Cheap Bike Cleaning – Money Saving Products and Tips

No matter what routine you do, cleaning your bike is a chore. It’s long, muddy, and in the winter it’s cold and wet and all you want to do is get in and warm up.

The more often you do it, too, the more you have to spend on cleaning products. Let us help you save money and time with the following tips and tricks to get things sparkling clean on a budget.

Does your bike really need to be cleaned?

It’s a controversial opinion, but a lot of your bike doesn’t really need to be clean to function properly. Your frame and most other static components won’t suffer if they get dirty. Of course, if your bike gets wet and dirty, it’s always best to clean it immediately. However, if you leave it until things have dried, washing can actually force dirt into areas you don’t want. Instead, ignore the aesthetics and focus on stripping and deep cleaning critical areas like the transmission. It’s better to do this as often as possible than to spray your entire machine daily with a hose.

If you’ve never washed your bike before (no shame, there’s a first time for everything), make sure you’ve read our guide on how to clean your bike so you don’t accidentally damage it.

Bike-specific products are expensive

Many bike-specific products differ little from generic alternatives. White gasoline from any hardware store will do an excellent job of degreasing components like cassettes and chains, while isopropyl alcohol can be used to clean your disc brake rotors.

WD40 is also great for breaking down unwanted grease and oil, and dishwashing liquid will do for general cleaning. If you must have brand name products, you will often find lower prices and larger portions if you search for those aimed at the automotive market. This is also true of the brushes, cloths and sponges used for cleaning.

How to clean a bike

Don’t start cleaning a dry bike, it’s just going to make your life harder. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Help your cleaning products go further

It is not true that the salts in washing up liquid damage your bike. That means there’s no reason not to use it for general cleaning.

At the same time, dedicated cleansers like Muc-Off make life easier. If you decide to invest in some, using it correctly will help it go further.

Begin any cleaning by removing dirt from the bike. Now wet the whole bike with plain water. Let soak for a minute or two. Then spray your bike with cleaner and let it sit for a few more minutes. This will give the cleaner the best chance of breaking down the dirt and allow you to use less of it. Go in with a soft brush and scrub everything. Rinse and enjoy your shiny bike.

Invest in a chain cleaner

Cleaning your chain is one of the most essential parts of any maintenance routine. Unfortunately, this is quite difficult to achieve with the chain still attached to your bike. One option is to remove it, but that’s a mucky problem.

An easier solution is to get a dedicated chain cleaning machine. A great investment, these simple devices clip onto your chain and feature roller brushes and a reservoir for degreaser. By effectively hosing and scrubbing your chain, they make messy work less painful and ensure you’re likely to stay on top of maintenance. Simply snap it into place, reverse your bike to drive the device, and let it strip your chain of harmful dirt.

If you want to go all out, you can go wild with ultrasonic cleaning, but that’s an expensive avenue. To learn more, check out our guide on how to clean your bike chain.

Alternatively, learn shop-style chain cleaning

Don’t want to invest in a chain cleaner? If your chain has a quick link, try this method:

First, drink two liters of something in a plastic container (milk, OJ, definitely not degreaser!).

Next, remove your chain from your bike using a pair of link pliers. Drop the chain into the empty milk container and follow it up with a good dose of degreaser.

Replace the lid and shake vigorously every few minutes for at least ten minutes.

Drain dirty degreaser. Replace with dish soap and lukewarm water.

Shake several times and leave to stand for a few minutes. Rinse your chain and dry it with a cloth. Re-seat, re-lubricate and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Raid the book store

Your local pound probably has all the brushes and cleaners you need to make your bike shine.

Hit the kitchen and home sections for a variety of brushes, from small ones for intricate pieces to large, soft numbers for thorough cleaning. At the same time, bring sponges and chamoisines. In the DIY section, pipe cleaners might be great for cleaning between the teeth of your tape, while brushes are good for other details.

Then find a big bucket to keep them all. Finish by looking for rubber gloves and hand cleaner to put away afterwards.

a supermarket aisle

Aldi’s mid-aisle can be a surprising gold mine of bike cleaning products (Image credit: Chard and Ilminster News)

Visit the middle aisle at Aldi/Lidl

This may be lost on our North American readers, but for those in Europe, the mid-aisle of Aldi and Lidle is often flooded with cheap bike cleaning supplies.

I frequently include cycling products in its flash sales, I’ve bought everything from name brand cleaning kits and a surprisingly strong bike work stand to Merino socks and base layers.

More general hardware is also featured regularly, with pressure washers also making frequent appearances. Also regularly featuring car care products, many of which can be reused for your bike as well. Another excellent solution with a European flavor is appearing at Decathlon. Its own brand cleaning range is universally excellent and extremely inexpensive.

Get a cheap stand

If you don’t want to invest in one of the best bike repair stands, a wheel stand alternative is always a good investment. Ideal for cleaning your bike, they also make many mechanical jobs easier.

Importantly, even though they don’t lift your bike off the ground, they allow you to backpedal the cranks, which is crucial when cleaning your drivetrain. They also have the advantage of taking up little space and being quick to install.

At £20 the Gear Up Grandstand Single Bike Floor Stand is a good bet.

Bontrager NCS Alloy Fender Set

Fenders will not only protect you, but also keep your drivetrain clean (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Fit fenders

Mud flaps won’t just keep you and your clothes from getting dirty; they will also prevent your bike from getting covered in mud.

This not only means you won’t need to clean it as regularly, but all of its components will last longer because they won’t be exposed to road salt-related grime.

For this job, the only style to consider are the full-length models. Sometimes considered uncool, you’ll be kicked out of most winter club races if you fail to show up with a decent set equipped. Make yourself, your bike, and everyone else you might ride next to a favor and equip yourself with it.

Make your own chain guard

A chain guard fits into your rear dropout and keeps your chain in place, even when the wheel is removed. Great for cleaning your bike, you can buy these for around £10-20, or you can make your own.

If you have bolt-on dropouts, all you have to do is find a spool that you can slide onto the axle once you’ve removed the wheel.

Many different types of spools will do, such as those that come in the center of PTFE tape, fishing line, solder, or wire. Just make sure the hole in the middle is at least 12mm wide. If you have a quick release you will need something extra to hold it in place. Try improvising by using an old axle or a long M6 bolt and wing nut to hold the spool in place.

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