Most people give a pause when it comes to getting their helmet wet, whether to wash it or take a ride in a gentle shower. After all, lots of the components of our bikes shouldn’t be in the water for long. Is a helmet so different?
Can bike helmets get wet?
For the most part, you don’t have to worry about water damaging your bicycle helmet. The materials that are used to make most helmets will not react to rain or water exposure. However, you do need to be careful about how you dry your helmet.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into this topic. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Can Bike Helmets Handle Rain?
For the most part, rain, sleet, and snow aren’t going to damage your helmet.
If you’re commuting or regularly riding in bad weather, you might want to do some extra weatherproofing. But even then, it would just be for your own comfort, because your helmet really doesn’t care about bad weather (unless we’re talking about enormous hail).
That said, there are other fluids than water that may come into contact with a helmet.
What About Sweat?
Occasionally you’ll hear a rumor that sweat breaks down helmets.
It’s not true, neither sweat nor saltwater affect the structural integrity of helmets. You’ll have a helmet that can be smelled across the road before you experience any damage from the compounds in your sweat.
With that said, sweat can attract bacteria by making the pads of your helmet wet, and it will leave salt stains that are unsightly on the pads as well. Fortunately, they’re easy enough to clean off when your helmet begins to smell a bit too funky.
Are Bike Helmets Waterproof?
While the exterior of a bicycle helmet won’t absorb water, the interior pads around your head may get wet and are usually not waterproof. For all intents and purposes, the plastic is waterproof while foam and other porous materials used in a helmet’s construction aren’t.
A lot of people simply use a waterproof helmet cover to keep the foam from getting wet, and there are also waterproof helmets available. For the most part, you’ll want a rain cover, even if the helmet is completely waterproof.
Unless you really like the feel of water coming down the top vents in the rain. In that case, no need for a cover.
For the DIY-inclined, you can even modify a helmet to make it essentially weatherproof. It may not be super aerodynamic, but for those who have to commute in cold weather on a regular basis, it might be worth considering.
Can You Wash a Bike Helmet?
You can wash most bicycle helmets, even the full face helmets used for mountain biking. You should follow the manufacturers instructions for the appropriate cleaning steps. If you don’t still have your helmet’s user manual, you can likely find a digital copy with a Google search.
Your helmet’s user manual will usually have a diagram showing how to disassemble the helmet and put it back together, as well as recommendations for getting it clean.
If the manual says anything different than what you’re about to read… go with the manual. The manufacturer always has the final word on this kind of thing.
Washing your helmet may or may not be part of your normal routine. Some dedicated riders bring their helmets into the shower with them after every ride, others may wait until the helmet begins to smell.
How to Wash a Bike Helmet
Cleaning a bike helmet is pretty easy, and there are a few ways to go about it. The complexity of the helmet also matters since full-face helmets may need more work to disassemble if you want to go through the whole thing.
For most people, the pads are the primary concern. These gather sweat and skin particles, which makes them an excellent place for bacterial life to thrive. It’s gross, but it’s a fact of life and the end result is inevitably a smelly helmet.
The simplest way to do it is to use Dawn dish soap, a bucket, and some cold water.
Scrub the interior by hand until the smell is gone, then allow the helmet to dry. This will usually handle any funky smells for a while, but they’re sure to come back with time. It’s just the nature of our helmet pads.
On the other hand, if you want to get your helmet clean all the way through, or you have a full-face helmet, you may need to disassemble some parts of it to clean everything. It’s a good idea to do it once in a while, collected dirt, dust, and other grit can damage your helmet over time.
If your helmet allows you to remove the liner entirely, you may be able to put it through the washing machine as long as you use cold water and minimal detergent. With that said, I’m doubtful as to the time and effort saved in doing so.
Use a dish soap instead of a disinfectant like Lysol, even diluted these chemicals can affect the plastic in ways that water will not. It can be tempting to try something like rubbing alcohol as well, but it may affect the glue. Other solvents can break down the protective foam, resulting in a helmet that doesn’t properly protect you during a crash.
For those of you in the back: only use water and mild dish soap to clean your helmet.
Anything else, and you may end up with damage that can’t be repaired. Chemical vulnerability is a serious weakness in bicycle helmets.
How to Dry a Bike Helmet
Air dry your helmet out of the sun. Hang it up or put it on a hook to make things a little bit quicker, but there’s no way to fast dry your helmet.
That means leaving some time for it to dry before your next ride, it’s ideal to clean your helmet as soon as you’re out of the saddle so that it will be dry for the next ride.
Helmets are meant to be physically tough, and they are, but helmets are not meant to withstand extreme temperatures, however, which is exactly what happens when someone decides to use a hair drier to speed up the process.
The glues and the different plastics are all vulnerable to heat. Different compounds breaking down can mean anything from your shell coming off as the glue melts to unseen damage rendering the foam worthless.
It’s not worth the risk, just let your helmet air-dry on its own.
Likewise, you shouldn’t leave your helmet in the sun to dry it more quickly. The extra heat can cause damage, and the interior of the helmet should have minimal ultraviolet light exposure.
The takeaway: you’ll need to be patient, but just let the helmet air-dry somewhere out of direct sunlight. About the most you can really do is hang it up to allow air to circulate through it.
Are you planning to buy a new helmet? We got you covered! Check out our helmet price guide here.