How To Clean and Polish Aluminum Wheels?

How To Clean and Polish Aluminum Wheels?

Wheels go through tougher conditions than the car’s paint. When driving on the highway, each wheel faces strong winds that hurl dirt, mud, salt, gravel, sticks, brake dust, and rotor shavings at them.

With the right approach, even the dirtiest and grimiest wheels can regain their shine. In fact, aluminum wheels can shine like chrome when they are cleaned and polished to perfection. Since aluminum is one of the softer metals, it responds quite well to polishing. If you want to keep your aluminum wheels in good condition, you should clean and polish them regularly. To achieve a flawless and clean finish, follow these three steps: start by thoroughly cleaning the wheels, then apply aluminum polish for a brilliant shine, and finally, protect your hard work by waxing the wheels, ensuring their long-lasting shine.

Things You Need To Clean Aluminium Wheels

  • Pressure Washer/Garden Hose: Use a pressure washer for optimal results, but a garden water hose with a suitable attachment can also work well.
  • Buckets: Have buckets available to mix your cleaning solutions if they are not in spray form.
  • Soft Bristle Brush: Use a wheel brush with soft bristles to avoid scratching the clear coat or machined surfaces. Aluminum wheels are prone to scratching.
  • Small Narrow Brush: For reaching spaces and crevices in the wheels that a regular brush can’t access.
  • Hard Brush With A Long Handle: Don’t forget to clean the fender liners, which accumulate dirt and grime that can transfer back to the wheels if not removed.
  • Aluminum Wheel Cleaner: Choose a non-acidic cleaner suitable for clear-coated aluminum wheels. If your alloys are not clear-coated, a more aggressive agent can be used, but avoid acid-based products.
  • Wheel Detailing Clay: If your wheels have stubborn grime and deposits, use a clay bar to remove them without scratching the surface.
  • Polishing Compound and Applicator: If the aluminum wheels have an oxidation layer or scratched clear coats, use a suitable polishing compound and applicator to restore their appearance.
  • Mirror Shine: Apply a wheel sealant or wax-like Mirror Shine to protect and enhance the wheels’ cleanliness, shine, and ease of maintenance.
  • Microfiber Cloths: Have a couple of microfiber cloths on hand for drying and buffing the wheels as you clean.
  • Tire Shine: Clean your tires separately from the wheels using separate brushes and buckets to prevent cross-contamination. Apply a tire shine product like Tire Shine by Torque Detail for that finishing touch.

How to Clean Aluminum Wheels?

If you’re wondering how to polish dirty aluminum wheels, then this guide is for you. 

Washing Off Wheels and the Surrounding Areas

  • Start by pressure washing your wheels and wheel wells thoroughly. This will help remove mud, loose dirt, brake dust, and other deposits. Make sure to aim the pressure washer carefully to avoid damaging the wheels or surrounding areas.
  • Check if your wheel cleaning solution is suitable for the specific type of surface you’re working on. Wheels without clear coat protection, such as anodized chrome, can react negatively to acidic cleaners. Similarly, avoid using acidic cleaners on wheels with a peeling clear coat. Ensure the product you use is compatible with your wheel’s surface.
  • Apply the wheel cleaner generously to both the inside and outside of the wheel, ensuring you cover the interior of the barrels as well. This will help break down any stubborn dirt or grime.
  • Utilize a soft bristle brush to scrub all the accessible surfaces of the wheel. This brush should be gentle enough to avoid scratching the wheel’s clear coat or other sensitive areas. Scrub thoroughly to remove dirt and grime.
Washing Off Wheels and the Surrounding Areas

Clean Grease and Wax Coating

The aluminum wheel cleaner works best for getting rid of the grease and wax coating. Spray aluminum wheel cleaner over the surface of the wheels, including inside the spokes and around the lug nuts. You can find aluminum wheel cleaners at mechanic shops, superstores like Walmart, or online platforms like Amazon. If you prefer to make your own aluminum wheel cleaner at home, you can try combining lemon juice and soda as a cleaning solution. Another option is to wash the wheel with Dawn detergent and water, then use baking soda as an abrasive to scrub off grime. These methods utilize an abrasive material like soda or baking soda to help remove stubborn dirt and grime from the aluminum wheels.

Clean The Wheel Wells

To clean the wheel wells effectively, follow these steps:

  • Scrub the wheel wells using an all-purpose cleaner and a stiff brush. The wheel wells often accumulate caked-in dirt and grime, making it important to give them thorough attention.
  • Make sure to use a stiffer brush specifically for this area, as a soft-bristled brush may not be sufficient to remove the stubborn dirt. The stiff bristles will provide the necessary scrubbing power for the wheel wells.
  • Consider using a long-handled brush to reach into the deeper sections of the wheel wells. This will help you clean those hard-to-reach areas more easily.

Remember, while using a soft-bristled brush is suitable for cleaning the wheel surfaces, it is not recommended for the wheel wells. For optimal results, use soft bristles on the wheels and stiff bristles specifically for the wheel wells.

Clean The Wheel Wells

How To Polish Aluminum Wheels?

Now that you’re done cleaning the aluminum wheels, it’s all ready for polishing. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to polish aluminum wheels: 

  • Polishing products for bare aluminum and clear-coated aluminum wheels differ. Bare aluminum develops oxidation, requiring a more aggressive compound. Clear-coated wheels need a gentler approach. Choose products and applicators that match the surface to avoid frustration and achieve the best results.
  • After you’re done selecting a good aluminum polish, it’s time to apply it. To remove oxidation from aluminum wheels, start by applying aluminum polish onto a small section of the wheel using a clean rag. Make sure to rub the polish onto the wheel in the direction of the grain, working in small sections to prevent the polish from drying before you have a chance to work it in properly. Avoid using circular motions, as they can result in a streaky finish.
  • To polish hard-to-reach spots on your wheels, you can use a cloth-wrapped toothbrush. This technique allows you to access areas that may have been missed during the initial polishing process. Begin by wrapping a soft cloth around the bristles of a toothbrush. This prevents the bristles from potentially causing any damage to the wheel’s finish. Next, use the cloth-wrapped toothbrush to reach into the spoke areas, applying polish where you couldn’t reach with your initial polishing efforts. Gently rub the surface using the toothbrush to ensure even coverage and shine.
  • To protect and enhance the appearance of your aluminum wheels, apply wheel wax using a clean cloth. Rub the wax over the entire surface of the wheels, following the grain of the aluminum. Allow the wax to dry fully for about 10-15 minutes before wiping it off with a clean, dry cloth. This process creates a protective layer that keeps your wheels looking shiny and helps repel dirt. By repeating this weekly, you can maintain the polished look of your wheels with ease.

Make Your Aluminum Wheels Shine Again!

Cleaning, polishing, and waxing your aluminum alloy wheels is a comprehensive process that can yield impressive results. By following the right steps, you can achieve wheels that appear brand new and require minimal upkeep. Although it may be a time-consuming task, the outcome makes it worthwhile.

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