View Full Version : How To: Properly Clean, Protect, & Maintain Wheels & Tires

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Nick McKees37
05-20-2011, 03:55 PM
"How do I clean and protect my wheels and tires?" - One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to car care. The options are endless, the tools are diverse, and there is a wide assortment of products available. So, how do you know what products to use for your wheels and tires, what tools work best for your wheels, and do you even need a dedicated wheel cleaner?

All of those questions, and more, will be answered in this thread. :xyxthumbs:


There are various types of wheels on the market today, here is a quick overview of each wheel type.

Polished Aluminum: The name implies it all. Bare aluminum polished to a high shine. Avoid acidic wheel cleaners with this type of finish because they will react negatively with the metal causing a "frosting" on the surface.

Clear Coated Polished Aluminum: Essentially a polished aluminum wheel with clear coat for added protection. This is the most common wheel type found on most new cars from the factory. Avoid acidic wheel cleaners that will cause clear coat failure over time, resulting in a damaged wheel that will inevitably need to be refinished.

Clear Coated Painted: This finish is another popular type for factory wheels. It's a painted steel or aluminum wheel with a clear coat. Just like the other wheel types, avoid acidic wheel cleaners that will eat through the clear coat and cause damage to the painted finish.

Powder Coated: More popular in Europe than in the states, powder coating is applied electro statically and the use of heat allows it to cure. This is the most durable finish for a wheel and only requires a mild wheel cleaner or just soap and water to clean.

Chrome: If you've ever seen a brilliant shine on a wheel with a mirror like finish, you were looking at chrome. Although chrome wheels look great when clean, they are very hard to maintain and keep looking new. Chrome is easily damaged by brake dust and road debris. Use a very mild wheel cleaner that's pH balanced and non-acidic.

**Most higher end sports cars now come with the option of Carbon Ceramic Brakes. These brakes usually run in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $20,000 - no kidding - so take every precaution necessary when cleaning the wheels on such a vehicle. If you're not sure, Pinnacle's Clear Coat Safe Wheel Cleaner (http://www.autogeek.net/pigelwhcl.html) is safe on all wheel finishes and even the most delicate brake set ups.**


Here at Autogeek we take pride in testing each and every product that we carry to determine whether or not it means our strict quality standards prior to making it available to you, the consumer. You should always follow the manufacturer's guidelines when trying to determine which wheel cleaner is the best choice for your application.

For this demonstration, I will be cleaning & protecting a clear coated aluminum wheel, the most popular wheel finish on today's factory equipped vehicles. This wheel in particular has not been properly cleaned in well over 6 months, so you can clearly see the build up of brake dust.







Here are some of the more popular wheel cleaners that are all pH balanced, non-acidic, and safe for any wheel finish. Some work differently than others, but they all get the job done and make cleaning dirty wheels much easier.

Prior to cleaning any wheel, make sure that the surface is cool to the touch. Some wheel cleaners require the wheel being wet prior to spraying on the product. For safe cleaning, it is critical to follow the manufacturer's guidelines.


Nick McKees37
05-20-2011, 03:55 PM
Sonax Full Effect (http://www.autogeek.net/sonax-wheel-cleaner.html) was used for this demonstration because it's one of the strongest wheel cleaners that's also safe on all wheel finishes.

Sonax Full Effect does not require the wheel to be wet prior to cleaning, although you never want to clean a wheel that's hot to the touch.

Liberally spray the wheel and let it sit for a couple minutes before agitating. After a couple seconds of dwelling on the wheel, Sonax Full Effect changes color from green to red as it interacts with ferrous iron particles.



When it comes wheel cleaning aids, there are dozens to choose from. It's not an exact science, but there are a couple tools in particular that make the job much easier, and quicker. I've highlighted a couple different unique brushes that I've found are the most effective when cleaning a wheel.

Wheel and Tire Care (http://www.autogeek.net/tirewheelcare.html)

The Clean Wheel Lug Nut Brush (http://www.autogeek.net/lug-nut-brush.html) is made of natural boar's hair and fits perfectly in hard to reach areas and lug not holes because of its size and shape. Another great feature is that the bristles are able to withstand wheel cleaners and will not degrade or fall out over time. It also features a soft rubber boot at the end of the brush to prevent the chance of scratching or marring a delicate wheel.




The next tool that works wonders for cleaning lug nuts is the Recessed Wheel Lug Nut Brush (http://www.autogeek.net/lug-nut-brush-kit.html). This tool features super soft foam inserts that attach to an ergonomically designed handle and as you push them in to the lug not hole, they compress and clean the lug nut and the lug nut hole.



Another must have tool that's made of natural animal hair is the Natural Boar's Hair Wheel Brush (http://www.autogeek.net/boar-s-hair.html). This brush is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in your hand and is a must have for wheels with a delicate finish. You will not finder a softer, more gentle wheel brush.



Now the next brush I'm going to talk about is the Daytona Speed Master Wheel Brush (http://www.autogeek.net/ezdebrfca.html). I'm pretty confident that everyone is aware of what a great tool this is to have when cleaning wheels. I've even heard people say it has changed the way they look at wheel cleaning.


It works great for getting in between the brake caliper and the wheel, cleaning the inside of the wheel barrel, and the Daytona is safe on all wheel finishes.



Nick McKees37
05-20-2011, 03:56 PM
Now that your wheels have thoroughly been cleaned, rinse them off and proceed to the tires. Most wheel cleaners also work well to clean tires, but I've found that Amazing Roll Off (http://www.autogeek.net/amazingrolloff.html) is the best dedicated tire cleaner.


Spray a good amount of Amazing Roll Off on a wet tire and scrub with a stiff scrub brush, such as the Green Wheel & Tire Brush (http://www.autogeek.net/tiwhbr.html). This also works well for cleaning wheel wells.



Give the tire and wheel a good rinsing and dry it with a soft microfiber towel.


Check out that rinse water!


Nick McKees37
05-20-2011, 03:56 PM
Once the wheels are clean and dry, apply a protective coating. This will not only enhance the appearance and protect the wheels, but it will also make future cleaning much easier.

There are several different types of wheel sealants to choose from, and Griot's Garage even goes as far to make a dedicated clay bar that was designed specifically for wheels.


For this demonstration I will be showing you how to use DP Wheel Glaze (DP-391). DP Wheel Glaze is a tough polymer coating that will beautify and protect all types of wheels. It's easy to use and will also prevent brake dust from sticking to the wheel's surface, which will make future cleaning much easier.

Using a Wolfgang Finger Pocket (http://www.autogeek.net/wgpockets.html), apply a thin, even coat to the wheel and let it dry to a haze.



After it dries to a haze, buff it off using a soft microfiber towel.



Last, but certainly not least, is the tire dressing. Not only does a tire dressing enhance the appearance of the tire, but it also provides UV protection to prevent the tire from cracking and fading over time. Most of the high end tire dressings are water based, although some still utilize silicone. Silicone, when formulated properly, is a safe, effective ingredient in automotive car care products.


For this demonstration I used the Wolfgang Black Diamond Tire Gel (http://www.autogeek.net/wg4700.html). This tire gel utilizes a water based formula, does not sling, provides UV protection, and dries to the touch. A little bit goes a long way, so use sparingly.



For those of you that were not sure how to properly clean and protect your wheels and tires, I hope you learned something from this guide. Whether you're working on your daily driver, or a quarter of a million dollar sports car, it's always a good idea to practice proper wheel and tire care. :xyxthumbs:

05-20-2011, 04:08 PM
There are several different types of wheel sealants to choose from, and Griot's Garage even goes as far to make a dedicated clay bar that was designed specifically for wheels.

Thank You for the tread and demonstration Nick.

One quick question,how does the Griot's Garage clay bar different from any other clay bar?

05-20-2011, 04:23 PM
This is a very well written article Nick!! Thanks for taking time to do this. You've written so many good articles and they are the culprit for me buying more and more products!!!

05-20-2011, 05:32 PM
Nicely done....:xyxthumbs:

I went one step further and removed them doing the backs also...:laughing:

05-20-2011, 05:46 PM
Great write up Nick. Insightful and informative. Thanks!

Ted S.
05-20-2011, 06:02 PM
Awesome step by step Nick! WG black diamond is my favorite tire-dressing to date. I just need some of that Amazing roll off.

05-20-2011, 06:32 PM
Great job Nick.

Darn Yankee
05-20-2011, 06:58 PM
Great write up, well written and easy to follow. Gives us some choices to make for the next 15 percent off and free shipping sale, LOL:dblthumb2:



05-20-2011, 07:40 PM
Some great information, and you can't beat sonax full effect! Love the stuff.

05-21-2011, 10:45 AM
Wow, that stuff really works!

Nick McKees37
05-21-2011, 11:05 AM
Thank You for the tread and demonstration Nick.

One quick question,how does the Griot's Garage clay bar different from any other clay bar?

Absolutely! :buffing:

From what I've found, the Griot's Wheel Cleaning Clay appears to be more aggressive than your typical clay. A more aggressive grade of clay is ideal for wheels because they usually get much dirtier than paint does, most of which is brake dust deposits.


05-21-2011, 11:13 AM
Absolutely! :buffing:

From what I've found, the Griot's Wheel Cleaning Clay appears to be more aggressive than your typical clay. A more aggressive grade of clay is ideal for wheels because they usually get much dirtier than paint does, most of which is brake dust deposits.


Gotcha,Thank You.