Is your cleaner killing your bike?
We all know that if you don’t clean your bike regularly and properlythe salt, flies, oil, grit and everything else the road chucks at it, will ruin the paint and metalwork, get into the wiring and stop things like chains and brakes working properly.. It’ll also make it look very second-hand, very quickly.
Cleaning can do just as much damage as it prevents though: did you know that even bike-specific cleaning products could actually be making your bike’s finish worse?
We asked Dr Mario Kraft, deputy head of research and development at Dr O.K. Wack Chemie GmbH – developers of the SDoc100 range of motorcycle care products – why:
‘Most metals, as we know, corrode or oxidise once they are exposed to our atmosphere, hence what you find on a motorcycle has a protective layer or element to them, for example stainless steel or anodized aluminium. That layer also protects against other substances that may come into contact with it, such as the chemicals in your chosen cleaner.
If – through either accidental damage or through abrasion from brushes or particles in cloths and sponges – this layer is damaged, it will leave the bare metal exposed to oxidisation, but apply an aggressive substance to this exposed area each time you wash it and that substance can also damage the metal.’
This problem isn’t restricted to metals though, certain chemicals – and combinations of them – can also have a devastating effect on your body panels and screen.
Dr Mario explained: ‘Commonly Plexiglas or Polycarbonates are used for the transparent plastics. The latter, in combination with Acrylic Nitril Styrene (ABS), for most of the other plastic parts.
Plexiglas and Polycarbonate are sensitive towards a number of different chemicals, especially solvents or surfactants commonly used in household products, which can cause Environmental Stress Cracking (ECS), normally at the parts which are under tension: where they’re mounted to the bike.
The tricky thing is that the parts prone to ECS are normally hidden. So you believe you rinsed off the bike well, but the chemical can still be present and able to cause damage over time.’
So what’s actually doing the damage? The key, according to Dr Mario, is the pH rating – how acidic the product is.
But it’s not as straightforward as high pH bad, low pH good:
‘A high pH-value does not necessarily mean bad compatibility with metals, because there are powerful corrosion inhibitors available strong enough to protect even sensitive aluminium, and a neutral cleaning agent might be still capable of attacking metal surfaces. Furthermore, often you are not able to find out which pH-value the product has, since they’re seldom stated on the label.’
Another factor to be aware of is age. Do you know how long that bottle of cleaner you just bought was in the shop/warehouse, and how they stored it? Where are you keeping it? And how long has it been there?
The chemical makeup of a cleaning solution can change over time and through exposure to extreme heat or cold; what’s in the bottle now might be subtly different to what was originally.
Dr Mario added: ‘We perform storage and stability tests with each formulation we want to introduce in the market. We store each formulation at different temperatures over a three month period and check that the physical parameters are still the same as they are freshly mixed.
Effectively, we simulate a time lapse so we can guarantee a shelf life of 5 years, and you’ll find a production date and lot number on the label of our products.’
So, what should you be looking for and which cleaning products should you be avoiding?
Washing up liquid is designed for washing pots and pans, not bikes, but the same can be said of car shampoo: how much care has been taken to make sure that doesn’t react badly with the surfaces and materials found on a modern bike?
Even some cleaning products that profess to be motorcycle-specific are very simple in composition, and although they often give the impression of a quick cleaning action, they can cause lasting damage.
The golden rules are:
– Go for something you know has been properly developed by people who understand motorcycles and the surfaces/materials that make them up. Read their promotional material, go on their website and even ring them to be sure you trust it
– If you can, get an all-in-one cleaner, that contains an active degreaser, anti-corrosion additives, is acid/alkali-free and you’re happy will protect all the machine’s surfaces, especially sensitive ones like aluminium and black chrome
– Try to find one that has a ‘spray-on-rinse-off’ formula, so you don’t need to start rubbing on sensitive areas
– If you’re not 100% sure, put a small amount onto the surface and check for any adverse effects