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Last Updated on July 5, 2023 by Chase Manhattan
We all can agree on the satisfaction of seeing our vehicle after a car wash, but no matter how shiny the paint is, it won’t distract from the fact that you don’t have a way to clean your wheels.
A wash solution and a pressure washer is enough to clean the paint, but cleaning dirty rims will take a few extra steps.
But first, it’s important to understand why clean car wheels are so difficult to obtain. Most car owners don’t know that when you’re cleaning wheels, you’re actually removing brake dust from the brakes.
When you’re slowing down, the friction generated between the rotor of the wheel, and the calipers of the brakes, creates a fine brake dust that will then stick to your wheels.
In this article, we’ll cover how to clean alloy wheels and rims, steel wheels, and particularly how to clean black rims and chrome wheels and rims. Then, we’ll cover how to clean the tires afterwards.
This can be accomplished with many things, you’ll need some, but not all:
- standard wheel cleaner or homemade wheel cleaners
- a long handle wheel cleaning brush
- tire cleaner
- a spray bottle
- spray sealant
- oven cleaner
- wash bucket
- detailing pad
- distilled white vinegar
- soft bristled brush
- lemon juice
- iron remover
- an old toothbrush
- a high pressure attachment for a water hose
Now, I’ll show you how to remove tough grease, caked on dirt, brake dust build up, road grime, mineral stains, rust and more..
How To Clean Car Wheels and Rims
Most people think that pressure washing the wheels, along with the entire surface of the vehicle, is enough to clean the wheels and rims. In reality, it will take much more than that to free your wheels of built up road grime.
Please note that you should clean each and every entire wheel before washing the car. If you don’t do this, there’s a risk of picking up debris from the lower half of the car. As I already mentioned, a wheel is likely to be the dirtiest part of most vehicles.
When you are rinsing the wheels, all that loose debris jumps from one wheel to another, to the paint surface, and so on and so forth. If you washed the body before the wheels, you will have to wash all the wheels and entire surface once again.
Without clean wheels and clean black tires, you probably won’t be happy with the results.
So now we’ll break down how to clean wheels of different types.[Guide: DIY Recipe for Homemade Car Wash Soap]
Basic Method for Cleaning Alloy Wheels and Rims
Alloy wheels are designed to be lighter than steel wheels, so they are made of metal composites that can often hold onto any brake dust build up that may occur.
For this reason, it’s best to follow this procedure:
- Rinse the wheels
Use a high pressure attachment if available, this will dislodge any caked on dirt.
- apply a cleaning solution
This can be a wheel cleaner product or one of the homemade wheel cleaners that we discussed above.
- Let the cleaner sit for a few minutes
just make sure that it’s not sitting in direct sunlight, this can compromise the alloy finish.
- Scrub the car wheels
The scrubbing can be done with a microfiber wash mitt, long handle soft bristled brush, or an old toothbrush.
What You’ll Need
- Your preferred cleaning solution
Make sure that your cleaning solution is also safe for car wheels and rims. If it’s one of the homemade wheel cleaners, test it on an inconspicuous spot inside the rim first.
- a soft wheel brush
- Two Buckets or a spray bottle
- A compatible garden hose
I highly recommend using a brush made to clean car wheels! It makes the process much easier and helps you reach all the crevices in your wheels. They are also very inexpensive and definitely worth buying.
I recommend using this long handled option from Chemical Guys.
The Process To Get Clean Rims
- Mix your cleaning solution in a bucket of water
If using distilled white vinegar, or lemon juice, start small and work your way up. Alloy rims can be sensitive to acidic compounds. Same goes for using oven cleaner as well. If you’re not careful, it will stain the alloy.
- Fill a second bucket with water. This will be your rinsing bucket, as your brush/towel will become dirty very quickly.
- Rinse the entirely to remove loose debris.
- Soak your brush/towel with soapy water and scrub the car wheels and tires.
Be sure to clean between the spokes and around the wall of the tire. Rinse your brush/towel frequently using the rinsing bucket. Work your way around the wheel in a circular motion
- Rinse again using a hose to remove the rest of the dirt.
- Dry the wheels and tires using another microfiber towel.
- Optional: Apply a tire shine to give the tire a long-lasting black shine. Since tire shine acts like a sealant, it will take some time to fully cure. Be sure to remove any excess sealant before your next drive.
- Admire your clean car wheels and rims.
How to Clean Steel Wheels and Rims
When you are pressure washing the exterior, the car wash solution you are using won’t be able to remove loose dirt from your wheels, at least not all of it. Car soap is made for a car’s paint job so it’s purposefully gentle in order to protect the paint.
Although the pressure washer and the soap can somewhat clean rims, it’s not the end result we are looking for. Follow this step-by-step advanced cleaning method on how to deep clean your wheels and rims to get that shiny look every car owner wants.
What You’ll Need
- Pressure Washer
- Wheel Cleaner & Tire Cleaner
- Clean bristle brush
- Car wash soap
- Microfiber cloth
Rinse The Rims
Start off with a spray from a pressure washer or a garden hose & attachment combo. Of course, just rinsing won’t give you clean rims but it will get rid of that loose dirt and all that dirt that may recontaminate the rest of the car.
This will leave you with a ready surface for some kind of wheels cleaner.
Read our suggestions above if you’d prefer to use homemade wheel cleaners. Otherwise, grab your nearest commercial wheel cleaner from your local store and lets get to it.
It’s best to use a pressure washer here for maximum effectiveness. However, if you don’t have a pressure washer on hand, you can use a garden hose. I
f you want to use a pressure washer but don’t have one, visit a laser car wash. You will find a pressure washer equivalent there.
Apply A Wheel Cleaner
After you’ve thoroughly rinsed the wheels and rims and once you see that the surface dirt has been washed away, you can start applying the cleaner with a bottle and spray nozzle. Or you can use a microfiber cloth if you’re using a gel made to clean car wheels.
If you do decide to use a gel, be sure to get in between all the nooks and spokes and on the tires by applying it with small circles.
Otherwise, spray your wheel cleaner thoroughly. Let the cleaner sit for a few minutes.
You can use a homemade wheel cleaner if you prefer.
I’ve seen some people mixing dish soap with water to clean their wheels. Although there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s not as effective as a dedicated wheel & tire cleaner. Additionally, the soap may leave water spots on alloy rims.
There are plenty of products you can choose from online, or at your local store.
Some of the products have the tire cleaner and the tire shine combined, but most sell the shine and the cleaner separately – which is what I actually recommend. It’s best to use wheel cleaners and tire cleaners separately, but make sure you have both.
An easy way to do a regular cleaning for this is to get a wheel cleaning kit that will come with a wheel cleaner and a wheel cleaning brush. Sometimes a microfiber wash mitt or microfiber towel will be included instead.
Once you have your wheel cleaners ready, thoroughly spray it on the wheel brushes, rim and the tire. Be sure to pay extra attention to any grease spots. This is especially true for cars that are used as a work vehicle. They will get dirtier faster and require more attention when its time to clean them.
Scrub The Rims
The wheels will have a lot of road dirt on them. Road dirt is especially sticky and hard to get rid of. A strong agent that will lift off the dirt is not enough, you will have to scrub a bit.
Get a clean bristle brush. You can use the ones you have at home, just make sure that it’s clean to avoid recontamination. Scrub the rims and the tires in a circular motion. You can scrub hard on the rims but be gentle on the tires.
To finish up, just rinse the wheels again, preferably spray them with a high pressure washer again. When you are done, you will see that your tires have never been this shiny before.
Wash The Entire Vehicle
It doesn’t make sense to have the rims shiny but your car’s paint dirty. So, if you want your car’s body to be clean and look nice, wash the entire car. Spray it first with a pressure washer. Apply car wash soap, either with a microfiber cloth or with a foam cannon. Then, spray again with a pressure washer.
[Related Article: 5 Best Car Wash Kits For New Cars And Buying Guide]
Add Protective Coating
Besides a protective coating for your vehicle, there is a protective coating for rims as well.
If you want to avoid getting the wheels that dirty again, you can add a clear coat of rim coating – also known as a sealant. The coating will not only protect the rims from the brake dust but will add a glossy look.
This step is entirely optional though. If you don’t feel like spending more money on a product, you don’t have to do this.
Some people also may not feel like adding this because of the extra effort. Entirely understandable, just make sure to clean your wheels regularly.
Related Questions And Other FAQs
What Household Item Can I Use As Wheel Cleaner
You can clean car wheels using a mix of dish detergent, water, and baking soda. The dish detergent will lift off the dirt, and the baking soda will be an abrasive agent. Do be careful if you’re using it to clean alloy wheels, the abrasive agents can scratch alloy rims easily. It’s safe to use on tires however. Keep in mind, dedicated car wheel cleaning products are way more effective at cleaning dirty wheels and rims. In addition, these products protect the wheels and add a glossy look.
How Can I Make My Wheels Shine
To make your wheels glossy, you need to clean them first. Use wheel cleaners for cleaning the wheels and rims, then add wax and a tire shine to the tires. Most products combine these components but you can find a product for protecting and shining your wheels. Check out the list of recommended products that kept my car squeaky clean and shiny.