We invest our hard-earned money in high-quality riding apparel, so it makes sense that we would also want to take proper care of it. Not only will it last longer, proper care will help your gear retain the protective qualities that make it more than just a jacket or pair of pants.

Give your apparel a touch-up cleaning often, taking the opportunity to also inspect it for tears, loose stitching, missing fasteners or other damage. If you let bugs, dirt, road grime, oil or gas bake on it’ll be much more difficult, if not impossible, to remove later. A quick wipe-down with a damp cloth is enough. You may have to soak especially buggy sections before wiping; simply place a wet rag on top of the dirty area and let it sit for a few minutes, softening the hardened bug carcasses. Then wipe clean.

Textile

Some textile apparel, including items made with GORE-TEX and Cordura, is machine washable. Check your garment’s label to be sure, and if you aren’t, hand washing is always a safe option. If there is any leather or suede on the garment, it’s typically not machine washable. Either way, before washing, remove all armor and open the zippers and fasteners. If you’re washing riding jeans, turn them inside out first (and remember to remove any armor). Use warm water for textiles and cold water for jeans, and use conventional (but non-bleach) detergent on the delicate cycle. Many apparel manufacturers recommend Ivory Snow, which is especially gentle. Let the wash cycle complete, then run it again without detergent (water only). Some technical fabrics can hold onto soapy residues, accelerating degradation, so this added step helps completely remove any soap. And please, don’t use fabric softener!

Cleaning motorcycle apparel
Before you wash your gear, whether it’s in a machine or by hand, you’ll want to remove the armor. It’s usually held in pockets that are accessible through hook-and-loop openings. This image is of the back pad being removed from a Tourmaster jacket.

If you’re hand washing, it can be helpful to spot-clean particularly dirty or stained areas beforehand. I’ve tried chemical-laden stuff like Shout!, oxy cleaners and natural citrus-based products. Citrus seems to work well on greasy or oily stains, but regardless of what you use, it doesn’t hurt to test it out on an inconspicuous part of the garment first. Try not to rub it in too hard, or you’ll just push the dirt further into the fabric. Treat it like you would a carpet stain: blot and wipe gently. If it’s really dirty, it’s safe to use a soft nylon-bristle brush to gently scrub the area.

Wash in mild detergent and warm or cool water, and make sure you rinse completely.

A lot of garments say it’s safe to tumble dry, but I prefer not to; it’s harder on the garment and it makes an awful racket. Instead I hang my apparel up to air-dry. Once it’s dry, I apply Nikwax water repellant; not only does it help shed water, it makes bugs easier to remove as well!

Cleaning motorcycle apparel
It’s much easier to remove elbow armor when the jacket is turned inside-out. Armor is flexible, so don’t be afraid to tug on the sleeve to get it turned all the way out.

Leather

Cleaning leather gear isn’t quite as straightforward as textile, because you have two parts to worry about: the fabric/mesh interior and the leather hide exterior, each of which has its own cleaning requirements. Most leather jackets don’t have removable interiors (these are usually only found on racing leather suits), so you have to figure out how to de-funk the stinky insides while taking proper care of the organic hide exterior.

If the funk level is low, especially if the jacket has an anti-microbial liner, you might get away with just hanging it up and airing it out. Still stinky? Try a few spritzes of Febreze or Lysol air freshener. With enough use (and sweat), eventually you’ll need to resort to stronger measures: de-salter spray. You can find it at better shoe/boot stores or online; Anthony’s and Kelly’s are two popular brands. Remove the armor, turn the jacket inside out and spray the interior liberally with the de-salter. Let it dry completely before turning it right side out again.

Cleaning motorcycle apparel
Use plain white terrycloth towels to apply the leather cleaner, working on small areas at a time. Rinse with a fresh towel and dry with another clean one. Then you’ll need another to apply the leather conditioner after it dries.

Now that the interior has been de-funked, it’s time to tackle the grimy outside. You’ll need a few soft terrycloth towels and a quality leather cleaner. Which one you choose is up to you, just remember to avoid silicones, waxes and animal products (like mink oil). Apply a smallish amount to one of the terrycloth towels and do your colorfastness test on an inconspicuous area. If all looks good, start wiping down the jacket, remembering to apply the cleaner to the towel, not directly to the jacket. Wring it out and fold it over to a clean section as it gets dirty. Then rinse with a clean, damp towel and dry with another clean towel.

Let it dry completely—24 hours is good—before the final step: leather conditioner. Again, the conditioner you use is up to you, just follow the instructions on the package. We can’t stress enough how important the conditioning step is…without it, your beautiful leather jacket will become dry and brittle.

Depending on how often you ride and in what conditions, you will want to wash your gear at least once a year; fall is a great time to do so, as part of your normal winterizing routine. With regular care, your moto apparel will last many years.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Some jackets have armor areas that cannot be removed. I have removed all I can for riding comfort, but can’t remove the rest. What would happen if I were to wash the jacket in the washing machine on the gentle cycle? Might the armour still be okay?

    • If you have to leave the armor in, I’d recommend using the mildest detergent you can and definitely using the gentle cycle. Then hang it to dry. You don’t want anything to degrade the integrity of the armor.

  2. Rider Wearhouse (makers of Aerostich suits) recommends closing all the zippers before machine washing. Now I don’t know what to believe!

    • Pat,
      Dainese also recommends closing all zippers before machine washing, as does Bike Bandit in its garment care blog post. I’ve always closed zippers when machine washing my textile gear because I read it in some instructions somewhere. It’s been a long time. 🙂 Most manufacturers have garment care instructions on their websites under the FAQ section but some don’t get specific on whether to close zippers or leave them unzipped. I’m going to disagree with Jenny and continue to close zippers before washing.

  3. I’ve machine washed my textile jackets successfully using a gentle cycle and Nikwax’s TechWash. it’s way more gentle than detergent, and if the jacket has any waterproofing, it preserves it rather than stripping it out like detergent does. it’s a little pricey, but as they only get done once a season, I can live with that.

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