Motorcycle Detailing Tips

Use the same tricks the pros use

Whether you're selling your bike or just want it to look its best, detailing a motorcycle pays big dividends. Here's a collection of detailing tips from a professional. Suds away!

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Pro tips for detailing a motorcycle

Getting your bike professionally detailed can cost a bundle, from $200 all the way up to $600 for a complete job with the optional protectant package. So it makes sense that you'd want to do it yourself to save the dough.

To learn the right way to detail a bike, we consulted Renny Doyle, owner of Attention To Details, a school for professional detailers. Renny walked us through his step-by-step method for detailing a motorcycle. His technique may seem like overkill, especially his recommendation for multiple rinse/dry cycles, but that's how he achieves perfection. He can detail a bike in less than four hours. But you'd better plan on a full day. And, you probably won't save any money on the first round because of the investment in cleaners and tools. But after that, you'll detail like the pros and save money every time.

You can find cleaning products and tools at auto parts stores and online. The highlighted products below are all available through our affiliation with

Remove the leather and start with a light wash

Work in a shaded area and don't start cleaning until the engine is cool to the touch. Remove the seat and leather saddlebags and set them aside. Then cover the battery with plastic sheeting and seal off the exhaust pipe (or pipes) with plastic wrap and a rubber band.

Next, do a prerinse with plain water to remove surface dust and grit. A fireman's-style garden hose nozzle works great because you can dial in a different spray pattern for each area of the bike. You can also use a pressure washer to rinse the bike, but dial down the pressure to its lowest setting and maintain a healthy distance from the bike to avoid damaging the softer metal and plastic parts. Use a gentle stream around wheel hubs to avoid forcing water into the bearings.

Follow the rinse with a prewash (Photo 1). Use a gentle car wash soap (Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo and Conditioner is one choice), a microfiber wash mitt, and separate soap and rinse buckets. The prewash is just to remove the light road dirt and mud. So don't go scrubbing the really dirty and greasy areas with your mitt. Save those for the special cleaners you'll use later on. Rinse off the suds and dry the bike right away to prevent water spots. Rather than hand-wiping the entire bike, use a power blower (such as the Metro SK-1 Motorcycle Dryer) or compressed air, keeping the pressure under 70 psi. Wipe off any remaining water with a waffle-weave microfiber towel.

Next, clean the tires, wheels and spokes with an “aluminum-safe” cleaner like Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner (Photo 2).

Move up to the dash and clean it with a gentle cleaner like Leather Therapy Wash or Meguiars D180 Leather Cleaner & Conditioner. Then polish the dash with Meguiar's M205 Ultra Finishing Polish (Photo 3). Use the same polish on the windshield.

Next, clean the engine, transmission, chain or driveshaft housing with a spray cleaner like S100 Total Cycle Cleaner and brushes (Photo 4). If the S100 product isn't strong enough to remove caked-on grease, dilute a heavy-duty degreaser 4 to 1 with water, or cut a mild degreaser like Simple Green 50/50 with water. Apply the diluted degreaser and expect to put some elbow grease into the job. Don't ever apply full-strength degreaser to your bike.

Before you polish the chrome, switch out your microfiber towel for a smooth 100 percent cotton rag. You can use an old T-shirt or dish towel as long as you cut off the seams first. Seams that are stitched with synthetic thread can scratch chrome, and the seams can retain grit. Then use the Meguiars M205 polish that you used on the dash (Photo 5).

Clean the leather seat and saddlebags with Leather Therapy Wash and Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner, or Meguiar's D180 (Photo 6). These products rejuvenate and condition the leather, and they don't contain any slick additives, so you won't slide off the seat.

Next, use a new batch of soapy water to remove any remaining traces of the cleaners. Then rinse and dry the bike completely (Photos 7 and 8).

Clean and treat rubber foot pegs/rests and pedals with 303 Aerospace Protectant. The product contains UV inhibitors to prevent rubber degradation and dries to a nonslip matte finish. Then seal painted areas with Sonax Polymer Net Shield (Photo 9).

Removing Dried Wax

The best way to remove old dried-on wax is to apply new wax and let it soften the old. But if it's still stuck in crevices, use a household steam cleaner and direct the steam right onto the dried wax. Then wipe it clean with a rag.

Remove melted rubber from exhaust pipes

Use household oven cleaner to remove melted boot heel residue from hot exhaust pipes. Test it first on your bike by spraying it in an inconspicuous spot on the chrome. If it doesn’t discolor the chrome, run the bike until the pipe is warm. Then spray the oven cleaner directly onto the melted rubber and let it soak in for a few minutes. Wipe it off with a cotton towel.

Avoid These Mistakes

  • Never use full-strength automotive or household degreaser products. They can permanently stain aluminum and strip off paint. Also avoid dishwashing detergent and household spray cleaners.
  • Never let cleaners sit on the parts for more than a few minutes, and always rinse the cleaned areas with water. Never allow cleaners, even diluted degreaser, to dry on the bike.
  • Never use scrub pads or coarse wheel brushes anywhere on the bike.
  • Work in the shade and dry each component after you rinse it to avoid water spotting.
  • Never use tire dressing on your bike. The silicone in those products presents a slipping/safety hazard.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • 100% cotton rags
  • Bucket
  • Boar-bristle brush
  • Air gun blow nozzle
  • Microfiber wash mitt
  • Microfiber towels
  • Extension cord
  • Garden hose
  • Garden hose spray nozzle
  • Rags
  • Power washer
  • Power blower

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • 303 Aerospace protectant
  • Aluminum-safe cleaner
  • Gentle car wash soap
  • Leather cleaner
  • Plastic polish
  • Spray cleaner
  • Spray degreaser

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