Beat Salt Sabotage! How to Clean a Bike in Winter

Bike in Bathtub

There’s no doubt that keeping your bike clean and operating smoothly can be more of a challenge during the messiest cold-weather months. Following a few simple tips on how to clean a bike in winter will keep you cycling happily through the season.

Road salt can cause your frame to rust and make parts, like the bearings in the bottom bracket that allow you to pedal your bike, seize up. The sand that’s so liberally sprinkled on city streets on snowy days? It gets caught in your brake pads, causing premature wear of pads and rims.

These and other threats make for a sad bike and a frustrated bike mechanic. Vanquish the elements that conspire to sabotage your daily ride with these hints:

Act now

Wipe down your bike with a damp rag immediately after wet rides. This quick cleaning will cut down on how often you have to do the major washings.

Wash outdoors

  • Take advantage of those odd warm days in winter and get outside with a bucket of warm water and a sponge. Use a big, soft sponge rather than an abrasive scrubber, which could scratch your frame. An old toothbrush can help you get at hard-to-reach grit. Although not required, a mild detergent such as kitchen dish soap can help break down grease.
  • Pay special attention to cleaning the drive train (cranks, chain, gears), the lower part of the frame — don’t forget the underside — where the salt is heaviest, and your rims and brake pads where road grit gets caught. Scrub the bike down thoroughly and give it a rinse.

Give your bike a bath indoors

  • Put your bike in the tub!  First off, ask your housemate(s). Maybe not surprisingly, some people don’t care for having a bike in their bathroom. Once you have the go-ahead, remove accessories such as lights and tool bag, lift your bike into the tub, shut the curtain and turn on the hot shower. Watch the salt and road grime wash down the drain. You may need to use a sponge to get tough grit off. Let the bike drip dry before you bring it back through the house. Now clean the tub!


  • Lube your chain. This is the most important step after washing your bike any time of year. Wipe the chain clean and dry with a rag. Use any bike-specific chain lube, not WD-40, which is a degreaser, not a lubricant. Apply a light layer of lube to the chain by rotating pedals backwards and dripping lube on the center rollers of the chain. Rotate cranks several times to let lube work its way into the chain. Wipe off excess by grabbing the chain with a rag and rotating cranks backwards. (If you’re working indoors, be sure to protect your floor from drips with cardboard or newspaper.)


  • Polish your frame. This is not necessary, but it makes for a nice looking ride and some polishes do give the frame a level of protection from rust. Use any bike-specific polish. Just avoid getting polish on brake pads or wheel rims since those surfaces should never be slippery.

Follow these tips over the winter and your bike will be just as happy as you are when spring rolls around.

— Susan Lindell

Photo: velojoy

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