How To Clean Handlebar Tape

There's something special about clean bar tape. It's full of potential, possibilities. Like a lotto ticket in your pocket, it's an invitation to daydream - to imagine the adventures, and explorations you'll enjoy as soon as you get off of work and hop in the saddle.

And it doesn't take long before that fresh, clean tape starts to bear the bruises and blemishes of good use. Black smudges from pinching your tire to check its pressure, brake dust and road dirt from mashing through the city, salsa and sour cream drippings from that burrito-on-the-go. In no time your tape'll have your bike looking well-worn and hard-ridden. 

And while dirty bar tape won't affect your performance, it might affect your excitement to ride, so in today's post we'll walk through bringing that bar tape back to pristine. Let's get cleany!

Pictured here, dirty bar tape, ~1300 miles:

What You Need

Unlike most bike upkeep, this one won't really take any special tools, parts, or gear. All you'll need is:

  • Light dish soap
  • A couple clean rags or sponges
  • A tupperware/bowl of water or a hose (if you don't have sink near your bike cleaning station)

Probably all stuff you already have in the kitchen (or at least your parents probably do, just ask if it's cool to grab some)!

"Hold up, though - "light" dish soap?", I hear you say. To be honest, I don't know if there are actually varying degrees of dish soap, but when I got my first bike cleaning lesson I remember being told we were using "light" dish soap and for whatever reason it stuck. I just fill the tupperware with water and squirt some soap in there to dilute it, then stir it up.

Boom, "light" dish soap.

Dab and Rub

Now all we need to do is dab our first cloth (or sponge) in our light soap solution, wring out the excess, and then scrub away!

You're not trying to soak the bars, just get them sudsy enough that it lifts the oils, stains, and stuff from the tape. Once your rag starts to dry up, just redab it in the soap, wring out the extra water, and keep on scrubbing!

Here's a "halfway done" photo for some "before and after" action.

I prefer going the rag route vs. sponges because it makes the tricky curves on drop bars, bullhorns, etc.. easy. Just wrap the rag around the bars and pull back and forth like you're shining a shoe.

For particularly stubborn spots, just dab some soap directly on the rag and rub it in, but for the most part you can just keep dipping in your soapy water and scrubbing until the stains are gone. And then it's time to rinse! 


Sure, you could just hose down the bike, and if you're doing a full clean right now, you probably might as well once you've washed everything else But, if you're just freshening up your tape before you roll out on that bike date, you won't want to ride over with wet bars.

Instead, take your second (clean) towel or sponge, dip it in plain water this time, wring out the excess, and then wipe the bars down to clear off the soap and rinse everything clean.

Note: Don't try to use a red, or another brightly colored, towel for this step. You'll end up with brightly colored lint on your clean bars and have to redo the previous step. Oops.

Rinsing might take a bit more soak in the sponge/rag than the scrubbing did, so you'll probably be putting a good amount of water down on the bars, but they'll still dry faster this way than if you totally sprayed 'em with the hose.

And once all the soap is clear, your bar tape should be shining like new!


All that's left to do is get them dry, and there's no better way to do that than a sunny spin around the block a few times! (Sure, you could just use a third, dry towel - but that's less fun and it's not like you have an unlimited towel budget).

Make sure your bars are clean and no longer slippery with soap (obviously) and then push the pedals and let the wind do your drying work. Just make sure your hands are clean too, or it'll be back to square one.

And now your bars are back to fresh and your imagination is free again to wander through daydreams of new routes, rides, and the people you'll meet exploring your streets!

Enjoy those clean bars, ride happy, and we'll see you out there!