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How to Effectively Clean Car Wheels

Nothing can ruin the look of a freshly washed car than a set of dirty wheels! Your wheels get punished by a barrage of brake dust and road grime which is often difficult to remove. The first step to clean wheels is to wash with a gentle car wash detergent, ideally at the same time you wash the rest of your car. Here are 15 Tips in Cleaning Your Wheels.

  1. Stock up on an assortment of wheel, tire and lug nut brushes. Matching the right brush to the job at hand will speed up the cleaning process and you’ll achieve better results.
  2. Soak your brushes and wash tools in your wash bucket for several minutes to soften and saturate the bristles.
  3. Let your wheel cleaner dwell on the surface of the wheel for a couple minutes. This helps to breakdown the dirt and grim before you agitate the surface with a brush.
  4. Start with washing the tire first. This prevents you from having to go back and clean the rim a second time. To speed up the process you can scrub the tire while your wheel cleaner is dwelling on the wheel.
  5. Start by cleaning the top of the wheel first. I found it best to start with the barrel of the wheel and then move on to the face, followed by the lug nuts last. If you start from the bottom and work your way up the dirt and brake dust will flow down and over the area you just cleaned.
  6. If you are having trouble removing stubborn brake dust, rust deposits and tar you can use auto detailing clay to remove the bonded contamination. Adhesive removers also work extremely well, specifically 3M Adhesive Remover. If your wheels have scratches and swirls you can also use a compound and polish to remove them either by hand or by machine. **Compounding and polishing only applies to wheels with a clear coat finish (The same type of paint finish that is on your car). Other metal finishes can be polished with a metal polish safe for your specific wheel.
  7. Dry your wheels by hand with a clean microfiber towel. This process will show you the spots you missed when scrubbing and allow you to perfect your technique next time you clean your wheels.
  8. To dry the barrel of the wheel wrap a microfiber towel around the brush you used to clean the barrel. You can also do this for the face of the wheel, with the appropriate brush.
  9. Using an air compressor or leaf blower makes drying wheels a breeze. It easily allows you to blow water out of hard to reach cracks and crevices.
  10. Waxes and sealants are a great way to keep your wheels protected from braking dust accumulation and tar from road construction. They also add more depth and gloss to your wheels to really complete the look of your car.
  11. Always clean your wheels before cleaning the rest of the car. This helps to avoid cleaner and water overspray on your clean paint. If you are washing your car in the sun make sure to soak your wheels with water while washing the rest of your car so water spots don’t develop before you can dry the wheels.
  12. Never wash your wheels when they are hot to the touch. Wait till they have cool down and it’s always best to work in the shade versus the sun.
  13. If you have hard to reach places on your wheel or wheel well turning the steering wheel to one side or the other is a great way to obtain easier access.
  14. Use a separate bucket with car wash soap or clean and replace the water before washing the rest of your car. Using a second bucket as a rinse bucket for your brushes will keep your wash bucket clean and introduce less dirt back onto your wheels.
  15. Soft paintbrushes are a good, cheaper alternative to some detailing brushes. Only use them on non-scratch sensitive surfaces and make sure to use black electrical tape to wrap around the metal on the brush handle so you don’t accidentally scratch your wheels.

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