Alloy or aluminum wheels are quickly becoming the most common type of wheel used on cars.
They’re high strength, lightweight, dissipate heat better and are much more pleasing on the eye.
A nice set of alloy wheels will completely change the look of your car but at the same time, they need to be looked after.
Taking care of your wheels is a lot more than avoiding those pesky potholes. It’s about cleaning them properly when they get covered in dirt, road salt, and brake dust.
Failure to clean alloy wheels will mean that your car doesn’t look as good as it could. Not only that, it could even lead to deterioration over time.
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Why Clean your alloys?
It’s true that aluminum alloy is less likely to corrode and rust over time, but that doesn’t make it invincible.
Allowing the brake dust to build-up on your alloys will not only make them harder to clean but it can also begin to corrode the clear coat on your alloys and eventually the alloy itself.
Unfortunately, I found that one out myself. Every time I look at my wheels, my eyes are drawn to the paint that’s bubbling around the tire valve stem.
Sure you could pay for alloy wheel refurbishment, but that’s a lot of money you could be saving by simply washing your wheels.
Wheel Cleaning Equipment
You don’t need much to clean your wheels. In fact, if you wanted, all you really need is a wheel cleaning product and a hose or pressure washer.
That being said, to get the best possible finish, you will want to perform a full wash using the correct equipment.
Below are 4 pieces of wheel cleaning equipment that I like to use regularly.
Boars Hair Brush
It’s important to remember that alloy wheels are a painted surface, we don’t want to add anymore scratches to them.
Taking a scrubbing brush to them is completely off-limits. Instead, you will want to use something with soft bristles, like a boar hair brush.
I personally use this brush to agitate the wheel cleaning product and then I focus on cleaning the more intricate areas such as the lug nuts and other small crevices alloys may have.
Microfiber Wash Mitt
Microfibre wash mitts are a universal washing tool. You can use them on literally anything you want and it’ll get the job done.
The only thing you really need to worry about when using a wash mitt is that it could carry small rocks or other types of abrasive dirt that could potentially scratch your paintwork.
That said, if you dedicate a wash mitt to cleaning wheels and make sure that it’s clean every time you go to use it, you will not have a problem.
I’m not a fan of using wheel brushes myself. Yes, they’re “soft” and “non-abrasive” but I still feel like they’re too hard.
When I use wheel brushes, I’ll resort to using them for the deeper areas that I can’t quite reach with a mitt or boar hair brush.
If you completely trust the wheel brush, you are also able to get soft drill brushes which require less effort and scrub harder than a human ever could.
Yes, this article is about cleaning alloys, but if you’re going to do it properly you should clean the tires and wheel wells too.
You can get away with using any type of brush on the tires and arches because these surfaces are harder and less likely to scratch.
I like to use a scrubbing brush, just make sure it’s small so that you’re not damaging the paint or causing dents by hitting the handle off your car as you work.
Wheel Cleaning Products
Many people believe that wheel cleaning products are dangerous for your alloys. This can be true if you choose the wrong products.
Whenever you’re looking at detailing products, make sure that they’re Non-Acidic & PH Neutral. This will minimize any harmful side effects.
Below are two products that you can trust. I use them in almost every wash.
I absolutely adore Bilt Hamber Auto Wheel. It’s a magical product.
The fact that I can apply wheel cleaner and let it work its magic while I apply snow foam or wash the wheel wells makes the wash process much more efficient.
It’s also super satisfying to see the color-changing reaction as the product starts to fight the dirt and brake dust.
I must warn you though, this is an incredibly strong product. While it is safe to use on your alloys, it’s incredibly strong-smelling and may not be the best for the environment.
If you’re buying wheel cleaner, don’t be an idiot like me. I opened the product, left it in my room and wondered why I was constantly getting migraines.
It’s best to store it outside in the shed.
How-To Clean Alloy Wheels
While its a simple process, cleaning your wheels and surrounding areas can be broken down into 8 steps.
Once you’ve cleaned the wheels, you can choose to apply wax, sealants and/or tire dressings.
Cleaning the Wheels
- Rinse the wheels to remove any loose contaminants. (This is optional and a heavily debated topic, similar to rinsing before snow foaming).
- Apply wheel cleaner to the wheels. If the wheels are heavily polluted, you may want to focus on one wheel at a time. I normally do all 4 and rinse them off after snow foaming.
MAKE SURE THAT THE PRODUCT DOESNT DRY ON THE WHEELS.
- Use a soft-bristled brush to agitate the wheel, this will encourage any stubborn contaminants to fall from the surface.
- Clean the lug nuts thoroughly using a brush. Really try to get into all of the hard to reach spots, it’s normally where the brake dust falls into.
- Clean the wheel wells. This is an optional stage but you should really do it, otherwise, they will stick out like a sore thumb.
- Clean The Tires. Yes, your tires will get dirty the next time you drive the car, but so will everything else. It doesn’t take long and you can dress them up for that extra wet look.
- Rinse The Wheel Well, Tire & Alloy using water. After cleaning, you always want to rinse the area. This will wash away any remaining product and minimize the chances of product drying on your car.
- Dry the alloys using a microfiber towel. After rinsing, you will want to dry the remaining water from your vehicle. Drying your vehicle will prevent water spots from occurring.
NOTE: If you’re lazy and your wheels are relatively clean, applying wheel cleaner and rinsing it off will normally be enough to clean your wheels.
Waxing & Sealing Alloys
In the detailing industry, there are products for almost anything.
Wheel Wax & Sealants do exist and can be very useful.
If you’re interested in using one I’d recommend the Poorboys Wheel Sealant. It helps to protect the alloys from brake dust and sun oxidation, however, it needs to be applied weekly.
While the product definitely works well, I don’t think it’s very good value for money, I’m just as well cleaning the wheels every week instead.
Dressing The Tires
Tire dressing & tire shine products are great for drawing attention to your alloys.
They’re said to also protect your tires from the weather, but let’s be honest, the road will wear them out before the sun does.
Tire shine will allow you to have that “wet look” on your tires, with an enhanced gloss that will keep your ride looking the best it possibly can.
Unfortunately, tire shine is pretty bad value for money. If you’re not a professional or don’t care about wet-look tires, it’s definitely not for you.