Even though ATVs are built to be used in wet, muddy, or dusty riding conditions, there is no reason not to take care good of your expensive machine by keeping it clean and looking like new for as long as possible. Your bike’s looks will soon start fading if you don’t look well after it.
Most riders, myself included, enjoy riding more than cleaning. We want our machines to stay fresh looking with minimal effort. Thankfully, it’s possible to make the job a lot easier by following these simple steps.
- Clean the ATV after each ride to make sure mud and grime don’t dry up and stick.
- Apply a sealer to easier keep mud off the plastics, to make cleaning a lot easier, and to keep the ATV looking like new.
- Store the ATV under a cover or in a garage to prevent the plastics from fading and keep metal parts from rusting.
- Use a degreaser to keep the seat clean.
- Clean aluminum parts using aluminum wheel cleaner.
1. Clean the ATV after each ride
After an exhausting day of mudding, it may be tempting to skip the cleaning and head straight for the shower. However, it is never a good idea to leave the bike sitting covered in mud.
The most important step of keeping your ATV looking like new is cleaning it after each ride, before the mud and grime get a chance to dry up.
As a bare minimum, you should clean off the large chunks of mud and dirt the same day as you ride. This buys you a day or two to find an opening in the schedule to clean the bike properly.
This is why you should wash your ATV after each ride:
- Bare metals, plastics, and painted parts get stained and become harder to clean the longer they are left dirty.
- Mud, dirt, and grime hold moisture, leaving metal parts prone to corrosion. Keeping the bike clean is one of the critical aspects of preventing your ATV from rusting.
- As the ATV gets more and more packed with mud, the likelihood of dirt getting into bearings, bushings, and other moveable parts increases, causing premature wear.
- Dirt buildup over time in crucial components may reduce engine power, braking performance, or handling. Keep your ATV clean to keep it running at optimal performance.
Use a simple but effective cleaning routine
While this post focuses more on the preventative steps, you can take to better preserve and protect your bike, it all begins with a proper cleaning routine.
- Prepare the ATV for cleaning by plugging the exhaust and any other air intakes and outlets to prevent water from getting inside the bike.
- Rinse off the bike to remove the majority of the caked mud. Use a hose with a pressure nozzle, or use a pressure washer with reduced pressure and some common sense caution. Be careful not to pressure wash the radiator or electrical connector and components as it may damage them. I prefer using a pressure washer on the more robust areas like wheels, wheel wells, and fenders before finishing off with a hose on more sensitive areas.
- Remove any stuck chunks of grass and caked in debris by hand.
- Apply a high-quality cleaner of your choice:
- As long as the bike is treated with a sealer, most automotive or offroad specific cleaners will work well. I prefer applying the cleaner as foam to lift the dirt from the surface, followed by rubbing with a soft brush to attack every little nook.
- If the bike has not been treated with a sealer, you may need to step up to a slightly more powerful cleaner to remove all grime and oil stains. Some people recommend using Simple Green or People Power to clean ATVs, but keep in mind that these cleaners contain acid and may damage aluminum, paints, and other surfaces if you are not careful.
- If you decide to use one of these products, you should spray down the bike with water before applying the cleaner, let it sit for no more than 30 seconds, and rinse thoroughly to remove all residue. Here are some cleaners made specifically for off-road vehicles that work great while safe to use on all surfaces:
- X-Tream Clean XTC01 MX ATV Wash
- Muc-Off Bike Cleaner
- Slick Products Off road wash
- Rinse off all cleaner residue.
- Apply a degreaser to spots that are covered with stubborn grime, oil, or grease. Then scrub them with a brush.
- Rinse off the bike one final time.
- Dry down the whole ATV using a microfiber towel, or allow it to air dry in the shade.
Tip: Westley’s Bleach white works wonderfully on stained white ATV plastics. Spray on, wipe with a cloth and rinse.
Now that the bike is nice and clean, it’s time to have a look at what you can do to make your ATV stay clean and how you can keep it looking like new for a long time.
2. Apply a sealer for a shiny look and to keep mud off the ATV
It’s much easier to prevent the plastics from getting stained with dirt in the first place than to restore plastics covered with ingrown grime and grease. Your best defense against sticking mud and stained plastics is treating them with a high-quality plastic sealer before you go mudding.
The protective sealant leaves the plastic surface slick and hydrophobic; meaning, it will repel mud and water instead of attracting dirt. Muddy water will bead up on the plastic surface rather than covering and getting stuck to the surface.
This doesn’t mean the bike stays completely clean at all times, but it makes cleaning it after you are done mudding much easier.
Follow these general guidelines for a good result:
- Before you apply the treatment, the bike needs to be completely clean and dry. This will make sure the product is adhering properly to the plastic surface.
- Then it’s just a matter of applying the sealant to all plastic or metal components you want to coat, according to the instructions provided with the product. Make sure to read and follow them carefully for a successful and lasting result.
- It’s considered safe to coat all body panels, both on the inside and outside of the wheel wells, as well as brush-guards, cargo racks etc.
- It’s not recommended to coat the engine or electronics. Also, keep in mind that some products, the silicone-based ones, in particular, will make your seat and handlebars slippery, so it’s a good idea to refrain from coating them as well.
- Allow the product to sit for about one minute.
- Use a dry rag or a micro cloth to buff down the treated surfaces to remove excess product and make the surface shine.
What product should you spray on the ATV before you go mudding?
There’s a jungle of products to choose from that will provide more or less effective protection from sticking mud and dirt. Most of them are sprays that should be applied after cleaning the bike thoroughly to create a protective barrier.
Here are some of the most popular products used by ATV and off-road enthusiasts, with some of the pros and cons to consider before deciding which one you want to use.
Maxima SC1 High Gloss Coating (New bike in a can)
A silicone-based spray specifically made to restore and protect painted and plastic surfaces to a factory shine and color. Lays down a protective film that prevents dust, mud, and grime from sticking to treated surfaces.
- Will work on multiple surfaces such as plastic, vinyl, rubber, and carbon fiber.
- Safe on most materials. Doesn’t hurt gaskets, bushings or cv-boots.
- Fast and easy to apply, using an aerosol can. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t even need to rub down with a rug.
- Durable and does not get sticky.
- Water-resistant. Repels mud, dirt and debris.
- A tried and tested favorite by many.
- Not the cheapest alternative on our list.
- No UV-protection.
Alternatives: Here are some other popular silicone-based sealers to consider. Some feature UV protection, while others don’t:
- Muc-Off Motorcycle Silicon Shine or Muc-Off Motorcycle Protectant
- Amsoil Mudslinger
- Motul Shine and Go
- Cover All (aerosol can)
- STP Son of a Gun Protectant
Armor-All tire foam
Scouring through various offroad forums, you will find many riders that suggest using armor all tire foam or tire shine to make the vike shine.
While most will agree that it does make the bike look nice and shiny in your garage, this may not be your best alternative for long-lasting, mud repelling results.
- Available at most auto supply stores.
- It does make the plastic shiny.
- It also acts as a UV-blocker, preventing the plastic from fading.
- It does not stay shiny due to a tacky finish that collects dust.
- It does make cleaning a bit easier than no treatment, but it is noticeably less effective than most other products listed in this post.
- Treated surfaces become very slippery.
- Tire foam may work its way under stickers.
Alternatives: Several users report getting good results by using Black Magic Tire Wet Foam.
WD-40 or any penetrating oil
Another popular alternative is using WD-40 as a sealer.
You may already know that a coating of WD-40 will prevent your ATV from rusting as easily.
You may not know that it also helps prevent mud from sticking to plastics and basically any other surface.
- It does not only prevent rust on metal parts but prevents mud from sticking to plastics as well
- It works better than Armor All but is not as durable as silicone-based products.
- Available everywhere.
- It can get expensive.
- Washes of easily, so it needs to be reapplied each time you clean the ATV.
Turtle Wax Trim Restorer
Some riders recommend using a heavy-duty automotive wax like Turtle Wax Trim Restorer, which has to be buffed on by hand. I haven’t tried this myself, but it supposedly works well to keep the ATV looking like new for years.
- Make faded and oxidized plastic look almost like new, at least for a while.
- Cheap and available at most auto supply stores.
- It does not leave behind a greasy residue like many other similar types of products do.
- It contains a UV protector.
- A bottle lasts you a long time.
- Not as effective as some of the alternatives listed in this post, but it still does a decent job at preventing mud and grime from sticking.
- Meguiars Back to Black
- Mothers Back to Black Trim and Plastic Restorer
Offroad specific products are not always the best alternative for everybody from a cost standpoint.
Some products will do an adequate job, for a lot less money. The trade-off is a more time-consuming application process and slightly less effective protection from sticking mud.
Cover All High Gloss
While Cover ALl in aerosol spray cans are fast and effective, you can save quite a lot by buying the product in larger volume containers and spray it on using a spray bottle. You can get Cover All in 16oz, 22oz, 1 Gallon, 5 Gallon, 15 Gallon, 30 Gallon, and 55 Gallon containers.
Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner
Another budget option that works surprisingly well is Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner. Ensure you get the yellow citrus one and not the orange as it might damage clear coats, paint, or graphics.
3. How to prevent ATV plastics from fading
There is little you can do to restore faded plastics. Your best alternative is preventing it from happening in the first place. Here are two simple tips to prevent your ATV plastics from fading.
- Apply a sealer that contains a UV blocker as well as making the bike shiny.
- Never leave the ATV parked in direct sunlight. Use a cover, or even better, park it in a garage.
4. How to keep the seat clean and looking like new
As for the seat, we’ve established that you should not treat it with a sealer as this will not only make it nice and shiny, it will become dangerously slippery as well.
Your best option is to use a compatible degreaser to get all the grime and stains off to make it look like new again.
Most degreasers will work; just make sure it’s vinyl compatible and won’t damage your seat cover.
Maxima Bio Wash Cleaner works well on dirt and oil while still being safe on paint, plastic, carbon fiber, rubber, and alloys, and is gentle enough for everyday use.
5. How to get old mud off the ATV engine and other aluminum parts
Exposed cast aluminum such as in engines, brake calipers, transfer cases, as well as front and rear diffs tend to attract mud and grime like nothing else. Regular cleaning procedures won’t always be enough to keep them looking clean and new.
The aluminum cooling fins on air-cooled ATVs are particularly prone to get covered with persistent grime of dirt from mud splashing against the hot surface.
The best trick I’ve come across is using a wheel-cleaner for aluminum wheels such as Mag Wheel Cleaner or a similar product.
- Clean the ATV as you usually would.
- Wear protective eyewear and gloves, as most cleaners contain acid.
- Soak the parts you want to clean with the wheel cleaner.
- Let it sit according to the product recommendations, usually 2-5 minutes.
- Use a soft, long bristled brush to scrub the surface to work the cleaner into every little crook.
- Rinse thoroughly with lots of water. This will remove and dilute the cleaning residue so that it won’t keep reacting with the aluminum.
- Repeat the process one more time if needed.
Note: Be careful not to use the product on anodized aluminum, zink, or nickel plating as it will strip the surface coating.
If wheel cleaner doesn’t provide the result you are looking for, consider stepping up to a stronger product such as Napa aluminum brightener. This is a far more potent product than most wheel cleaners. It contains acid, which may damage most surfaces if left to sit for too long.
Hose down the entire ATV with water to reduce the chance of staining while rinsing the treated surface thoroughly according to the bottle’s instructions.