How to Wash, Re-lube, and Polish Your Bike

If you haven’t been keeping up with your 5 minute bike cleanings, or you went for a ride in the rain, it’s time for a thorough bicycle wash, as well as re-lubing and polishing.

Here is my complete guide to a thorough bike cleaning.

You need:

  • Hose (for water)
  • Bucket
  • Dawn liquid dish soap
  • Degreaser
  • Chain lube
  • Sponges
  • Brushes
  • Clean, dry rags
  • Furniture polish
  • Bicycle repair stand (optional, but preferred)

Part I: Cleaning and Degreasing

The first thing to do is get all the gunk cleaned off the bike.

Step 1: Stabilize bike.

The cleaning process is easier if the bike is held in place, upright. To do this, you can place it in a repair stand.

If a repair stand is not available, you can lean the bike against a fence post or (if you must) lay it on the ground.

Step 2: Wet bike.

Wet the bike using a garden sprayer or a hose with low power. Road bikes aren’t meant to deal with hurricane-like blasts of water, so take it easy when you’re spraying water towards anything with bearings (headset, bottom bracket, hubs.)

The main goal is to wet the bike and remove any big clumps of dirt, especially from the down tube and seat tube.

Step 3: Soap it up.

Put some Dawn dish soap in your bucket, and fill bucket with water. Use this sudsy water and a big sponge to clean the frame, fork, seat, bars, etc.

Step 4: Clean the wheels and drivetrain.

Use a separate sponge for cleaning dirty areas, such as the wheels and drivetrain. You can also use brushes in these areas to remove the grit.

At the same time, you may also want to spray some degreaser on the chain and wipe it down with a rag in order to remove old lube. You can also use a chain cleaner device for this.

Note: Degreaser such as Simple Green comes in handy for cleaning rims and brake pads, too.

Step 5: Rinse.

Take the hose again and use a light spray of water to rinse off the bike. It should look pretty clean.

If there is still dirt, repeat steps 3-4.

Part II: Lube

Now the hard part is out of the way, and we can get the bike ready to ride again.

Step 1: Dry chain.

Wipe the chain dry using an old rag. Make sure old lube and fresh degreaser is wiped off.

Step 2: Apply lube.

Now you can apply fresh chain lube. I recommend ProLink or Dumonde Tech lube.

With both lubes, you simply drip a drop of lube onto each roller as you spin the cranks (or wheel) backwards. Start and end at the master link for an easy reference point.

Once the lube is on the chain, spin the cranks a few times and shift through the gears once or twice.

Step 3: Wipe off excess lube.

[Ideally, bike should sit overnight before this step.]

Use a rag and wipe down the chain to wipe off excess lube.

Any lube that’s on the outside of the chain is excess lube, and leaving it on there usually does more harm than good. The lube inside the chain lubes the chain, while lube coating the outside of the chain just attracts dirt.

Part III: Polish

Now that the bike is clean and lubed, we can make it shiny!

Step 1: Finish any cleaning.

Give the bike one last look for dirt. Wipe off any dirt or grease, especially any chain lube that happened to drip off onto the chainstay.

Step 2: Dry bike.

Take a clean rag and finish drying any wet spots on the bike. You can also let it air dry.

Step 3: Polish bike.

Spray some furniture wax on a soft cloth. Wipe it along the bike’s frame and fork.

You could also polish the crank arms if you want, but don’t get too carried away. You definitely don’t want polish on your rims!

Now your bike should be clean, shiny, and ready to ride.

Bicycle Washing FAQ

A few tips and specifics…

Disassemble the bike?

You can leave the bike together, or remove the wheels, which will make it easier to hit all the frame tubes. If you have the bike in a repair stand, removing the wheels is a good idea.

Plus, you can hit the cassette real well with a toothbrush, and the rims and brake pads will be easy to clean this way.

Which brushes?

You can use a variety of shapes and sizes of brushes. A square one would work well on tires, while a long, skinny brush would be good in the drivetrain. Even an old toothbrush helps.

But if you’re buying brushes, look for quality brushes that have natural bristles. These ones don’t get so gunked up with grease. (And when they do get coated in crap, they are easy to rinse off in warm water.)

Watch out for crappy plastic bristles, like on the Park GSC-1 gear clean brush. Plastic bristles seem to hold onto grease and redistribute it onto your bike during the next “cleaning.”

Which degreaser?

You can get a cheap degreaser from any hardware store or automative department, or you can get a bicycle-specific degreaser. Either one will work.

I’ve used Greased Lightning citrus degreaser, Simple Green, and Finish Line multi-degreaser. They all work.

Re-lube the chain?

If your drivetrain is dirty and you scrub and degrease it thoroughly, you have to re-lube the chain. No question about it.

But if you just wash the bike without specifically scrubbing the chain, and you use Dumonde Tech Lite, there’s usually no need to re-lube. (Dumonde Tech lubes don’t wash off in a little water, so it will actually stay on the chain through a regular bike washing.)

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3 Comments so far

  1. Bryant Likes on June 12th, 2009

    Thanks for the post! I just ran through your list this afternoon while cleaning my bike for Ride Around the Bear tomorrow. http://www.ocw.org/bear/bearinfo.asp

  2. Missy on May 15th, 2011

    What about lubing other parts of the bike aside fro the chain? I’ve read that after you clean the bike you should lube brake cables, etc. I haven’t done this before (bike is still fairly new but I’ve ridden it a lot), and it’s due for a cleaning. Thanks!

  3. Levi on May 16th, 2011

    @Missy

    I generally don’t lube cables, and if I do, I don’t do it often. Most lubricants would just attract dirt into the cable housings.

    It depends on the type of cable and your riding conditions. Good quality cables and housings don’t require any lube.

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