How to Properly Clean Your Car’s Wheels and Rims

Wheels take a lot of abuse from dirt, road debris, and abrasive brake dust. Here are some tips on how to properly clean your car’s wheels and rims.

Know Your Parts

Do you know what type of wheels you have on your car? Are they steel, aluminum alloy, or a combination of chrome and aluminum? If you’re not sure, check your owner’s manual or consult the auto parts supplier that sold them to you. Knowing what your wheels consist of, and if they have any specialty coatings on them, will help you choose the right products to properly clean your car’s wheels and rims.

Use the Right Products and Tools

Household detergents may be too harsh for your car’s wheels. Invest in the proper product for your type of wheel. Auto supply stores will have a selection of specially formulated wheel cleaners. Some manufacturers even make solutions to clean wheels and tires. Read the instructions and cautions carefully—you don’t want to choose a product that will clean your wheels but damage your tires.

Be sure to have a soft wheel cleaning brush and sponge, a lug nut brush, and several microfiber towels ready. Make sure your garden hose can reach the driveway and has a nozzle that can spray off larger clumps of dirt and debris.

Bottom-Up, Not Top Down

Clean your wheels first! You don’t want to get wheel cleaner (which can harm your paint job), brake dust, or other debris from the wheels on the body of the car you just finished cleaning.

Stay Cool and Do One Wheel at a Time

Whether you’re riding on new replacement Toyota Highlander rims or your car’s original wheels, the process for cleaning them is essentially the same. Before you begin, make sure your wheels are cool to the touch. Putting cleaner on hot rims may cause it to dry too fast and streak or stain the metal.

Thoroughly rinse the wheels with a hose to remove as much dirt and debris as possible. Then, work on one wheel at a time through the entire process, from cleaning to drying, before you start on the next wheel. Although the cleaner should sit on the wheel for a few minutes to loosen dirt and brake dust, don’t allow wheel cleaner to dry on a wheel. Finish the job on one wheel before you move to the next.

Use a small soft brush or sponge mitt to clean the back, the lug nuts, and around the air valve. Then use a sponge to clean the front of the wheel and the spokes. Rinse completely and check to be sure you’re satisfied with your work before moving on to the next wheel.

Microfiber Is Your Friend

The best type of towel to dry your wheels is microfiber, which limits scratching. You can also use a leaf blower, vacuum that reverses to blow air out, or just drive around the block for a while to shake off any excess water stuck in your wheel’s nooks and crannies.

Finishing Touch

If you care about maintaining your wheels’ appearance and keeping them cleaner longer, apply a wheel wax or polish for shine and to protect from brake dust sticking to the wheels. Wax will help keep your wheels looking great and makes it easier to clean your wheels the next time.