How To Clean Car Wheels Properly?

11/04/2019
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Cleaning your car’s wheels is very important because it is about ensuring safety as much as it is about maintaining appearance. This is an instruction on how to clean your wheels.

Wheels are often overlooked or glossed over in the car cleaning process, especially when done at home. However, cleaning your car wheels frequently and thoroughly is not only about keeping up the appearance, but it is also about preventing damage. When you brake your car, brake dust, tiny particles made of an adhesive and carbon fibers, would come off from the brake pads. These particles, combining with the heat and friction of car wheels, become highly corrosive and could cause damage to the coating. Because driving is something you probably do every day, cleaning your car wheel would improve safety on the road.

Alloy wheels are the most common type of wheels nowadays, as they are more durable than pure-metal wheels. With that being said, most alloy wheels are clear coated in the assembly line, so it is the coating that you should be mindful about when choosing a wheel cleaner.

1. Choosing the right cleaner

When washing their cars at home, most people choose dish soap as their go-to cleaner. It is true that dish soap works great in degreasing surfaces, but it does not break down the hard grimes and debris that have accumulated on your wheel. Another more powerful substitute for dish soap is oven cleaner. If it could take care of all the nasty grease stains of an oven, then it could remove all the crusted stains of a wheel, right? The answer is yes, but there is a catch. Oven cleaners, especially industrial strength ones, could damage the wheel’s coating. Oven cleaners could help to remove tough stains like brake dust, but they also strip layers off the wheel and might cause even more harm to already-damaged wheels.

a bottle of green dish soap

Dish soap is not effective in cleaning wheels

A natural and money-saving alternative that some people use is vinegar and baking soda. However, vinegar has been advised against as its acidic property could remove the protective outer-layer coating. Baking soda, when dissolved in water, could remove light stains and dirt. However, undissolved baking soda is naturally abrasive, and the act of rubbing baking soda onto the wheel could cause minor scratches on the metal.

baking soda and vinegar

Vinegar and baking soda could cause damage to your wheels

It is probably best to use cleaners that are made specifically for wheels. There is a wide range of cleaners that target many different kinds of wheels. Aluminium or chrome wheels can be cleaned using stronger cleaners, but coated or painted wheels would benefit from a more gentle cleaner. The cleaners usually state what kind of wheel it is suitable for on the label, but if you are not sure, just pick one that is suitable for every wheel. There are also new cleaners that are pH balanced, free from acid and other harsh chemicals that could neutralize the iron sediments from brake dust on the wheels, and thus remove them gently but effectively.

using wheels cleaner to clean car wheels

Wheel cleaners could remove brake dust on wheels

Now, let's come to the next section of the article in which we are going to present the wheel cleaning process step by step.

Also readHow To Choose The Right Wheels For Your Car

2. Cleaning your wheel

Step 1: Remove the excess dirt and brake dust by spraying with a hose. Wet the entire wheel, and make sure to thoroughly spray the inner rim and barrel.

  • Using a pressure nozzle to blast off bits of dirt and grime faster and more effectively.

  • If you do not have a pressure nozzle, pinch the opening of the hose for a more concentrated spray.

  • In case you do not have a hose on hand, soak your wheel in water for 10 - 15 minutes before you start cleaning.

Step 2: Apply your cleaner of choice liberally on the wheel. Remember to cover the entire wheel, including the centre hub as well as the spokes. Apply more cleaning solution if needed on areas with heavy buildups.

  • Wear protective gears such as gloves, mask and safety goggles when dealing with heavy duty cleaners. Keep your distance when spraying the cleaners.

  • Leave the cleaners to sit on the wheels for a few minutes. This allows the cleaners to penetrate and dissolve brake dust and other buildups.

a man spraying wheel cleaner

Wheel cleaners should be applied all over the wheels

Step 3: Scrub the wheels using a foam sponge or a soft-bristled brush. Have a clean bucket of water to dip the tools in and rinse off the cleaners. Work the brush or sponge in circular motions on the surface, focusing on more curved or tight areas like the spokes or the screws, where dirt tends to gather.

  • Choose a soft-bristled brush or a detailing brush. The brush should be soft so as not to scratch the wheels.

  • Change the water once it gets dirtied, or the dirt could be scrubbed back on.

man using a sponge to clean wheels

The sponge is worked in circular motions on the wheels

Step 4: Rinse the wheels thoroughly with water until the water runs clear. Cleaners that are not rinsed off could leave behind water spots, or even cause corrosion.

Step 5: Wipe and soak up the remaining water with a micro-fibre cloth. Manually drying the wheels with a cloth would prevent the formation of water spots. Coarse rags could create minor scratches on the surface of the wheels.

man using cloth to clean wheels

Drying the wheels with micro-fibre cloth keeps water spots from forming  

Step 6: Apply a layer of protective sealant on the wheels. Sealants work as a barrier against dirt, brake dust, grease, and other materials from adhering to your wheels.

First, use a detailing pad to buff a dime-sized glob of sealant all over the wheel. Work the sealant until there are no visible streaks. Then, allow the sealant layer to cure for half an hour. During this time, the sealant seeps into the pores of the alloy so the wheel could be protected from the inside. Finally, use a micro-fibre cloth to clean up the excess residue and polish until the wheels become sparkling.

  • During the curing process, it is best if the car is situated in an open space so that the sealant could set quicker.

  • Remember to apply and buff the sealant into the wheel thoroughly, including the central hub, the spokes, and the rim.

man applying sealant to car wheel

Sealant prevents dirt, dust and grease from adhering to your wheels

Once you are done with cleaning your wheel, you are ready to hit the road in style. Cleaning your wheel is quite a strenuous process, but not only does it protect your wheels, but it could also save you a lot of money for replacement ones. As long as you take care of your wheels once every few months, they could last a very long time and still look brand new.

Read more tips and guides from IndianAuto

How To Choose The Right Wheels For Your Car

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