extremely dirty atv in a mud patch that will need to be cleaned later

ATV Detailing: How To Properly Clean an ATV & Why (Guide)

Last Updated on February 29, 2024 by Chase Manhattan

ATVs, or All-Terrain Vehicles, are designed to conquer all types of terrains, from sandy dunes to muddy trails. However, their adventurous streak often leaves them coated in grime and dirt.

Regular cleaning is crucial to maintaining their optimal performance and prolonging their lifespan.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the best practices for ATV detailing, primarily focusing on pressure washing.

Chase Manhattan

Why You Need To Clean Your ATV

Regularly cleaning your ATV is not merely about aesthetics, it’s a practical measure to maintain its condition and performance. Dirt and dust build-up can lead to several issues:

  • Deteriorating Plastics and Paint: Over time, accumulated dirt and dust can cause the plastics, paint, and other exteriors of your ATV to deteriorate.
  • Reduced Performance: Dirt build-up in sensitive parts can affect your ATV’s performance. Mud and grime can trap moisture against metal parts, causing rust.
  • Potential for Mechanical Issues: Dirt and debris can find their way into your engine, leading to potential mechanical problems.

Regardless of your locale, after any amount of time, actually in use, your ATV will start to develop a build-up of dirt, grass materials, sand, etc,.This build-up can not only effect your ATV aesthetically, but in some cases it can create mechanical issues that you’ll have to address.

Just ask Desert Monsters Tours. After a few hours in the desert, multiple times a day, over the span of weeks, sand and dirt from the desert eventually made their way inside the rear axle to destroy the rear axle bearings.

Could this have been prevented with regular cleaning? You bet. So whether you’re looking to start a profitable ATV rental business, or just looking for a weekend of play-time, it’s probably best for you to keep that ATV as clean as possible.

Related article: How to start an ATV rental business

Things To Be Careful Of

While cleaning your ATV is crucial, it’s equally important to do it correctly. Here are some things to be mindful of during the process:

  • Avoid Directly Spraying Electrical Equipment: Water and electricity don’t mix. Make sure to cover sensitive parts like the ignition switch to prevent water damage.
  • Don’t Spray Trim or Rubber in Close Proximity: Pressure washing can damage the trim or rubber parts of your ATV. Always maintain a safe distance while spraying these areas.
  • Work From Top to Bottom: Start cleaning from the top and work your way down to ensure an efficient cleaning process.
  • Allow The ATV To Dry Fully Before Starting: Starting your ATV immediately after washing can lead to electrical shorts. Allow it to dry completely before you fire it up again.

ATV Detailing Step by Step

Now that you’re aware of the why’s and the how’s, let’s dive into the actual cleaning process.

1. Pre-Cleaning: Remove Large Chunks of Dirt

Before you bring water into play, remove any large chunks of mud or dirt off your ATV’s exterior. This can be done using a rubber mallet. By removing this outer layer, you’ll speed up the overall washing process.

2. Pre-Soak Your ATV

The next step is to pre-soak your ATV. Using a garden hose, spray your ATV with cold water. This will help wash off easy-to-remove dirt on the surface and begin to loosen up caked-on grime.

3. The Main Wash: Pressure Washing

Pressure washing is the most effective way to clean your ATV. Set the nozzle of your hose to its strongest pressure setting and spray every inch of your ATV’s exterior. Aim your spray at areas caked with stubborn patches of grime. Repeat this step multiple times to remove as much dirt as possible.


If you decide to use a pressure washer, make sure to check your owner’s manual before starting. Every ATV is different, and using a pressure washer on some models is not recommended. Dial back the pressure and use a broad tip to prevent damage.

4. Deep Cleaning: Apply Detergent

For a deep clean, mix a mild automotive detergent with water and use a sponge to wipe oily and grimy buildup off your ATV’s surface. Pay extra attention to areas the pressure washing might have missed.

5. Scrub Off Resistant Buildup

If a sponge isn’t enough to clean off all the dirt, use a brush with thick bristles to tackle the grimiest trouble spots.

6. Rinse and Dry

Rinse off the suds with a garden hose and dry your ATV with a lint-free towel. You can also use an air compressor or a leaf blower to dry hard-to-reach places.

7. Degrease and Apply Rust Inhibitor

For areas coated with oily residue, apply a little degreaser and rinse. To prevent rust, spray metal parts and surfaces with a rust inhibitor.

8. Clean the Air Filter

Regularly cleaning your air filter helps prevent engine wear and tear. You can use dish soap or an air filter cleaning solution to wash your foam filter. After washing and rinsing the filter, dry it with a fan and spray its inside and outside with filter oil.

9. Polish Chrome and Aluminum Parts

Use a chrome/aluminum polish to shine up chrome and uncoated aluminum parts on your ATV. For coated aluminum, use a spray polish.

10. Final Touch: Buff the ATV

Lastly, spray plastic parts with plastic polish. This will help minimize scuffs on plastic and give your ATV a nice shine.

Related article: How to pressure wash a car

Are There Other ATV Detailing Methods?

Yes, there are other methods you can use for ATV detailing:

  • Waterless Wash: For mild cleaning, you can use a waterless wash. These products allow you to clean your ATV without water.
  • Foam Cannons: For a quick touch-up, foam cannons can be a great option. They apply a layer of foam that loosens up dirt, making it easier to rinse off.

Remember, ATV detailing is an essential part of maintaining your vehicle. Regular cleaning will not only keep your ATV looking good but also ensure it performs well for a long time. Happy cleaning!

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