Wheel And Tyre Cleaning

Cleaning wheels and tyres can sometimes be a real chore.  Even when we enjoy cleaning cars, wheels can be a sticking point for lots of people.  Follow our guide and tips below and you’ll be well on your way to easy wheel cleaning.

What equipment do i need?

  • A wheel cleaner
  • A wheel brush or mitt
  • Some water
  • PPE (gloves, mask, googles)

Yip, that’s the basics really.  There are lots of other additional products available to help us out but with a wheel cleaner, a brush, and some water we can usually tackle abut 95% of the grime, dirt, and brake dust on wheels and tyres.

What type of wheel cleaner do I need?

There are a vast array of wheel cleaners on offer but generally we can group these into a couple of main categories.  Most detailers and valeters will have an acidic wheel cleaner and a non acidic wheel cleaner available to cope with 99% of their work.  In cases where extreme measures are required we need some extra pieces of equipment which we will cover later.  Some wheel cleaners ‘bleed’ or reactive with iron and turn red on contact with ferrous metal particles, some foam up loads, some stink, some stick and cling, some smell nice, some are a nice colour, so you’ll have loads of choice.
For normal painted or powercoated wheel we can use both alkaline and acid wheel cleaners with minimal risk of causing any issues with the finish of the wheels.  If we have polished wheels or diamond cut wheels it’s best to try and stay away from acidic wheel cleaners as these can be very strong and if used incorrectly can cause issues with sensitive finishes.
What about ph neutral wheel cleaners I hear you ask? If you want to clean wheel effectively you will simply need something with cleaning power which generally requires to be either alkaline or acid.

Where do I start?

The first thing to do is to get rid of the normal easy to remove dirt and dust, to do this you can simply use a pressure water or hose to spray off the loose dirt.  This will mean you don’t waste wheel cleaner where it’s not needed.  You can also use your wheel brush to help here.

Next spray your wheel cleaner onto the wheel.  Try to get the cleaner sprayed onto as much of the wheel as possible including the barrel behind the spokes and between each spoke and into the bolt holes.  Also, don’t forget the tyres.  Wheel cleaners can be a very effective wheel cleaner too.  Try not to do this is direct sunlight as with some wheel cleaners it can induce staining if the wheel cleaner is allowed to dry on the surface.  This is also a good chance to clean the wheel bolts and the brake calipers too if you can reach them.  This is where we usually decide that taking the wheels off would have been a much better idea.

Do I start scrubbing yet?

Now relax, don’t start brushing straight away.  Allow the wheel cleaner to do the work for you.  usually you can allow around 3-5 minutes for the wheel cleaner to dwell and loosen the dirt.  After you’ve allowed some dwell time, it’s time to get brushing.  Use the brush to gently agitate the wheel cleaner.  Try not to scrub too hard.  If you find some stubborn dirt that isn’t shifting easily, don’t panic, we can deal with this later.  We also have ways of getting to the back of those wheels.  The EZ detail brushes offer a great way to clean between and behind spokes as they have no exposed metal parts and the soft bristles allow easy cleaning in places your hands can’t reach.  No more scuffed knuckles.

For the tyres, try to use a brush with slightly stiffer brushes as you will need this to try and clean the rubber.  The grooves on tyre sidewalls are very good at trapping and holding on to dirt.  You might find that your tyres will need 2-3 attempts at getting them fully cleaned.  Clean tyres will ensure your tyre dressing will stay on your tyres for longer.

After some agitation you should find that the vast majority of the road grime, brake dust and dirt has been loosened and you can rinse your wheels and tyres with some water.  No matter what wheel cleaner you decide to use ensure that your rinse the wheels and brakes really well, especially if you use any strong cleaners or acids.  Remember that you brake discs are bare metal and will basically start rusting or reacting straight away.  A great way to protect brake and suspension components is to use Bilt Hamber Atom Mac which is a spray on rust inhibitor.

Are they clean now?

If you’re lucky now you might have 100% clean wheels.  We’d be slightly suspicious if you did.  If this is the case, well done, you’ve done a great job of protecting and cleaning your wheels.

If you’re in the majority where you still have some stubborn brake dust or unidentified contaminants on your wheels.  The next few steps will get you on the way to spotlessly clean wheels.

Tar removal

Sometimes people forget about removing tar from wheels.  A simply spray of tar remover on the wheel faces and barrels will shift a lot of tar. Tar tends to splash up from tyres and get bounced around below the car and can easily end up on the barrels of the wheels.  Spray on your tar remover in a light mist and allow the tar remover to dwell for around 3-4 minutes.  After doing a tar removal on the wheels ensure you have wiped all the melted tar away with a clean microfibre cloth and rinse the wheels thoroughly again.

Iron/fallout remover

What is fallout?  Why do i need to remove iron? Where did it come from? What are these stubborn brown specks on my wheel spokes? …all common questions which get regularly asked on facebook and car forums online.  Basically, brake discs are made from cast iron.  Inevitably lots of brake dust will find it’s way onto your wheels.  Some of the brake pad and disc materials will land on your wheels while they’re at an extremely high temperature and embed themselves in the coating of your wheels.  At this point most regular wheel cleaners do not have the technology or the chemical reaction needed to remove these so an iron/fallout remover is the perfect solution.  Without getting into the science and chemistry of it all, a good fallout remover will react with the iron oxide and loosen the bond these particles have with the paint without having to mechanically remove them.

At this point if you still have some specks of embedded brake dust or a few specks of stubborn contaminants left on your wheels, you have a couple of options.  If there are minimal items on the wheels you can simply use a clay bar to take off the last few pieces of iron, tar, dirt, tree sap etc.  Alternatively you can use a wheel acid, this is explained in the next paragraph.

Acid on my wheels????

Yes there is such a thing as wheel acid.  The very mention of wheel acids tend to freak people out.  Why would you possibly use acid on your wheels?  Won’t they just dissolve and melt into a blob on the ground?  Will it strip the paint?  Wheel acids are actually in common use and you might not be aware but there are many wheel cleaning products on the market that are acidic.  When wheel cleaning acids are used correctly they are perfectly safe.  General rule of thumb, if your wheels are diamond cut, polished or have an anodized finish, it’s best not to use acid wheel cleaners.  If you have wheels with a sensitive finish try to stick with a non acid wheel cleaner, and where heavy duty wheel cleaning is required, use a clay bar.

If you have had a seized brake caliper you may have encountered the dreaded orange/brown colour of burnt brake dust on the spokes of a wheel.  This is generally where an acid wheel cleaner is required.  If all else fails in cleaning your wheels, then wheel acid is a great tool to have available in your kit.

Keeping wheels and tyres looking good

Give yourself a brake (pun intended).  A good wheel sealant is an important to help keep those wheels looking good and also makes them easier to clean next time.  You have options when it comes to sealing wheels.  You can use a traditional paste style sealant which is applied just like a wax, or you can go for a ceramic sealant which appears to be more expensive from the outset but will last 12 to 18 months.  Whatever you choose will definitely make your life easier in the long run.

When it comes to tyre dressings, you’ll probably notice that which ever tyre dressing you decide to go with, it’ll stay on the tyres much longer if your tyres have been properly cleaned.  Also ensure that you don’t overdo the tyre dressing.  Too much dressing will either sling off up the side of your car or you will find that dirt simply sticks to the excess gel or liquid which wasn’t removed correctly.

And there you have it, our guide on how to keep your tyres and wheels looking good for longer.  I hope this helps to take to monotony out of wheel cleaning and makes your life just that little bit easier.  Below is a list of quick tips mentioned above in case you missed any of them.

Wheel & Tyre Cleaning Tips Summary

  • Get yourself some good wheel brushes
  • Have some cheap microfibre cloths at the ready
  • Pre rinse the wheels to remove loose dirt
  • Don’t forget to spray wheel cleaner into the bolt holes
  • Take the opportunity to clean your brake calipers
  • Don’t clean your wheels in direct sunlight
  • Clean the tyres at the same time as your wheels
  • Don’t use acidic wheel cleaners on polished, anodised, or sensitive wheel finishes
  • Have some tar remover on hand as your wheels probably have tar on them
  • Use a fallout remover to shift stubborn brake dust
  • Fallout remover is NOT wheel cleaner
  • Acid wheel cleaners are perfectly safe when used correctly
  • Seal your wheels to make your life easier in the long run