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  • Aluminum rims naturally oxidize over time, making them prone to damage.
  • Restoring aluminum wheels include cleaning them, removing brake dust, clearing oxidation, removing scratches, and applying wax.
  • The elements usually cause oxidation when they make contact with the surface of the rim.

Aluminum rims naturally oxidize over time, making them more prone to dirt buildup and damage. When this happens, don’t put off cleaning them. After all, the corrosive dust can compromise the wheels’ integrity, leading to drivability issues and other problems.

Fortunately, you can prevent those risks by restoring the aluminum rims.

How to Restore Aluminum Rims

Before cleaning and restoring your rims, you should have the following items ready:

Once you have everything at your disposal, follow the steps below:

Clean the Wheels

Use the car wash soap to remove the grime. It’ll help break down the accumulated dust and particles on the surface, making it easier to restore the rims.

Remove Brake Dust

Use a wheel cleaner to remove brake dust and other metallic particles that cause corrosion. Follow the instructions on the bottle, which usually involves letting the solution soak into the rim before rinsing it off.

See also  How to Clean Aluminum Wheels

Clear Oxidation

After rinsing off the wheel cleaner solution, use the oxidation remover and apply a small amount onto a microfiber cloth. Gently scrub the affected area to avoid damaging the wheel’s surface.

You can also use a drill with an attached polishing ball at low speed. This significantly makes the process easier and faster.

Also, avoid the metal part of the rim to keep it from turning black. If that happens, simply wipe it off with a clean cloth.

Remove Scratches

Use a rubbing or polishing compound to smoothen scratches and minor impurities on the surface. Follow the instructions on the solution bottle or container.

The process usually involves applying a small amount on a clean cloth, rubbing the affected area, and wiping it clean.

If the scratches are severe, you might have to sand the wheels. Before you do, remove the clear coat first using a rag dipped in paint thinner to rub the affected area.

Leave it there for a few minutes before using an abrasive pad to remove the top coat. Clean the wheels again afterward and wipe it down.

Use 200-grit sandpaper to sand the area. Follow it up with 400-grit paper, 600-grit, and 800-grit to remove the small scratches left behind by the previous sandpaper grit.

Finally, wash the wheel again after rubbing to remove dirt, then let it dry.

Wax and Protect the Rim

Apply a layer of wax on the rims for extra protection. This will give your wheel an adhesive layer for dust and other harmful elements to stick to instead of the wheel itself.

See also  Waxing 101

What Causes Aluminum Rims to Oxidize?

aluminum wheel and rim corroding
Because aluminum rims naturally oxidize over time, it’s best to clean and restore them regularly.

The elements are usually to blame for oxidation in aluminum rims. The process starts once they make contact with the surface of the rim. Oxidation also happens due to contamination, exposure to chemicals, use of incorrect cleaning products, prolonged exposure to UV light, and contact with moisture.


Brake dust is the residue or little metal shavings from the rotor and the carbon fiber scraped from the brake pads. As mentioned, it’s harmful if left on aluminum rims because it will chip away at the clear coat, exposing the surface to the elements.

The easiest way to prevent this is to clean the wheels every two weeks, rinsing away the dust and metallic particles. It’s also worth applying wax to add a protective layer.

Exposure to Chemicals

There are harmful chemicals, such as road salt, that make contact with your wheels. These could shave off the clear coat if left on the surface. Salt road, specifically, is damaging to your rims because it’s made of sodium and chloride dissolved in water (melted snow), which speeds up rust formation.

Cleaning the wheels regularly can prevent road salt and other chemicals from damaging the rims.

Use of Incorrect Cleaning Products

Cleaning products, especially acid-based wheel cleaners, can be harmful to both your aluminum rims and the environment. In the same vein, using abrasive cleaning materials and aggressively scrubbing has similar effects.

See also  Brake Dust: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Wheels Clean

As such, it’s best to read the instructions and materials on the cleaning solution. You should also err on the side of caution when scrubbing to prevent scratches.

Prolonged Exposure to UV Light

Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can weaken and degrade the protective coating on wheels, which leads to corrosion, cracks, and deflated tires.

And while UV exposure is unavoidable when driving under the sun, you can limit the damage of UV light by parking under shaded spots or inside your garage. There are also protectant sprays you can use to shield your tire from the heat.

Contact With Moisture

On the flip side, rain and snow are also harmful to your aluminum rims because moisture can cause corrosion and discoloration. The damage is even more severe if water gets inside your wheels or tires because it could freeze and create a balancing problem.

Final Thoughts

Because aluminum rims naturally oxidize over time, it’s best to clean and restore them regularly. To do so, you’ll have to use wheel cleaners, oxidation removers, and rubbing compounds to combat the effects of oxidation. Another way to tackle the issue is to prevent the clear coat from being removed in the first place.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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