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How to Clean Alloy Wheels and Rims

How to Clean Alloy Wheels and Rims

Driving around town with a fresh set of wheels is one of the best feelings in the world. Those shiny, metallic rims are sure to turn heads, maybe even blinding a pedestrian or two.

Having rad rims is awesome, but their luscious luster can only last for so long. Ordinary dirt and grime build-up on your wheels can ruin the appearance of your whole car, so regular upkeep is pretty essential.

This is especially true if you’ve got a set of alloy rims. They’ve got an iconic sheen that’s unmatched, so you better make sure you’re keeping them clean. Here’s an easy guide to help you restore your rims to their former glory.

Why is Cleaning Alloy Rims Important?

Your car either has alloy wheels or steel wheels. While steel wheels don’t typically have the same luster and polish as an alloy rim, they’re definitely more durable to dings, scratches, and marks.

Alloy wheels are much lighter, which is great for fuel economy. They also tend to have a more vivid visual presence, and they’re pretty much the standard on most cars today. However, their light weight makes them more susceptible to the elements.

When you put on your brakes, tiny carbon fibers come off the brake pad, and little metal shavings spew from the rotor. The intense amount of heat and friction generated by the wheels when this occurs makes them super corrosive. Extreme heat plus brake dust on your wheels equals worn out and rundown rims.

With all of that said, it’s important to regularly clean your wheels to prevent brake dust build-up and just make sure your whole car is getting the attention it deserves. When you treat your car right, it’ll treat you nicely in return.

What Materials Do I Need?

Since alloy rims are so susceptible to damage, especially when compared to metal or chrome plating, it’s a good idea to find the least abrasive cleaner possible. You can find specific bottles of solution specifically made with alloy wheels in mind, so these are the safest options.

However, if you’re too embarrassed to drive to the nearest auto parts store with dirty rims, you can try making a solution right from home with vinegar or lemon juice. Pour half of a cup of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice into a spray bottle, then fill the rest with water. Apply it the same way you would a commercial cleanser. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a tried and true method, but it should be enough to dissolve some stubborn stains.

Also, use a soft-bristled brush when it comes time to scrub. This ensures that you’re getting some of that adhesive brake dust off of the rims while ensuring that you don’t scratch away any of the plating. Hard-bristled brushes may be too abrasive, and sponges might not be tough enough to get those stubborn, caked-on stains.

If you can’t find a soft-bristled brush, you can even try spot cleaning with an old toothbrush. This might be good regardless to help you get into those tough grooves and nooks.

But you’ll need a bit more than just that. All in all, you’ll need:

  • Soft-bristled brush

  • Alloy wheel cleaning solution

  • Hose with water

  • Microfiber towel

  • A car with, hopefully, four wheels

  • Toothbrush (optional)

The Cleaning Process

Once you get your materials in order, it’s time to get started. We recommend throwing on your favorite Spotify playlist and cracking open a cold one to really set the mood for your day of car-washing fun.

  1. Rinse wheels to remove loose dirt and brake dust. Make contact with every part of the wheel. If you have a pressure attachment, even better. If not, place your thumb over the end to try to increase the pressure. Don’t worry -- you won’t hurt the rims.

  2. Spray one wheel with the alloy cleaner of your choice. Be generous, covering outlying areas like the spokes in addition to the obvious center hubs. You can let the cleaner sit for a moment or two to let it penetrate the caked-on dirt, but if you’re impatient, just start scrubbing.

  3. Whip out that soft-bristled brush and work in small circles over the front surface of the wheel—no need to push too hard. Reach through spokes to clean the backsides of the wheel as well. Side note: That toothbrush might come in handy to clean out those lug nuts.

  4. Rinse the wheel with the hose again.

  5. Use a microfiber towel to dry off the wheel completely to avoid water spots. If you don’t have a microfiber towel, an old t-shirt works too.

  6. Repeat on the remaining wheels.

Polishing Alloy Wheels

Cleaning your rims will help you get some caked-on dirt and grime off your wheels, helping to maintain a longer lifespan. However, getting your wheels to glisten in the sunlight? That’s what we’re all here for. 

When choosing a wheel polish, be sure to pay attention to the surface of your rims. A clear-coated alloy needs a less aggressive polish than a bare aluminum alloy. If you have a clear-coated one, go with something safe to use on coated metals.

Once you find the right polish, here’s what to do:

  1. Make sure your wheels are entirely dry.

  2. One wheel at a time, wipe the polish onto the wheel. You only really need to worry about the surface of the rims -- don’t worry so much about the back.

  3. We recommend using a wool pad that attaches to a power drill for the best effect. Glide this over the surface of your rims gently and slowly. You can also purchase special items that are specifically designed for polishing at your local auto parts store. If you don’t have access to any of these, you can use cloth.

  4. Get a soft, clean microfiber towel to wipe off any excess liquid polish.

  5. Repeat on the remaining wheels.

Protect Your Alloy Wheels with Sealant

Now that you’ve got your wheels looking all nice and shiny, you’re going to want them to stay that way forever. Protecting your wheels with applicable sealant is a great and easy way to do this.

You can get sealants in both spray and wax forms. And the best part? You can use sealants on any type of wheel, so if for some reason you’ve read this far despite having non-alloy rims, you can still get the same type of sealant.

Once you get one from your local store, here’s what you can do:

  1. Apply the sealant to the entire surface of the wheel using a detailing pad. Even if you get a spray sealant, you should still take some time to cover the entire wheel with a pad. Work it in small, gentle circles until there are no streaks and it has dried completely.

    1. Use a microfiber cloth if you don’t have a detailing pad at your disposal.

  2. Allow the sealant to absorb for twenty to thirty minutes. This lets it dissolve into the alloy itself and helps protect it from within. We don’t know the exact science, but it works.

  3. Go back over each wheel with a buffing cloth to remove any excess sealant. This helps prevent spots for the brightest possible shine.

When to Replace Your Wheels

Over time, it might be inevitable that your rims become a bit deformed or worn down. Alloy rims are especially brittle when compared to steel rims, so it’s important to pay attention. If you notice that your rims aren’t holding air or cause braking and handling issues, it might be time for a new set.

New tires and wheels can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. Rent A Wheel has a huge selection of wheels that match any make and model, but you don’t need to pay everything upfront. With flexible payment options, feel free to make low weekly payments to make your bank account a little more comfortable. 

The Finishing Touches

Maintaining a healthy set of tires is important, especially if they’re made with more brittle metals types like aluminum alloys. Things like general wear and tear and brake dust can cause these metals to corrode and break down. Keeping them clean is essential to keep your rims long-lasting.

You can clean alloy wheels from home. You just need a cleanser and a brush from your local store. With that said, both of these things have alternative options that you might be able to scrounge up with some stuff lying around the house.

After your wheels are squeaky clean, you’ll want to be sure to polish them as well, so they get a super slick shine. You can do that with some polishing gel from your local automotive store. But don’t forget to use some sealant at the end to help seal your wheels for added protection.

Going through the car wash now and then is important, but you’ve got to give those wheels a little extra love. After all, you wouldn’t have much of a car without them.


Car Alloy Wheels | EUWA.org

Many Factors Affect MPG | FuelEconomy.gov

Finding a Cure for Brake Dust | Motorweek.org