Cleaning alloy wheels and keeping them clean.

"Wheely shiny"

Alloy wheels

Problems affecting alloy wheels are many and varied. Following our popular car cleaning article we thought we'd focus on the wheels.

Scuffed, cracked and corroded wheel really detract from the look and appeal of your car so keeping those nice shiny rims in good condition should be the top of your priority list.

Firstly the wheels should be cleaned at the same time as the rest of the car. Lost of people seem to ignore the wheels altogether.

Keeping wheels clean on a little and often basis is much easier than trying to restore them once the brake dust has bedded in and the road salts and acids have taken their toll.

Do not use the same sponge for you bodywork after you have done your wheels, this practically guarantees a load of scratches in your paint finish.

The wheels are the first thing you notice on a car and if they are dirty, corroded or covered in brake dust is really looks bad.

Tools needed

  1. Nice absorbent sponge
  2. Microfibre cloth
  3. Wheel cleaner abrasive pad on a stick
  4. Tooth brush
  5. Mild solution of citric acid
  6. Bucket of water with
  7. Good quality "car shampoo"/detergent
  8. Jack and wheel brace
  9. Hose with a fairly powerful jet.

To do a thorough job you really need to take the wheels off the car, this will enable you to get to the back of the wheel but many will not bother with this or at the best remove the wheels once every 6 months. (The finish is only as good as the amount of effort you are prepared to put in.)

Step 1 water jetting, give the wheel a good rinse with a jet of water. This will help loosen the abrasive dirt particles and help the cleaning process.

Step 2 Go over the wheel with the sponge and this will take off 90% of the brake dust, if not more leaving you the areas to focus on clearly exposed.

Step 3 scrubbing. Most of the wheel cleaning requires little more than elbow grease. Get in the corner with the abrasive pad and stick and toothbrush. Use plenty of water.

Step 4 Removing hard brake dust.
Avoid heavy acid solutions, these make the wheels look very nice and do bring them up well but they attack the clear lacquer on the wheel. The long term effects of using off the shelf acid based wheel cleaners is faster corrosion, particularly where the wheel has already been scratched or scuffed.

Removing baked on brake dust, can be a problem area and often it doesn't matter how much scrubbing you do the wheels will just not come up totally clean. For these stubborn stains we use a very mild mix of citric acid. (You get it from specialist food shops and it shifts the brake dust without attacking the wheel too much.) Just rub it on to the soiled area and leave it for a few minutes and then scrub again. Repeat until the stain is gone.

Step 5 When the wheel is clean give it a good rub with the microfibre cloth and this will help to dry it off ready for step 6.

Step 6 How to keep wheels clean after you've cleaned them. Well just as you put a layer of wax on your paintwork to protect it you can also apply a rim wax which helps to protect your wheels. There are also a selection of aftermarket wheel protector sprays around that bond a clear layer to the rim and protect them from salts and acids and make cleaning a lot easier. If you have put all that effort into cleaning your rims it seems daft not to spend a little time applying a protection for them.

Is brake dust corrosive? Does brake dust damage your wheels.
The coating of brake dust is generally inert but it is extremely abrasive.

Rubbing the wheels with brake dust on them will wear away the clear coat. The big problem is generally with environmental factors like acids and salts from the road surface.

A layer of brake dust acts like a sponge keeping these in close contact with your wheels. Therefore you should remove brake dust as soon as you can. A quick wipe over once a week with a sponge can work wonders and make the thorough monthly/bi monthly/6 monthly cleans a lot easier.

Using an acidic wheel cleaning product and leaving this on for too long or not following the directions will cause the wheel to corrode and break the surface finish of the rim.

What wheel cleaning solutions do you recommend.
Generally we avoid all off the shelf solutions as these are usually far too corrosive. Some specialist valeting suppliers offer milder solutions that can be quite effective but we think that citric acid is just as good as most of these.

What if I have badly damaged rims and they need repairing/resurfacing?
A specialist will generally do these in a few hours for you. The tyres are removed, the wheels are rubbed down. Any nicks and scratches are filled with a specialist alloy wheel protector that acts like a liquid metal filler setting hard.

Then the wheel is spray painted. The most common colours are silver and chrome but white and black can look very effective. You need to be careful what paint you use as the rims can get quite hot and if the surface is not keyed and prepared the paint will flake off.

How can I repair or resurface Damaged rims?
We have added this under an article on DIY alloy wheel repairs.

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