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  • Writer's pictureJack Cummings

How To Properly Clean Wheels and Tires

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Whether you're a car enthusiast or just a proud vehicle owner, there's something undeniably satisfying about gazing upon gleaming wheels and shiny tires. But achieving that level of detail requires more than a simple rinse. In this guide, we're diving into the art of cleaning wheels and tires the right way. From choosing the right tools to mastering expert techniques, get ready to elevate your auto detailing game and make your ride truly stand out.

Understanding The Different Contaminants - How Wheels & Tires Get Dirty

Keeping your wheels and tires looking their best involves understanding the various types of contaminants they encounter. From the inevitable brake dust to the effects of oxidation and the stickiness of road tar, let's explore these culprits that compromise the appearance of your vehicle's rolling components.

Brake Dust

One of the most common adversaries your wheels face is brake dust – a mix of tiny metal particles, carbon fibers, and adhesives created by the friction of brake pads against rotors. It settles on your wheels and can quickly dull their shine, making regular cleaning a necessity.

Image showing brake dust on car wheels


Oxidation doesn't spare your wheels and tires either. Over time, exposure to the elements and UV rays can lead to a breakdown in the protective coatings of your wheels, causing them to lose their luster. Oxidation also causes tires to have a brown hue (tire blooming).

Image showing oxidation causing tires to turn brown

Road Tar

The roads we drive on can be treacherous for our wheels and tires. Road tar, a sticky mixture of petroleum and asphalt, can adhere to your wheels and become stubborn to remove. Not only is it unsightly, but it can also lead to further contamination.

The Different Types Of Chemical Cleaners

When it comes to cleaning your wheels and tires, having the right arsenal of chemical cleaners is essential. Different contaminants and materials require specialized treatments for optimal results. Let's explore the key types of chemical cleaners designed to tackle various challenges:

Acid Based

Acid-based cleaners are powerful solutions that can effectively dissolve brake dust and grime. However, they should be used with caution, especially on delicate wheel finishes. Always follow manufacturer recommendations and rinse thoroughly to prevent any potential damage.

Acid-based chemicals have a pH lower than 7.


Degreasers are versatile cleaners designed to break down stubborn grease, oil, and road grime. They're particularly useful for cleaning tire sidewalls. Dilute degreasers according to instructions to avoid damaging surfaces.

Degreasers have a pH greater than 7.

pH Balanced

pH-balanced cleaners offer a middle ground between aggressive acid-based solutions and milder options. They're formulated to be gentle on various wheel finishes while effectively removing contaminants. pH-balanced cleaners are a safe choice for regular maintenance.

pH-balanced cleaners have a pH of 7.

Aluminum / Metal Wheel Polish

For polished or metal wheels, specialized polishes are a must. These products are designed to restore shine, remove oxidation, and protect the metal surface. They require careful application and polishing to achieve optimal results.

pH scale showing acids and degreaser pH balances

Tools Needed

To achieve professional-grade results when cleaning your wheels and tires, having the right tools at your disposal is crucial. Here's a rundown of the essential tools you'll need to ensure a thorough and effective cleaning process:

Wheel Brushes

Invest in a set of dedicated wheel brushes with soft bristles. These brushes are designed to reach tight spaces, spokes, and intricate details on your wheels without scratching the surface.

Wheel brush kit for properly cleaning wheels and tires

Tire Brushes

A stiffer tire brush is essential for tackling the tough dirt and grime that can accumulate on tire sidewalls. Choose one with robust bristles for effective scrubbing.

tire brush for properly cleaning wheels and tires


Wear disposable or reusable gloves to protect your hands from harsh chemicals and contaminants while cleaning. Nitrile gloves are a great option.

black nitrile gloves

Hose or Pressure Washer

Having access to a hose or pressure washer is a must for rinsing off dirt and cleaning products effectively. Adjust the water pressure to prevent damage to delicate finishes.

Ryobi electric pressure washer used to properly clean wheels and tires


Use separate buckets for soapy water and rinsing to avoid cross-contamination. This two-bucket method maintains the cleanliness of your cleaning tools.

Adam's Polishes detailing bucket with grit guard

Wheel Cleaner

Choose a wheel cleaner that's compatible with your wheel finish.

Tire Cleaner

Opt for a dedicated tire cleaner to remove road grime, old tire dressing, and stubborn dirt from your tire sidewalls.

Applicator Pad

An applicator pad is handy for applying products like tire dressing and wheel sealant. It ensures even distribution and prevents wastage.

foam tire applicator pad

How To Clean Properly Clean Wheels and Tires - The 5 Steps

Here's how to properly clean your vehicle's wheels and tires:

Step 1 - Rinse Off Loose Debris

Start by rinsing your wheels and tires with a hose or pressure washer. This initial rinse helps remove loose dirt, brake dust, and surface grime that can scratch the surfaces during cleaning.

Step 2 - Clean The Wheels

Apply a suitable wheel cleaner to the entire wheel surface. Allow it to dwell as per the manufacturer's instructions. Then, use a dedicated wheel brush to agitate the cleaner, reaching into intricate areas, spokes, barrels, and crevices. Gently scrub the wheel's surface, paying special attention to brake dust buildup.

Note: If you clean your wheels with an acidic cleaner, make sure to rinse the surface and follow up with the degreaser to "cancel out" the acid.

Step 3 - Clean The Tires

Switch to a stiffer tire brush or detailing brush and apply a tire cleaner to the tire sidewalls. Scrub vigorously to remove road grime, old tire dressing, and other contaminants that accumulate on the rubber.

Step 4 - Rinse

Thoroughly rinse both the wheels and tires with clean water. Ensure that all cleaning products and dirt are completely washed away, leaving surfaces ready for the next steps.

Step 5 - Apply Tire Dressing

With your tires clean and dry, apply a suitable tire dressing using an applicator pad. Apply the dressing evenly to the sidewalls, avoiding the tread area to maintain traction. This step not only enhances the appearance of the tires but also provides protection against UV rays.

Expert Tips & Tricks

Prep The Area

Before you start, park your vehicle in a shaded area. This prevents cleaning products from drying too quickly, allowing you to work more effectively without streaks or water spots.

Be careful when cleaning on concrete, and consider putting a barrier below the wheel. Both the cleaners and the tire dressing have the ability to stain concrete.

Clean Wheels and Tires First

Begin your detailing session by cleaning your wheels and tires before tackling the rest of the vehicle. This prevents dirt and debris from splattering onto your freshly cleaned car body.

Use Separate Brushes

Dedicate specific brushes for wheels and tires to prevent cross-contamination. Soft brushes are ideal for wheels, while stiffer brushes handle tough tire grime effectively.

Protect After Cleaning

Apply a layer of wheel sealant or wax after cleaning to provide a protective barrier against brake dust and contaminants. A ceramic coating is also a great method of protection and will make future detailing much faster.

Clean Frequently

Make regular wheel and tire cleaning a habit, ideally once a month. Frequent cleaning prevents brake dust buildup, road grime accumulation, and the need for more aggressive cleaning in the future.


Do I Need To Remove My Wheels and Tires To Clean Them?

While it's not necessary for regular maintenance, removing the wheels offers a more thorough cleaning. However, cleaning them in place with proper tools and techniques can still yield excellent results.

Can I Clean My Wheels and Tires In My Driveway?

Yes, cleaning your wheels and tires in your driveway is possible and convenient. However, ensure you follow local regulations about water runoff and use eco-friendly cleaning products to minimize environmental impact. Also, make sure to avoid staining as explained above.

Should I Apply Tire Dressing To The Tread Area?

No. dressing on the tread can create a slippery surface and compromise traction, which is essential for safe driving.

How Do I Prevent Water Spots On My Wheels?

To prevent water spots, dry your wheels immediately after rinsing. A clean, dry microfiber towel or specialized drying towel helps eliminate water before it evaporates and leaves spots behind.


Mastering the art of cleaning wheels and tires is not just about achieving a pristine appearance; it's a reflection of your commitment to preserving your vehicle's beauty and performance. As you've learned in this guide, the journey from dull to dazzling requires more than a simple hose-down. With the right tools, knowledge, and techniques, you can transform your wheels and tires into eye-catching assets that elevate the overall look of your vehicle.

By understanding the various contaminants that plague your wheels, choosing the appropriate chemical cleaners, and employing expert tips and tricks, you're equipped to take on the challenges of wheel and tire cleaning with confidence. Remember, the results are not only visually satisfying but also contribute to the health and longevity of your vehicle's rolling components.

As you embark on your wheel and tire cleaning journey, always prioritize safety, follow manufacturer recommendations, and adapt your approach based on your unique vehicle and circumstances. Regular maintenance and attention to detail will not only enhance your vehicle's aesthetics but also ensure that you're driving with the pride and assurance that come from a well-maintained set of wheels and tires.

So, roll forward with your newfound expertise and enjoy the satisfaction of gazing upon wheels and tires that truly reflect your dedication to automotive excellence. Your journey to a cleaner, more captivating ride has just begun. Thanks for reading!

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