How to Remove Brake Dust From Your Car's Wheels

Get rid of those pesky metal flakes with little effort and expense.

Classic Porsche 911 wheelManuel Carrillo III | Capital One

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Ever wonder why the front wheels on a dirty car often look a few shades darker than the rear ones? It's because of brake dust, tiny flakes from the rotors that the brake pads machine off when they clamp down. Given the front brakes do more work than the rears, it makes sense that the front wheels would accumulate more of those fine particles and look darker.

In addition to looking unattractive, brake dust can stain or corrode metal, chrome, and painted surfaces. Fortunately, the fix is relatively simple and requires no special training, just a dedicated cleaning product and some elbow grease. Roll it into your car-wash routine when necessary.

Classic Porsche 911 wheel being sprayed with wheel cleanerManuel Carrillo III

How to Choose a Brake Dust Cleaner

As with other car products, there's no shortage of options when it comes to wheel cleaners. Prices also vary widely, with some options available for less than $10. If you want to remove brake dust and other environmental particles from paint, look for something called iron and fallout remover, which can be pricier.

A good wheel brush can help you get between spokes and other small spaces. Whatever products you buy should specifically state that they're safe for your wheel's material, such as chrome, paint, or aluminum. Microfiber towels are good to have on hand when doing any cleaning project.

Classic Porsche 911 wheel being cleanedManuel Carrillo III

How to Remove Brake Dust

It's best to clean the wheels before washing the rest of the vehicle, as the full wash will take care of any cleaner overspray. Park in the shade and ensure surfaces are cool to the touch before you begin.

Review the instructions on the product. The general routine is to wet the wheel, spray on the wheel cleaner, and wait the recommended amount of time. Some of these products change color as they work, going from white to red or purple as the foam pulls the metal particles off your wheels. Depending on how dusty the wheels are, you might need to work the solution into crevices and around lug nuts. The final step is to give each wheel a good rinse.

Iron and fallout removers are generally spray-on, rinse-off affairs as well. Follow the directions on the package to remove brake dust from your paint.

Classic Porsche 911 wheel being cleanedManuel Carrillo III

Protecting Your Wheels From Brake Dust

As simple as this process is, there are ways to extend the time between wheel cleaning. The same companies that sell cleaners also make sealers and wheel wax that adds a protective barrier to your rims, just as car wax does for painted surfaces. Both brake dust barrier spray and wheel wax start at around $20. It's best to apply them after you've finished with the full car wash.

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David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.