Our guide to eco-friendly bike care and cleaning, that will help you save water and ditch those chemical cleaning products that really aren't so good for the environment or one's health.

Whether it’s getting out into nature on your local mountain bike trails or cruising through the morning traffic jams, no one can deny that cycling is a healthy, eco-friendly activity. However, when it comes to cleaning and caring for your bike, one is often faced with a bunch of chemical cleaning products, that really aren’t so good for the environment or one’s health. But luckily there are eco-friendly ways that you can clean and care for your bike.


Someone once said that the greenest way to clean your bike is – not to!  While mud and dirt won’t damage your bike frame, they do cause damage to the moving parts  (think chains, derailleurs etc). So our advice is to only clean your bike frame occasionally, but always make sure that moving parts are free of mud and dirt.

The waterless method of cleaning your bike not only saves water (which is great for the current water-crisis in areas of South Africa) but is also the best option for washing your bike if you want to avoid getting water into your bearings, which can happen when using a hose or pressure cleaner. It is also a very convenient method of cleaning your bike if you live in an apartment with no access to an outdoor cleaning area.


  1. For heavy dirt and grease use an eco-friendly/ biodegradble spray-on cleaner (e.g. a diluted bike wash solution like Namgear Bike Wash or Squirt Bike Bike Cleaner). Avoid using any petrochemical based cleaners.
  2. When cleaning your bike, lean it against a wall, or put it on a bike stand to keep it stationary while you work on it.
  3. Spray the solution onto a rag to ensure even distribution then wipe down the frame moving from top to bottom. Thicker dirt may require that the solution be sprayed onto your frame, allowing 1 minute to penetrate dirt before being wiped off. You want to avoid getting the solution on your disc brakes and rotors. Pay close attention to hard to reach areas around the fork, rear triangle, bottom bracket, bottle cages, and brakes. Remember to wipe off the solution completely.
  4. If your frame is only slightly dirty you can even use baby wipes to clean it!
  5. Touch up. For steel frames, you may also want to touch up paint chips to prevent corrosion. Nail polish makes a great alternative if you can’t find a paint to color match.


Keeping your bikes chain clean is essential. A dirty chain slows down gear shifting and ultimately wears down your drivetrain.

  1. To clean your chain and jockey wheels use a flannelette or lint-free cotton rag and a bike specific degreaser. Put the bike in the lowest gear. Spray the degreaser onto the chain liberally and also onto the rag. Leave it to settle for 1 minute, then grab the bottom section of chain and backpedal the chain through the rag. You will see the dirt and grime start to accumulate. You can also bend the chain into an s-shape as it runs through the rag to get at more of the grime between each chain link. Change to a clean section of the rag once the current section gets too dirty and continue until the rag comes away clean. Finish off by using a clean, soft rag to dry the chain rubbing each link to make sure there is no degreaser left.
  2. Now clean the jockey wheels and rear mech. Use a brush to remove any big chunks of dirt and a thin screwdriver to get at hard to reach dirt stuck in the rear mech. Apply some degreaser and use an old toothbrush to take off anything that remains. Finish off by wrapping a clean section of the rag around them (being careful not to get it caught in between the chain and wheels) and backpedal.
  3. Next clean the cassette – spray the degreaser onto your cassette and rag. Wedge the rag between the cassette sprockets and rotate the cassette around, so that you can clean each sprocket as you go – rub clean using a flossing motion. If there is mud wedged deep inside the sprockets you can use a flat screwdriver or thin stick to gently poke it out. Use a dry cloth to wipe off the remaining degreaser.
  4. Re-lube afterwards to prevent rust.


  1. If you do decide to wash your bike with water then gently spray off thick mud with the hose. Spray water from above and don’t blast the water sideways at the bike as this can push water into the hubs, pedals and bottom bracket.
  2. For stubborn dirt and grease, fill the bucket with warm water and a bit of eco-friendly cleaning liquid (like Clean-It-All from Enchantrix or Triple Orange for suborn grease) and use a soft sponge or brushes to remove. Where possible wash your bike with recycled bath/shower water or rain water. Rinse off the soap by dribbling water from above.
  3. Dry off parts with a towel, or air dry. Relube after washing because wet parts can rust.



WHAT YOU NEED: biodegradable, solvent- free lube –  dry or wet.
Lube can be applied to the chain and the pivoting metal parts on the brakes and derailleurs to keep them moving smoothly and prevent corrosion. The secret with lube is to apply a little, but often. If you hear a squeaking noise when pedaling, you need lube! Always make sure your chain is clean before applying lube.

  1. There are lots of different kinds of lube around, and it is best to choose one that suits the conditions you ride in (biodegradable, solvent- free lube –  dry or wet, some are good for both). The best lubes are also biodegradable, solvent- free!
  2. Many lubes work best when applied to a clean and dry chain, so if necessary brush the dirt off or use a biodegradable degreaser to remove the grit. Avoid kerosene-based cleaners or petroleum distillates as they are harsh and can cause damage to your components if not washed off properly.
  3. To apply lube, lean the bicycle against a wall, or put it on a stand to keep it stationary.
  4. Put some paper down under the bike to catch drips.
  5. Drop the lube onto the top side of the lower section of chain with one hand whilst turning one of the pedals backwards with my other hand to rotate the chain. Always follow the manufacturers instructions as each lube has a different application technique.
  6. For wet lube, leave it on for a bit and then wipe off the excess with a rag. For dry lube, let it dry completely and do not wipe off the excess.

You can also
 apply a couple of drops of lube to the pivot points on the derailleurs and brakes – i.e. the point where they move. On side-pull brakes, this would be the bolt that the brakes pivot around. Don’t get any lube on the pads and wipe off any excess.


If you have any eco-friendly bike care tips that you would like to share, please add them to the comments section 🙂

  • Author Posts
Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.

    Our Bike Buddies programme is taking on the Cape Town Cycle Tour! Join bicycle advocate, instructor and long distance riding nutter, Kirsten Wilkins for a series of free group training rides and fun prep sessions to get you ready for the event.


    Maybe there’s a different way to win the race? Co-founder of The Adventure Syndicate, Lee Craigie gives an inspiring talk at TEDxGlasgow, sharing her life changing experience of riding the Highland Trail 550 (one of the most challenging self-supported off-road individual time trials (ITT) in the world). 


    Bicycle South and Everyday Cycle Supply are stoked to invite you to the second edition of the Southern Campout global bike camping event!

Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.

1 comment

  1. Pingback:HOW TO BIKE IN THE CITY - Bicycle South

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *