How to Wash a Motorcycle at a Car Wash (Without Damaging It)



The motorcycle community is divided on whether it’s okay to wash your motorcycle at a car wash. Many would tell you that you should avoid it to preserve the health of your engine.

However, the truth is that you can wash your motorcycle at a car wash, but you must follow several rules. Specifically:

  • Only use manual car washes. Do not wash your motorcycle in an automatic car wash, with or without you on it.
  • Turn the engine off and wait 10 minutes before washing the motorcycle. This lets the engine cool down, so the sudden temperature change doesn’t warp any metal.
  • Only use low water pressure when spraying the motorcycle down. High water pressure can penetrate the wheel bearing seals and O-rings on your drive chain.
  • Try to keep leather upholstery dry. Unless you’ve treated the leather of your motorcycle seat ahead of time, getting it soaking wet can damage it. Cover it or avoid spraying it directly.
  • Use specific motorcycle detergents. General car detergents may react with aluminum on your motorcycle and damage it, so you need soap specifically designed for motorcycles. You may have to bring your own from home if the car wash doesn’t have any.
  • Wash the motorcycle in the shade. Direct sunlight can make the soap dry before you can rinse it. Luckily, most manual car washes have a canopy under which you can put your motorcycle.
  • Don’t try to wash the engine. You should handle a greasy engine with a degreaser and avoid trying to get soap down into it.
  • Plug your exhaust. While it’s unlikely, water getting deep into your exhaust system can damage it. Better safe than sorry. Use a rubber plug or rag to close off the exhaust system.

Okay, now that you know the rules to follow and what not to do, here’s how you wash your motorcycle at a car wash.  

Washing Your Motorcycle at a Car Wash Step by Step

1. Make Sure You Have All the Supplies

Using a car wash can make things convenient, but it might not have everything you need to wash a motorcycle. If your local car wash doesn’t have any of the following items, you should bring them from home.

  • Sponge
  • Brush
  • Rags
  • Motorcycle-specific detergent
  • Exhaust plug
  • Chain lube
  • Motorcycle wax

2. Lightly Hose Down the Motorcycle

Rinse off the bike with water before doing anything else. This will eliminate large bits of dirt that can scratch the paint if you scrub them around. It will also help the detergent create suds.

Remember to use low pressure, especially on the engine and drive. You can use a higher pressure on the wheels and tires, but be careful to avoid the drive chain.

3. Apply the Detergent

If you have an engine degreaser, apply it first to the extent of your bike’s engine, making sure to get in all the cracks of the fins.

Next, using a sponge to scrub the motorcycle lightly, apply the motorcycle detergent to the extent of the bike working from the top down. Don’t apply detergent directly to the brakes or drive chain, but it’s OK if some falls onto them. Regularly rinse off the sponge and apply more detergent to keep from scraping dirt or grime across the paint.

Once you’ve finished with the sponge, check if there are any particularly dirty places like the wheels. You can remove stubborn dirt and grime with a brush.

4. Rinse Off the Soap and Grime

Again using low pressure, rinse off all the suds. Make sure to go over the bike several times because you don’t want to leave behind any soap residue.

5. Dry Your Motorcycle

Some car washes have air blowers to dry your motorcycle with. These are great because they get into all the cracks and avoid leaving water marks. 

If the car wash doesn’t have an air blower, use soft rags to dry the bike off as much as possible. Get into all the cracks and crevices because water can cause metal parts to corrode.

6. Re-Lube the Drive Chain

You shouldn’t have directly applied soap or water to the drive chain, but it will inevitably have received some in the crossfire. Before you ride the bike again, you should re-lube the chain by spraying it evenly on both sides with motorcycle-specific chain lube

7. Take It for a Drive

Once you’ve applied the chain lube, it’s a good idea to go for a ride. This will help disperse the chain lube and dry off any water in nooks and crannies. Just make sure to take out the exhaust plug first! 

Also, remember: your brakes will be wet. Start slow, and as the brakes dry out, move on to higher speeds. Once the brakes are dry, head home and consider your work done. 

Also see: How to wash a motorcycle at home.