How To Clean Your Car's Wheels

Brake dust, dirt, and road grime can take their toll on your car’s wheels.

Cleaning car wheelsShutterstock

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Sprucing up wheels doesn’t need to be a labor intensive process, but keeping all four corners nicely scrubbed can help prolong the factory-applied finish by removing corrosive brake dust and salt — and your car will look nicer, too. Steel wheels in particular are prone to rust, which can be kept at bay with regular cleaning.

Let’s take a look at just how simple it is to clean your car’s wheels.

How to Choose a Wheel Cleaner

Whether your car’s wheels are aluminum or steel, they can be best scrubbed with a special cleaning formula.

For around $11, Griot’s Garage sells a spray-on wheel cleaner, or you can look into a color-changing formula such as that offered by Adam’s Polishes for about $15. One advantage to color-changing sprays is that they can actually show you when they’re removing contaminants. Basic wheel cleaning sprays are equally effective on alloy and steel wheels.

If you have chrome wheels, you may want to consider a special formula such as the one offered for $9 from Meguiar’s.

Conversely, distilled white vinegar and lemon juice can make good eco-friendly (not to mention inexpensive) alternatives.

Wheel scrubbing brushes help activate cleaners and can reach between spokes where fingers might struggle. Chemical Guys sells a $10 brush with real wool bristles, while specialist brushes with bristles intended for more complex wheel designs can cost several times more.

How to Clean Your Wheels

Now comes the fun and easy part: simply spray your dirty wheels with a wheel cleaner and, if you feel it’s necessary, give them a good scrub with the wheel brush. You may want to periodically wash off the wheel brush, especially if the wheels are particularly dirty.

How to use each wheel cleaning spray may vary by manufacturer, so be sure to read the fine print closely. Most recommend only a few minutes between application, scrubbing, and eventual rinsing with a garden hose or pressure washer.

If your car has plastic hubcaps, you can remove them — sometimes a flat head screwdriver can come in handy — to make cleaning a little easier on your knees.

Protect Your Work

Some cars — particularly those with a more performance-oriented bent — can produce more brake dust than others, so you may be more inclined to protect their wheels. A ceramic-style coating can repel some road grime and brake dust. Some come in easy-to-apply spray form, such as this $24 bottle from Chemical Guys.

Since it’s a simple process to clean your wheels, it’s a good idea to give them a good scrub every time you wash your car. Even if you take your car to a self-service car wash, you can still apply wheel cleaner and give them a brushing before you get to work on the rest of the vehicle.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.