfiber towel to dry the bike, preventing water spots and streaks. You’ll likely get water spots if you leave it out in the sun to dry while it’s dripping with water. You can clean your windshield at this point too with glass cleaner. 

Optional Step 6.5: Use Scratch Remover

A quality scratch remover can minimize or remove surface scratches on your motorcycle, restoring its paint to a near-original finish with careful application. Do this before you polish and wax, and make sure to follow directions for your specific scratch remover.

Step 7: Polish & Buff Your Motorcycle

To polish your motorcycle, apply a small amount of motorcycle-specific polish to a clean, soft cloth or foam pad and gently rub it onto the bike's surface in circular motions, focusing on one section at a time. After the polish dries to a haze, buff it off with a separate clean microfiber cloth for a shiny and protected finish.

Step 8: Wax

Finish by applying a coat of motorcycle-specific wax to painted surfaces for protection and a glossy finish. 

polishing and waxing your motorcycle yourself DIY motorcycle detail

Let Us Make Your Bike Payment For You

So, you've just spent some quality time detailing your bike, and it's looking fantastic, right? Here's a cool idea: why not let your bike earn its keep? List it on Riders Share, the biggest peer-to-peer motorcycle rental platform around. It's a great way to make some extra cash with your motorcycle. Imagine this: your bike, all shiny and sleek, not only turns heads on the road but also pays your car payment when you're not riding.