Motorcycle Helmet - Basic Training - MC Garage

Helmet Care 101

Head-case maintenance
What's your head worth to you? Nothing, if you're Miracle Mike, the Wyandotte rooster who lived for 18 months after his decapitation-a true role model for those with a penchant for losing their heads.

A head with its brain intact can fetch $900 according to Body Brokers, a book by Annie Cheney. That noggin had been separated from its owner, though. We suspect you'd put a higher price on your own. If so, you ought to take exemplary care of your helmet. After all, you expect it to take mighty good care of you.

Apart from when it's inside the box it came in, your helmet is perhaps safest, and certainly requires the least from you, when it's on your head. The moment you take it off, the odds instantly swing away from your helmet's favor, because so many riders seem to forget how harsh, cruel and unrelenting gravity's laws truly are. Need an example? Just put your helmet on the saddle. Sooner or later, it's going to make a swan dive right onto the pavement, often as not faceshield first.

Don't hang your helmet from a rearview mirror, handlebar, clutch or brake lever, turn signal or backrest, either. Gravity doesn't care how much you spent to look just like Nicky, Colin or Jake. Even if the helmet doesn't fall, those hard metal objects can compress the EPS (expanded polystyrene) liner, reducing its effectiveness in a crash. Likewise, don't set the helmet on your bike's gas tank where it might get exposed to fumes that can degrade or destroy the EPS. And keep it away from hot exhaust pipes-far too many helmet locks on motorcycles position the helmet over the exhausts-because they can distort or melt the EPS and/or comfort lining. If you can, just put your helmet on the ground; barring an earthquake, it can't fall off that.

Once you get home from a ride, taking care of your helmet is largely a matter of-gasp!-common sense. We polled a number of helmet makers for the best ways to take care of your head-cases, and they all seemed to be singing from the same hymnal, with minor differences in key and chorus.

Icon's Phil Davy, for example, spoke for most of his colleagues when he described how to clean a bug-crusted exterior. "Bugs must be soaked off, and there is no magic to this," he said. "Place a clean, wet cloth soaked in warm water on the bug-splattered area, be it helmet or shield. Leave it to sit for 10 minutes or so and then wipe off. Simple. Don't spray on Windex and expect the baked-on guts to dissolve instantly. When you scrub and scrub, the little pieces of rock-hard bug innards will act like sandpaper on your shield and helmet surfaces." For quick bug-splatter cleanups, especially on the faceshield, good old saliva works wonders, dissolving bug guts almost instantly.

Most other manufacturers agreed with the water-and-cloth scenario, with some suggesting using a mild soap, although Shoei and HJC allowed for the possibility of using helmet- or automotive-finish-specific products to clean and polish the helmet's exterior. Suomy's Donny Schmidt and Arai's Roger Weston mentioned getting good results with Honda Spray Cleaner & Polish and Plexus, with Schmidt recommending a soft toothbrush for cleaning vent ports. He also said the higher-quality, more-expensive paper towels are soft enough for cleaning duty ("Just don't rub too hard!"), although virtually all the makers prefer a soft cotton towel such as old-fashioned cotton diapers. Shoei's Hiroshi Mizushima and Weston said the better-quality microfiber towels also work well.

What's important, though, is to never use any cleaners or polishes with ammonia, solvents or petrochemicals, especially on visors and polycarbonate helmets. As Mizushima said, such things are "absorbed by the plastic, causing slow deterioration, and so increase the risk of breaking. Acid- or alkali-based corrosive cleaning agents as well as window cleaners are equally unsuitable." HJC doesn't recommend any spray-on chemical cleaners for faceshields.

Weston said, "Polish should be applied to a clean, soft cloth and then used on the helmet-don't spray directly on the helmet and wipe. Excess polish can get into shield mechanisms and loosen adhesive bonds as well."

For cleaning faceshields, every manufacturer agreed: Use only warm water, a soft, clean towel and maybe some mild soap. Schmidt did say Honda's Spray Cleaner & Polish can be used on the outside of the shield, but never inside. "Polish will clog up the anti-fog coating and ammonia-based window cleaners, over time, will wear it off altogether, he said."

Likewise, cleaning the helmet's interior brought forth another near-unanimous opinion: If the comfort liner is removable, wash it by hand with a gentle soap such as Woolite. Davy suggested using Johnson's Baby Shampoo. "It smells good, it's cheap, it's made to wash away hair and skin oils and dirt, and has the side benefit of 'No More Tears,' " he said. "You see, when you wash your liner you will probably never get all the soap out, and when sweat mixes with dish-soap residue and runs into your eyes on a hot ride, it stings bad!" Arai's Brian Weston said the key is thorough rinsing: "Rinse, rinse, rinse! Any soap residue may cause itching and burning of the scalp the next time you sweat in your helmet, so flush the soap residue out several times with clear running water. Allow to air dry; do not machine dry as liner materials will shrink and in some cases melt."

Only Shoei allowed for machine-washing a removable liner, in a mesh lingerie bag. For fixed liners, wipe with a damp cloth infused with a mild soap, or fill the hat with a weak water/soap solution. After washing, rinse a lot ("Five or six times is not too many," Weston said) and let air dry. Make sure all liner components are properly reassembled and installed. Misalignment of the snaps could allow the liner to shift, and also cause uncomfortable pressure points.

Brian Weston had this to say about a full-immersion wash for helmets without a removable liner: "Washing a non-removable-liner helmet is a bit more work, but easily done. Fill a tub or large sink with warm, soapy water. Line the bottom with a soft towel to prevent helmet-finish damage. Submerge the entire helmet and use the same technique for flushing the grit and grime as you would with the removable-liner type. Rinsing is even more important here, as the full liner inside the helmet tries to capture more of the water and soap residue, so diligence is key.

"To dry [after draining the free-flowing water], blot the remaining water with a soft, absorbent towel. Next, place on a slotted shelf with the shield fully open or off. If possible, place a fan in front to circulate air into and through the eyeport and out the bottom. In a warm room, the interior should dry within several hours, or overnight. A full wash is only needed perhaps once a year. The best time is before being put away for winter or long-term storage, as most liner deterioration occurs when a helmet with sweat and grime residue is left to work its magic in the confined, dark, humid and oh-so-ripe conditions for mold and bacteria to develop. That bacteria can actually rob the comfort foam and bonding glues of their moisture. After the first ride out of storage, don't be surprised if your head is covered with what we call 'black dandruff.' Those little black bits are the sad remains of your helmet's liner breathing its last sighs of life."

And that is it, ladies and gentlemen: the top tips on cleaning and maintaining perhaps the most important piece of riding gear you own, from the very people who made it. Because if you take care of it, your helmet will be in the best possible shape to take care of you. Surely your head's worth that much. Isn't it?

Six Lid-Care Tips
Arai's Brian Weston reminded us of these helmet-care tips, all of which will help you keep your lid clean and long-lasting.

1: After each ride, wipe the helmet's liner out with a damp cloth, just to remove any excess sweat or road grime from the surface.

2: When storing your helmet, even for short periods of time, keep the shield open and place the helmet on a slotted shelf, so air can flow freely and prevent odor buildup.

3: If your helmet is stored in a garage, where cats and dogs as well as other rodents could foul it, put it in the cloth sack that it came in (it will still let air pass through) and put it on a high shelf. Dogs and cats love to get at their owner's helmets to lick the salt off the liner. Puppies love to chew the liner, too, and many have completely removed the interior of brand-new helmets.

4: A used dryer sheet, one that has 95 percent of the scent gone, placed in a helmet will help absorb odors and prevent static.

5: Cleaning road soot and bug guts from the shield pivot mechanism is always a good idea. It will prevent premature wear and also that annoying crunching sound as you open and close your shield. Doing this with the pre-storage wash is a good idea and perhaps again at mid-season, especially if you live where there are lots of bugs or road debris.

6: Lastly, think of your helmet's interior as another piece of clothing that's up close and personal to your body. Would you wear the same pair of underwear and never wash them? Your head, hair and face deserve the same respect, attention and hygiene you give your backside.