DIY

How to Clean Aluminum Wheels

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Many modern vehicles are equipped with aluminum alloy wheels, generally made from a combination of nickel and aluminum. These wheels are known for being lighter than steel, and they can be cast or forged in a wide variety of designs.

Wheels made of aluminum alloy are becoming more popular than steel wheels because they improve gas mileage, which reduces unsprung weight. These wheels are so lightweight that they also cause less wear on the braking system.

Aluminum wheels are also well-known for their aesthetically appealing shine. These wheels will keep their luster as long as they’re well-maintained with regular cleaning, polishing, claying, and wax-sealing.

aluminum wheels
Aluminum wheels are lighter than steel wheels and can improve a car’s gas mileage.

A Guide to Cleaning Aluminum Wheels

Cleaning your aluminum wheels requires the most basic materials and skills. However, what will really make a difference is how much you pay attention to cleaning the nooks and crannies. Not only should you be on the lookout for dirt or caked mud on your wheels, but you should also make sure to watch out for any brake dust.

Ideally, you should clean your wheels twice a month, or as often as you wash your car. On the other hand, deep cleaning and the application of protective wax can be done around 4-6 times a year.

Below are some basic steps that you can follow to properly clean your aluminum wheels:

Rinse the Wheels with Water

Hose down your wheels with water, ideally with a nozzle. This will create a powerful stream of water that can remove deep-seated dirt and dust.

Make sure to do a thorough rinse to save you time and effort later on as you’re scrubbing it down.

Apply Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

When choosing an aluminum wheel cleaner, opt for something that won’t damage your clear coating. Also, you’ll want to have something that’s non-acidic to prevent spots from forming on your wheel.

Most aluminum wheel cleaners are easy to apply. Usually, you just spray the cleaner on the wheel, then let the product sit for a few minutes.

wheel cleaner
Use a non-acidic wheel cleaner to prevent spots from forming on your wheel.

Scrub Gently and Cover All Nooks and Crannies

Before scrubbing your wheels, make sure they’re wet to avoid scratching the surface. Use a soft-bristled brush or sponge to loosen up dirt without damaging the wheel surface itself.

Make sure to clean all surfaces—this includes hard-to-reach areas, such as between the spokes and around the lug nuts. Brake dust can settle anywhere on the wheel or inside the wheel well itself, which can cause damage in the long run.

Rinse and Dry Off

Spray the wheel off with water. Then, use a microfiber cloth to dry the wheels. This is an important step to avoid getting water spots all over your aluminum wheel.

If you’re cleaning your wheels along with the rest of your vehicle, you should use a different drying cloth for the wheels and the vehicle respectively. This is to prevent any brake dust from settling on and damaging the paint.

cleaning aluminum wheels
If you’re cleaning your wheels along with the rest of your vehicle, you should use a different drying cloth for the wheels and the vehicle respectively.

How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

After cleaning, you should polish your aluminum wheels to make them look their best. While you should always follow the directions on the particular polish you’re using, these steps will give you an idea of what’s usually involved:

Note: You’ll want to apply these steps to each wheel, one at a time.

Here’s a great video to help walk you through the polishing process:

Why You Should Clean and Maintain Your Aluminum Wheels

Dirt, grime, and other road debris can wear down your aluminum wheel’s protective coat. However, you should be particularly careful of brake dust.

Brake dust is a mixture of the adhesive and carbon fibers of your vehicle’s brake pad and some metal shavings from the rotor. Brake dust is a highly corrosive material that can gradually break down your aluminum wheels without you knowing. Every time you drive, brake dust is made so you can’t really avoid it altogether.

Instead of spending so much on aluminum wheel repair, what you can do is make sure that your wheels are well-cleaned and maintained regularly.

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CarParts.com

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In the Garage with CarParts.com is an online blog dedicated to bringing DIYers and devoted car enthusiasts up to date with topical automotive news and lifestyle content. Our writers live and breathe automotive, taking the guess work out of car repairs with how-to content that helps owners get back on the road and keep driving.

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