Ask a Mechanic | Waterless Wash

Question: Everyone says not to wash my bike with water, but I see pro mechanics do it all the time. What’s your opinion on this? From: Randall

Answer: It’s true that nearly all race mechanics wash bikes with a lot of water. That’s how we did it at Team Highroad. But race bikes get so much maintenance that water contamination concerns are virtually nonexistent. We basically rebuilt the bikes top to bottom after every big race.

For everyone else that doesn’t want to spend as much time maintaining their bike as they do riding it, waterless washes are the way to go. This is especially true in the drought conditions that many of us are living in, myself included.

Here’s how I do it: Put the bike in a stand and take the wheels off. If you have disc brakes, put plastic bags over the calipers and use rubber bands to hold the bags in place. These will protect your brake pads from contamination.

Take your bike wash and spray it liberally all over the bike, being careful not to spray directly at bearing seals or electrical connections. Avoid spraying the bar tape too, unless it is a rubber based tape like Lizard Skins’ DSP tape. Then spray a bit on your rag and wipe the bike down. Take care to get the underside of the downtube and bottom bracket. Both of these areas accumulate a ton of gunk and are frequently missed. Be sure to wipe off gunk and old dried up drink mix that accumulates on external cables and cable guides. Then use some chain lube to lubricate the cable guide.

On mountain bikes, take care to wipe off suspension fork seals and pivots to extend the life of these hard working components. When wiping fork stanchions always wipe side to side rather than up and down. Vertical scratches provide a pathway for oil to get past seals.

If you want to go the extra mile you can apply Bike Lust or a similar product to make the bike shine. These polishes have the added benefit of preventing dirt from sticking to the paint.

When it comes to cleaning the wheels, if you have disc brakes it is better to only apply the bike wash to your rag and then use the rag to wipe off the dirt, rather than spraying the cleaner directly on the wheels. If bike wash gets on your rotors and stays there, it can contaminate your brake pads and make your brakes unsafe. If you have to clean your rotors, do it with isopropyl alcohol and use a dedicated clean rag.

With rim brake wheels there is no need to scrub down the brake track. The black bits of brake pad material that are embedded in the rim will help with braking while keeping your brakes quiet; so just wipe off the dust and grime.

Remember that cleaning your bike regularly isn’t just about looking pro; it is a great way to identify cracks or other damage before they become a bigger problem later. So clean your bike!

Welcome to our Ask a Mechanic column where our expert mechanics Daniel Slusser and Greg O’Keeffe answer your bike maintenance questions. If you have a question for us, please post it on the Art’s Cyclery Facebook Wall or e-mail Daniel directly at To see more great how to videos click on the highlighted link to subscribe to our YouTube channel and stay up to date on each episode of the Art’s Cyclery/VeloNews Ask a Mechanic Series.