That kid size BMX bike or mountain bike you bought as a birthday gift for your kiddo, it needs a clean every once in a while. Clean bikes look nice, and their drivetrains run super smoothly, which means they ride much better. What’s more, proper bike maintenance can increase its lifespan. But how do you clean and degrease your kid’s bike?
In this guide, I take you through the steps you need to follow to do a thorough clean. You’ll learn how to clean the chain, the frame, pedals, tires, cassettes, and everything else so you can keep your kid’s bike in pristine condition.
How Often to Clean a Bike?
If it’s a road bike, give it a deep clean once every month, which is roughly 20-25 rides. Clean the bike that often even when it doesn’t look particularly dirty because believe me, there’s always grim, grit, and filth in the nooks and crannies of the bike.
If it’s a cyclocross or a mountain bike, you’ll want to clean it more often than that. It’s recommended that you clean a mountain bike after 1-2 hard rides. And if your kiddo rides their mountain bike through muddy terrain, wet weather, or snow, be sure to give the mountain a good scrub after the ride. As for electric mountain bikes, make sure to clean them at least once each week after riding through snow, sand, mud, or in the rain.
What Do You Need to Clean a Bike?
You need the following items when cleaning a bicycle:
- 2 buckets
- Water supply
- Clean dry rags (an old cotton tee will do)
- Scrubbing brushes for the wheels, chainrings, cassette, pedals
- A garden hose (preferably one with a trigger-style spray head)
- Dawn liquid dish soap or your preference
- A bike chain cleaner or ultrasonic cleaner (optional)
- Chain degreaser/solvent (citrus-based degreaser is the best option) and a proper lubricant
- Bottle-cleaning brushes or toothbrush for hard-to-reach spots
- Chain keeper (Pedro’s chain keeper recommended). Don’t have a keeper? Well, get one because anyone who owns a bike needs it.
- A bike repair stand
Before we dive in, here’s a few things you need to know.
- It’s a bad idea to scrub a bike frame with a hard-bristle brush or abrassive unless you like looking at nice little scratches on expensive lightweight carbon frames.
- Unless you want to damage your kid’s bike’s bearings, avoid hosing down the bike with a high-pressure hose.
- Deep cleaning a bike takes time (at least 30 minutes), so it’s a serious weekend commitment, one you need to put on your busy schedule every once in a while.
- Make sure to give your drivetrain’s components (chain, chainrings, and sprockets) some TLC with a dry clean rag after every ride. And as long as the chain runs smoothly, you don’t need to oil it.
- If you recently bought the bike and the factory chain grease is still there, DON’T remove it because nothing lubricates a bike’s chain better than what the bike factories use.
- Stop seeing bike cleaning as a chore, as something you don’t particularly enjoy but have to do anyway. Instead, view the activity as something enjoyable because that’s the way it should be (only true bicyclists know how I mean by this).
- If you like riding in winter weather, be sure to clean the bike after every ride to prevent salt buildup. But if you turned off your outside faucets to prevent water line damage, how do you clean your bike in winter? You can use buckets, but this can be pretty tedious. Another trick to clean a bike in the winter when outside water is turned off is to clean the bike in the shower. I know it sounds kinda crazy and I’m not saying do it, but it’s what I do, and it works just fine.
A Step-by-Step Guide for Cleaning and Degreasing a Kid’s Bike/Any Bike
If you follow the steps described below, I promise that you’ll end up with a spotlessly clean bike. It’ll look as good as new, and it’ll ride like a dream.
Make the Following Preps Before you kick off the bike clean:
- If you have a bike repair stand, put the bike in and secure it. This makes reaching every little crack, nook, and cranny easier for a thorough clean. If you don’t have a workstand (seriously you need one), get creative and hook the bike to a tight clothesline or other such device by the saddle/bike seat.
- Take the wheels off the bike. This should be easy. If your bike features thru-axle wheels, putting a 15mm wrench to the axle nuts and making counterclockwise turns does the job. Wheels with quick-release levers are really easy to remove from the bike. Watch this video to learn how to remove a quick-release front bike wheel.
- Install a chain keeper. Some might say this prelim is optional, but it’s not for me. A chain keeper costs money, but it’s an absolute necessity for when deep cleaning any kind of bicycle. This little tool makes sure that the chain stays on the bike instead of coming off the whole time and driving you nuts. It also prevents the chain from constantly folding onto itself, causing annoyance. When you take the cassette off (which you’ll do when deep cleaning), the chain keeper helps the drivetrain maintain tension.
- Bring your bike cleaning brushes, rags, and spokes to the work area.
- Pour clean water into 2 buckets and add in a generous amount of dish soap.
Step #1: Clean the Bike’s Chain
Cleaning a bike chain isn’t entirely complicated, but there’s tons of controversy surrounding this seemingly mundane matter. Some people say cleaning the chain without removing it from the bike is the best approach. Others believe that investing in a good mechanical chain cleaner such as the Park Tool Cyclone 5.3 or using a $100 ultrasonic chain cleaner is worth it. And that these tools do a much better job and there’s little mess during the exercise.
In this guide, we won’t take the chain off. Nor will we use any chain degreasing equipment. It’s a deep clean after all, and we’re OK with mess.
If you own an ultrasonic chain cleaner, definitely take the chain and cassette off and clean them separately. And if you intend to use a chain scrubbing machine, clean the frame and everything else and handle the chain lastly. Here’s a detailed guide on how to clean and lube a bike chain using 4 different methods.
- Spray some citrus-based degreaser on the chain and back peddle to make sure that the solvent distributes well into the chain links.
- Wait about 10-15 minutes for the degreaser to loosen up the dirt and grime buildup on the chain.
- Rinse off the degreaser using a trigger-style hose. You want to direct a gentle water stream onto the chain rather than blast the chain with the might of a high-pressure hose. Chances are that the chain is now clean, but if it’s not, follow the next step.
- If the chain still needs a bit of work, spray some liquid Dawn dish soap onto the chain. Then, hold the chain with a sponge and start pedaling with one hand. For a better scrub, have the rougher side of the sponge facing into the chain.
- After scrubbing off any remaining greasy mess from the chain, give it a nice rinse with the hose and you’re done.
Step #2: Clean the Rest of the Drivetrain
A bike’s chain is part of its drivetrain and since we’ve already cleaned the chain, let’s now clean the other parts of the drivetrain.
- Grab a brush with a stiff bristles, soap it up by dipping into the bucket with soapy water, and start scrubbing the chainrings. A lot happens around the chainrings, which means that a lot of greasy filth accumulates there. The chainrings are built for abuse and a stiff-bristle brush won’t cause damage. Get soap on the brush as many times as you need to, of course.
- Use an old toothbrush to clean out the hard-to-access areas of the chainrings such as the crevices in the teeth, pedals, and pulleys. And if you’re like me and keep buying bike maintenance tools even when you don’t absolutely need them, use a bottle-cleaning brush for this task. I’m talking about the kind of brush people use for cleaning wine bottles with narrow necks.
- Once you’ve scrubbed every kind of crud and grunge out of the drivetrain, grab the trigger-style hose and rinse off the soap and loose grime.
- If you didn’t remove the cassette (you did if you own an ultrasonic chain cleaner, right?), take the rear wheel (you removed this wheel when setting up for the cleanup, remember?), apply some dish soap to the cassette and give a nice scrub.
- Rinse the rear wheel cassette with a gentle stream of water.
Step #3: Soft-sponge the Bike’s Frame
No one likes scratches on their bike’s frame. Scratches on the frame look ugly, plus they add age to the rig’s look. So put down the stiff-bristle brushes you used to clean the chainring and cassette and use a soft sponge instead.
- If the bike features caliper-style brakes, dip a sponge into soapy water and use the rough side to scrub the dirt and grime out of the rubber pads. But if the bike features disc brakes, learn how to clean them in step #4 below.
- Dunk the soft sponge into the second bucket with clean soapy water and start scrubbing the frame. You’re not using the abrasive side of the sponge on the frame, right? Right. Clean the frame from the front to back.
- Rinse the brakes and frame with a gentle stream of water from a trigger-style hose.
Step #4: Clean the Bike’s Tires, Rims, and Spokes
You need a brush with a longer handle, and the bristles should be relatively long but not too stiff.
- Inspect the tires and remove any visible dirt with a rag. And if you notice any kind of object that embedded itself into the tire, get it out.
- Scrub the tires thoroughly with a soapy brush. You want to dip the brush into the soapy water in the bucket you used when sponging the frame.
- Rub the rim from the valve. Keep scrubbing along the rim until you get back to the valve where the action started.
- Clean the spokes and the hub.
- If your kid’s bike (or whichever bike you’re cleaning) features disc brakes, clean the rotors with the soft side of a soapy sponge. Disc brakes need to be scratch-free and not burred to function properly.
- Turn the wheel so that the other side is now facing toward you and repeat the cleaning process.
- Once done cleaning the first wheel, start cleaning the other one.
- Rinse off the soap and dirt with a gentle stream of clean water.
Step #5: Finalizing the Clean and Drying Off the Bike
Give the bike one final rinse with a trigger-style hose.
- Use clean dry rags to wipe off any excess water.
- If the weather outside is sunny, leave the bike out in the sun so it can dry off completely. But you know what? There’s really no need to dry out a hosed-down the bike completely. Just like there’s no need to dry out a hosed down car.
- If it’s wintertime and you can’t dry off the bike in the sun, just wipe the bike down with clean dry towels and leave it to dry naturally indoors. Here’s another little trick I use to dry out my bikes after hosing them down: I use our garden leaf blower. It works incredibly well. Please don’t use a hair dryer. Because it takes forever to get the job done and it’s not really necessary.
- Reassemble the bike and lube the chain. For the love of God, don’t use WD-40 to lube the bike chain or anything else for that matter. It’s designed to work as a solvent and not as a lubricant. When lubing the bike, don’t spray the oil onto the chain. The best way to oil a bike chain is to use a drip-style lube can/bottle. Point the opening of the bottle to the rivets on the inner side of the lower run of the chain and apply one drop per rivet. Back pedal to spread out the lube and finally run the chain through a dry clean rag to remove excess lube.
Bike Cleaning FAQs
What Products Do I need to Clean My Bike?
You need a bike repair stand/workstand, a citrus-based degreaser, a proper chain lubricant, sponges, rags, a chain keeper, brushes, buckets, water, and a garden hose with a trigger-style head.
Can I Wash My Bike With a Hose?
Yes, you definitely can. However, it’s not a good idea to use a ultra high-pressure hose on a bike because it can degrade the bearings.
How Do You Clean a Bike Frame?
The best way to clean a bike frame is to use a soft soapy sponge and finally rinse off.
How Do You Clean a Mountain Bike?
Put it in a bike stand and hose it down with a gentle stream. Wash the frame with a soft soapy sponge. Clean the chainrings, cassette, and derailleur with a brush and use a toothbrush for hard-to-reach spots. Clean the chain by holding it inside a sponge with the abrasive side in. Alternatively, use a chain cleaner such the Park Tool Cyclone 5.3. Rinse off and wipe down the mountain bike dry. Leave it in the sun or let it dry naturally indoors. If you want to quickly dry the mountain bike, use a garden leaf blower. Finally, lube the chain and do it correctly. Here’s how to correctly clean and lube a bike chain.
How Do You Clean a Bike Without a Workstand?
If you’re wanting to do light work on a road bike, just store the bike upside down. But if you’re working on a mountain bike with trigger or twister shifters, flipping the bike upside down may not be ideal. In this case, it’s best to use a workstand. It’s also possible to use a taut clothesline as a workstand by hanging the bike there through the saddle.
How Do You Dry a Bike After Hosing It Down?
Just wipe down the bike with dry towels and dry it in the sun. If that’s not possible because the weather doesn’t allow, wipe down the bicycle and store it in a garage with a transparent roof. A garage like this stays warm all year round. But the best way to dry out a wet bike in winter or after washing is to use a powerful leaf blower. This works extremely well.