Cleaning your wheels regularly is not just an appearance issue – it’s preventative maintenance!
If you allow brake dust to sit on your wheels for a prolonged period of time, it can eat into the surface, penetrate the coating (if the rim has one) and pit the metal. Brake dust is made of an adhesive and carbon fibers that come off the brake pad plus tiny metal shavings from the rotor. The intense heat and friction generated by the wheels makes this mixture highly corrosive. Because you probably drive every day, more brake dust is constantly being made. Frequent cleaning is the only way to keep your wheels safe and looking great.
Before deciding what products to use you first need to determine what finish your wheels have.
Alloy Wheels: Alloy wheels are the most common type of wheels on the road today. Most vehicles coming off the assembly line have clear coated alloy wheels.
Determining what wheel cleaner to use for these types of wheels depends a lot on how much brake dust accumulates on the rims. Many European vehicles such as BMW, Mercedes, Audi etc. use extremely soft compounds on the brake pads to enhance brake stopping power. It is this softer compound that allows the brake pads to grab and actually stick to the brake rotors, increasing stopping abilty. On the positive, this increases the gripping power of the brake pads to the rotors. On the down side, you have an increased amount of brake dust as a by-product.
If you have a lot of brake dust build-up your best choice for a wheel cleaner is one that is specifically designed to dissolve these brake dust particles. These types of cleaners are normally distinguished by their colour changing attributes. They spray on one colour and as they attack the brake dust the chemical changes colour. These these type cleaners are acid-free & PH neutral so are safe on any type wheel.
Simply spray the product on and allow to dwell, then rinse off (never allow the product to dry on the surface). Although not necessary, using a wheel brush to mechanically assist removing the brake dust will both speed up the job & enable you to use less product.
The following are all great brake dust removers...
If you have a situation where the brake dust build up has become extreme try P21s Gel Wheel Cleaner. This gel formula clings to rims & can be left on up to 2 hours while it dissolves the brake dust.
If brake bust buildup is not a big issue and you are looking for just a good all around wheel cleaner try one of these...
Uncoated Aluminum Wheels
When properly cleaned and polished bare metal aluminum rims can shine like chrome.
There are 2 different areas to discuss; chemically or mechanically (washing) the rims & actually polishing of the wheels.
NEVER use an acid based cleaner on bare aluminum. The acid will pit the surface!
Most of the cleaners noted above are also safe for uncoated aluminum rims (always check the label on any wheel cleaner first) If you are looking for a cleaner specifically for aluminum try Meguiar's Hot Rim's Aluminum Wheel Cleaner
Aluminum is a relatively soft metal, which means it responds well to polishing. You can polish your rims by hand but it can be pretty time consuming to get the results you want. If you want to polish your aluminum to a high shine we suggest using a drill attachment metal polishing tool. Mothers has a full line-up of these tools in different sizes (Mothers Powerball Mini, Powerball 2, & PowerCone)
For an aluminum polish there are several on the market that work great..
How to Polish Aluminum
First, wipe the metal polish of your choice onto the wheel. Apply it to one wheel at a time.
With your polishing tool attached to your electric drill, start slowly and spread the polish over the wheel. Gradually increase the speed. Keep the tool moving over the wheel until the polish starts to dry or diminish.
Use a soft, clean microfiber towel to wipe the wheel clean.
True Chrome Plated Rims
Chrome wheels are among the most popular aftermarket additions people make to their vehicles. Clean, polished chrome wheels have a mirror finish that attracts attention.
Most wheel cleaners are safe on chrome. If you desire one specifically formulated for chrome try Meguiar's Hot Rims Chrome Wheel Cleaner.
Chrome wheels can be polished in a very similar manner to how you polish aluminum but not all aluminum polishes are recommended for chrome. If you want to polish your chrome we recommend using a chrome polish such as..
If you want to keep your metal rims shining between washing & polishing there are several great spray-on, wipe off products that will achieve that...
For Chrome Only:
For Chrome & Aluminum:
Note: works great on S/S appliances too!
Wheel Cleaning Tools
Whether you decide to clean your rims with just soap & water or use a wheel cleaner, using the right type of wheel cleaning brush will give you the best results. There are 3 basic types of wheel cleaning brushes...
Surface Cleaning Brushes
If your main concern is keeping the front surfaces (visible) part of your rims looking good this type of brush is all you need. Many of these type brushes come in 2 handle lengths & are designed with soft flag tipped bristles (if cost is not an issue some even come with boar's hair bristles) that will not damage the wheel surface. The bristles are dense enough that they will hold a pretty good amount of soap/water if you are just dunking it in a wash bucket. The downside to these style brushes is that they cannot clean deep into the rim.
Bristle Style Wheel Brushes
The biggest benefit of these type brushes is that because the bristles easily "bend" you can get deep into even tightest of rims. As well most have a wire stem that is flexible allowing you even better access into tight areas. Good quality bristle wheel brushes will have a plastic coating on the wire stem so as to not scratch the rims. The downside to these type brushes is that they do not really hold much liquid so if you are using just soap & water you need to apply it to your rims before using the brush (not an issue if you are using these style brushes along with a spray on wheel cleaner). Some users also find it annoying that as you pull the brush back and forth in really tight areas you can get some sling of liquid on you as the bristles spring back into place. Bristle brushes are low maintenance i.e.. pretty easy to keep clean.
Foam Style Wheel Brushes
These type of brushes are usually designed with an inner foam surrounded by an exterior microfiber cloth. They hold a lot of liquid if you are dunking into a wash bucket. Although these types of brushes are available in a great number of sizes and configurations they can be more difficult to get into tighter spaces than a bristle brush. There are kits available that contain different size brushes to help alleviate this issue and some even have an angled stem to allow you get to the back of the wheel easier. Some do have a wire stem but most have a plastic stem. These type brushes do require a bit more maintenance to keep them clean. A great feature of the Microfiber Madness Incredibrush is that the head can be removed to make brush head cleaning easier.
Lug Nut Brushes
Getting into those tight areas between the nut and the rim can be a real chore but there are several brushes that will make that task a lot easier...
Browse all Wheel Cleaning Brushes HERE
The bad news here is that these no point in using car wax to help shine and protect your rims. Wax has a very low heat resistance & will almost immediately evaporate away when used on wheels. Although there are waxes on the market designed for rims by far the most durable solution is to coat your rims. Wheel coatings have high heat resistance, repel brake dust & make your rims easier to clean. These products are very durable, lasting up to a year. Our favorites are...