How to Clean a Mountain Bike in 8 Steps

Every avid mountain bike rider knows how fast their bike can become dirty while on the trail!  Dust, mud, leaves, grime and “unidentified substances” can quickly accumulate on your bike — making it look bad and potentially affecting its performance.

While washing your bike isn’t the most exciting part of mountain biking, it is essential if you want to keep your bike in good working order.  This article will highlight the importance of keeping your bike clean before sharing the best mountain bike cleaning routine.  This routine will keep your bike looking great in as little time as possible.

The importance of keeping your mountain bike clean

Keeping your bike clean is not just about how it looks.  There are some important reasons for keeping your bike relatively clean including:

  • Your mountain bike will be safer and more reliable
    If you have dirt, grease, and grime on your disc rotors, interfering with your shocks or clogging up your shifters, your bike may become unsafe to ride.  It may also become unreliable — you will never know how well your components will perform when you reach a tricky corner.  When your brakes, shocks, drivetrain, pedals, and shifters are clean, you know they will respond appropriately when you use them.
  • Your mountain bike will last longer
    Some of the substances found on the trail can damage your bike.  Sticks and mud can damage your shifters or derailleurs very quickly.  If you leave dirt or unidentified grim on your bike for long periods it will eventually cause your bike’s metal components to rust or encourage the deterioration of your carbon components.
  • It can help you identify issues on the bike
    Having a clean mountain bike makes it easier to identify which components are starting to wear out.  You will be able to clearly see your gears, derailleurs, pedals, cables and other components — inspecting them for wear-and-tear.
  • Your bike will ride better
    If you want a bike that changes gears smoothly it is important to keep the drivetrain clean and free of debris.   The same goes for the brakes — if you want to preserve excellent stopping power, your brakes should be free of gunk.  If your bike is clean and performing well, you will be faster on the trail and have more confidence in the performance of your ride.

Mountain bike cleaning routine

This routine is quick, efficient, and guaranteed to get the grime off your much-loved mountain bike.  The best part is, you can wash your entire bike in less than 10 minutes.

General tips for cleaning your mountain bike

Before you begin, here are a few important things to remember:

  • Don’t mix sponges
    Don’t use the same sponge for cleaning the grease from the drivetrain and for cleaning your rims or disc brake rotors.  At the least, you will make a mess of your bike and you may compromise your brakes.
  • Don’t use abrasive cleaning tools or chemicals on your bike
    Avoid using steel wool or harsh brushes on your bike.  You may damage your paint and bike components.  Be especially careful when selecting a degreaser — opt for environmentally friendly degreasers as they will not strip off the protective anodized coating on your bike like a harsh chemical degreaser might.
  • Don’t blast your bike with high pressure water
    If you blast water at your bike, it may penetrate into your bottom bracket and displace your lubrication.
  • Be careful around your shifters
    Most shifters have lubrication in their inner components.  Avoid using large amounts of water or high-pressure water near your shifters.  You can reapply the lubrication, but disassembling shifters can be a painful process!
  • Be careful with your disc brake rotors
    Try not to contaminate your disc brake rotors with grease or other chemicals.  You could reduce the effectiveness of your brakes.

Step #1 — Go for a ride and get it dirty

Mountain bikes are designed to tolerate a lot of dirt and mud!  If you only have a few specks of mud on your paint job, don’t bother washing it just yet.  Go for a solid ride, get dirty, have some fun, and really push your bike to its limits.  Don’t worry about splashing mud all over the place, this mountain bike cleaning routine will take care of it in less than 10 minutes!

Step #2 — Gather your supplies

Having the right equipment on hand will make cleaning a mountain bike much easier!  Even you don’t have all of the items below, you can make do with a bucket, some hot soapy water, a hose and some sponges.   Make an effort to gather these items over time and keep them in a single location so they are easy to find when you want to wash your bike.  Gather the following items:

1. A dirty mountain bike

Essential!

2. Clean rags or old cotton T-shirts

CLEAN RAGS OR OLD COTTON T-SHIRTSThese are for wiping down water and for detailed cleaning of the frame.  Use t-shirts or buy a few cotton rags online.

3. v1 x bucket

A basic 10 quart plastic bucket with a handle is all you need.V1 X BUCKET

4. 1 x large soft-bristled frame cleaning brush

1 X LARGE SOFT-BRISTLED FRAME CLEANING BRUSHThis large brush is primarily used to clean your wheels and bike frame.  It should have soft bristles, so it does not damage your paintwork.  Park Tools sell a fantastic bike cleaning brush kit with a great soaping brush.

5. 1 x gear cleaning brush

1 X GEAR CLEANING BRUSHThe gear cleaning brush is designed to remove grease and gunk from your derailleurs and chain.  It has a very thin brush on one end and curved plastic on the other end for removing very tough grease.  The Park Tool kit includes one of these brushes, but you can also buy them individually.  Having one of these brushes makes cleaning the drive train much simpler.  

6. 1 x large soft sponge

1 X LARGE SOFT SPONGEA large foam sponge, which is effective at general cleaning.

7. Bottle brushes

BOTTLE BRUSHESBottle brushes are fantastic for getting into tight spaces around the cranks and derailleur.

8. Garden hose with a spray head

Having a garden hose with a trigger-style spray head makes it easy to wash the soap off your bike.GARDEN HOSE WITH A SPRAY HEAD

9. Dishwashing liquid or bike washing liquid

Most soft dishwashing liquids are fine (Dawn Ultra is a great choice), but you can also opt for a product like Finish Line Super Bike Wash Cleaner.  You will be using this for most cleaning tasks including cleaning the frame, tires, and rims.

10. Solvent (chain cleaning degreaser) and a small container to hold it

SOLVENT (CHAIN CLEANING DEGREASER) AND A SMALL CONTAINER TO HOLD ITIt is important to use a specialized bike degreaser that won’t damage the components on your bike.  Finish Line make some excellent citrus-based degreasers that are safe to use on bikes.  The degreaser will be used to remove grease and gunk from your drivetrain.

11. A chain cleaning tool

A CHAIN CLEANING TOOLWhile a chain cleaning tool isn’t “essential” it will make the job much easier.  It is a device that wraps around your chain to quickly remove gunk.  Park Tool sell a chain cleaning system that comes with degreaser, the tool, and a brush.

12. Chain lubricant

CHAIN LUBRICANTA high quality specialized bike lubricant.  There are many to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with Tri-Flow.

13. Gloves

Wearing protective gloves is always a good idea when working with degreasers, lubricants, identified gunk, or hot water.

14. Bike polish (optional)

If you are really showing off, add a layer of polish every couple of months.  Make sure you choose a polish that is appropriate for your bike’s finish.

14. A bike stand (optional)

A bike stand can make the cleaning process easier.

Step #3 — Prepare

Fill your bucket with very hot water and add a good squirt of liquid detergent or bike washing fluid.  Make the water as hot as you can handle (that’s one reason why we wear gloves).  After adding the detergent, place your all of your sponges into the bucket EXCEPT for the gear cleaning brush.  That one never goes into the bucket.

Place a small amount of degreaser into a small container — A small bowl is usually fine.  That is where you place the gear cleaning brush.

Attach your bike to the stand (if you are using one).   Attach the bike via the seat post, but before doing so, clean the seat post with a soapy sponge.

If the bike is “extremely” muddy, give it a quick spray with the hose on a light setting — mist or shower.  This will remove most of  the mud.

Step #4 — Clean the drivetrain

Grab the gear cleaning brush and use it to clean the derailleur pulleys.  Wind the mountain bike pedals backwards while you use the brush to remove gunk from the pulleys.  Use the hard end to remove tough gunk.  Dip the brush back into the degreaser as needed.

Use the brush on the chain rings at the front of the bike.  Hold the brush on the bottom of the chain rings while moving the pedals backwards — it is important that no degreaser enter the bottom bracket because it may remove lubrication from your bearings.  Remove grease from the front derailleur and its linkages.  Use the brush on the rear chain rings and rear derailleur.

Attach the bottom of your chain cleaning tool to the chain.  Install the top cap and fill it with degreaser (up to the fill line).  Pedal backwards for about a minute.  The chain will pass through the sponges in the chain cleaning tool.  Pour the solvent into a container for safe disposal.  Pour some hot soapy water into your chain cleaning tool and pedal backwards again for about a minute.  Discard this water.  You have a clean chain!

Use the large soft-bristled frame cleaning brush with hot soapy water on the derailleurs.  Because most of the gunk is gone from the chain, chain rings, and derailleurs will now look fantastic.

Step #5 — Clean the bike frame

Use the large soft-bristled frame cleaning brush to clean the frame and wheels.  As you clean, make a note of any issues you see on the bike — loose or damaged components.  You can use hot soapy water on the disc brakes, as long as it is washed off after being applied.  Use the bottle brushes for any tight, hard-to-reach areas.  Make sure you clean under the saddle.  Remember to be careful when cleaning around your shifters.  You may need to use a small sponge to get between the spokes on your wheels.  Clean the tires last.

Step #6 — Rinse your bike

Use a “mist” or “shower” setting on your hose to rinse the mountain bike off.  Start from the top and work your way down.  Pay close attention to the disc brake pads to ensure you remove any soap.  Spin the pedals backwards to fling excess water off.

Step #7 — Lubricate

Hold one of your t-shirts or rags on the chain and pedal backwards to ensure it is completely dry.  Find the master link on the chain, if it has one.  Starting there, begin lubricating each link in the chain, one at a time.  Avoid over-lubricating.  Inspect each rivet and roller as you look at the chain, identifying any issues.

Give the chain a backwards spin, then hold a rag on the bike to remove excess lubricants and spin again.  Excess lubrication on the outside of the chain will attract dirt — it is the lubrication on the inside that helps the chain work smoothly.

Step #8 — Dry the bike

You can either air dry the bike or wipe down with a rag.  When you wipe with a rag, continue look for any issues with the bike.  Examine the cables, frame, brakes, and shifters to make sure they are working well. You can now polish the bike if you choose to do so.

Congratulations, you are done! Looking to upgrade your mountain bike? Here are some great mountain bikes under $1,000.