The Definitive How-To Guide For A Clean Set Of Wheels

It’s a tough life, being a wheel. From the worst of the weather to dreaded brake dust, your ride’s shoes are subjected to abuse day in and day out. It’s no wonder that a quick once-over with a sponge doesn’t cut it. It’s not rocket science to keep expensive alloys looking great but it is somewhat of an art. The following is our definitive guide as to how to clean car wheels.

How to Clean Car Wheels: The dos and, importantly, the don’ts

First things first. Let’s cover some aspects that you need to avoid to reduce the risk of damaging a wheel’s beautiful finish. They might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people do these without a second thought.

  • Don’t: Use the same cloths for the wheels that you use on the paintwork
  • Don’t: Use any cleaning product, materials or tools that could cause scratches. 
  • Don’t: Use the same brush to clean the wells of the wheel as you use to clean the wheel itself
  • Don’t: Let any cleaning products dry on the wheel

Of course, we can’t have a list of don’ts without a list of dos. So here you go…

  •  Do: Ensure that wheels are cleaned regularly. Failure to do so allows a build-up of corrosive brake dust and, eventually, pitted and cracked wheels
  • Do: Use carefully chosen cleaning products, such as microfibre cloths and a soft wheel brush
  • Do: Clean each wheel from start to finish before moving onto the next one

It’s unusual to clean the wheels in isolation (check out our guide to cleaning your daily drivers exterior). You’re far more likely to carry out the task during a complete car spruce up. Remember, always do your wheels first. Doing the wheels first means you can remove brake dust and contaminants first, and means you don’t get water spots on the bodywork while it dries while you’re doing the wheels later. 

One golden rule of how to clean car wheels is to never use a pressure washer – you’ll only be spreading contaminants onto the bodywork.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to How to Clean Car Wheels

Step 1: Rinse off the debris

Rinse loose dirt and debris from the surface of the wheel with a hose. Any that doesn’t lift can be gently washed away with a soft wheel brush.

While you might be tempted to use a pressure washer this isn’t recommended. The high-powered jet can push debris across the surface of the wheel and cause surface scratches as well as flinging that dirt up onto your paintwork.

Step 2: Spray on the wheel cleaner

Use a non-acidic cleaner and be generous with your application. Make sure to cover the whole wheel and outer wall of the tyre, let it lie for a few seconds, rinse with a hose and reapply. Don’t skimp on the quality of the wheel cleaner. We recommend Megulars All Wheel Cleaner or, for alternatives, check out websites Clean Your Car or EZ Car Care

Step 3: Brush the wheel

This step may or may not be necessary. Advanced wheel cleaners, such as the two mentioned above, are designed to do all the hard work for you. If so, move onto step 4. However, if it hasn’t removed every last bit of grime and gunk, then use a soft brush to gently agitate it away. Be sure to get right into the wheel wells and use a separate brush to get into the tight areas around the wheel nuts. Keep the wheel wet as you clean to prevent any scratching. And be gentle! You should also work from top to bottom, so dirty water doesn’t sluice over already cleaned areas.

Step 4: Rinse thoroughly

Using a hose only please. Thoroughly rinse the wheel making sure you get all the cleaner off inside and out.

Step 5: Dry the wheel

Do this with a soft, microfibre towel to ensure you don’t leave water spots, and be careful not to let it touch the floor where it will pick up debris and grit.

Step 6: Dress the tyre

This is a bit of a marmite product. Some people swear by using a tyre dressing (or shiner, or whatever you want to call it), others hate it. The key is to only use products that don’t cause any damage to the integrity of the material, so they need to be water based and not contain any silicon. Apply with a cloth or foam applicator. Meguiar’s Endurance Tyre Gel is a current favourite of ours, but we also trial new products to make sure we’re always using the best.

Some people like to carry out this step right at the end. It’s a personal choice, so go with what you prefer.

Step 7: Apply a wheel protector

This adds a robust, hydrophobic coating to the wheels that helps rebuff the immediate onslaught of debris from the moment you hit the road again. Combination wheel sealer and wax make for an easy life. There’s plenty of great choices on the market. WheelWax is a great option – it restores, seals and protects in a single application. You can’t purchase this American product directly from the manufacturer. But, guess what? You can get it on Amazon…. Whichever wheel protector you choose, apply, allow to dry a little before polishing it off with–you’ve got it—a non-abrasive, microfibre cloth.

There you have it. Our guide to how to clean car wheels. The key take-aways are to use non-abrasive equipment and products and to take your time. That way you’ll end up with gleaming rims that perfectly complement the rest of your ride’s lovingly cleaned paintwork.


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