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How do I clean a modern motorcycle exhaust?

It’s far from a walk in the park, but you can do it with enough time and attention.

How do I clean a modern motorcycle exhaust

Cleaning a modern motorcycle exhaust can be a daunting experience, but it doesn't have to be. If you ride a naked bike, touring bike, or adventure-tourer you'll know what we're talking about. Going on daily city rides and weekend trail rides can take a toll on the appearance of your exhaust. 

Instead of spending some money on getting it cleaned, why not learn how to do it yourself? It can be rewarding, and you'll learn a lot about your bike in the process.

Getting started

Motorcycle exhaust

Many exhaust systems feature stainless steel construction. Despite its name, you'll often find that stainless exhausts can accumulate unwanted dirt and grime pretty quickly. 

Why does this happen? Well, the exhaust weathers high temperatures regularly. Combine this with water, particularly from the constant rain that we experience in the Philippines, and you have a recipe for corrosion. 

Stainless steel has a natural layer of chromium oxide. This protective layer can degrade with enough exposure to heat, water, and salt that comes from daily rides. While this corrosion is typically mild and won't noticeably affect performance, it can literally put a stain on how your motorcycle looks. If you're one of those riders that can't stand a dirty exhaust, you're going to have to take action.

Cleaning a stainless steel motorcycle exhaust

motorcycle exhaust

Before you begin, make sure you're in a comfortable and well-ventilated spot where you won't be disturbed. Keep your bike secure by placing it on its stand on a non-slip surface. Depending on the state of your bike's exhaust, you may want to remove it from the bike.

Next, get a clean rag and start scrubbing away at the exhaust pipe. There may be some surface dirt and grime that you'll have to remove before you see the corrosion underneath.

Once you've removed the surface dirt, you may find rust on your exhaust pipe. The corrosion may be reddish or dark brown and may be rough to the touch. If this is the case, know that it won't come out through normal cleaning procedures. You'll have to do something more drastic.

Get your hands on an acidic solution. Some people use vinegar, but you can also use nitric acid. Don't use anything else, however, as nitric acid could be the only type of acid that reacts well with stainless steel exhausts. Using other acids like sulphuric acid or muriatic acid could lead to disaster, as these do not pair well with stainless steel, chemically speaking. If you proceed with a stronger acid, do so with extreme caution.

While wearing safety gloves and goggles, douse the exhaust pipe with the acid. You may help the process along by gently scrubbing away the rust. In between dousing, rinse the stainless steel with clean water. You don't want the acid sitting too long on the bare metal, as it can eat away at the steel. Keep using the acid until most of the corrosion is gone. Rinse, and even double rinse the metal. Make sure there's no trace of acid on the metal to get the best results.

With the corrosion melted away, you may want to polish the exhaust to finish things off. For this act, you'll need wire wool or an automotive metal polish. Whichever route you choose, you'll have to scrub or polish away at the exhaust to make it as pristine as possible.


Cleaning a modern motorcycle exhaust is far from a walk in the park, but with enough time and attention, you can bring back your bike's pristine looks. If you have the equipment and the patience, you can knock this project out in a day. Remember to observe safety precautions and take care with using potent acids. When in doubt, consult your bike or exhaust manufacturer to ensure the best way to clean a modern motorcycle exhaust.

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