Other than the motorcycle itself, your motorcycle helmet is likely to be the most expensive piece of equipment for your time on two wheels. It is absolutely the most important.
Motorcycle helmets are meant to be used, all of the time — rain, shine, mud pits, heat waves, hurricanes, insect apocalypses — well, you get the picture. It has the most important job (protecting your skull and its contents) and it is continually pounded by the rigors of the road. Knowing how to clean and maintain your motorcycle helmet will not only keep you from surrounding your face with a dank interior lining, but also will work to extend the lifetime of your helmet.
The steps listed below on how to clean a motorcycle helmet are a solid set of best practices that we have had success with throughout many years of practice. However, it is also a good idea to consult your owner’s manual for specifics pertaining to cleaning your helmet, just to be sure you are not doing anything that voids the manufacturer’s warranty.
Step 1: Motorcycle helmet cleaning materials
As with any production, getting things in order from the beginning will go a long way towards making the best use of your time while cleaning a motorcycle helmet. People tend to have their own preferences as to what works best, and there are certainly many viable alternatives, but there are a basic set of items that are always good to start with.
These are great for washing a motorcycle helmet, as well as cleaning a faceshield. While they don’t always have to be new, you should always start with a clean rag. Any dirt particles trapped in the rag increase the risk that you will rough up the exterior finish on the helmet during the cleaning process.
This doesn’t need to be your state-of-the-art Sonicare tooth blaster. A cheap toothbrush with soft bristles is all you need to help clean nooks and crannies that the microfiber rags cannot reach. This can prove especially useful when cleaning around your motorcycle helmet faceshield gaskets and vents.
The main thing that you want to keep in mind when looking for a cleaning agent is to ensure that it is not petroleum-based. Baby shampoo is an oft-used option, due to its gentle nature.
Whether it is a tub or a sink, warm water is your best friend when washing a motorcycle helmet as it allows you to gently loosen dirt and dead bugs without harming any of the helmet materials.
If you have access to an air compressor, dialing back the pressure and using a few strategic blasts is a great way to clean motorcycle helmet air vents. Be careful not to use air from an aerosol can, however, as that will erode the EPS liner in the helmet and degrade its protective capabilities.
Step 2: Remove any electronics and external accessories
It sounds incredibly basic (and it is), but this is a step that is all too often overlooked until it is too late. Before you wash a motorcycle helmet, you should be sure to remove any internal electronic accessories such as microphones, antennas, batteries, and the Bluetooth communicator units that they attach to. Additionally, if you’re working on a dual-sport or off-road helmet that has a peak, it is a lot easier to remove it and clean separately.
Step 3: Remove the helmet's interior
While many manufacturers have slightly different designs, removing the internal liner and cheek pads rarely requires more than a few strategic tugs. In most cases, comfort pads and liners attach with snaps, but some use hook-and-loop material or even magnets. For specifics, be sure to check your owner’s manual. Once you have removed the cheek pads and main liner, place these to the side. We will get to washing them in Step 5.
Step 4: Prepare the helmet's outer shell
To help loosen up caked-on dirt and bugs, soak a microfiber towel in warm water and then drape it over the helmet. This will work to gently soften and dislodge stuck-on gunk and reduces the effort needed to clean it later, as well as the likelihood that you will scratch the helmet or faceshield during the process. Allow the wet microfiber rag to remain on the helmet while you move on to Step 5.
Step 5: Clean the interior lining
It’s often the interior of a motorcycle helmet that needs washed the most. From face sweat to hair oil, the lining of your motorcycle helmet soaks up a lot of grime. When cleaning the lining of your motorcycle helmet, fill a sink, tub, or bucket with warm water and baby shampoo then dunk, scrub, and massage each piece of your helmet liner in the soapy water. Baby shampoo works well for this task as it is ultra gentle, yet still designed specifically to clean away sweat and hair oil.
When complete, let your helmet liner and cheek pads air dry. It’s always best to do this at least the night before you plan on riding so as to allow enough time to dry thoroughly. A wet helmet liner, like a wet dog, tends to be something you don’t want to shove your face in.
Step 6: Clean the motorcycle helmet's exterior
After removing the wet rag that you placed on the helmet in Step 4, take off the faceshield and set it aside. Use a new, wet microfiber cloth to gently work your way around the exterior of the helmet and wipe away any leftover dirt. When cleaning your motorcycle helmet, always be sure to use warm water only. Certain solvents and cleaning solutions can damage the exterior of your helmet. The toothbrush will come in handy for hard-to-reach spots.
Step 7: Blow out the vents (if needed)
Sometimes, in the heat of riding hard, a dirt chunk or well fed insect will get lodged in the vent channels of your helmet. A quick blast of from an air compressor (not an aerosol can) works well to clear the pathways and let the air flow freely again.
Step 8: Clean the faceshield
Most modern faceshields have some sort of protective coating (mainly for UV protection and anti-fog). For that reason, and much like the exterior of your helmet itself, you should never use anything other than warm water when cleaning a motorcycle faceshield. For care instructions specific to your faceshield, be sure to check out the owner’s manual to ensure you do not void any manufacturer warranties. In the end, the best way to wash a motorcycle faceshield is simply to use a wet microfiber cloth and gently massage away any dirt, dust, or smudges. Also just like with the helmet exterior, leaving a wet rag draped over the faceshield for several minutes softens up crusty bug remains and makes the job much easier.
A Note about Pinlock shields
When cleaning a Pinlock faceshield, remove the inner lens from the outer faceshield so you can clean both sides of each piece. Be especially careful not to damage the gasket on the inner lens as it is integral in the Pinlock system working correctly when you put them back together.
Step 9: Wipe down the internal sun shield
If your helmet has an internal sun shield, it is likely not very dirty. However, if the drop-down visor has gotten a bit dusty over time, a quick spritz of water and wipe down with a microfiber towel will do the trick. Unless you are adamant in your desire to remove the entire sun visor, it is easier to leave it in place while cleaning, as it can be a bear to get back into place once removed.
Step 10: Reassemble the helmet
Reassemble your helmet starting with the dry liner and cheek pads. Reattach your faceshield and any other pieces that you removed prior to cleaning.
Washing a motorcycle helmet is about as easy as it gets on the Beard Scale of Difficulty. However, there are a few key pieces that are imperative to remember, such as the importance of not using solvents or petroleum-based cleaning solutions. While the time investment is as minimal as the physical exertion and technical know-how needed, knowing how to properly clean and maintain a motorcycle helmet is a foundational piece of an enjoyable ride.