How to Clean Car Wheels: From Grime to Shine - The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Wheels & Tyres

How to Clean Car Wheels: From Grime to Shine - The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Wheels & Tyres

How to Clean Car Wheels: The Best Products and Method for Cleaning your Alloy or Painted Wheels and Tyres

The importance of cleaning your car's wheels the right way

Spin to Win: Achieve gleaming wheels with the right cleaning technique! Your car's wheels are in prime position to collect the most dirt and grime from the road, so they will be the first part of your car to start looking dirty and ruin an otherwise clean-looking vehicle. Give them the care they deserve to restore rims and tyres to gleaming metal and rubber, and make it last a while with the right technique.

Wheels face the unique problem of brake dust build-up, which is almost impossible to remove without specific wheel cleaning products. Over time, this can damage the surface of rims, so it's important to keep up with cleaning and protecting them. On top of this, there are a range of 'do's and 'don't's when it comes to different surfaces - alloys, painted, and unpainted wheels all require different types of cleaning products and treatment.


What to consider when cleaning car wheels

Clean your car wheels first

When cleaning your car, you want the job to be as quick and efficient as possible. Wheel cleaning takes a lot of hosing down and involves wheel-specific chemicals, so you should do it before the rest of your car's bodywork. Work upwards to avoid spraying dirt and wheel cleaning products on freshly cleaned paintwork. Make sure you are in a space where you can use a powerful hose setting or pressure washer to rinse wheels down thoroughly.


Choose the right products for your wheels' finish

Different wheel materials and finished need different products and techniques to clean and protect them safely. The most common wheels are alloys with a painted and lacquered finish.

Painted and lacquered or powder-coated alloy wheels can be treated like paintwork and you should choose a pH neutral cleaner to prevent damage to the finish.

Anodised wheels are chemically finished, so once corrosion sets in they need to be chemically restored. Use a mild cleaner and no sealant, as the construction of the wheels already gives them an effective seal.

Diamond cut alloy wheels have a lacquer on them that you should avoid stripping, as once the wheel is damaged it has to be re-cut, which you can only do so many times before the wheel becomes unsafe. Due to the textured finish, you should avoid using a towel to dry diamond cut wheels and instead let them air dry. Use wax or polymer sealants rather than ceramic ones so the finish can be removed without damaging the wheel if necessary.

Split rims are a combination of layers with different finishes, so you should use pH neutral cleaners and avoid ceramic sealants. These wheels are vulnerable to corrosion between their layers, so be extra thorough when air-drying and applying protectants.

Chrome or wire wheels are usually found on classic cars and require frequent upkeep. Use a mild cleaner to avoid removing existing sealants and reapply polymer or wax protection every other time you clean them.


Step 1: Protect yourself from harmful products

Some wheel chemicals can be quite harsh, and the brake dust from wheels can be a stubborn irritant, so you should protect your hands. A simple pair of thick latex or rubber waterproof gloves will do the trick.


Step 2: Clean car wheels with a decontaminant

Alloy wheel cleaners are designed to lift embedded brake dust and iron contamination without damaging painted and lacquered finishes. Usually, these pre-washes come as a pH neutral formula that you can spray onto wheels either straight from the bottle or diluted. Make sure you cover the whole surface area, front and back.

The best decontaminants will change colour to show the chemical reaction of removing iron particles. Leave the product for 5-10 minutes and agitate with a soft wheel brush to work it into all the crevices of your car's wheels if you need to. Some products boast a no-brush-required feature, but it depends on how dirty your wheels are. Once the majority of the baked-in dirt has been loosened, rinse well with a hose or pressure washer. If you don't have access to a hose, you can use a bucket and sponge, but be sure to rinse all the product and contamination off well.


Step 3: Clean car wheels and tyres with a wheel wash

Use a cleaner that is safe for the finish of your wheels and use it in the same way as the decontaminant. Spray on, leave for a while, and gently scrub nooks and crannies with a wheel brush to get rid of all the dirt and grime. You can also use a microfibre mitt and use the cleaner like a soap to really work it into contaminated areas. Just make sure you don't use the same mitt for the rest of your car's bodywork, as you don't want to spread iron fallout all over your paintwork!

Rinse well again and dry your wheels as soon as possible. The best thing for the task is a non-contact air dryer, but very few people have access to or are willing to invest in one, so a microfibre drying towel will do to job just fine.


Step 4: Apply protectant

Make your freshly clean wheels stay that way and seal out brake dust and road dirt for longer by adding a layer of sealant. It protects against iron fallout contamination dirt build-up, meaning your wheels will both look clean and be less vulnerable to wear and tear.

The most durable and effective sealant is a ceramic one, but these are only compatible with lacquered finishes, so they aren't always the best option. For unlacquered wheels, use a polymer or wax sealant for the best results. There are spray-on and wipe-on options, both of which will make cleaning your rims easier in the future.


Step 5: Apply tyre shine

When you go to the car wash, you'll notice that your tyres come out looking freshly black and shiny, but that it doesn't last more than about 10 miles. That's because they simply rinse your tyres down and apply a basic tyre shine that flies off easily because the surface wasn't clean enough to begin with. If you clean your car at home, you can spend that extra bit of time and care on doing a proper job.

Cleaning your car's tyres with good soap and a stiff brush will remove embedded dirt from the pores of the rubber, giving the tyre shine a better surface to stick to. Some come as sprays that you simply apply and leave to dry, and some come as gels that you need to rub into the tyres. Either way, you'll end up with a waterproof layer that moisturises the rubber and leaves it glossy and black through at least a few washes.


What do car detailers use to clean car wheels?

For pre-wash decontamination:


For cleaning:


For sealing:


For tyres:


Equipment and tools:


Our favourite bundles:



What is the best way to clean car wheels?

Start with a decontamination pre-wash soak, rinse, and wash with wheel cleaner. Rinse again, dry thoroughly, and apply a wheel sealant. For tyres, scrub well with soap and a brush then apply tyre shine.


How do you clean dirty alloy wheels?

The most important part of cleaning alloy wheels is to lift off baked-on brake dust without damaging the finish. Make sure you use the right products for your wheels' finish and remember that the most powerful chemicals aren't always the best option. A pH neutral solution is generally the safest.


What is the best method for removing brake dust from car rims?

The solution is a good quality pre-wash. Products that remove iron fallout will often change colour as they sit on your car's wheels, so you can watch the chemical reaction working. A long-handled wheel brush will also help you reach all parts of your wheels.


How can I restore the shine on my car tyres?

Clean your tyres well with a wheel brush to lift dirt from the tread, then apply a tyre shine. This will moisturise the rubber and add a layer of waterproof, UV-resistant protection that should last a few washes without flying off.

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