By Lynn Ketchum


Everytime we take our bikes out for a ride, we manage to bring them home dirty.  Bugs/insects, road tar, tree sap, mud/dust, rain, salt, oil, etc.  Here are some products that can be used to clean your bike.  I’m not endorsing any product.  We all have our favorites!


Summer is tar, sap and bug season.  In the summer months, bugs are at full population, trees produce more sap, and the heat softens the asphalt, producing tar balls on your bike's tires.  While tar and tree sap can be difficult to remove, they do not present a serious threat to your bike's finish.  Bug stains, like bird droppings, are very acidic and represent a significant danger to the beauty of your motorcycle.


Road Tar

As you ride, your bike is bombarded with small specks of asphalt, tire rubber, grease and oils kicked up by the cars and trucks in front of you.  Left on your motorcycle's finish, these petroleum based contaminates will firmly affix themselves to every surface.  Regular soap and water washing will do little to remove these ugly black spots.  To remove road tar you need a solvent.  Most commercial tar removers contain kerosene, mineral spirits or another petroleum distillate combined with lubricants to surround and buffer the road tar from your bikes paint, chrome or plastic.  Some of the products you might try:  Stoner Tarminator and Wurth Clean-Solve (these 2 products are petroleum distillate based).  I prefer to use non-petroleum cleaners where possible.


Of the non-petroleum cleaners:  Stoner XENIT, is a strong citrus based cleaner; it removes heel marks from exhaust pipes with ease.


Tree Sap

Removing tree sap from a bike's finish is a bit more difficult than tar, as hardened sap can scratch paint and delicate clear plastic.  I've found that by hand-rubbing the sap spots with mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, I'm able to easily remove the sap without damaging the finish.  Mineral spirits and denatured alcohol act as a mild solvent to break up and dissolve the sap.  You may need to apply a fair amount of “elbow grease” when you use mineral spirits.  And you may need to apply it several times.


If there is a large amount of sap on your bike, or if the sap has been left on the finish for an extended period of time, it can be a lot of work to remove.  For these cases, I discovered that hitting the affected areas with a light-duty buffing compound removes the hardened surface on the sap spots.  Then I can hit the sap with the mineral spirits to remove it.  The light duty buffing compound softens the sap so the mineral spirits or denatured alcohol can do its job.  The goal is to use the least pressure possible to reduce the risk of scratching the paint or finish.  After removing heavy sap, I always buff the treated areas with a good polish to clean up any marks created during hand-rubbing with solvent.  The treated areas must also be re-waxed.



What's the last thing that goes through a bug's head when it hits your bike's windscreen?  Yup, you guessed it, his rear end, of course!  All joking aside, the head-on collision of that juicy June Bug on your bike's beautiful faring and trim is far from one-sided.  As the bug's exoskeleton explodes, acidic fluids are firmly imbedded in the surface of your bike's paint, plastic or plexiglass.


Did you know that shellac is a bug byproduct?  Think of it, that beautiful, old antique table you love is covered with dried bug juice (yuck!).  Bug splats on your motorcycle amount to little more than shellac mixed with nasty bug parts.  Any attempt to remove the catalyzed remains without the use of a special cleaning solution could result in scratched paint or scratched surface/finish.  The secret to removing insect remains is to loosen and dissolve them with a solvent that will cut through the shellac.  I like to use Next Dimension (the old Honda Spray Cleaner/Polish).  If you have a particularly large bug mess, I have discovered a trick that seems to work pretty well.  If you use a pre-wax cleaner, apply a small dab to the offending bug splat.  Next, cover the spot with a wadded up tissue.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then pinch up the mess and give it a soft wipe with the back side of the tissue.  Voila!  The bug mess is off of your bike.


I am a huge fan of Next Dimension (the old Honda Spray Cleaner/Polish).  I use it on my bike to clean the windshield, paint surfaces, chrome, the whole bike.  I typically use a soft microfiber cloth or an old t-shirt.


I have used Noxon to remove rubber and scoff marks from the chrome exhaust pipes.  I found this worked better than mineral spirits….it didn’t require as much “elbow grease.”


A good practice to get in to:  clean your bike often.  And while cleaning it, tighten nuts/bolts that are loose.  Check the oil.  Check the tire pressure.  A well cleaned bike is a bike that doesn’t break down often and keeps it’s value.


After Removing Tar, Sap & Bugs

All of the chemicals used to remove the aforementioned road stains will also remove the wax or sealant you've applied to protect your bike.  So, after removing tar, sap and bugs, plan to spot wax or re-wax your motorcycle.  If you don't have time to wax right away, use a quick detailing spray.  Most of the quick detailing products contain enough polymer protection to last a couple weeks.



If you choose to use any of the above products, ALWAYS remember to use them in a WELL VENTILATED AREA.  Many of these products are flammable, so refrain from smoking or working near heat sources.  If you have sensitive skin, wear protective gloves.  You may want to also wear protective glasses.  Cover any exposed skin.  Keep away from children.  Also, please dispose of the products properly.



Solvents and thinners:  a solution that breaks down the essential properties of paints, varnishes, lacquer, shellac, oils, grease and adhesive residues.

Turpentine:  an effective solvent for oil and alkyd based paints and varnishes, and removing tar, grease and tree sap.  Because of it’s strong odor, turpentine is becoming less commonly used.  A good substitute would be mineral spirits or turpenoid.

Turpenoid:  a turpentine substitute with limited odor, ideally suited for artist oil painting.

Gum Turpentine:  mineral spirits is a petroleum based product.  Mineral spirits is an oil based solvent ideally used for thinning oil based exterior and interior varnishes, such as paint products, as well as an efficient solvent for artist’s oil paints.

Denatured Alcohol:  A solvent primarily used to dilute and dissolve shellac and aniline dyes.  Denatured alcohol also acts as a semi-aggressive cleaning agent.  Always test on a non-visible surface before using denatured alcohol for cleaning purposes.

Acetone:  A moderately aggressive solvent.  Acetone is often used to clean glass, general dirt and grime.  In restoration and conservation practices acetone is often used to clean dirt, soot and grime from paintings and furniture.  It is also used for the slow dissolving of varnished paintings, to clean, then re-varnish the painting.

Water:  Water acts as general solvent and thinner with virtually all water based interior and exterior paints and varnishes.  Most latex, acrylic products break down in water.  Artist acrylic paints, watercolor, gauche, tempura paint all use water as the dilution agent.

Gasoline:  Typically used as a fuel, gasoline has very strong solvent properties.  Often used to remove grease, tar, and waxes.  Gasoline makes an excellent solvent for cleaning tools and metal parts.  I would not recommend this.  SAFETY:  Gasoline is highly flammable.  Always use in a well-ventilated area.  Wear protective gear over all exposed areas of the body.  Do not smoke or use near any open heat source.

Lacquer thinner:  Used to dilute, dissolve and clean up of lacquer products.  Typically too caustic for oil paints, lacquer thinner is often used additionally for removing inks on metal, and adhesive residue from a variety of surfaces.  Lacquer thinner is very strong and rapidly deteriorates many surfaces and fabrics.  Always test in inconspicuous area before use.

MEK (methyl ethyl ketone):  A highly caustic solvent.  Always use protective hand and eyewear.  Used to dissolve some of the more determined paint problems.  Removal of hardened paint on hardware such as hinges and doorknobs by soaking in MEK are common uses for this product.  Always test before applying MEK on any object or surface as the powerful solvent qualities of MEK can quickly damage or destroy the item.