How To Properly Clean a Muddy ATV or UTV

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee

Leaving your machine muddy can lead to very expensive problems

Getting your ATV or UTV stuck in the big one and spending hours winching, roping, screaming, pushing and laughing to get it out can be entertaining. Some would say it is downright fun, including myself. Not the stuck part, but mud riding in general. Many companies have built themselves a very nice living out of aftermarket parts for this kind of muddy ATV and UTV enjoyment and the guy at the parts counter loves that he has something to do all day Monday when your broken machine comes into the shop. So, in short, it is fun if you can afford it.

So, let’s say you have a king’s ransom worth of fun over the weekend, but you are on a pauper’s income when reality hits Monday morning. What are some of the things you can do to ensure that your muddy ATV doesn’t gradually become a massive hunk of rusted steel? Simply know that the muddy soil packed into the framework, holding water and rotting the chariot you love has to be cleaned out. It needs to be cleaned out soon after the fun run over the weekend or it could harden and become part of that rig forever.

I know we all like to see the shiny tires and smooth super squeaky-clean plastics, but how often do you undress your machine to see the real ugly hiding beneath? Have you taken the seats out, side panels off as well as the skid plates down from the belly of your beast to examine the top spots for mud to hide? Do you know where all that mud has gone or better yet, where it is still hiding? Here is some food for thought as well as a few things to really look for when cleaning your rig the right way.

Table of Contents

1. Editor's Choice: STANLEY Electric Pressure Washer

Possibly the favorite tool of off-road mud fanatics is a quality pressure washer. Blasting off mud and dirt from your plastics, wheels and radiator will save you time and frustration. Just be careful not to use the most powerful settings as you can damage radiator fins and even your plastics.

2. Chemical Guys Tough Mudder Soap and Foam Cannon

You can fight your way through the mud with a pressure washer alone, but like will be a whole lot easier with some soap. One of the best ATV cleaning products out there is the Chemical Guys Tough Mudder soap. You can pick this up in one-gallon jugs for about $20 and it will make your life much easier. According to the manufacturer, if you spray Tough Mudder Soap over dried mud and dirt, then the mud will slide right off. It is also made with surface release additives to make it harder for fresh dirt and mud to stick to the washed surface. We’d suggest picking up a foam cannon to go with this ATV plastic cleaner.

3. Chemical Guys Sticky Citrus Wheel Cleaner Gel

When you are cleaning up your muddy ATV, don’t forget your wheels – especially if you’ve invested in some nice aftermarket alloy wheels. The Sticky Citrus gel is designed to lift and separate brake dust and off-road grime so you can easy wipe it away. It’s also all natural and safe for the environment. It will work great with a scrub brush.

4. Mothers Wheel Scrub Brush

To help remove mud from hard to reach crevices, it’s a good idea to pick up a couple of scrub brushes. This long handle scrub brush from Mothers has soft bristles that are great for cleaning mud and dirt out of your wheels and other places you can’t always reach by hand.

5. Polyte Microfiber Cleaning Towels

Keeping a pile of microfiber towels in the garage is never a bad idea. They can be used for drying everything off or manually working an area of your muddy ATV or UTV that the soap and water couldn’t take care of. They can be used wet or dry and they hold onto an impressive amount of water and dirt. They also are a great option when using an ATV plastic cleaner, as you won’t have to worry about scratches.

6. Slick Products Shine & Protective Spray

If you really want your ATV or UTV looking its best, the final step is a product that adds some shine to your plastics and your tires. This is a silicone coating that not only makes for a great finishing touch, but it also helps repel mud and dirt from sticking to your machine in the first place.

How To Clean Your Machine

Skid plates on the belly of your ATV or SXS are meant to protect the underside of the machine, but the venting or drain holes in the shields will allow mud to pack into the bottom of the machine as well. Remove this protective shield and allow the spray from the water hose to rinse away the muck. Trust me when I say, there will be more than you thought could gather under there. Using a small thin brush to coax the grime out is also a great idea after the larger masses of clay have been removed. Even the suspension arm guards can hold onto mud and rocks in places where you might not think to look. Be sure to check all of those panels thoroughly.

Mud skid plates

Wiring as well as low hanging electrical components are also something else that suffers when a mud maniac decides his machine is tough enough to wear the muddy dress. Most wiring on both ATV and SXS is wrapped in a plastic protective loom or tubing that is split on one side. The split allows the wires to be funneled into the protective wrap easily, but it also allows mud and debris from the trail to get in. If the wires get enough sediment on them, that very sediment could cause chaffing and ultimately shorted wired inside the loom. The water could also eventually promote corrosion of the wiring. I do understand that no one wants to unwrap their entire wiring harness, but if you happen to have the plastics off and search nearest the more exposed areas of the harness like down in the flooring of the rig, that’s where the majority of the muck will be.

Muddy ATV Wiring

Small electrical servo operated items like the 4WD engagement controls as well as any sensors hanging low also need attention. Keeping them clean of piled on mud or debris is like buying extra insurance for the off-road machine.

Many manufacturers will claim the framework of their machines have been double or triple dipped in a chemical that resists corrosion and then powder coated over the top. So, ultimately there should be no framework that would ever rust even on a very muddy ATV or UTV, right? Not exactly, my friends. I have seen brand new machines on the dealer lot with rusty evidence flowing from tight corners and spaces on machines where water and anything else that fits can get to raw steel. This is why you should always take the extra step to protect your investment after a good muddy run with friends. When you look at the framework of a naked ATV or Side-by-Side, you will notice many little places where mud can hide. The spaces that cannot shed water or mud well need your help, along with a good water hose, to get them clean. Look in places where the framework comes together and forms any kind of shelf or cubby for mud to hide in.

A simple test to see if you have the cleanest machine in the woods would be to simply remove the “extended fenders” or side panels on your ATV or SXS. If it is sparkling clean under there, then you win for detailed cleanliness. However, if a huge chunk of muck mountain falls out then you need to pay more attention to the bath time for your rig. Simply rubbing your hand across the top of the headlight area on your SXS might bring to light some serious need of cleaning.

Another thing to remember is that when you are cleaning your muddy ATV or UTV, high pressure water can force sediment into seals. If you want bearings, ball joints and things that rotate to last a long time, simply use the low pressure garden hose to get in the really tight areas of your machine rather than your power washer.

Cleaning a muddy ATV or UTV can be a big job, but it could mean your off-road steed lasts a few more years. That sure seems like it’s worth the effort to me.

Recent Updates

August 31, 2021: Added a promoted product recommendation.

April 20, 2021: Added the wheel cleaner and protective spray to the list.

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Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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