By: Luke Parise
Cleaning wheels can be a bit of a process. While it isn’t necessarily a very difficult task, without the proper techniques and products, it may be more of a project than it needs to be.
The first step in the process is assessing the condition of the wheels. Some things to take into account are: (1) how dirty they are; (2) the last time they were cleaned; (3) temperature; and (4) the type of material or finish. These are all very important factors! They will help to determine how aggressive to go with the products and process.
If your wheels are incredibly dirty and haven’t been cleaned in a while then it’s important to realize that they may have stained and you will only be able to clean them to a certain extent. Contaminants that sit on the wheels can stain or damage the finish which cannot be removed without refinishing the wheels. This is why it is important to maintain wheels regularly!
Temperature is important because trying to clean hot wheels is not only difficult but it may cause the products to react poorly and cause harm to materials, potentially causing permanent damage or staining. Always allow them to cool down after a drive or after sitting in the direct sun before starting any process.
Certain wheel materials can react differently with certain products. Some products are not recommended for raw finishes such as aluminum or for certain rotors. Please check labels or ask us for more info before getting started on the cleaning. We have tested quite a few wheel cleaners and degreasers, and there always seem to be new products entering the market. Here are some of the products that we personally use and have found to be high quality, (note: we are not affiliated with these companies in any way; we just like their products!):
Optimum Power Clean – This degreaser is usually a go to for us. It works well and can be diluted to various concentrations depending on what strength you need. It is a delicate degreaser at greater dilutions and is safe to use on most surfaces. We use it for a variety of applications in our shop and is an all around favorite for us!
Nanoskin Iron Free - An iron remover that is perfect for removing stubborn particulates such as fallout and brake dust from wheels/calipers. It is PH neutral which means that you don’t have to worry about acidity reacting with certain materials. It works by reacting with and dissolving iron that may have been picked up from the road or from the brakes. You will know if it has come into contact with anything due to a color changing indicator that turns the chemical a bright purple color. Only a couple of sprays are needed per wheel but be warned: it smells like rotten eggs!
Optimum No Rinse Wash (ONR) - A great general purpose cleaning product to have. It can be used for washing exterior and interior surfaces, lubricating the vehicle for clay bar application, and neutralizing certain chemicals. We use it for a lot of things around the shop. It is great for spraying on the wheels after scrubbing them to neutralize any harmful products as well as touching them up after they’ve been cleaned. Only a capful or two is needed per gallon for most purposes so a bottle goes a long way!
Next up are brushes. We carry quite a few options for brushes so feel free to reach out for inquiries or general questions.
We use five tools when cleaning wheels:
Barrel brush: long brush that is great for reaching in between the spokes to hit the inner lip and hard to reach areas.
Lug nut brush: great to clean around the lug nuts as well as tight areas around the calipers.
Soft bristle brush or soft microfiber: used to wipe down the faces/larger surfaces
Stiff bristle brush: used to scrub the tires
Old wash mitt or microfiber towel: good for cleaning the wheel wells
A barrel brush is a A lug nut brush is A soft bristle brush or even a soft clean microfiber can be. A stiffer bristle brush can also be. The wheel wells can also be cleaned using an old wash mitt, a microfiber or with a brush. There are rubber cleaner specific products on the market but typically a degreaser should be enough to help with loosening up and agitating the tires.
Cleaning the Wheels
Step 1: Rinse the wheels. This will help lift large debris, cool down surfaces, and slightly dilute cleaners.
Step 2: Mist the wheels, tires, and wheel wells with the cleaner of choice. We personally like to spray everything down with an Optimum Power Clean solution diluted to a 3:1 water mixture, and give the rims one or two mists of Nanoskin Iron Free. Work on two wheels at a time since the cleaners shouldn’t be left on the wheels for an extended period of time. Before you begin the next step, allow the chemical agents to react by letting them sit for about a minute.
Step 3: The fun part: scrubbing. Start by using a barrel brush to scrub the inner barrels and edges of the spokes. Then use the soft bristle brush or microfiber towel to clean the faces of the wheels. Use the lug nut brush to clean the lugs, calipers and the tight crevices. If you feel that it is necessary then you can use a stiff bristle brush to scrub the tires and then an old wash mitt or microfiber to wipe down the wheel wells.
Step 4: Rinse the wheels again to remove lifted dirt and cleaning products from the wheels.
Step 5 (optional): After all wheels are cleaned, we like to move the car a little and flutter the brakes. This helps rotate the wheels to reveal less visible areas that may have been missed, and it helps loosen up brake dust that gets caught in the caliper/rotor.
Step 6 (optional): Touch up any missed spots with a light cleaner. We like to use an ONR mixture of 1oz of solution to 1 quart of water and a microfiber towel. (A capful is close to ½ oz)
Step 7: Dry the wheels. Air is the ideal way to get them dry. The use of a small blower or air compressor is highly recommended. Companies such as Metro-Vac sell auto specific blowers but a leaf blower or something of that sort can be used with caution. A microfiber or drying towel can also be used for this purpose.
As far making this whole process easier we highly recommend a ceramic wheel coating. We work with IGL’s Eclipse Ceramic Coating which is an industrial strength coating that is resistant to very high temperatures and abuse which makes it ideal for this process. We pull the wheels and coat the faces, barrels and calipers. Ceramic provides a lot of protection, rubber, debris, and other contaminants that usually bond to the wheels will no longer stick to the surfaces of the wheels, preventing permanent damage and makes cleaning easier, ensuring your wheels will remain immaculate.
For any specific questions or to suggest a topic that you would like to see covered in a future article please feel to reach out.