Guide: Cleaning Your Motorcycle Jacket

Evan Rally
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I used to let some of my motorcycle jackets go years without a wash. 

I’m not proud of it! But I was worried about damaging them and honestly I didn’t want to spend a relaxing Saturday afternoon covered in bug grime scrubbing away at each panel.

It took one of my riding buddies slapping some sense into me (he couldn’t eat because I smelled so bad…) to finally face the dreaded wash. 

I did the research and discovered washing a jacket just ain’t that hard. I took the right steps and tossed it in the washing machine. Promptly wore it on a ride in the wet and slid out – survived without a scratch to tell the tale.

So I did some more research, and started regularly washing my leather jacket. A few mistakes and more jackets later, and here we are. 

dry cleaning only

Here’s all my wisdom and tips on how to clean your jacket without damaging or discoloring it.

Washing Different Types of Motorcycle Jackets


Not all motorcycle jackets are made equal, so not all can be washed the same way. The three main types of jackets are waxed cotton (for my hipster friends), textile (including polyester, nylon, mesh, etc) and the tried-and-true leather. 

Waxed Cotton – The Stubborn One

Unfortunately, waxed cotton jackets are a bit tricky to clean. They’re like that one friend who refuses to budge on their questionable opinions.

Use a wet cloth to clean them, but be prepared for some stubbornness. You can’t effectively clean every little bit, but hey, that’s the price of looking effortlessly cool, right?

Embrace the patina.

Textile – The Machine Washers

Where Waxed Cotton can never let go, Textile jackets go with the flow – in your washing machine. 

You’ll need to check the label (which I’ll go in to later) but typically a Textile jacket can be tossed in a washing machine. You might need to soak or brush a couple spots, but otherwise they’re fairly low maintenance. 

Leather – The Picky Prince

Leather is beautiful and tough, but it takes care to keep it up. Treat it like royalty, and it’ll keep you safe and stylish for years to come.

Use a damp cloth to wipe down the surface often. Apply a good-quality leather cleaner and conditioner every few months. Your jacket will be forever grateful, and so will your fellow bikers who won’t have to smell you from a mile away.

Why even bother washing a jacket? 

If you found yourself here, you probably have your reasons. 

If you still need convincing, consider this: 

Washing a jacket isn’t just about keeping you smelling fresh as a daisy (or at least, fresher than a week-old roadkill), it also helps maintain your gear. For leather jackets, cleaning off salt residue is a must, lest you want your precious investment to deteriorate faster than you can say “easy rider.”

when you wash your leather jacket with bleach

And here’s a fun fact: residue on your jacket’s membrane can clog up ventilation and hold water during rain. We all know that feeling cold and tired on a ride is a recipe for disaster. Remember, crashes are often a combination of small mistakes. Let’s not add “riding in a soggy jacket” to that list, shall we?

So washing your jacket is a safety and comfort issue, and it extends the lifespan of your gear. So instead of sweating about how to wash that $1,000 Schott jacket, why don’t you learn how to maintain it so you can pass it down to your kid? 

So with that said, let’s get into cleaning. 

Preventative Cleaning for Motorcycle Jackets

The secret sauce to a happy jacket (without breaking a sweat) starts with preventative cleaning

Tip: Wipe down your jacket with a damp rag or wet wipes regularly. Trust me, your jacket will thank you.

Tip: For those pesky hardened mud or bug splatters, don’t go all Hulk on your jacket. Instead, try this: Lay a damp cloth on the affected area for a few minutes. Like magic, they’ll lift right off without any hard scrubbing that could damage your beloved gear.

That’s it. Buy a box of wet wipes to keep in the garage and spend two minutes after you turn off the bike to check your gear. 

DONE! On to the deep cleaning…

Washing a Textile Motorcycle Jacket: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ready to tackle that dirty textile motorcycle jacket? Hold onto your helmets because I’m about to take you on a wild ride through the world of textile jacket cleaning.

Read the tag! Knowledge is power.

First things first: Check the tag for any instructions.

Your 10 Commandments for washing any jacket are always found on the label. But, sometimes your label sweated away (like mine) or you want a bit more guidance than three hieroglyphics can give. 

Most textile jackets, in my experience, are machine washable. 

Look for the symbol that looks like a tub with water in it – that’s your machine wash symbol. If that symbol has an X over it, don’t use the machine! You may also see a number on that tub. If it’s suspiciously low it’s probably CELSIUS not Fahrenheit! So do your conversions. 

You’ll also probably see a triangle with an X over it: that means no bleach. 

Also check:

  • If the label mentions any specific chemicals you can’t use, like detergents. 
  • If your jacket has any leather or suede components (you’ll need to remove these before machine washing, or just hand wash the whole thing)

I’ll say it again: AVOID BLEACH!

Tools: What You’ll Need

To get that textile jacket squeaky clean, you’ll need a special tech wash or plain old laundry detergent. If you’re hand washing, you’ll want at least a big brush and a toothbrush, all soft bristles (no metal, please!)

The internet is awash with theories about detergent: some think it melts your jacket into a puddle, others swear by it. The problem with detergents is some will damage glues, tapes, and waterproofing inside a jacket. 

Personally, I use regular non-bleach laundry detergent on my cheaper jackets and splurge for products like NikWax non-detergent soap and reproofing solution for more expensive ones. It’s not the cheapest wash, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new Klim Badlands jacket

I just don’t want to take the risk of a detergent damaging an expensive jacket. So AVOID detergents if you really don’t want to screw up! There are lots of products like NikWax’s made for washing technical outdoor gear. These are well suited for motorcycle jackets. 

A few friends of mine in the UK have tried the Storm wash and re-proof as well and love it. 

Wash: Time to scrub-a-dub-dub

Before you get wet (or let the machine do all the work), make sure you’ve done the following: 

  1. Emptied every pocket of every scrap (a little tissue can make a BIG mess)
  2. Removed all armor from elbows, shoulders, back and chest
  3. Unzipped every zipper: vents and vented panels included. Let it all hang loose. 
  4. Separate out all liners (some, like plastic waterproofing liners, you won’t want to machine wash)

Some people swear by flipping the jacket inside out. I only do it if I’m primarily cleaning sweat from the inside, and not grime on the outside. 

The Easy Way: Machine Washing 


Assuming your jacket can handle it, you’ll need a few rounds in the washing machine. 

  1. [If you’re not using detergent] Pre-wash: Before the jacket even goes in, put some rags in the machine and run it on the hottest cycle without detergent to clean out any traces of detergent that could damage your jacket. 
  2. Wash your Jacket: Pop your jacket in along with a non-bleach detergent or the NikWax wash I mentioned earlier. Follow the directions for adding your cleaning product to your machine. Don’t use any fabric softener. Use the Delicate cycle or a wash cycle with temps around 90 degrees F (30 C). 
  3. Second Proof or Rinse Cycle: Run your jacket through a second time on the same settings, but with your NikWax proof or nothing at all. The NikWax proof will lock in a new layer of waterproofing, while straight water will just flush out any detergent still hiding in your jacket. Detergent left in your jacket can be just as damaging as dirt!

The Hard Way: By Hand

Okay, you’re a masochist? Or your jacket is a diva? Here’s how to hand wash a textile jacket. 

Grab two buckets: Fill one with water and your detergent or wash solution, and leave the other as a rinse bucket. 

Repeatedly dunk your jacket in the soapy water and brush it until it starts to glisten again. Go easy at first to remove the grime and bugs on the surface. If you go too hard right off the bat, you’ll just push all of that deeper into the material of the jacket. As you lift off that grime, you can get more aggressive. 

Remember: Dunk and brush, dunk and brush, dunk and brush… you get the idea? 

Grab a beer, you’re going to be here a while. 

Once your jacket is looking new and your water old, it’s time to rinse. Dunk and squeeze through the rinse water. When your rinse water turns dark or soapy, dump it out and fill it again. You’ll want to rinse until nothing more is coming out of your jacket. 

Congratulations, you’re done! If you’re like me, that only took one six-pack to do… 

Time to stumble in the closet to grab a hanger… it’s drying time. 

Dry: Hang it up and let it chill

Grab a sturdy hanger and hang up your jacket, preferably outside where it’ll get some airflow and a bit of sunlight. If you’re doing this in the dead of winter, hang it in your shower or mudroom and point a fan at it. 

When it’s damp, you can use a machine dryer for 15-20 minutes on a cool air setting. This can help reactivate the DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the jacket’s exterior.

If you didn’t use a proofing solution in the wash, consider using a re-waterproofing spray like this one from Nikwax.

not sure if i should do laundry or buy new jackets

Cleaning a Leather Motorcycle Jacket: A Step-by-Step Guide

Alright, fellow leather enthusiasts! Gather ’round as I spill the beans on how to treat your trusty leather motorcycle jacket like royalty. Let’s dive into the process of making it look as good as new and smell like, well, not last week’s ride!

Tools: Your Dream Team

Here’s the lowdown on what you’ll need to get started:

  1. Clean cloths (3-4 of them) – your jacket deserves only the softest touch.
  2. Leather conditioner (Anthony’s Leatherworks in the US is the crème de la crème)
  3. De-salter (Anthony’s got you covered, too)
  4. Febreze or another deodorizer

Beware of cleaners with a hidden agenda! Avoid silicones, waxes, or animal products that’ll cause your jacket to look like a sad tie-dye experiment.

Or take out the guesswork and pick up this kit from Anthony’s Leatherworks on Amazon. Just click and fuhgettaboutit.


Click the button above to FUHGETTABOUTIT and keep your leather jacket in tip-top shape. 

Clean the Inside: From Funky Town to Freshville

Arm yourself with Febreze and launch an all-out assault on the stubborn odors lurking inside your jacket. 

Spray first, ask for forgiveness later. Follow up with a gentle swipe from a cloth dampened with warm water – your secret weapon.

If the smell refuses to surrender, it’s time to bring out the big guns: a de-salter spray that’ll pulverize the odor and any mold trying to crash your leather party.

Clean the Outside: Massage Time at Leather Spa

Put a hearty dollop of leather cleaner & conditioner on a soft cloth and give your jacket the massage it’s been dreaming of since you took it through a downpour. 

When that cloth is looking war torn, let it take a refreshing dip in warm, soapy water for a well-deserved vacation. Move that road grime from the jacket to a bucket of water. 

Once your jacket has been thoroughly pampered, let it relax on a hanger until it’s no longer looking wet from the cleaner. 

Condition the Leather: The Grand Finale

You’ve cleaned, but you haven’t moisturized – this is a recipe for disaster for your diva jacket. So prepare a cloth soaked in leather conditioner, put your reading glasses on, and cover every last inch of your jacket. Leave no stitch or fold unturned!

At the end of this rejuvenating journey, your leather buddy will beam with pride (if jackets could beam), flex with strength, and brim with the courage to face many more thrilling adventures on the road.

Your jacket transformation, if it were a bodybuilding program. 

Storing a Motorcycle Jacket

Oh you thought we were done?

Half the battle of washing is storing your jacket. If you throw it out in the shed all winter, you think that jacket will have much sympathy for you the next time you take a tumble? 


So keep your jackets somewhere cool and dry, away from sunlight. Remember to let it dry out after every ride. Along with regular wet-wiping, you shouldn’t have to deep clean your jacket more than once or twice a year. 

That’s all folks – until next time!


Is it okay to wash a motorcycle jacket in a washing machine?

It depends on the jacket’s material and care instructions. Check the tag for specific guidelines. Textile jackets might be machine-washable, but leather jackets should never be washed in a machine.

How often should I wash a motorcycle jacket?

If you ride in dirt or commute in areas with heavy emissions, wash your jacket more frequently. Otherwise, clean it as needed based on the accumulation of dirt, sweat, and odor.

Is it safe to tumble dry a motorcycle jacket?

For textile jackets, you may use a dryer on a cool air setting when the jacket is damp. However, leather jackets should always be air-dried to prevent shrinkage.

Can I wash my motorcycle jacket with armor inside?

No, always remove armor before washing a motorcycle jacket to avoid damage to both the armor and the jacket.

Can I dry clean my motorcycle jacket?

Dry cleaning is not recommended for motorcycle jackets. Stick to the appropriate cleaning methods for each type of jacket material to maintain its condition. However, if the tag says you can dry clean, go for it. 

Why is it important to wash my motorcycle jacket?

Washing your motorcycle jacket helps prevent unpleasant odors, sweat, dirt buildup, and leather deterioration. A clean jacket also ensures proper ventilation and prevents water retention, making for a safer and more comfortable riding experience.


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