How to Maintain Car Wheels

How to Maintain Car Wheels

Maintaining your car wheels will increase the life of your tires, help them achieve optimal performance, and will make them look great aesthetically. Car manufacturers recommend that you properly clean your tires at least once every month or two. In this post, we’ll share a step-by-step process which will help you to maintain the durability and beauty of your car wheels.

To maintain your car wheels: conduct initial wipe down, clean brake dust, scrub tires and rims, and apply tire dressing.

Before you begin to clean, take a moment to prepare. Fill two buckets with water at the ready. You will need one for clean water, and the other for dirty water where you’ll rinse off rags. Make sure to have an area on which to place your tools. You may use a table, or a clean towel laid across the ground. You want to keep any tools off of the bare ground, where they might pick up debris that may scratch your car.

Here are the tools and materials you will need:

  • Two buckets, as described above
  • Car shampoo/tire cleaner
  • Hose
  • Tire brush/brake dust eraser
  • Microfiber towel
  • Tire dressing

Conduct Initial Wipe Down

To begin, wipe down your wheel with a basic car shampoo diluted in water. The goal of the initial wipe down is to remove any loose dirt and dust that could scratch your wheel. Wipe in a circular motion throughout the cleaning process. Remember to differentiate your two buckets early on, keeping one strictly for clean soapy water and one for dirty water. You want to keep any dirt or debris out of your rinse water. Wipe down one wheel at a time, moving around the vehicle.

Rinse each tire with clear water after your wipe down, washing away lifted debris. Don’t worry if you notice lingering break dust or smudges, as the following steps will address the deep clean.

Clean Brake Dust

Unfortunately, brake dust will get baked on your wheels in normal driving conditions. Brake dust is comprised of iron particles, carbon, and friction materials that coat your wheels. This material is not only unsightly, it is abrasive. Brake dust can damage alloy wheels and effect brake performance.

To remove brake dust, apply your tire cleaner to the wheel, letting it remain on the surface for the recommended amount of time. Patience is key here: chemical reactions take time to effectively lift grime, debris, and dust from your wheel’s surface. After the appropriate wait time, wipe off the brake dust with a clean microfiber towel.

We highly recommend using a brake dust eraser.  These specialized pads enhance the power of chemical wheel cleaners. Brake dust erasers are comprised of non-abrasive fibers that clean both effectively and safely. One of the best features of brake dust erasers is just how flexible they are – they’re great at getting in tight corners and lug nut cavities. In addition, they are relatively cheap and reusable. If you don’t have one, a tire brush will work in most applications.

Using your eraser, scrub down the wheel in a circular motion. Don’t hesitate to clean off your towel/eraser with water or to reapply cleaner as needed. Some brake dust spots can be particularly stubborn and require multiple cleanings.

For tips on how to address stubborn brake dust, visit our blog here – where we touch on several methods and cleaning solutions to address the problem.

Even after a thorough cleaning, there is a chance that will be left with brown specks of break dust on your wheel. Unfortunately, these corroded areas occur where brake dust particles embed themselves in the wheel. It usually impossible to remove them from the rim without resurfacing your wheels.

Scrub Tires and Rims

Most rim cleaning products have acidic properties, meaning they can cause damage if they linger or dry onto the wheel. After using an acidic product, briefly scrub your wheel with hot soapy water to remove chemical residue. Finish with a final clear water rinse. Once you’re satisfied with the results, allow the wheel to dry.

Apply Tire Dressing

Time to make those tires glow! Tire dressing improves both the appearance and longevity of your tires. Tire dressings spray on in seconds and work to prevent cracking, fading, and hardening of your tires.

Things to keep in mind when you spray on tire dressing:

  • Regulate the amount you use. Too much spray can cause the solution to sling around your wheel well as your drive, creating an unsightly mess. A small amount of solution will go a long way.
  • Do not spray dressing on the tire treads. Spray can make older/bald tires much more slippery, which can be hazardous. To clean your treads, brush them with soapy water - but refrain from spraying any kind of dressing in this area.
  • Choose your tire dressing wisely. See the next section for details.

Solvent-Based vs. Water-Based Tire Dressing

Tire dressings come in two forms: solvent- and water-based solutions. Both do the job, but there are a few things to consider before choosing one. 

Solvent-based dressings use a hydrocarbon solvents as a base, while water-based solvents use – you guessed it – water. Water-based dressing are emulsions of silicone or other synthetic polymers. These typically provide a thick finish. These types of dressings may need additional wiping steps to ensure an even coating.

In contrast, solvent-based dressings are thinner in consistency and not as sticky. Solvent-based dressings offer more of an even coating than water-based ones. These penetrate the tire deeper as well. If solvent-based finishes appeal to you, be mindful of those that contain petroleum distillate.

The use of tire dressings containing this chemical may cause premature drying and cracking of your tires. Both types of dressings offer unique benefits, so conduct proper research and pick the one that best suits your needs.

That’s it!

Tire maintenance is a relatively simple process. Performing a proper cleaning every one or two months will keep your car looking sharp and lifespan of your tires – saving you money in the long run. Follow these simple steps to maintain your car wheels over the long-haul: conduct initial wipe down, clean brake dust, scrub tires and rims, and apply tire dressing.


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