The steering wheel is the part of your car which is touched the most. Thus it’s quick to get dirty and sticky.
There’s nothing worse than sticking to your steering wheel every time you go to turn a corner.
The dirt and bacteria that collects on a steering wheel can be from all sorts of weird and wonderful places.
It’s actually disgusting to think that it’s sweat, saliva, and grease from foods.
This becomes even more disgusting if you’re driving someone else’s car or have just bought a car. You’re touching someone else’s dirt.
In this situation cleaning the steering wheel should be a priority.
Thankfully you can clean a sticky steering wheel in a matter of minutes. If it’s someone else’s car, just wear gloves until it is cleaned.
What can I use to clean my steering wheel?
The items and products you use to clean a steering wheel will depend on the material it is made of.
There are no set tools or products. Some are better suited to a leather steering wheel rather than a suede steering wheel.
Most of the time you’ll use a different brush based on the wheel’s material. Obviously using softer brushes on softer materials.
I recommend these 3:
- Soft brush – 100% Boar Brush
- General brush – Amazon Scrub Brush
- Detail brush – OXO good grips or an old toothbrush
It doesn’t matter what brushes you use on plastic and rubber steering wheels, but, Alcantara, suede, and leather need more care. Continue reading to find out how to attack each material.
The other difference is the cleaning product that you’ll use.
You could use water and soap depending on how dirty the steering wheel is.
I use Meguiars All-Purpose Cleaner most of the time.
A good interior or dashboard cleaner would also work.
Whatever you do, don’t use unknown liquids on Alcantara and suede.
Ensure the product is explicitly for Alcantara and suede as they can react poorly to wetness.
Sonax does a nice upholstery & Alcantara cleaner that’s reasonably priced. I still recommend testing it in a hidden area first to make sure it doesn’t ruin your steering wheel.
Finally, you’ll need some microfiber drying towels.
These can be cheap towels that you can buy at your local dollar store.
There’s potential for the color to transfer when drying your steering wheel. Using an expensive detailing towel would be a waste.
It’s just for drying the steering wheel and wiping away excess product.
How To Clean A Sticky Steering Wheel
When it comes to detailing, everyone has their own process.
If you’re cleaning the steering wheel, but not the dashboard and surrounding areas, cover the surrounding area with sheeting or cloth. This will prevent any sling from occurring.
That’s about it as far as prep goes. You can cover yourself up if you like, but that’s not necessary.
Applying the product to the towel or brush you’re using will also minimize sling.
Methods of cleaning
- Spray all-purpose cleaner or degreaser onto your brush
- Begin to scrub the surface lightly. (Increase pressure gradually if the grime is really stubborn)
- Use a cloth to dry the wheel and wipe away the excess product
- Repeat steps 1-3 until the steering wheel is completely clean
- Apply appropriate dressing or protectant
Remember that a steering wheel is 360 degrees. It has a front, back, and even spokes. Make sure to be extra thorough if you want to clean it 100%
How To Clean A Leather Steering Wheel
Leather is an extremely common material in cars nowadays. You’ll find it mostly in a lot of the higher-spec and luxury cars. Think Mercedes, BMW, and even Lexus.
It’s a pretty durable material and can withstand a lot of abuse while offering a high-quality feeling to the driver.
Despite its quality, you should still be careful and use a softer brush. Using a brush that’s too stiff or applying too much pressure could scratch, discolor or even tear the material.
Make sure to use mild cleaning products that are safe on the leather too.
Methods of cleaning a leather steering wheel
- Apply APC or Leather Cleaner to a soft brush or cloth.
- Scrub lightly, to begin with. Cleaning the wheel with as little pressure as possible.
- Wipe the steering wheel and remove excess product
- Repeat steps 1-3 until the wheel is completely clean
- Apply leather conditioner and/or dressing & protectant
Overall cleaning a leather steering wheel is pretty foolproof. While you can mess up, as long as you start off gently, you should be fine.
Fake or Faux leather can be cleaned in a similar way. Just make sure the cleaning product doesn’t dry on the wheel as it could stain.
How To Clean Alcantara Steering Wheel
Alcantara and suede are very similar materials. They feel absolutely amazing in the hand and offer a very high-quality feeling.
The issue with Alcantara is that it’s probably by far the hardest steering wheel material to clean.
I recommend using products that are designed exactly for cleaning Alcantara and suede wheels.
I’ve previously taken water to these materials and regretted it, so make sure to start off in a place that’s hidden to see how it reacts.
As long as you don’t drench the material in water or product you should be fine. Drenching it could lead to damage and discoloration.
Methods Of Cleaning Alcantara
- Test Alcantara cleaning product on an inconspicuous area
- Apply Alcantara cleaner to a soft brush
- Scrub the brush gently in one direction
- Wipe away excess product
- Repeat steps 1-4 until satisfied with the results
- Make sure to dry the material properly
The main issue you’ll face when cleaning an Alcantara wheel is damaging it. If you use a brush that’s too hard or scrub too hard, you could damage the texture.
Try not to overthink it, be careful and you’ll be fine.
How To Clean a Plastic or Rubber Steering Wheel
Plastic and rubber steering wheels can withstand the most abuse by far.
A lot of these wheels are textured and prone to collecting dirt in different shapes and crevices.
While you should always start off with the least harmful method of cleaning, you can go pretty hard on these if need be.
These are super easy to clean and require little more than elbow grease and water.
Methods Of Cleaning Plastic Steering Wheels
- Dip your brush or cleaning cloth in a soapy water solution, APC, or degreaser
- Scrub and wipe the steering wheel all over, making sure to get all the dirt. Try to avoid scratching any manufacturer logos or badges.
- Remove all product using a drying towel and make sure the wheel is cleaned to a standard you’re happy with
- Repeat 1-3 until satisfied
- Apply a plastic trim protectant or dressing (make sure it’s a dry finish).
Depending on how dirty the steering wheel is, you may need to take stronger measures. This could be a stronger bristle brush or a stronger cleaning product.
Applying last stage protection is safe. Just make sure it’s a matte finish and doesn’t leave your steering wheel feeling slippy in your hands.
Prevent your steering wheel from getting dirty again
There’s absolutely no doubt, no matter how hard you try, your steering wheel will get dirty. It’s by far the most touched part of any vehicle.
Despite this, there are things you can do to prevent it from getting as dirty, as quickly.
Wash your hands
As simple and obvious as this sounds, always wash your hands.
We touch a lot more things than we realize throughout the day. Even touching your face will gather extra dirt on your hands.
The easiest way to do this is to wash your hands whenever you’re near a sink, or before you leave the house to go on a drive.
You could also have some wipes in your car. This is very helpful for any spills that may occur as well as general hand washing.
It also goes without saying that you should wash your hands after eating, especially if it’s greasy food as this is a very common way to make your steering wheel sticky and covered in grime.
While I’m not a fan of the idea and wouldn’t wear them myself, you could wear driving gloves.
Any dirt or grease on your hands will go into the gloves rather than onto your steering wheel.
There are other benefits of wearing driving gloves such as lower vibrations and warm hands, but they’re not exactly cool.
Disposable latex or nitrile gloves are also an option. It’s not uncommon for valeters to wear these while working on and moving cars around.
It’s also pretty useful to have some disposable gloves in your glove box too. You’ll never know when you need them + they keep your hands warmer in the winter if you do want to wear them.
Steering Wheel Cover
I’m also not a fan of this option.
Most steering wheel covers that I’ve seen or used are bulky, ugly, and actually pretty dangerous.
I remember buying a car that had a wheel cover and on occasion, the wheel cover would turn without actually turning the steering wheel. This could’ve had me driving into oncoming traffic or straight off the road.
If you do decide to get a steering wheel cover, make sure it properly fits your car.
It’s not necessarily a bad idea. It’s much easier to clean a steering wheel cover than it is a steering wheel.
How much do you really want to keep your steering wheel clean? I’d rather keep my hands clean and wash the car on occasion.
How To Clean A Steering Wheel Cover
Cleaning a steering wheel cover is super simple.
All the methods I’ve listed above work perfectly on a steering wheel cover.
You could also take the cover off your steering wheel and throw it in the washing machine.
Pay attention to the instructions on your steering wheel cover and it will tell you exactly how to wash it and the type of cycle that should be run in the laundry machine.
If you cannot clean it
Sometimes steering wheels are damaged or too far gone that they cannot be cleaned.
If this is the case, you’ve got 4 options. You can cover it with a steering wheel cover, replace the steering wheel, get it re-upholstered or decide to just live with it.