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How to clean, polish & maintain alloy wheels

When it comes to the overall appearance of cars, you will probably all agree that keeping them clean and tidy regularly is the best way to go about ensuring they look the best they can. As far as the alloy wheels are concerned, most people would probably agree that new and shiny wheels will look far more attractive and professional than plastic hub caps and wheel trims that become chipped, damaged, faded, and just generally end up looking untidy and unattractive.

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The type of wheels fitted to the car can make a heck of a difference not only to the look and feel of the vehicle, but also to the overall performance and handling as well. Rather than cheap and nasty looking plastic hub caps, many car customisation experts recommend alloy wheels which can be expensive, so keeping them clean, tidy and free from corrosion is pretty important to most owners.

Here we’ll break down all you need to know about how to practically clean, polish, restore and maintain your precious alloy wheels.

alloy wheel comparison

How to clean alloy wheels

Alloy wheels are made using a combination of strong, durable, and shiny looking metals that really add to the overall image of a vehicle. They must however, be kept in the best possible condition; cleaned and maintained regularly using a variety of special techniques. Here’s a few handy tips on how to clean and maintain alloy wheels.

Get your materials together

To get them in the best possible condition, you will need more than just a little water and a squirt of soap. To get your alloy wheels looking shiny, clean, and showroom fresh you will need:

  • Alloy wheel cleaner
  • A soft bristled brush
  • A soft towel
  • Warm soapy water
  • A chamois leather or microfibre cloth
  • Isopropyl alcohol

Now that you hopefully have all of the necessary materials and equipment, you can now begin cleaning your wheels.

Preparation

Before you do anything with the alloy cleaner the wheels need to be checked for any obvious dirt, brake dust or oil. Use a garden hose to wash away any of that dirt before you begin cleaning and detailing the alloy wheels themselves.

alloy wheel preparation

Begin with the alloy wheel cleaner

Begin by spraying your alloy wheels generously with a special alloy wheel cleaning solution which can be picked up from most garages and motor vehicle specialists. Read the instructions on the packaging and mix the solution to the recommended ratios suggested. Leave the solution to soak for a minute before using the soft bristle brush to lift and remove the dirt from the wheel. Repeat this step until all of the dirt has been removed. Once the alloy is clean rinse away any access soap suds or cleaner fluid using clean water either from the garden hose again or from a second bucket of water.

alloy wheel cleaning

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Clean the brake disc and caliper

Baked on brake dust can be a nightmare for alloy wheels and brake discs as it is notoriously difficult to remove, which is why you will be using the isopropyl alcohol solution. Pour a generous amount of the alcohol onto a microfibre cloth and then wipe away the baked on brake dust, which should easily come away thanks to the alcohol. For this stage it is easier, although more time consuming, to take the alloy wheel off of the stub axle before you clean it as you can get into all of those hard reach places.

car brake cleaning

Clean the wheels

Next, using warm soapy water, clean your wheels thoroughly to remove any alcohol and any remaining remnants of brake dust. Once clean, rinse with clean water and use a chamois leather or a microfibre cloth to dry your wheels. They should now be sparkly, shiny, and showroom clean.

How to polish alloy wheels

When it comes to aesthetic appeal, you simply can’t deny that a shiny set of large alloy wheels are able to transform any car from an average looking vehicle to a fantastic looking vehicle. The problem with alloy wheels is that they do tend to get pretty dirty and faded relatively quickly, especially if you rack up a lot of miles each and every week, which is why it’s so important to care for them and maintain them so regularly.

Rather than simply swilling them with a little warm water and washing up liquid, not only should they be cleaned thoroughly and regularly, they should also be regularly polished as well.

Here is a step by step guide on how to polish your alloy wheels.

Wash them thoroughly

Before you can even think about polishing your wheels, the first thing you will need to do is to wash them thoroughly, follow the steps in the first part of this blog for the best method to do so. For best results, purchase specially designed alloy wheel cleaning liquids and treatments, we have suggested some of the best products available on the market in our Detailing Preparation blog.

Dry them thoroughly

If you’re happy that your wheels now look clean, albeit slightly faded, the next thing you will need to do is dry them thoroughly with an older, but clean, microfibre cloth. Make sure you remove all traces of moisture as this can react with the various treatments you’ll be using shortly.

wheel detailing

Apply an alloy wheel brightener

You’re almost ready to get down to the actual polishing but before you do you will need to apply a liberal dosage of an alloy wheel brightener and cleaner to your wheels. This product is designed to do exactly as it says – brighten up the colour of your alloy wheels. As well as this however, these products are also designed to help remove traces of oxidation. Oxidation is basically rust, and rust is a car lover’s worst enemy.

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Apply your polish of choice

Now it’s time to apply your polish. Polish can come in a number of different varieties though the two most common and popular examples are either a thick liquid or thick paste form. Apply a generous amount of polish to an old clean rag or cloth and then rub it into the rims generously or use a machine polishing buffer. Perform thick strokes and don’t be afraid to put a little elbow grease into your efforts. Always perform the strokes going in the same direction.

polishing alloy wheels

Use a toothbrush for awkward areas

For awkward and hard to reach areas, it can be tempting to just ignore these but if you’re going to do a job, it should be done right. For difficult and awkward areas, apply a little polish to an old toothbrush or thin cleaning brush, and use it to polish as usual. To ensure the bristles don’t hamper the overall finish, try wrapping a soft cloth around the brush beforehand.

brush alloy wheels

Focus on small areas of the wheel at a time

For best results, rather than applying polish to the whole wheel and then trying to polish and shine the entire wheel at once, instead, polish and shine small areas of the wheel at a time as this will yield the most impressive results without leaving your rims looking cloudy and faded.

Apply a finishing polish

Almost done, but before you finish you will first need to apply a finishing polish to your alloy wheels, polish and shine, and then test them with a clean cotton cloth. To test them, simply wipe them with the cloth and if the cloth comes away clean, your wheels are finished. Just remember, the harder and longer you rub and polish, the shinier your wheels will look.

polish aluminum wheels

How to maintain alloy wheels

Alloy wheels look much, much better, they feel better, they improve handling and performance, and they’re built to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, they do tend to suffer from minor scuffs, stone chips, and general wear and tear which comes as part of the package when out on the open road, which is why many people tend to have their alloy wheels refurbished, to restore them back to their previous best.

If you’ve recently had your alloy wheels refurbished, and wish to keep them looking as great as they currently do, here are a few handy tips on how to keep them clean.

Change the brake pads

Obviously we don’t mean you will need to change the brake pads every single time you clean your wheels, but changing them regularly will help to ensure that the wheels are kept in a good state of repair as a result. Changing the brake pads is not a difficult or expensive job, and doing so not only keeps the brakes in fantastic working order, it also drastically reduces brake dust. If possible go with low dust ceramic brake pads for best results.

Brake dust shields

Brake dust can be a nightmare when it comes to keeping wheels looking clean and shiny, so if possible, try installing brake dust shields which are fitted between the wheels and the wheel hub. These shields deflect dust from the brakes and brake pads away from the wheels, therefore preventing the dust from sticking to them.

brake dust shield

Regularly clean your wheels

Obviously, the best way of keeping your wheels clean and shiny is to regularly clean them. Use regular hot soapy water, a sponge, and rinse with clean water etc. On top of that however, invest in an alloy wheel cleaning solution and use every time you clean your wheels.

This solution should be sprayed onto the wheels, left to soak for a few minutes, and then thoroughly rinsed away. There is often little, to no scrubbing required, so using them is incredibly easy and effective. Ensure you use a soft non-abrasive towel and/or chamois leather to dry the wheels and prevent water streaks.

Use a wheel protectant

Wheel protectants such as wheel wax will form a protective layer which will prevent brake dust and other dirt and grime from sticking to the alloy metal itself. Not only will it prevent dirt and grime from sticking, it will also help keep the wheels looking smooth and shiny.

alloy wheel wax

For a more visual demonstration on how to clean and maintain your alloy wheels, check out this video:

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