As you will know managing to keep your wheels gleaming is one of the hardest jobs in detailing. Getting it right can seriously improve the look of your car and really makes heads turn wherever you go.
In this article I will share some top tips on how to protect and clean alloy wheels to keep them gleaming in both winter and summer.
There are many different types of wheels to consider, all of which to achieve the ultimate shine require slightly different care and attention:
– Bare metal alloy wheels
– Coated/Painted alloys
– Steel wheels
– Chrome rims
– Wire wheels
But first some basics of wheel care that apply to all:
1. Always clean your wheels when cold and concentrate on one wheel at a time.
2. Avoid splashing harmful brake dust on newly washed/polished paintwork by cleaning your wheels first.
3. Before using your wheel cleaner, ensure you remove all the loose dust, dirt and debris from your wheels and tyres. For this use a jet of water from either a hose or jet washer.
Whilst doing this it is also very worthwhile giving the underneath of your wheel arches a good blast.
4. Next spray your wheel with your chosen wheel cleaner.
Being non-acidic they are safe to use on all wheel types, especially bare metal, coated alloys and our chromes, but at the same time being powerful enough to lift off most of the brake dust.
Always follow the manufacturers instructions on how long to leave it on. i.e. Meguiars Hot Rims – approx 15 secs, Mothers All Wheels Cleaner – 1 to 2 mins, P21S Powergel – 3 to 5 mins. As you can see the times vary significantly and are usually dictated by the strength and acidity of the product.
5. Depending on how ingrained the dust and grime has become on your wheels you may need to use a suitable wheel brush to agitate the cleaner and lift off some of the more stubborn dirt.
Choosing your alloy wheel brush
When choosing your wheel brush consider the type of wheels you have. I have previously written a separate article on this subject. But essentially; use a softer bristled brush for fine bare metal/coated alloy wheels as you do not want to be scratching the coating or into the surface of the metal. Whereas steel wheels will take a hardier bristled brush.
Also try and seek out a brush that does not have any exposed metal parts that may potentially damage your alloy wheels, any metal parts either being protected from contact by the bristles or rubber coatings.
6. A useful next step, but one many either forget or skip completely is, using a stronger than normal (up to 2 times) dilution of your usual wash shampoo, together with your wheel brush, wash down the wheel to continue to remove the dirt, dust and grime and also to remove as much of the cleaner as possible.
7. At the same time, using a tyre brush (some are specially shaped for the job) give your tyres a good scrub. Again using your shampoo mix. This will remove any build up of dirt and old layers of tyre protectant that may have built up.
8. If time allows and to get into some of the more difficult crevices and contours of your wheel, give it a final wash down using a wool or thick pile microfibre mitt or cloth. But remember to use a different mitt than the one you intend to use on your bodywork.
9. Finally, thoroughly rinse off your wheel and tyre to remove any remaining cleaner and shampoo. Again the hose or jet wash comes in handy here and then dry off with a large microfibre towel or cloth.
What if I have really dirty alloy wheels?
If your wheels are particularly bad with brake dust or other contaminants you may want to consider an initial treatment with an Iron Removing product such as IronX, Wolfs Deironiser, Auto Finesse Iron Out or Britemax Iron Max.
These products essentially release ferrous particles that are bonded “deep” into the surface of your wheel paint and neutralize caustic compounds that have developed in the paint’s subsurface.
Thus making it easier to clean your wheels with your regular cleaner which will also remove other forms of road grime and contaminants.
At least once a year…
Ideally, if you get the chance and especially after the winter months I would recommend you remove your wheels at least once a year to give them a thorough clean, back to front. You’d be amazed at what a difference this can make to the look of your wheels and your car as a whole.
For those really stubborn brake dust particles another very useful tip is to use a piece of your clay bar (if you have one) and plenty of clay lubricant (see my tips on claying).
Similar to removing the bonded contaminants from your paintwork this will work in the same way with the brake dust particles bonded to your wheels.
So how often should you clean alloy wheels?
Ideally they should be washed and dried down after every trip – but who lives in an ideal world – I certainly don’t. After that it would be once a week but again, especially if you have a hectic work, family or social life we all know how impractical this can also be.
So how can you make things a little easier for the next time you get to clean your alloy wheels? How to make life easier (when cleaning your wheels) One of the most popular products on the market today for keeping your wheels gleaming and adding protection is the humble but effective wheel sealant.
Protecting your alloy wheels – waxes & sealants
Similar to the process of applying wax to your bodywork to seal in the shine and the hard work you put in, wheel sealants provide a protective barrier between harmful contaminants such as brake dust and salt and the surface of your wheels.
Especially important if you have bare metal alloys which are particularly prone to such attack.
Generally these products are applied using a soft lint free cloth or applicator pad, left to dry to a haze and then buffed off. You can also apply one or two more coats for added protection.
If you don’t want to add any further products to your detailing arsenal, then you can also achieve similar results and protection using a good quality synthetic sealant or wax such as Meguiars Synthetic Sealant #21, Meguiars NXT Tech Wax etc, that you may already have in your supplies.
Although it should be noted that the bespoke products tend to be much more resistant to the high temperatures and harsher conditions your wheels are generally exposed to.
Similarly, you can also use a more natural carnauba based wax but again these do not bear up so well to the heat of the wheels and do not last nearly as long.
As always we hope this article has helped you with some useful pointers on how to clean alloy wheels and keep them protected all year round.