So, you’ve got yourself a nice set of aluminum wheels. God knows those are worth all the extra dollars, but the joy of your investment may be short-lived if you don’t take proper care of them.

Wheels are exposed to much harsher working conditions than the paint of the car. During a casual drive down the highway, each wheel experiences hurricane-force winds, propelling dirt, mud, salt, gravel, sticks, brake dust, and rotor shavings at them.

It’s easy to neglect steel wheels, as these will corrode no matter what you do to them. Just paint them black, throw a cheap set of plastic caps, and forget about them.

However, aluminum alloys can stay fresh and shiny forever if you properly care for your wheels. It’s a real pity not to.

You want to wash your wheels before the rest of your car.

Pressure wash your wheels and wheel wells thoroughly to remove as much of the mud, loose dirt, brake dust, and other deposits as possible.

Double-check if your wheel cleaning solution is appropriate for the type of surface you’re working on. Wheels without a clear coat protection (such as anodized chrome) can react badly with acid. Also avoid using acidic cleaners on wheels with peeling clear coat.

Generously spray the wheel with cleaner both inside and out, making sure you get the interior of the barrels. Use your soft bristle brush to scrub all the surfaces you can reach. Use the small brush for the narrow crevices.

Rinse thoroughly and dry off with a clean microfiber towel.

Is there still some hard dirt stuck to the surface? Can you feel any roughness when going over the surface with your finger?

If so, you have some more work cut out for you.

Removing Additional Grease, Grime, And Wax coatings

You can’t scrub too hard on clear-coated wheels, even with soft brushes. If you’re fighting some tough contamination and embedded particles, you need to use detailing clay.

Wheel detailing clay usually comes bundled with a detailing solution, but if you don’t have any, a regular wheel cleaner will do.

You need to keep the wheel wet as you work, then work the clay into the correct shape and rub it onto the wheels with light to medium pressure.

The clay will do an awesome job of pulling any stuck debris, dirt, and brake dust without hurting the surface. When it gets tarnished, just fold it over and continue until you can no longer feel or see dirt on your wheels.

The clay is reusable to a certain point. Just remember to never use your wheel clay for your car paint and vice versa. Keep them in separate, labeled containers, or you will inevitably forget and cross-contaminate.

To remove grease and any traces of old/bad wax coating, use a car soap product. If you don’t have any available, you can use regular dish soap. However, make sure this contains no bleach, chlorine, perfumes, or other additives that may react to the clear coat.

Mix your soap in a bucket of water and clean your wheels with a microfiber mitt or just a clean rag. The grease and extra wax should wash off in a couple of passes. Rinse quickly after to protect the clear coat from any harsh detergents.

How To Polish Aluminum Alloy Wheels

Alright, now we have a clean slate to make our alloy wheels beautiful and shiny once more by polishing them.

Polishing products for bare aluminum wheels and clear-coated aluminum are very different.

Bare aluminum will pick up a white layer of oxidation. It doesn’t rust like steel does, but it will still corrode slightly. You’ll recognize the white matte finish of oxidized aluminum. Polishing bare aluminum will require a compound with a bit more bite to remove the oxide layer and reveal the smooth, reflective aluminum surface.

Clear-coated wheels will need a more delicate polishing compound and a softer touch. The good news is, you shouldn’t have any oxidation on the wheel, so it should take less work to polish.

Pay special attention to what products you’re buying and if they match the surface you polish. Similarly, double-check your pads and applicators before you make a frustrating mistake.

After you’re done, wipe the wheels with a clean microfiber towel and inspect the results. When properly polished, aluminum will reveal a very reflective, mirror-like finish similar to chrome.

We’re almost finished!

Applying Wax For Long-Lasting Protection

You’ve just gone through a laborious process of cleaning and polishing. You definitely don’t want to do that again anytime soon.

To seal the beautiful finish, you need to apply wax or sealant to your aluminum wheels. This will keep dirt, grime, and brake dust from accumulating, and make the surface hydrophobic and easy to wash.

The application process is practically the same as if you were waxing your paint, although the results will be different.

Wheels are exposed to much harsher conditions than the car body is, which means the wax or sealant will wear off much more quickly. Depending on the product, you may need to reapply wax or sealant weekly or twice every month.

However, if you’re consistent with your application, the only cleaning your wheels need is pressure washing.

Just keep in mind that wheel cleaners, especially stronger ones, will also take off the wax, so you’ll need to reapply it once you’re done washing.

Tips For Cleaning Off Brake Dust

The black residue on your aluminum wheels is brake dust.

Don’t worry, your brakes are fine. Intense rubbing and heat are what stops your car. The brake pads and cast iron rotors literally eat each other away, and the shed material is the dust you see.

Brake dust is actually mostly iron shavings from your rotors. Mixed in there are also metallic fibers, carbon, and resins from your brake pad, as well as road debris, dirt, and grime.

Brake dust is propelled red hot at high velocity directly at the wheel – mostly the inner barrel. The iron makes it highly corrosive to both the clear coat and aluminum underneath.

If you regularly clean your wheels, most of the brake dust should go away with just regular wheel cleaner, light scrubbing, and sufficient water pressure.

However, if you’ve never taken your wheels off, chances are the inner barrels are loaded with a thick layer of brake dust. In this case, you may want to look for a special iron remover product, which has the proper chemistry to pull the iron out of the surface and into the soap.

Degreaser can also help, but make sure you keep the wheel wet, do quick work with the brush, and rinse off immediately. Degreasers will eat away at the clear coat if left for too long.

If you have any more questions or want professional help feel free to give us a call!

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