3 Critical Reasons To Avoid Car Washes With A Motorcycle

Washing your motorcycle regularly is essential. It keeps your motorcycle looking good, and removes debris and other contaminants that may damage your motorcycle’s paint job or cause rust.

However, washing your bike is different from washing your car, and it’s not a good idea to take your bike through a carwash for several reasons. 

You shouldn’t take your motorcycle through a carwash because it can damage critical engine components (e.g., steering bridges, carburetor hoses, suspension bearings, and electronics). The pressure washer in the car wash may also damage the motorcycle’s stripes and paint.

In this article, I will discuss why you shouldn’t take your motorcycle to a carwash.

I will also discuss some of the risks pressure washers pose to your bike and recommend safer ways to wash it. 

Can You Take Your Motorcycle to a Car Wash?

There are three major and critical reasons, why you should make sure to avoid automatic car washes with your motorbike.  

Car Washes Use Pressure Washers That Can Damage Critical Components

According to the book Yamaha PW50 Y-Zinger, PW80 Y-Zinger, and the BW80 Big Wheel 81-02, it’s not a good idea to direct high-pressure water hoses at your motorcycle.

High-pressure water can potentially flush the grease out of ball bearings and damage the seals. 

Many of the motorcycle’s critical parts are prone to damage from high-pressure water hoses common in car washes, such as: 

  • Muffler outlet
  • Drive chain
  • Steering bearings
  • Carburetor hoses
  • Suspension components
  • Wheel bearings
  • Electrical components

Aside from washing away the grease in ball bearings and undermining the performance of your motorcycle’s moving parts, pressure washers can also damage electrical components.

Although most modern bikes can withstand the elements such as rain, high-pressure water can easily wreak havoc on the starter, switches, and plug wires on your bike. 

Instead, Jeff Bredenberg says in his book Clean It Fast, Clean It Right that the correct way to wash a motorcycle is to gently sprinkle the water on it instead of spraying it with a hose.

Direct spraying can push the water into the exhaust pipe or the carburetor, damaging the engine. 

Bredenberg also recommends using a commercial degreasing compound on parts where grease may have collected (e.g. engine, wheels, and spokes) to remove the grease.

You can also use a commercial degreaser for other critical areas such as electrical systems, seals, and bearings. 

Currently, there’s research being done on self-cleaning superhydrophobic coatings for motorcycles, according to a paper published in the journal Progress in Organic Coatings.

Also, Mark Zimmerman’s book The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance recommends you avoid running your bike through a car wash regularly and not use a steam cleaning option.

He also advises against using coin-operated car washes due to the standard high-pressure sprays in these establishments.

The experts have spoken: Taking your motorcycle to a car wash is generally a bad idea. Instead, you need to gently clean your motorcycle with water and use a commercial degreaser.

Car Washes Damage Paint Work

Using a pressure washer can harm your motorcycle’s paint.

According to Bredenberg, the pressure from these pressure washers can become too intense and end up removing the stripes on your bike or the paint.

Not only does this add to your repair costs, but it can also cause you unnecessary inconvenience. 

In fact, according to Third Coast Autos, car washes typically release high-pressure water at about 1,000 to 1,200 PSI.

This can go up to 2,200 PSI in some car washes, which can have a disastrous impact on your motorcycle’s paint job.

Car Washes May Not Effectively Clean Your Motorcycle

In his book Life is a Road, The Soul is a Motorcycle, Daniel Meyer explains that your bike can remain messy after running through a carwash, even if it’s pressure sprayed at close range.

That’s because the high-pressure water causes debris to stick to the bike, making it difficult to remove with gentler cleaning methods like wiping with soap and water.

Also, if the car wash uses hard water, your bike may end up with a bad film that leaves it messy.

Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to properly clean your motorcycle to avoid potential damage while giving your bike that clean look. 

Is It Bad To Wash Your Motorcycle?

Washing a motorcycle regularly is good practive as long as it is done carefully. High pressured water should be avoided at all cost and it is best to wash the motorcycle by hand. Otherwise expensive damages to the engine, bearings, and paintjob can occur.

Because motorcycles are expensive and the repair costs can get astronomical, it’s better to avoid car washes altogether and opt for safer washing methods.

How To Safely Wash Your Motorcycle

Your motorcycle — just like your car — will collect dust, grime, grease, and other contaminants over time.

Excess dirt and dried mud can conceal electrical and mechanical problems, leading to unexpected breakages.

Therefore, it’s essential to clean your motorcycle to remove these contaminants and ensure that the engines, shells, and frames stay in good shape.

Here are the steps to safely wash your motorcycle.

Wash Your Bike As Often as You Need To

How often you wash your motorcycle depends on how often you ride and where you park it.

For example, if you ride your bike frequently or it’s constantly subjected to the elements, you should wash your bike weekly.

However, if you ride your bike once a week and park it in a garage, washing it once a month should be enough. 

In addition, you should wash your bike more often if you ride in dirty or dusty conditions. This includes riding on unpaved roads, through puddles, or in the rain.

Gently Sprinkle Water on the Bike

Gently rinse off your motorcycle with clean water. You can use a hose, buckets, or even a garden sprayer.

Rinse your bike as follows:

  1. Start from the top and work your way down. 
  2. Rinse the motorcycle’s fairings, tank, and seat. Then move on to the wheels and tires.
  3. Be sure to rinse away any chemicals or debris that could potentially damage your paint job.

Caution: Don’t sprinkle any of this water in the exhaust or carburetor. Otherwise, as the book Clean It Fast, Clean It Right notes, it’ll damage the engine.

Use a Commercial Degreasing Agent

As Bredenberg suggests in his book, use a commercial degreasing agent to clean areas where grease has collected.

The degreaser can get into cracks to remove the grease and oil that can’t otherwise be removed with soap and a pressure washer.

For the best results, follow these steps:

  1. Apply the degreaser according to the packaging instructions.
  2. Use a soft brush to work the degreaser into hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.

When cleaning your bike, leave the degreaser on for a few minutes before wiping it off.

That way, it’ll have enough time to strip off the grease.

This may require patience, but it’ll be worth it when you see your bike looking shiny and new.

Use a Cleaning Solvent if Necessary

If you don’t have a commercial degreasing agent, you can also use a cleaning solvent to clean oily and greasy parts without damaging critical components.

Here are the specific steps to follow in this case:

  1. Apply the cleaning solvent to a cloth.
  2. Gently wipe away the grease and oil.
  3. Use a toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach areas.

Rinse Your Bike Using Cold Water

After removing all the grease and oil, it’s time to rinse your motorcycle with clean water.

Rinse away any cleaning solution or degreaser that could potentially damage your paint job.

For the best results, start from the top and work your way down. This will ensure that all the soap and cleaner run off the bike.

Dry Your Motorcycle With a Clean Microfiber Cloth

Once you’ve rinsed away all the soap and water, use a clean microfiber cloth to dry your motorcycle.

Microfiber is the best material because it’s less likely to scratch your paint job.

Also, make sure you dry your bike in a shaded area.

If you don’t, the sun will cause the water to evaporate and leave spots on your bike.

Wax Your Motorcycle To Protect the Paint.

After you’ve cleaned and dried your motorcycle, it’s time to wax the bike to protect the paint job.

Waxing your bike will create a barrier between the paint and the elements.

This will help to prevent rust, corrosion, and other damage.

To wax your motorcycle, follow these steps:

  1. Apply a small amount of wax to a clean microfiber cloth.
  2. Gently rub the wax into the paint in a circular motion.
  3. Wipe away any excess wax with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.

Pro Tip: Be sure to wax your motorcycle in a shaded area so the sun doesn’t cause the wax to dry too quickly and leave streaks.

Things To Avoid When Washing Your Motorcycle

Although washing your motorcycle is crucial for keeping it in tip-top shape, it’s possible to do it wrong and damage your bike.

For example, washing your bike without rinsing it first can scratch its paint due to dirt and debris build-up. 

Here are a few things to avoid when washing your motorcycle:

Washing Your Bike When the Engine Is Hot

As a general rule, make sure your motorcycle’s engine and pipes have cooled before cleaning it.

Heat causes metal to expand, and sudden contraction after exposure to cold water can damage these components.

Therefore, give your motorcycle ample time to cool off.

Besides, washing a hot engine with cold water is a bad idea because it can cause the engine to crack.

If you must wash your motorcycle right after a ride, wait until the engine has cooled down before washing.

Also, you can sustain severe injuries if you accidentally touch a hot engine.

To be on the safe side, wait until your motorcycle has cooled completely before washing it.

Washing in Direct Sunlight

Washing your motorcycle in direct sunlight is a bad idea for two reasons.

First, the soap will dry up too quickly, leaving spots on your bike.

Second, the heat from the sun can cause the water to evaporate before you have a chance to rinse it off, which leaves unsightly marks on your bike.

To avoid these problems, wash your motorcycle in the shade or indoors.

Using a Hose with a Narrow Nozzle

A narrow nozzle on your hose can damage the paint on your motorcycle because it tends to produce high water pressure.

That’s why it’s best to use a hose with a wide nozzle to avoid damaging the paint.

If you must use a hose with a narrow nozzle, keep the water pressure low.

Not Removing the Loose Dirt and Debris

You should always remove as much dirt and debris as possible before taking your motorcycle to the car wash.

That way, you can avoid having these materials scratch your paint job during the washing process.

To do this, use a soft brush or a cloth to remove the dirt and debris.

Make sure you don’t use anything too abrasive, or you might damage the paint.

Riding Your Motorcycle Through the Car Wash

As exciting as it sounds, you don’t want to ride your bike through the car wash. Your running engine can get damaged due to exposure to cold water.

Also, the high-pressure water from pressure washers can injure you or cause you to fall off the bike. 

Scrubbing Your Motorcycle Excessively

When you’re at the car wash, gently scrub your motorcycle with a soft cloth or soft-bristled brushes.

Again, give ample time for the soap-water mixture to soak in if the dirt has caked on your bike.

Rubbing excessively will damage the paintwork on your bike and result in scratches. 

Not Rinsing Thoroughly

After washing your motorcycle, rinse it thoroughly to remove all the soap and grime.

Otherwise, these will dry on your bike and be difficult to remove. Also, make sure you rinse your motorcycle from top to bottom.

That way, you can avoid having the soap and water drip on the already-clean parts of your bike.

Not Drying Your Motorcycle Completely

After rinsing your motorcycle, make sure you dry it thoroughly.

If you don’t do this, the moisture will cause the metal on your bike to rust. You can use a clean cloth or chamois to dry your motorcycle.

Again, avoid using anything too abrasive, or you might damage the paint.

Can You Use a Pressure Washer on a Motorcycle?

Pressure washers should be avoided when cleaning a motorcycle. Even thought they can remove stains easily, the pressure is likely to damage critical components. It is better to clean a motorcycle without pressurized water.

Never use a pressure washer on a motorcycle.

Instead, hand wash it using a microfiber cloth to avoid damaging the paint.

Key Takeaways

  • As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to take your motorcycle through a car wash.
  • You can take your motorcycle through a car wash as long as you avoid pressure washers and take the necessary precautions.
  • A good soak will the right degreasing agent will do more for your bike than a trip to the car wash.
  • Always make sure water doesn’t get into the exhaust and other critical parts.


Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge