I believe that a clean road bike is a happy bike. When it comes to washing your bike, I have heard many people asking, “Can you use car soap on a bike?”
Car soaps on bicycles are usually safe. Bikes and cars are made of mostly the same type of material including carbon fiber, plastic, metal, paint, and rubber. If a specific type of soap is intended to be used on cars, it will be fine on a bicycle as well.
I know of a few people who overthink this and would rather keep their bikes dirty than clean them with car soap. Any decent mild grease-cutting detergent or soap can clean your bike, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you wash your bike the right way to ensure its components do not corrode.
I have been cleaning my mountain bike with car soap for years and vice versa with no ill effects to either of these vehicles. In fact, I believe that some car soaps work even better than bike-specific detergents in some cases.
Using Car Soap on a Bicycle
Almost everyone who owns a car has at least one bottle of car detergent or shampoo lying around in their home. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot use the same to clean your mountain bike as well.
You also do not need to invest in high-end car soap either. These days, even cheap car soaps from Walmart and other big box stores are non-abrasive pH neutral and are safe for use on your bicycle. Remember that the best car soap is pH neutral and that’s because they are mild enough to prevent the wax on the vehicle or sealant from the paint from stripping off.
If you have a mountain bike that gets splattered with mud, this can be a good and bad thing. The good thing is that the soap is so mild that it won’t harm the finish on your bike’s body. However, the downside is that it may not be potent enough to cut through the dirt, grime, and grease that most mountain bikes gather.
Should You Wash Your Bike With Car Soap?
Now that we have established that you can in fact wash your bike with car soap, we come to the question of should you wash your bike at all. Some people are of the opinion that mountain bikes are meant to remain dirty, like the shovel in your backyard. However, bicycles are sophisticated pieces of machinery that need to be cleaned regularly if you do not want to speed up their wear and tear — and persistent dirt does exactly that. Allowing dirt to accumulate over the drivetrain or the rubber seals of the bicycle can cause them to stop working.
Should You Wash Your Bicycle With Car Soap After Every Ride?
Of course not. You do not want to overdo it since it can reduce the life of your bearings. It is best to do an occasional scrubbing so that you can find any potential problems and nip the in the bud to keep your bike running smoothly.
When spraying car soap on your bike, make sure you do not contaminate the bicycle’s brake pads. Brake pads can absorb liquid and this can cause them to become glazed or result in squealing brakes. It is good practice to remove your brake pads when washing your bike with car soap.
What is Rinseless Wash?
If you are not aware of this, a rinseless wash is a type of car soap that you don’t need to rinse off before drying your bike. You don’t even need a hose to clean your bicycle — all you need is a bucket of water really. The products in rinseless wash allow you to easily buff the surface of your bicycle for a squeaky clean finish.
When working on a mountain bike, most of us just want to get rid of bigger clogs of dirt and grime without spending too much attention on getting every speck of dust out of the nooks and cranny. A rinseless wash can help you do this in an easy and convenient way.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Car Soap on a Bike
To make sure your bicycle remains undamaged from car soap, you need to pay attention to how you wash it.
Do Use a Grease-Cutting Car Soap
You can find all sorts of car soap brands for a very affordable price in the market. However, there is a huge difference between the products, particularly the active ingredients responsible for cleaning. Make sure you get soap that is mild but can also effectively cut through grease and grime.
Do Use Warm Soapy Water
Warm water can help get grime unstuck from your bike. It also allows your car soap to produce a lot of lather that can lift off the grit easily so that you can rinse off the bike easily.
Don’t Use a Single Sponge
One of the best practices for cleaning your bike is to use different sponge for washing different components of the bicycle and not mix them up. You should reserve one sponge for cleaning the parts of bike that do not gather a lot of dirt like the handlebar, forks, frames, and the wheels. Use the second sponge to clean the grimier parts like the crankset, chain, and derailleur pulleys.
This can help you eliminate the issue of transferring grease from the dirtier parts of your bike to the parts you have just cleaned. You can have as many dedicated sponges and brushes you like for cleaning your bicycle.
Do Rinse Your Bike Before Scrubbing
If you bike has a layer of dirt on top, do not start scratching or scrubbing at it first if you do not want to damage your bike’s finish. Instead, rinse it with warm soapy water to soften it and then start to scrub it gently.
Don’t Use High-Pressure Car Washers
It is fine to use car soap to wash your bicycle; however, you should not always apply the same methods of washing as well. Using a high-pressure car wash to blast off the dirt and debris from your bike’s body and even the drivetrain is quite effective — however, the pressure from the water jet is just too strong and you can risk damaging other components of your bike, including scouring off chipped paint, stripping decals, and worse, forcing water inside the bike’s components. This can wash away the lube and fill them with moisture which can result in rusting.
In addition, the high pressure can force moisture into the tiny spaces between the chain parts, resulting in a squeaky sound.
Do Re-lube After Cleaning
One of the major mistakes people make when washing their bike with car soap — or any other type of soap, for that matter — is forgetting to reapply the bike lube. It is important that you refresh the lubricant in your bike’s components that has been stripped off by the soap; otherwise you are leaving your bike exposed to corrosion.
Hence, make sure you lube the brake, derailleur pivots, and chain after washing your bicycle. Let the oil sit on the components for a bit and then wipe off the excess so that your bike doesn’t become greasy again.
Don’t Dunk Your Bike Into Soapy Water
I have seen some weary cyclists throw their bikes into a stream or a tub of soapy water to wash it quickly after a race. Although it may seem like a pretty fast way to clean your bike, it can force water into places that it should not go such as the hub and cassette or the pedals of your bike if they aren’t sealed well enough. You absolutely do not want to do that.
Once your bicycle is clean, leave it to drop over a few sheets of newspaper. Clean your work area and wash your hands thoroughly.
The job is done!
About THE AUTHOR
Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.Read More About Danny Lawson