What To Use To Clean Bikes And Parts

by Alan Buehner

Originally printed in issue #76 of Still....Keeping Track

One of things that one has to deal with when owning a motorcycle is cleaning it. It can be a very simple chore if you are dealing with a street bike, but dirt bikes, especially “barn fresh” vintage bikes can be a frustrating challenge. Old grease and oil mixed with dirt will not dissolve. Certain types of dried up mud, especially certain types of clay, turn to concrete.

So the question comes up, what do I use and do to clean this stuff off of my bike and clean up the engine parts? We generally will experiment with trying whatever chemicals that we have in our garages. Back in the “old days” we would not think twice about using gasoline for cleaning and this was commonly used for cleaning the air filters. Today we know better than to use certain things that are hazardous to the environment and to our health. Breathing fumes and getting that stuff on our skin can pose serious health risks.

Years ago I purchased a case of citrus based cleaner in spray cans made by Stoner. It works good on removing grease and oil but requires a lot of scrubbing and brushing.

So what should we use and not use? What works and doesn't work? This came up on the POG message board and this is what the “experts” recommend.


Im thinking about refilling my parts washer which has not been used much at all since I bought it many years ago, mainly because Im not very happy with the weak non aggressive type of Parts cleaning fluids sold by most auto parts stores. I`m wondering if a 50/50 Pine-Sol water solution would be a good choice, since it works so well soaking and cleaning carbs. What does everyone recommend, or use in their parts washer/cleaners? Thanks for any and all input.
-Mike Winters

Mike, a long time ago, someone mentioned using diesel fuel as a parts cleaner, might work with the elec. pump as is low flash. Just a thought.
-Tom Brosius

I use the cleaning solution that Tractor Supply sells.

There seems to be some pretty good reviews on the Tractor Supply product for $39.95/5 gal, and that's not too far away for me to pick up some in the next couple of days. Thanks.
-Mike Winters

I have always used Agitene that Granger sells, it is pricy, but the best I have found. I soak Sachs engines in kerosine for a couple months before pulling them apart to loosen up all the old oil and crud inside. This makes disassembly and cleaning the inside a whole lot easier. I also wear gloves to protect my hands.
-Ron Carbaugh


I have Crystal Clean come out and service my washer, about $150 each time once a year. They also add my choice of nice smelling deodorant to the cleaner to make the shop smell nice. No mess, no fuss, all professional.

I use no flammable solvent (or very high flash point) to clean anything all stripper used is also green and correct PPE is used at all times when working with solvents.

I take the old solvent and filter it as best as I can then throw it in a horse trough to soak frames, wheels etc. to degrease the major gunk from them prior to cleaning and blasting.

For the bikes, I use cold water and S-100 spray.  This has always worked for me.

Only glass bead is used in my cabinet to blast items. It is filtered with HEPA class filtering to keep it green and safe.
Keep this safe and practice safe work practices and all will be well.
-Kip Kern


Tried diesel fuel and an ultrasonic machine but did not care for the results: too messy/stinky and the diesel oil film remains long after the part is cleaned.

Have had good luck with the Purple Power stuff on nuts/bolts, but it will oxidize the aluminum parts.
-Rob Patton


I too have seen the results of Purple Power on aluminum bike parts, makes a new bike looks 10 years older than it really is, great on greasy engines but really caustic on shiney aluminum. At all the shops I ran, we used Safety Clean on a bi-monthly basis, just my $0.02
-Mike Gallagher

I use Pine Sol for carburetor cleaning.

I experiment all the time with degreasers and have not found anything that I really like so far.

For stripping paint I use Cistristrip (available at Lowes). It is a gel that I apply to engine cases, cylinder fins (black cylinders), fiberglass tanks (use caution, do not leave it on over night or it will bubble the fiberglass). I use a pressure washer to blast it off.

The best cleaner and degreaser that I have found so far is ZEP Industrial Purple Cleaner and Degreaser Concentrate. You can use it diluted or full concentrate, depending upon what build up you need to remove. I spray it on and use a tooth brush to work it in.
One of the things that I have used that does not work is Simple Green.

For getting rust off of metal items, such as crank shafts and any rusty steel, I use Metal Rescue (available at Home Depot). This stuff is bio-degradable and can be flushed down the drain when it has lost it's consistency. You just soak the rusty part in the solution for a couple of hours or more (depending upon how much rust is involved) and rinse the part off with water. It is also important to remove any grease or oil from any rusty parts before using Metal Rescue.

I also try and scrape off as much of the gobs of gunk and dirt before using any cleaners.
- “Chicago Jerry” Grakauskas