Alloy wheels are often the dirtiest part of your car because they are constantly exposed to elements like corrosive brake dust, ocean salt, stones, sticky tar and of course suicidal gutters.
Many commercial products sold as wheel cleaners, do not qualify as such. Any product that says to spray on and remove within 2-5 minutes is probably a low-acid solution, which burns off brake dust very quickly but also eats away the clearcoat.
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.
A few tips on how to maintain your alloy wheels looking sharp
1- Never use abrasive cleansers, steel wool pads or polishing compounds and beware of automatic car washes. Some washes use acid cleaners either before or during the wash to remove dirt and grime. Others use stiff brushes for cleaning wheels and tyres. Both processes could harm your wheel’s finish.
2- Treat the finish of your alloy wheels as you would the finish of your car. Wash them with a mild soap, soft sponge and water solution.
3- Use a tar and bug remover, that can prevent permanent tar staining. Periodic waxing will protect the wheel’s finish from the elements.
4- Never allow your wheels and tyres to be steam cleaned. Steam can dull the paint and clearcoat finish on your wheels.
5- Don’t clean hot wheels — wait until they cool down. Cleaning wheels, while they are hot, may cause your mild soap solution to dry too quickly leaving spots or a film of soap on your wheels.
6- Be sure to use a different sponge for the rest of the car’s body to prevent scratching the paint from the particles that may have collected during the wheel cleaning process.
7- Keep them clean. The longer you wait to wash your wheels the more brake dust will sit on it. The longer it sits on your wheel, the more scrubbing it will take to clean it.
It takes a lot of work to make an alloy wheel so make sure you treat yours well. Check our post on how wheels are made.