The Only Article You’ll Ever Need on How to Clean Aluminum Wheels

When was the last time you cleaned your car’s wheels? Sure, you might get your car cleaned every few months, or thank the sky for a generous downpour that saves you the trip, but more often than not, we neglect to make clean wheels a high priority. Why would we? 

While you might determine vehicular cleanliness by its interior, and value the shine of a clean windshield when it comes to visibility, the truth is that cleaning your aluminum wheels is also – and probably much more – important than you may think.

person using wheel cleaning brush to clean dirt from aluminum rims

Ready to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about restoring and polishing clear coated aluminum wheels? Let’s roll.

Why Should I Frequently Clean My Aluminum Wheels?

Before we get into the “how” of “how to clean aluminum wheels,” it’s important to understand why exactly we should. 

To start, thorough, frequent cleaning of your wheels prolongs the protective finish that fights off highly corrosive elements. These elements can severely damage the protective finish of your wheels, specifically your aluminum wheel rims, making them more susceptible to avoidable damage, unnecessary frequent changing, and unwanted cosmetic flaws. Some highly corrosive elements include the heat and friction applied to your wheels and buildup of grime, but the most unwanted and damaging element is definitely brake dust.

Brake dust is made up of adhesive and carbon fiber particles shedding from the brake pad, combined with the scorching hot metal shavings ground off of your rotor. When the heat and friction of driving applies to brake dust, it can cause aluminum rims to become pitted and corroded over time. 

If this sounds bad, that’s because it is. Fortunately, we’ve found the best way to clean aluminum rims, and no, it’s not as simple as using soap and water.


person using wheel cleaning brush to apply soap to an aluminum rim

Materials Needed to Clean Aluminum Wheels

The best way to clean aluminum rims is to start with the right tools and other materials. Here’s a list of where to start:

  • Degreaser
  • Pressure washer or powerful hose
  • Specifically formulated aluminum rim/wheel cleaner
  • Non-abrasive and durable bristle spinning brush cleaner designed for wheels
  • Non-streak cloth or rag

Although you might have the right tools and materials in your arsenal, there are a plethora of mistakes that can come when cleaning your wheels. Luckily, we’ve sorted it out so that you don’t have to!

Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Car Wheels

You might be thinking: cleaning my car wheels isn’t rocket science - and to be fair, it’s not. Yet, cleaning the rest of your car first, using improper tools, or the wrong cleaner can actually prove to be incredibly damaging to your rims. Don’t believe us? Here’s a quick guide to help you avoid making mistakes when cleaning your car’s wheels, ensuring you find the best way to clean aluminum rims.

The “Don’ts” of Restoring Aluminum Wheels:

1. Cleaning the Body of Your Car First

Well, why not? Seeing as the majority of your car is presumably around your eye-level, cleaning things where you can see them is a natural beginning point. 

However, if you fail to clean off the aforementioned elements that can severely damage your wheels (such as brake dust, grime, small rocks and more), washing the body of your car first can result in splashing those elements onto other areas of your car, resulting in more damage over time.

2. Using the Wrong Cleaner

Soap and water simply won’t do. Automotive professionals will all agree that specific cleaners are used on specific surfaces for a reason, which usually involves the specific chemicals used to treat and clean different surfaces. 

Using a proper wheel cleaner will fight and strip your rims of brake dust and grime, but not break down your actual wheels. Comparatively, if you use regular dish soap or a non-wheel cleaner, you’re more likely to damage the wheels themselves.  

3. Cleaning With the Wrong Tools

Similar to using the wrong cleaner, using the wrong tools on your wheels can severely damage them, or not clean them enough. Common household substances such as baking soda will scratch the finish of your wheels, as will using a brush with abrasive bristles. 

A spinning brush cleaner like this starter set from Brush Hero is the best tool for safely cleaning your wheels. Finding a flexible and durable brush is key to cleaning effectively and getting hard-to-reach places (a more extensive set can also be beneficial for having the perfect tools!).

4. Washing All Wheels At the Same Time

Although it might save you some time, it certainly won’t save your wheels. Especially when working on your own, it’s inevitable that your cleaner will leave streaks and dry messy, in turn making more work for you to do later on.

Wash one wheel at a time to ensure thorough cleaning that leads to a perfect shine.

5. Forgetting to Dry Your Wheels

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but drying off your wheels at the end of any car wash, especially one designed to make your wheels bright and sparkly, is critical to fighting against water spots and finding anything you might’ve missed. Plus, if you don’t dry them off, how will you get to look at your reflection in the rims and say, “Looking good”? See, we’ve got you covered.

person using wheel cleaner spray to shine their tires

How to Clean Aluminum Wheels

You made it. You have the proper tools, materials, and processes to avoid under your arm, and now you’re ready to get down to business. Getting the perfect clean on your aluminum rims comes in five simple steps.

  • Step One: Rinse off your wheels with your power washer or powerful hose.
  • Step Two: Apply specially formulated wheel cleaner to one wheel at a time. See instructions on your cleaner for how long this should sit on your wheel, if at all.
  • Step Three: Using a non-abrasive, durable brush (like the Brush Hero Ultimate Car Wheel Cleaner), scrub the cleaner on your wheel, getting into every nook and cranny (don’t forget your wheel wells!). This is a labor of love, people.
  • Step Four: Rinse all of the grime and suds away to reveal the clean.
  • Step Five: Dry off your wheel with a non-streak cloth, and repeat these steps with your other wheels.

In Summary

Cleaning your wheels can seem like a foreign or overwhelming concept, especially when you don’t know where to start. Thankfully, you now have all of the information and resources you need to make that shine last a lifetime. The key takeaways:

  1. Frequently maintaining the cleanliness of your aluminum wheels helps to protect them from severe corrosion and damage over time.
  2. Getting the right materials to clean your wheels will maximize your cleaning and ensure you don’t accidentally damage them in the process (our example was this brush by Brush Hero earlier!).
  3. If you don’t know where to start, reference our guide of things not to do in order to save time in the long run and protect your wheels from unwanted damage or improper cleaning supplies.
  4. Once you’ve got the proper tools and resources, an easy 5-step process ensures your wheels stay clean and protected.

Happy cleaning!

Contributing Writer: Alexa Vadnais