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Acid Wash To Clean Wheels – Should You Give It A Go?

Acid Wash to clean wheels – Should you give it a go?

Wheels can be difficult to clean, they are in the firing line when it comes to road grime, tar and other common contaminants. Acid wash products have been chosen by many to help with these issues.

acid wash on wheel

Polished wheel damaged by acidic wash

Brake dust sets on your wheels as stopping a car involves huge pressures, and as a direct result, massively high temperatures. Combining that with the tiny flecks of iron and brake pad shavings onto the wheel you’ll have a mess quite difficult to clean.

The key here is to wash your wheels constantly, minimum once a week to avoid the brake dust to bake into the alloy even further. Now that’s where the controversy starts. If wheels only had normal dirt on them and recently acquired brake dust, we could wash them with simple mild soap and water or a light solution of all-purpose cleaner.

Neglecting your wheels makes this process much more difficult. You’ll need lots of time and elbow grease to remove all the nasties.

This is why many car cleaning products will have acid in them. They clean brake dust and tar quickly without much effort. This is ideal for when you don’t have much time to clean your wheels and for detailers but not ideal at all for your wheels. Specially if you take your car to car wash establishments and/or detailers places on a weekly basis.

Combine these harsh cleaners with a hot wheel, letting it soak in or dwell for a while, and using the product in a highly concentrated state would quickly etch, or eat right through your wheels paint. Your alloys paint work might look great after but long-term damage will occur. It doesn’t take very long at all for such cleaners to get under the clearcoat and begin to deteriorate the finish, as well as allowing environmental conditions to corrode the wheel. Acid damage will show up very quickly, especially on machine faced wheels looking like white spiderwebs beneath the clearcoat.

machine face wheel acid wash

Machine faced wheel damaged by acidic wash. This type of damage requires the wheel to be re-cut, an expensive and long repair.


Cleaning your wheels

Wheel cleaning does not have to be such a chore if you have the correct tools. Treat any specific cleaner with extreme care regardless of its chemical makeup. Always protect yourself, read and follow directions precisely.

Some wheels will pose more of a challenge than others. Wheels with many nooks and crannies are the hardest to clean. Also some wheels have a major portion of the inside of the wheel visible.

The best way to tackle this process is to have a couple soft brushes handy. Have one for the face o the wheel and as many as necessary to reach the corners and insides of your wheel. Be sure not to let product sit on the wheel, start and finish one by one. Check our previous post about cleaning your wheels properly.

Cleaning your wheel with acid wash – is it safe?

acid wheel wash damage

Acid wash effect on a painted wheel

Stay away from products that “remove tar, bugs, road grime” and that are “heavy duty”. Acids like Hydrfluoric (HF) even diluted at 50% could kill if inhaled or burn you if spilled/splattered on your skin. HF will only lightly burn your skin but the real problem comes later. It wants your bones! It seeks the calcium in your bones and in your blood.

HF spilled on your skin may require calcium gluconate gel or an injection to replenish the calcium and ward off the effects those HF acid causes. Its calcium eating ability is why HF is a popular choice in concrete cleaners.

HF is still not the only dangerous acid used in wheel cleaning products. There are BiAmmonium and Ammonium fluorides. There is Sulfuric acid as well as Phosphoric and Nitric acid. All are pretty nasty. Be sure to check the label on specific wheel cleaning products as many of them do contain acid, always protect yourself, read and follow directions precisely.

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