How To Clean Wheels Safely

Silver Audi S4 Wheel

Your car’s wheels are the lifeblood of your car’s appearance, and when neglected can greatly diminish the value of your investment. Some opinions stress the paintwork or the interior of your car, but it’s your wheels that keep you on the road and really speak for how clean your car truly is. It’s obvious from looking at a wheel covered in brake dust that dirty wheels take away from the overall look and health of your car. On the other hand, a car with new or freshly cleaned wheels is constantly complimented and can turn heads when passing by. When taken care of and cleaned properly, wheels can stay as good as new without too much work.

Proper wheel care begins and ends with the procedure you use to clean your car’s wheels. There seems to be some hype about special products that can be used to tackle even the toughest of brake dust, but that’s not always the safest or most effective way to truly clean your wheels. The first step in preparation for cleaning wheels is to know how abrasive your wheel cleaning product is, and to avoid those that may cause harm to your wheels.

How To Clean Wheels Safely:

#1: Rinse large debris from wheel. Often times, if a hose or nozzle has a single stream, it will not do as thorough of a job as a shower head mount which yields a greater volume of water. A shower head mount can be easily attached to a normal garden hose, and helps when cleaning wheels as well as in a general car wash.

#2: Once the large debris is removed, spray your wheel cleaner from the bottom of the wheel upward. Spraying from the bottom up will reduce the chance of etching caused by dripping chemicals. Include the tire in your spraying, as most wheel cleansers are perfectly safe to be used on your tires. The key to a good wheel cleanser is it’s viscosity. A thick, gel-type wheel cleaner will hold its position, preventing it from running off before you can get to cleaning.

It is recommended that you have a bucket of water, with grit guard, to keep your wheel sponge, wheel brush, and tire brush fresh during cleaning. If your wheels are extremely dirty, you may want to rinse out the bucket and add new water for each wheel.

#3: With a tire brush (tampico fibered bristles are the safest and most effective), scrub the tire in a circular motion to remove contamination such as dirt, grime, and grease. On tires, it is important to use a brush rather than a sponge because it allows the tire conditioner (applied later) to adhere properly to the rubber surface by providing a better, more thorough cleaning.

When done with a brush, always put it in your rinse bucket.

#4: If you use a gel-based wheel cleaner, you should be able to begin scrubbing the wheel from outside in with a wheel cleaning brush. It is recommended that you clean outside in to trap the dirt and brake dust, as well as to confine the space you need to clean. For the safest and best results, a flag-tipped brush with mildly firm bristles is recommended.

During cleaning, you may need to rinse the brush, respray the wheel cleaner, and brush again to remove tough debris. Again, it’s recommended that you rinse more often than not.

#5: Respray wheel cleaner in appropriate areas of concern, usually hubs, spokes, and wherever there is brake dust build up. Next, use your wheel sponge to get an up-close clean that will remove tightly bonded brake dust, dirt, and grease from areas that a brush may not be able to reach. Rinse the sponge frequently, and continue until you’ve removed all debris, respraying the wheel cleaner as necessary.

#6: Rinse wheel and tire to remove suds, soap, and loosened grime. The shower head mount proves valuable here as pressurized water will create more suds, leaving soap residue behind on the wheel. When rinsing, it’s important to remove any and all chemicals along with the loose contaminants that may still be sitting inside your rims.

With a properly cleaned wheel and clean tires, the next steps fall under the prep and protection process of cleaning (prep being the preparation for an effective protection step).

#7: With the appropriate product, you’ll want to prep the surface for proper adherence of protection products. A pH neutralizer will rid the surface of any excess chemicals from the wheels and tires, allowing for a more pure and significantly longer lasting application of protection products such as a tire conditioner or a wheel sealant. Spray an exterior pH neutralizer on the surfaces and wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.

#8: With a freshly neutralized surface, you’re ready for protection and nourishing products. Begin with a wheel sealant, and spray it directly on the rims, but carefully enough not to overspray onto rotors or brake pads. Typically, you’ll notice that most products on the market are carnauba based, however that means they have a melting point somewhere around 170-180 degrees. This isn’t good, as wheels tend to reach high temperatures fairly often due to braking (any BMW owner will back that up). An oil based wheel sealant formula will be much more effective, hold a higher melting point, and stay adhered to the surface for a longer time. By protecting, you’re keeping your wheels cleaner for longer, and lessening the load for the next time you need to clean them.

#9: The final step in any wheel cleaning procedure should be the conditioning the tires. Conditioning not only rejuvenates the rubber surface for a vibrant appearance, but it also prevents cracking and fading of the rubber as well. With the appropriate applicator, apply a tire conditioner to the tires evenly and wipe of any that may have gotten on the rims. Next, allow the conditioner to sit for a few minutes and then wipe excess off with a cloth. Note that you should use a conditioner and not a dressing because tire dressing simply goes on the surface and makes the tire look shiny, whereas conditioner will be absorbed into the rubber surface, rejuvenating and protecting the tire.

Your clean wheels should now be visible from down the street, and you can be certain that they are healthy and protected from the harshness they go through on a daily basis.

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