Is Steam Cleaning a Motorcycle Dangerous? Debunking the Myth in 2023
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Cleaning my dirty motorcycle can be a real pain, and choosing the right cleaning option doesn’t make it any easier!
A traditional water hose and a cleaning towel are wasting my time: an hour of spraying and rubbing, and dirt and grease are still there. So I wanted to try out a different cleaning alternative. I knew my mom had a steam cleaner in her cleaning arsenal.
So, I pulled the trigger. I did a small test run to see if steam cleaning my motorcycle is dangerous or not to my black pearl paint and chrome.
And the answer is: No!
Steam cleaning didn’t hurt my motorcycle. Not only did it clean the areas hard to reach around the wheels, but it made it look even better.
Because of how a steam cleaner works, it was harmless to most of my motorcycle parts. It did a great job cleaning around the engine fins and my saddlebags. For most of you who have a motorcycle, you know what torture it is to clean the engine fins. Now, that job is way easier than before.
The Myth, the Legend, and a Steam Cleaner
Many bikers confuse steam cleaning with pressure washing. Or fear that the heat and pressure from a steam cleaner would hurt their plastic parts or remove decals.
Let me tell you: this is a prejudice, and it doesn’t do any justice to steam cleaning!
(And I’m not saying it because I love steam cleaners. I am totally indifferent to them. But I do love my bikes!)
The temperature of the steam is around 200 F, which is way below the melting temperature of any plastic part. Motorcycle parts are made of ABS or HDPE plastic which has a high melting point.
But what about the paint?!
The baking temperature of the motorcycle paint is in the range between 356 and 420 F. After the paint is baked, a couple of layers of a protective clear coat are applied. Then, the clear coat also goes through thermal treatment.
This fact makes steam cleaning harmless to your motorcycle’s painted surfaces.
And what about the pressure?
The pressure of a steam cleaner has less than a couple of bars whereas pressure washers generate a HUGE amount of pressure in hundreds of bars. To some motorcycle parts, the latter are even deadly!
Whoa… With a pressure washer, I can say goodbye to chipped paint on my motorcycle body pieces.
Dos and Don’ts of Steam Cleaning a Motorcycle
Sure, steam cleaning your motorcycle sounds fun, and when I tried it, I was impressed by how easy it actually is. But there is more to steam cleaning motorcycle engine and other parts than meets the eye.
I wish I knew this before, but there are things you should NOT clean with a steam cleaner on your motorcycle:
- Wheel hubs and ball-bearing brackets.
The front and back wheel have a pair of ball bearings. Those bearings have tight rubber seals for keeping the lubricant inside the bearing. That rubber seal is sensitive to sudden changes in high temperature and humidity. It can crack or get loose from holding that lubricant in place, making your ball bearings dry.
- Brake calipers and brake hoses
Brake calipers also have rubber components. They are a significant part of the Floating Caliper Mechanism.
Brake fluid is hygroscopic. It means it tends to absorb water from the environment. When braking, because of the high heat, water will evaporate and form water vapor. This will cause your brake lever to sink.
You DO NOT WANT to have water in your brake fluid.
- Motorcycle chain
The motorcycle chain has tiny rubber O rings. It keeps the factory lubricant between the chain’s roller and bushing.
In high humid conditions, motorcycle chain tends to corrode fast. Using other cleaning options is way better than steam cleaning it.
- Clutch, brake, and gas lever
Having steam inside your clutch or gas cables will only damage and corrode the metal cord. The brake lever with a built-in bottle isn’t air-sealed. The bottle has specific holes through which any air bubbles in the system could escape. Through these holes, the brake fluid would absorb particles of steam.
- Electrical components and the ignition switch
Most of the electrical components don’t like the water and especially steam. That’s why they are hidden under the gas tank or driver’s seat.
Inside the ignition switch, there are small copper contacts and mechanisms. You would want to have an ignition switch turn fast, without any patina or inside corrosion.
Be careful NOT to damage the CDI unit and ignition coils with a steam cleaner. Manufacturers tend to place them under the gas tank and near Cylinder Headcover.
Frequently Asked Questions About Steam Cleaning Motorcycles
Can I remove grease from my motorcycle with a steam cleaner?
I wish the steam cleaner could do that, but NO. Steam will only melt built-up grease, making the cleaning even harder.
Before steam cleaning your motorcycle, use a degreaser and a towel you won’t use anymore. They will help you clean any grease or oil around wheels, below and around the engine, and near the chain protector.
Can I pay to get my motorcycle cleaned with a steam cleaner if I don’t have one?
Sure, steam cleaning is new in the motorcycle cleaning industry. Many of us don’t have a steam cleaner available.
The easiest way is to pay a professional steam cleaning service. Riding off with a spotless motorcycle is an experience of its own kind.
Will steam cleaning cause my motorcycle to corrode?
Yes, if you have any exposed metal and unprotected surfaces. This can’t happen to chromed or stainless steel parts.
What should I do after steam cleaning my motorcycle?
It’s always great to separate cleaning and lubricating your chain from the rest. A well-maintained chain will save you an early visit to your mechanic. Making a better riding experience is a plus.
Can steam cleaners damage the engine?
Unless you insert particles of steam directly into the carburetor, then NO. Every other part of an engine has a gasket or seal.
In water-cooled motorcycles, steam cleaning the radiator fins makes your engine cool better.
Steam cleaning is perfect for getting rid of the dirt and small debris behind the fins and you’ll increase the engine’s air intake.