Keep Your Wheels Looking Their Best: Cleaning Techniques

So you bought a brand new set of wheels, and they look great on your ride. How do you keep them looking that way for the long haul? We’ll cover everything you need to know to keep your wheels like new.

A word about cleaners

Before you get into cleaning and polishing your wheels, you’ll have to get rid of any brake dust that might be clinging to them. There are lots of dust cleaners on the market, but they’re not meant for universal use. Make sure to read the labels carefully in order to not damage your wheels with chemicals not meant for whatever they might be made of.

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Have the right tools for the job

When you’re getting ready to clean your wheels, make sure you’ve got soft cloths handy for a gentle touch on your wheels. If you’re dealing with aluminum, go with white. Microfiber is a great fabric choice. Grab a soft bristled brush that won’t damage the surface of your clear coat. And avoid acidic cleaners and wire brushes at any cost.

Make sure you know your wheels

If you’ve never dealt with maintenance on your own wheels, the first step is to make sure you know what kind of wheels you have. The material they’re made of, and any coating used on them can make a big difference in the products you choose for cleaning. Always make sure the products you use are safe for the wheels you’re dealing with.

Painted wheels are typically the easiest to identify. They’re a very common manufacturer choice, and they come standard on lots of cars and trucks that come from a dealership, as a result. Painted wheels are durable, and can handle most cleaners on the market without an issue.

Painted wheel

Powder coated wheels are the next step up from painted, but they can be difficult to tell apart. Usually, powder coating is identifiable based on its texture and thickness. It’s generally at least three times the thickness of paint. Because of the way powder coating is applied, it also has more visible texture versus paint, which is normally very smooth. If you have powder coated wheels, the odds are you bought them, so just keep that in mind. They’re more resistant to road chemicals than paint, and even more resistant to cleaning chemicals.

Powder coated wheel

Anodized wheels are uncommon for the average customer, but if you’re into racing (or just the race car look), you might come across them. Anodizing is an electrical process that opens up the surface of the wheel, where color can be trapped. Anodizing creates a finish that looks like colored metal, versus a coating that hides the surface of the metal altogether. Be careful if you have anodized wheels as they’re very susceptible to damage by acidic cleaners. Make sure any cleaner you pick up for anodized wheels says that it’s designed for them.

Physical Vapor Deposition, or PVD, wheels go through a process similar to chrome plating. It leaves a strong, durable finish that stands up to cleaners and abrasion remarkably well. Believe it or not, these are best cleaned with soap and water. This is a newer option, and one you should know if you’ve purchased this type of wheel. Although they look similar to chrome, make sure you don’t use a chrome cleaner on PVD finish. It’s acidic and can eat right through your top layer of clear coat.

If you have polished aluminum wheels, you’re in for some work. Because of the work they take to maintain, they’re not super common anymore. If you’re not sure that you’ve got aluminum wheels, get some aluminum cleaner, put a very small amount on a soft white rag and start rubbing on that wheel. If it’s really aluminum, you’ll find that the white rag will quickly turn black from the oxidation.

Polished aluminum wheel

Aluminum wheel

If you have machined or brushed aluminum wheels that are clear coated, all you need is a little dish soap and water, and you’ll have your wheels cleaned up in no time.

How to clean steel or chrome wheels

If you have chrome wheels, keeping them clean of rust and corrosion is critical. The first step is to clean them with regular soap and water. Once they’re clean, dry them well, watching out for any scratches and abrasions where rust might fester.

Use a soft brush to remove any that doesn’t come off with a rag. Be very careful to not only brush the rust, though. Adding new scratches to the wheel will only cause more rust over time. Next, use chrome polish to remove any remaining rust. Then wax the wheels to protect them from future damage from corrosion.

How to clean aluminum wheels

If you have aluminum wheels in need of a good cleaning, rinse them first with water. Make sure you really get in there and get all of the grime off. Before drying, spray on some aluminum cleaners, and use a soft bristled brush. Make sure the brush is sturdy enough to get the job done, but not stiff enough to cause scratches.

If you scratch aluminum wheels, you’ll be stuck polishing them to get the scratches out. Once they’re clean, dry them off and use a microfiber cloth to make sure they’re thoroughly dry – any remaining water will cause unsightly water spots. They’ll require polishing, too.

One last word of caution: regardless of what kind of wheels you have, make sure you don’t use any of your wheel cleaning towels or rags on the body of your car. Any brake dust that might be on them will wind up on the car, and scratch your paint.

When In doubt, keep it simple

Any of the wheels we’ve talked about can be handled with soap and water, or a solvent like Simple Green and water. When you’re using either choice, mix 10 parts water with 1 part soap or cleaner. Either one is a great choice, and a good way to avoid acidic cleaners, that can wreak havoc on the surface of your wheels.

Don’t forget to dry

You can spend hours cleaning your wheels, but if you don’t get all the water off of them after you’re done cleaning, all of your hard work could wind up being for nothing when the wheels wind up covered in water spots. Use those soft microfiber cloths we mentioned earlier, and you’ll be happy with the results every time.

When it comes to taking care of your new wheels, the needs of different wheel materials can get confusing. If you’re looking for some expert advice, we’re always here to help. Feel free to call our team at (866) 961-8668 or shop for wheels today and we’ll get you on the road with your new wheels in no time.

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