Matte finishes can look fantastic. They stick out in a sea of gloss bikes and add character to a frame, but are tricky to clean. Here’s how to clean a matte finish bike.
Find that shine: confusion and cleaning matte bikes
Matte look great, that is, until they get at all dirty or dusty. If you only ride on dry roads, that’s rarely a problem. If you own a matte cyclocross, gravel or mountain bike, on the other hand, you’ve probably noticed dirt seems to magically cling to the surface, even when you think you’ve done a thorough post-ride clean.
So, what’s the trick to restoring your Matte frame’s shine? Turns out, there is a whack of conflicting advice out there.
Much of what we fond was brought over from automotive or other industries. Bicycles, even ebikes, aren’t motorbikes though. Bikes, where high end frames can weigh just hundreds of grams, are much more fragile than their motorized counterparts. All the very expensive components we bolt onto them can also be quite delicate, especially if not treated right.
After sorting though all the advice, seeking wisdom from some seasoned mechanics, and some real world comparison cleaning, here’s what we’ve found.
Why are matte finishes different?
Why is cleaning a matte bikes so hard? Well, it’s a completely different finish than gloss frames. Matte is a porous finish, where gloss paint is sealed. That means what you use to clean a matte bike is important. It also makes regular maintenance crucial. Things like sweat, sunscreen or embrocation – from knees rubbing the top tube – and road grit can cause wear or damage to your bike’s finish.
How to clean a matte finish bike
No matter what cleaner you use, be sure to gently clean off any surface grit or dirt off your bike. Unless it’s a perfectly dry day on asphalt, giving your bike a quick hose down is always better than letting dirt harden on your frame. Then you can move on to getting that matte nice and shiny. If you do a quick clean regularly, then you don’t have to do a full clean as often.
One caution. Every finish is different. No matter what cleaner you use, be sure to test it first. Always try out a small area, ideally in an out of the way part of the bike, before diving in. The inside of the fork or chainstays are a good area, and usually dirty, too.
Note: always be careful around rotors and disc brake pads, especially if you are using a spray bottle. Many cleaning agents can contaminate one or both, significantly decreasing your braking power. A couple bike-specific washes are potentially disc-safe but, unless it explicitly says so on the bottle, you should always assume they are not.
Soap and warm water
Start here. Soap and a soft brush is simple, but effective. If this doesn’t get your bike clean, keep reading. Any gentle soap, like dish soap, with some warm water and a soft brush. As always when cleaning your bike, start with the cleaner parts of your bike before getting into greasier areas near the chain.
Matte Finish cleaning products
Several brands, including White Lightning and Muc-Off, make cleaning products specifically for matte finish carbon fibre bikes. There will be instructions on the bottle for exactly how to use each different formula. They vary from brand to brand, so read, then clean as instructed.
Spring grid on our road editors Cervelo
Restored to a like-new shine with mineral oil
WD-40 and Mineral Oil
Fancy specialized products are a new thing for bikes, but matte finishes aren’t. To find out how mechanics kept frames shiny before dedicated products, we asked Regan Pringle at Trail Bikes how he cleans matte bikes. Why? With many hours spent in the pits at mountain bike races and cyclocross World Cups, on top of his decades shop experience on Vancouver Island, he’s no stranger to cleaning muddy bikes.
Spray your bike to remove any larger muck or surface grit, then let it dry. Then apply WD-40 to a microfibre cloth (never spray directly on your frame. This helps avoid rotors your rotors) and wipe down the surface. You can wipe away any remaining residue, if there is any, after then let the bike dry. Work your way from the cleaner parts of the bike, finishing at the areas more likely to get grease or oil on them (chainstays, ect).
Second step is mineral oil, to polish, applied the same way. Generic mineral oil from Shoppers Drug Mart works well.*
Of the methods we tried, this worked very well. It also gave the longest lasting clean. Dust would wipe off clean for several rides and mud would spray cleanly off matte carbon instead of clinging to it. It may not sound as fancy as high tech solutions, but it’s cheaper. And sometimes, as Pringle told us, “the old ways are the best ways.”
*Note: This mineral oil is not the pink Shimano mineral oil used in disc brakes.
Here’s a few other popular routes that came up. Each has at least one potential drawback that keep us from fully endorsing it for bikes.
Diluted degreaser or Windex
Dilute a basic, soft degreaser (Simple Green is popular and reasonably environmentally friendly) and, after spraying down your bike and letting it dry, wipe the frame down with the diluted degreaser and a microfibre cloth.
NOTE: Simple Green warns not to leave its All-Purpose cleaner on any exposed aluminum for more than 10-minutes, though, so use caution if you go this route. Windex is also potentially damaging to aluminum. Definitely rinse off your bike instead of letting it dry.
Apparently the Simple Green Pro HD fomula (the purple stuff) is safe for alloy and aluminum surfaces. It’s also a very strong cleaner, so if you go this route, be sure to dilute it with water.
Wet wipes / baby wipes
This is rather straight forward. Clean any grit off you bike then go over the matte finish again with wet wipes to get a full shine.
This is pretty wasteful, for one. But, more functionally, in our experience the shine of wet wipes also didn’t last as long. It’ll look good until you get more dust or dirt on it. But you have to do a full clean much sooner. As mentioned, mineral oil looked better right away, and the shine lasted through more dirt and dust before needing a full clean again.
Another option that gets quite a few mentions is diluted Isopropyl Alcohol. Again, use a clean rag to wipe down the matte surfaces on your frame.
While effective for cleaning matte, this method, again, may not be great for other finishes on your bike. Over time, it could affect your bike’s clear coat, especially if you’re frequently using it to restore the shine on your matte bike. Two cautions: be sure to dilute it enough, first. Second, you don’t need to apply pressure while wiping. The cleaner will do the work for you.
This method can be used safely, and many people do. But with other options that don’t have the same downsides, why not use one of those?