Caring for and cleaning your wheels is dramatically different than caring for those black, rubber tires. It also takes a lot more than driving through a car wash.
Consider wheels the accessories of your vehicle. They’re the pop of color or shine and they can make a huge difference in the overall look of your ride. If they’re blanketed in brake dust, you’re making a bad impression no matter how nice your vehicle is. Naturally, you’ve got to take care of your wheels so they can take care of you. Think of it this way: you could have a 503 bhp 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 under the hood, but without a good set of wheels, you aren’t going anywhere.
Covering the Basics
The most important part of wheel care is having the right products. You also need to know what kind of wheels you have in order to treat them right. For example, alloy wheels probably already have a clear coat if they’re factory-made. This makes things simple since there’s no worry about oxidizing the finish. However, custom or aftermarket wheels might have bare metal that needs special treatment—otherwise, you could mistakenly damage them.
Often neglected, alloy wheels require greater care because they receive more wear than any other parts of a car. The wheels are closest to the road, grit and grime. After few months of use, these wheels will lose the sparkle and brightness they had when they were new. The minor scratches and tar spots can give them a bad look. Before you fit alloy wheels to your car, you need to give them several coats of a good polish or wax.
Throughout the winter in the Northwest, tough sand and graveled road surfaces can also leave chips and dings. This is due to gravel getting kicked up and striking the spinning spokes of the wheel. These can get so deep as to damage the clear coat, chip paint off the wheel, and potentially dent the aluminum. If the wheel is dented, this can easily leave an opening in the finish to allow chemical deicers a path to corroding the aluminum wheel. During the winter months this issue can result in the need to completely strip and refinish the affected wheel(s). Usually the most affected wheels on the vehicle will be the rear pair as the sand and gravel picked up from the front wheels are the most likely to strike the rotating rear wheels.
What Items Will you Need to Clean Your Wheels?
Wheel and Tire Cleaners
There are many wheel cleaners to choose from, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s important you choose one that is compatible with the type of wheels on your vehicle. And of course, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.
You may go with a degreaser that is designed specifically for auto detailing, but you should avoid “all-purpose” commercial cleaning degreasers since they sometimes include chemicals that aren’t safe for certain wheels. There are all-purpose cleaners and degreasers that are designed for wheels, though, which are excellent options in most instances.
Wheel and Tire Brushes
Some wheels are prone to scratching. As such, you need to use soft wheel brushes. While soft, they should still be firm and contour to the shape of the tire. There are brushes specifically designed to clean tires, and others to clean wheels. Don’t mix and match them.
Auto Detailing Clay
If your wheels still have a rough feel after they are clean, they may still have embedded surface contamination. Auto detailing clay is designed to remove these contaminants, such as brake dust and other debris. When complete, you should have super smooth wheels.
The Right Wheel Cleaning Products
There have been many products in the market that are specifically formulated to clean and protect your painted alloy or stainless steel wheels. At WheelKraft NW we use the Eagle One line of cleaning products. Our Favorites are Eagle One A-2-Z or the Eagle one All Wheel Cleaner. You can pick this up at your local auto parts store.
Look for a pH balanced cleaner, which is safe and can be made stronger by simply allowing it to sit in the shade for a few minutes. Acidic cleansers are very effective, but may tarnish or oxidize your wheels if you’re not careful. Only use these cleansers on factory wheels that have a thick protective coat.
The Wheel Cleaning Process
A big part of taking care of wheels is removing dust and keeping them polished. That’s followed by protecting them so they stay shinier longer and are easier to clean the next time around. A gentle soap and water wash using a wash mitt every few weeks is usually enough for most people. However, the trick is actually paying attention to the wheels and not glancing over the area. New protection layers should be added every two or three months.
After washing, rinse the wheels thoroughly and pay close attention to the lug nuts. Inner barrels can be cleaned with a detailing brush, but this should be done first since you may bring out some dirt that will spread to other parts of the wheel. A clay bar can help prep the wheel surface, too, but practice caution when using this on a very high polish—you might cause small swirls.
Finally, adding a polish can increase gloss and get rid of surface scratches. If you have bare metal, start by putting a pea-sized dollop of polish on a foam pad. Spread the polish in a thin layer with light pressure. Polish until the layer turns milky, then remove it with a clean microfiber rag. Repeat as desired.
You want to protect your wheels and keep them looking newer longer, so always choose a sealant that’s designed for your specific wheels.
More Car and Wheel Cleaning Tips
The following cleaning tips can provide the best protection to your car:
- If your car has been outside for a long time, let your wheels cool before cleaning them. Hot wheels can discolor when hit with cold wash water.
- Use wet sponge and fresh water to clean your car.
- Never use abrasive cleansers or abrasive pads to clean your wheels.
- Before you mount your wheels, give them several coats of good quality car polish.
- Frequent washing with mildly soapy warm water is the best way to keep your alloy wheels clean. If you take the time to care for them properly they will last a long time and you will not have to get them repaired or replaced.
Remember, if you damage a wheel beyond what simple cleaning can handle, we are here to help.
Keeping your Wheels Clean During the Rainy Season
With our rain season in Vancouver and Portland comes a whole new list of problems for your set of wheels. In regular conditions, your wheels will do just fine with some standard care and attention. But with rain, oil, and other conditions on the road? Things start to get a little more hairy.
Rainy weather is not exactly an invitation to get out in your driveway and polish your wheels. Rain can lead to rust and corrosion on new wheels. More mud is also going to get splashed around as we go into the late stage of winter. Unless your idea of a Valentine’s day gift is a wheel refinishing job, you may want to consider these tips that make keeping your wheels clean as easy as it can no matter how hard it rains.
- Drive Smart – Half the fun of driving is getting into a bit of a mess while you’re on the road, whether it’s taking the back gravel roads or hitting those puddles. But keep in mind your wheels have to take the brunt of it, not the driver. Stay on asphalt and try to keep away from puddles.
- Immediately hose off mud or dirt clumps — The longer dirt, grass or gunk builds up on your wheels, the harder it will be to clean off. As soon as you spot any one of these materials gathered on your wheels, hose them off. If needed, scrub away any particularly stubborn gunk that tries to build up on your wheels in the rain.
- Stay Non-Acidic – Some wheels are designed to take a beating, while others are made to visually impress. Non-acidic wheel cleaners are safer to use on bare metal, coated alloys and chrome. At the same time, they are powerful enough to lift off most brake dust.
- Use wheel protection products — There are wheel protectors that can be sprayed on and easily applied to wheels of any size or style. The best idea is to spray on the protective layer in dry conditions, as they may not have the desired effect if rain just washes the protection off.
- Puddles are the Enemy – Parking for an extended time in water is a quick way to invite rust and corrosion in. The dirty water rushing along curbs during heavy precipitation is also going to strip the shine right off of your wheels. Keep your wheels away from the water, and they will thank you with a longer lifetime.
Professional Wheel Refinishing or Cleaning
If you are very serious about wheel cleanliness, let experts take care of the work for you. Rather than going out to your driveway with a bucket and a chamois cloth, you may want to take your wheels to a garage with experts ready to polish, refinish and protect your wheels.