Can I Wash My Bike at a Carwash?

Let’s face it, your bike is filthy.

Your wheels are covered in mud and a questionable yellow goo, and you even spot a few pebbles stuck between the treads.

You could bust out the sudsy water and sponge and clean it yourself, but why would you do that when you could take it to a car wash instead? You figure it doesn’t matter what type of water and soap you use on your bike.

But, can you wash your bike at a carwash? What’s the difference between a bike wash and a car wash?

Keep reading to find out!

Can I Wash My Bike at a Carwash?

wash my bike at a carwash

Yes, though it’s not recommended. 

It is possible for you to wash your bike at a carwash, but we strongly recommend against it.

Although car washes work perfectly well for cars, they are too intense for bikes and could actually damage them.

Your bike’s bearings, fork, electronic derailleur, and shock system are all at risk of being damaged by the pressurized water.

There is a way to wash your bike at a car wash using the hose’s mist setting, but you must take extreme care to only direct the water at certain parts of your bike.

You may also be unable to thoroughly wash certain parts of your bike, causing grease and dirt to build up, damaging them, and negatively affecting your riding experience.

In the worst-case scenario, you could permanently damage your electronic derailleur, costing you hundreds of dollars in repairs.

Additionally, the paint and decals on bikes are much more delicate than car paint. Since car washes use pressurized water, you run the risk of washing off your bike’s paint.

Not only will this cost you more time and money since you’ll have to repaint and decorate your bike, but it will also create a bigger mess since missing flecks of paint will be left all over your bike frame.

So, to save yourself time, money, and any more trouble, only use the carwash for its intended purpose: to wash cars.

Bike Wash vs. Car Wash

There are a few significant differences between a bike wash and a car wash. 

Now that we know it’s not a good idea to wash your bike at a car wash, let’s dive into the main things that set these two washing methods apart.

From what kind of soap you use to the way you dry it off, bike and car washes couldn’t be more different.

The Soap and Chemicals Used

car wash soap

Many car soaps have strong chemicals which can damage your bike. They’re also very abrasive and could seep into your bike’s bearings and gears. This could prevent your bike parts from working smoothly.

The car soap could also remove your bike’s paint, especially if used with a pressurized water hose.

You should normally use a light degreasing soap to clean your bike, which will remove excess grease and dirt without affecting the bearings, gears, forks, etc.

soap to clean your bike

Power Washing

Although effective at removing large chunks of dirt from your bike, power washing can damage your bike’s bearings and other delicate components. You may find after time that your bike is beginning to rust and isn’t moving as it usually does.

power washing

In theory, you could power wash your bike without getting water into its internal components, but this requires a lot of practice and you still risk damaging the paint job.

Your bike is more fragile and exposed than a car, which means it must be washed with care.

Also, since the water is so pressurized it could break or knock something out of place.

You only need to use a sponge and some soapy water to clean your bike, so power washing it is also unnecessary.

use a sponge and some soapy water

Detailing

When washing your car, the main goal is to make it look squeaky clean and ensure the windows are clear enough for you to see through. You don’t need to clean the car’s gears and lube them up when washing it.

If your car looks clean, then it is.

Bikes, however, must be detailed. The chain, rotor, cogs, spokes, and so on, need to be carefully cleaned. You should also take this opportunity to check that everything is in good condition, especially your tires, brake pads, and rotors.

cleaning bikes need to be carefully

You also have to move certain bike parts, like the chain, to ensure you carefully clean every crevice and remove any grease or dirt.

Since bikes must be washed in such a detailed manner, it’s virtually impossible to thoroughly clean them using the power washer and soap provided at a car wash.

Drying

You’re almost done cleaning your car when you discover that some water has seeped into its hood. Luckily, you can blow it out using compressed air.

You could dry your car using a microfiber cloth and then finish it off with some shine polish, but this is unnecessary and only serves aesthetic purposes. So, you get in your car and drive off, letting it dry in the warm weather.

This same drying method does not work for bikes. You must carefully dry all of its parts, ensuring they don’t rust. You also must carefully dry its chain.

carefully dry all bike parts

Please avoid drying your bike with compressed air, as you could blow the water deeper into it.

What Is the Best Way To Wash My Bike?

Follow the steps below to properly and safely wash your bike. 

Washing your bike at a car wash isn’t an option, so how are you supposed to clean it?

Let’s learn the best way to wash your bike!

Materials

Step 1: Remove Your Bike’s Wheels

remove your bike wheel

If you want to properly clean your bike and ensure every part of it is muck-free, it’s a good idea to remove the wheels. This will give you easy access to the chain and the cogs.

Once you’ve removed your wheels, you can slide a dummy hub into your rear wheel’s axle, which will allow you to rotate the chain.

Step 2: Clean the Chain

clean the bike chain

Dip your gear brush into the chain cleaner solvent and meticulously scrub it, flicking away any pieces of grease that have clumped up.

Rotate your chain by spinning the bike’s pedals, and moving your brush around the chain to push out any dirt stuck in between the links.

Then, turn your attention to the chainring, giving it a good scrub. Make sure to clean the inside as well, ensuring the solvent doesn’t seep inside the bearings.

Then you can use your chain cleaner, ensuring it’s angled properly so that it doesn’t push the chain off the front ring and that all sides of it are in contact with the cleaner.

Add extra solvent to your chain cleaner before pedaling backward to move the chain through it.

Empty the solvent from your chain cleaner, fill it with the warm sudsy water, and clean the chain again, following the same steps.

Step 3: Clean the Frame and Other Parts 

clean the frame and other parts

Now you can clean the rest of your bike using some soft brushes and a sponge.

Make sure to clean the pedals and derailleur. Lightly scrub your bike’s entire frame.

You may need to use a smaller brush to clean some of the frame’s crevices and beneath the seat.

Please do not scrub the shift levers, or you risk removing the grease and damaging them.

Step 4: Give It a Good Rinse

clean bike frame

With your bike frame clean and covered in soap, it’s time to rinse it.

Although you can use a hose, it’s best to avoid it since the pressure could damage your bike’s internal components.

Instead, use a water bottle to gently rinse away any soap, starting from the top and continuing downwards.

Pro Tip: Quickly and easily dry the chain by spinning the pedals.

Step 5: Clean the Wheels

Now it’s time to turn your attention over to your wheels.

Take the same gear brush and degreaser solvent and meticulously scrub the cogs, getting into each one. Tilt the wheel so that the cogs are facing downwards to avoid getting solvent into the freehub.

clean the wheels

Use the soft brush soaked in warm, soapy water to clean away the solvent and brush away any extra grease.

You can also clean inside the wheel’s hub using a smaller brush. Make sure to give your rotor a good scrub while you’re at it.

Then, clean the rims, tires, and spokes with the same soft brush. Once clean, you can rinse off your wheels.

Step 6: Lube the Chain

lube the chain

To lube your chain, drop a small amount of chain lube on each link.

A good way to know when you’ve lubed all the links is to find the master link and start lubing your chain from there. When you come back to your master link, you’ll know that you’ve lubed your entire chain.

Spin your pedals to distribute the lube, lightly grasping the chain with a microfiber cloth to remove any excess.

Step 7: Reattach Your Wheels and Dry Your Bike 

Your bike is looking cleaner than ever before. We just have a few finishing touches before you’re ready to show it off to all your biker friends.

Reattach the wheels, ensuring the chain is properly placed along the cogs.

Take a microfiber cloth and dry off your bike. Don’t worry if you can’t dry it completely. You just want to remove most of the moisture.

Presto! Your bike is clean, dry, oiled, and ready for your next adventure.

Park Tool on YouTube has a great video demonstrating how to clean your bike following the steps above. Watch it below!

How to Wash a Bike

Wrapping Things Up

The next time you take your car to the car wash, don’t bring your bike along to give it a good rinse-off.

Car washes are quite harsh and you could cause some serious damage to your beloved bike.

Instead, invest in some brushes, solvent, and a chain cleaner to clean your bike yourself.

Not only is it cheap, but it will also help you keep a good eye on your bike components’ conditions. If something is torn or cracked, you’ll definitely see or feel it while cleaning your bike.

Not to mention, it’s also fun!

What’s your experience washing your bike at a carwash? Did you know how to properly clean your bike?

Let us know in the comments below!

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