Appearances aside, all alloy wheels must be kept clean to preserve their finish and to minimise the onset of corrosion. Although unpainted wheels will quickly corrode if not cared for, painted and powder coated wheels will also quickly deteriorate if dirty water and brake dust finds its way under chips and curb marks.
As a general rule you should aim to clean your wheels on a weekly basis along with your car’s routine maintenance wash. Once your wheels have been thoroughly cleaned and protected with a suitable wax, sealant or coating, regular car shampoo is all it should take to keep your wheels in top condition.
Maintenance Washing: All Wheel Types
Follow these instructions for maintenance cleaning of all wheel types (including split rims, chrome and polished alloy wheels). Wheels with plated or polished finishes should never need to be cleaned with harsh chemicals, and if they’ve been neglected it’s likely that only a refurbishment will save them.
The basic maintenance washing routine can be used for any type of wheel, the only thing that will change is the brush type (if required) for the design of the wheel. Simple wheel designs can be successfully cleaned with a wash mitt alone, whereas some intricate split rims sometimes require a mitt along with various other brush types to get the wheel and bolts entirely clean. Shown below is the correct method for cleaning a set of mesh style split rims with a wash mitt and brushes. It isn’t always necessary to use so many products, but from this example you’ll know exactly what’s required to clean any set of wheels that you’re faced with.
1) Begin by thoroughly rinsing your wheels with a garden hose or pressure washer to loosen and soften the dirt on the surface of the wheel. Snow foam can also be used at this stage as a pre-wash.
2) Take a bucket filled with water and regular car shampoo, then using a microfibre wash mitt gently wipe down all exposed surfaces of the wheel. Sometimes this is all it takes to clean a set of wheels and if this is the case, finish the job by rinsing them down again with clean water. If there are areas which you can’t quite reach, move on to step 3.
3) Choose an appropriate brush/cleaning tool that’s suitable for the design of your wheels. These are some of our favourites:
– EZ detail mini brush
These brushes are perfect for cleaning wheels with intricate spoke designs. Simply dip it in your bucket and push into the space you need to clean. Twist the brush at the same time for the best cleaning effect.
– Wheel woollies
Coming in packs of three (small, medium and large), wheel woollies are made from lambs’ wool and are very gentle yet hard wearing. The small brush will fit in places where the EZ detail brush can’t and the largest size is perfect for cleaning wheel barrels behind spokes. These can also be used between spokes in the same way as the EZ detail brush.
– Detailing brushes
If your wheels have exposed hardware or small recessed designs, a detailing brush is indispensable. For cleaning the lips and bolts of split rims, wet the detailing brush in your bucket before agitating the dirt on and around the bolts. Our current favourite is the Swissvax Wheel Brush which uses natural hairs that are gentle to polished rims while still cleaning effectively.
4) Once your wheels have been thoroughly cleaned, give them a rinse with clean water and protect them if you haven’t already done so – it’ll make the job easier next time and they’ll look better for longer.
- For Extra Cleaning Power When Required
If you do find yourself needing extra cleaning power, a product like Bilt Hamber Auto Wheel is ideal for delicate/polished wheel finishes. It’s perfectly safe for all wheel types, but it will strip any protection you have on the wheel so it’s best kept for occasional use only. This product is also great for very dirty wheels, as outlined below:
Cleaning very dirty wheels (Painted, powdercoated and lacquered wheels only).
The process of cleaning very dirty wheels is the same as above up to and including step 2, with a more powerful cleaning product introduced at step 3. Allow your product of choice to dwell for a short while before using the appropriate brush to agitate stubborn areas; speeding up the reaction. After each application thoroughly rinse the wheel with clean water and repeat as necessary until entirely clean. At no stage let chemicals dry on the wheels during the cleaning process as they could leave permanent marks.
Acidic cleaners should only be used for cleaning seriously dirty wheels and this should not be done on a routine basis as the acid can soften and dull lacquers over time. While wheels can be cleaned in-situ, if they’re really dirty they should ideally be removed from the vehicle. This will make the process easier while eliminating the risk of nasty chemicals splashing onto your car’s paintwork.