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How to clean alloy wheels

Alloy wheels can get dirty pretty quickly. Here's how you can keep them looking fresh with an alloy wheel cleaner.

Auto Express Product Awards 2016 - wheel cleaner

If you buy a new car, chances are it will have a snazzy set of alloy wheels as standard. But these shiny rims can soon start to look grubby, mainly due to the fact they're perfectly positioned to collect more dirt than the rest of the car. As well as the usual dirt and grime thrown-up from the road surface, alloy wheels also have to contend with brake dust that can leave dark brown buildup across the wheel and ruin the fresh look.

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Thankfully, removing  brake dust, mud and stains from alloy wheels can be done straightforwardly and cheaply at home with just a few simple steps and products. So how do you clean your wheels? 

1. Get a specialist alloy wheel cleaning product

The first step is to get your hands on a high quality cleaning product specially designed for alloy wheels. Using the same cleaner that you wash the rest of your car with will leave traces of baked-on dirt and brake dust on the wheels, so a specialist alloy wheel cleaner will help get those wheels looking like new again. Some people may be tempted to use vinegar, WD40 or other household products, but a dedicated wheel cleaner is the best option if you want really clean wheels.

2. Use a pressure washer to remove any loose dirt 

A pressure washer is a great way to blast most of the dirt off your wheels. Alternatively, using a brush and a wet sponge can also achieve great results. While you’re at it, you should use the pressure washer to clean the rest of the car at the same time. 

3. Put on some rubber or latex gloves

We'd recommend wearing rubber or latex gloves while cleaning your wheels so you don't get covered in brake dust or cleaning product - some can cause skin irritation, while the fine dust particles can easily get ingrained in your fingers and under your nails.

4. Apply your alloy wheel cleaning product as directed

The alloy wheel cleaner will deep-clean the wheel, getting into all the narrow gaps and penetrating the dirt. They can do this without damaging the lacquer or paint, too, saving you an expensive refurbishment in the future.

Best wheel cleaner - Bilt-Hamber auto-wheel

 

5. Leave for the designated amount of time

Our favourite wheel cleaners simply spray on and you leave them for a few minutes before rinsing off. The best cleaners also change colour to show you exactly how much dirt is being lifted, while the ingredients they use mean they don't damage your tyres and can simply be washed down the drain once finished.

6. Rinse it off

Simply wash away any dirt and remaining cleaning product using a pressure washer or a wet sponge. With most of the dirt and brake dust now removed, the alloy wheels will be looking much better. With a few extra steps you can get them looking as good as new again. 

7. Clean your wheels again to ensure all of the cleaner and any residual dirt is removed

We'd recommend giving the wheels another wash after using the alloy wheel cleaner to get rid of any remaining contaminants, but remember to wear some rubber or latex gloves while you're doing it.

Ford S-MAX long-term - fourth report wheel cleaning

 

8. Apply a wheel wax to add an extra layer of protection

Once spotlessly clean, you could treat your wheels to a specialist wheel wax. This will add a protective layer that will help prevent brake dust from building up and protect your wheels against future wear. Once you're done with the wax, give your tyres a coat of tyre shine to get them back to their lustrous best.

Now that your alloy wheels are back to their gleaming best, make sure to clean them regularly. Frequent cleaning will prevent the brake dust from building up and help keep your wheels looking fresh for many more miles to come.

How to clean your alloy wheels: top tips

  1. Get a specialist alloy wheel cleaning product.
  2. Use a pressure washer to remove any loose dirt.
  3. Put on some rubber or latex gloves.
  4. Apply your alloy wheel cleaning product as directed.
  5. Leave for the designated about of time.
  6. Rinse it off.
  7. Clean your wheels again to ensure all of the cleaner and any residual dirt is removed.
  8. Apply a wheel wax to add an extra layer of protection.

Need help deciding which alloy wheel cleaner to buy? See our best alloy wheel cleaners here. Or find out how to check your car engine coolant level

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Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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