How-To Clean Wheels & Tires at Home

The combination of environmental factors, general road grime and black brake dust from the brake pads, that forms hard deposits due to the heat, makes the wheels get dirty very fast even if you wash your car often. This means that it’s important to implement a wheel cleaning routine that can efficiently cut through the dirt and help protect the wheels and tires from damage.

Depending on what type of wheels are fitted on your car, alloy or chrome, the products and method used to restore the metal surface will vary, therefore make sure to use a method specialized for your wheels outlined below in order to avoid damage and achieve the best results.

Contents

Use this table to easily navigate throughout the article by selecting sections relevant to your car care needs.

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Aluminium vs Chrome Wheels & Surfaces

  • Most newer, higher-end vehicles have "chrome-like" surfaces.  However, you should be aware that they are most likely not chrome plated so extra caution needs to be taken in order not to damage the surfaces.
  • Most of today's shiny metal surfaces consist of aluminum alloys that are either protected by clear coat paint, with a metalized paint or are highly polished and/or anodized, (a process that aligns metal molecules on the surface for a bright appearance). 
  • All metal polish is less aggressive and safer to use on metalized plastic and softer aluminum and plated materials so it would be recommended for aluminum wheels.
  • Some wheel materials may still be chrome-plated, these are usually aftermarket wheels.  Today's chrome accents are brighter and considered a premium option on most vehicles.  Chrome plating is now being applied to a variety of base metals that are softer and more difficult to clean without scratching the bright plating.  This chrome plating requires special care for the brightwork to retain its custom look. Only Turtle Wax Chrome Polish should be used to clean and maintain these surfaces unless otherwise designated by other manufacturer vehicle care recommendations.
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How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Wheels?

  • Wheels should be cleaned on a regular basis; about every two weeks.  

  • Always clean the wheels during regular car washing routines.  Driving habits and driving conditions can vary so adjust accordingly.

  • City “stop and go” traffic will generate the most brake dust and wheel cleaning challenges.  As soon as a heavy black brake dust coating appears, it is time to clean the wheels.
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How-To Clean Wheels Properly

Step 1: Always start by washing and drying the rims.  Make sure to thoroughly dry the surface to minimize the water spots.

Step 2: Starting on a small inconspicuous area, apply a small amount of Turtle Wax All Metal Polish to a clean cotton cloth.  Rub the polish back and forth on the area with about 10 strokes.  Immediately buff the area with a dry part of the cloth.  Look at the polished area in a well-lighted area. Finish improvement and metal brightness should greatly improve.  (If the area looks hazy or the metal has a milky appearance, the metal is coated with a soft polymer and liquid car wax, like Super Hard Shell Liquid, should be applied instead of this metal polish.)

Step 3: Clean and polish one wheel at a time. Try not to get the polish on flat black plastic or surrounding rubber materials.

Step 4: If the cotton cloth turns black or dark grey, the metal surface is most likely uncoated aluminum and may take several cloths to complete the project.  If the cloth doesn’t turn black, the metal is either chrome-plated or has a surface clear coat.  This Metal Polish is perfect for all of these materials. (A clear coated surface can be protected within an additional coat of liquid wax to maximize shine and protection.)

Step 5: Let the polish dry to a light haze before removing with a soft cotton cloth or microfiber cloth. Inspect the wheel to make sure the desired results were achieved.  A second application may be necessary for stubborn stains or blemished surfaces.  This polish will improve the mirror-like reflectivity of the surface for a like-new shine.

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How Do You Remove Oxidation/Rust from Chrome Wheels?

Turtle Wax Chrome Polish & Rust Remover, was originally designed to remove rust and corrosion from exposed chrome metal surfaces, such as bumpers, wheels, and accessories. This polish is designed to aggressively remove oxidation quickly and leave a protective polymer shine.  This polish should always be tested on an inconspicuous spot to determine if the level of cleaning is right for your application.  

This product can also be used on aluminum, however, aluminum, is a softer material and the appearance and color may be somewhat altered to a more brilliant look.

Step 1: Chrome-plated steel should always be washed and dried prior to applying this Chrome Polish product.  Feel the surface for roughness.  A rough surface usually is an indication of heavy oxidation.

Step 2: On a small test area, determine the amount of cleaning (rubbing) that is necessary to remove the oxidation.  Repeat the same application routine to ensure even cleaning on the remaining surface.

Step 3: Clean one wheel at a time. Buffing can also be done by machine.  Choose an appropriate cotton pad for metal polishing and always finish by hand wiping with a cotton or microfiber towel.

Step 4: Allow polish to dry before buffing with a soft cotton cloth or microfiber towel to a brilliant shine.

This stuff took off all of the surface rust and brought the chrome to life!

Turtle Wax Chrome Polish & Rust Remover - Dave
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How-To Clean Stubborn Brake Dust

  • Wheels that are not cleaned on a regular basis will build up brake dust deposits that can etch the wheel surface permanently and be extremely difficult to remove later.
  • Turtle Wax All Wheel and Tire Cleaner contains a blend of brake dust cutting ingredients that penetrate and loosen brake dust deposits, from even small intricate areas without rubbing and scrubbing.   
  • The brake dust cutting formula is best used with a wheel or tire brush that provides the ultimate clean and convenience. 

Step 1: Wheels should be cool to the touch. If the vehicle was recently driven, rinse wheels first with cold water.

Step 2: Spray wheel and on all areas to be cleaned. Allow 30 – 40 seconds for the product to penetrate dirt and brake dust. 

Step 3: If the brake dust is severely built up, use a wheel brush to efficiently remove the deposits.

Step 4: Rinse thoroughly with a strong stream of water and dry the wheels.

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How-To Choose the Right Tire Cleaner For You

  • The only safe way to clean tires is by using a specialized tire cleaning/shine product rather than opting for household materials that can dry out and fade the tire surfaces.

  • Tire cleaners, such as Turtle Wax Tire Foam & Shine, have been heavily tested on all types of tires to provide the best finish, shine, and protection.

  • This product dispenses a unique foam that leaves a rich shine and is compatible with white / red lettering on tires with sidewall details.
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How-To Clean Tires

Step 1: Depending on what type of tire cleaning product you choose to use, the application steps will change so make sure to consult the label first. If using the recommended Turtle Wax Wet'N Black Tire Foam & Shine, continue with the following steps. 

Step 2: Work on one tire at a time. Shake the bottle well and spray foam evenly on the sidewall from 6 inches away.

Step 3: Let it dry for 3-5 minutes while it foams away sidewall dirt and grime, no wiping required!

Step 4: For an exceptional shine and protection, follow up with Turtle Wax Wet’ N Black Ultra Wet Tire Shine by spraying evenly onto the tires and leaving to soak for 3-5 minutes. Tire coating will keep tires looking wet & shiny while protecting them from harmful UV rays and damage.

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How-To Clean Car Wheel Trim

Step 1: Shake well and squeeze a ribbon of the product onto a foam applicator pad.

Step 2: Gently massage it into the trim and wait for 5 to 10 minutes for the product to penetrate the surface.

Step 3: Lightly wipe with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. Additional applications may be needed for trim with wax residue, previously untreated textured trim or badly oxidized trim.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. How do I know which metal polish to purchase for rims? 

  • If the chrome surface is on a newer vehicle (under 10 years old) and is a factory installed material, the new Turtle Wax Chrome & Metal Polish should be used, especially on wheels.  
  • If you find it difficult to determine the coating on the automobile brightwork, the Premium Grade Polish is the best choice for today's softer metal plated and clear coated materials.

 

2. Which wheel cleaner is best for me?

  • If your car wheels are easily accessible with a sponge or wash mitt, Max Power Car Wash is a good choice.  Wheels that have more intricate wheel designs and where brake dust is more of a problem will require a brake dust cutting formulation. 
  • A wheel cleaner with brake dust removal formulations is preferred, such as Turtle Wax All Wheel and Tire Cleaner for a single-step solution.

 

3. I have visible red rust on the chrome hubcaps/wheels, how do I get rid of this corrosion?

Red rust is a signal that the chrome plating is in poor shape and the iron metal underneath is exposed.  The rust can be removed with Turtle Wax Chrome Polish however, the metal will have a rough feel and the chrome surface may be pitted.  Regular cleaning with Turtle Wax Chrome Polish will be needed to maintain the metal's appearance.

 

4. I have a green coating on the chrome surface, how do remove this? 

A green oxide coating is an indication that the chrome plating is oxidizing, however, it is in good shape. Turtle Wax Chrome Polish should be used on this condition. 

 

5. I have chrome looking wheels and they are clear coated, what should I use? 

Chrome and Metal Polish is safe to use on all smooth non-porous surfaces.  If you are unsure of the care regimen, consult the dealer or manufacturer.  It is always advisable to test the product on an inconspicuous area first. 

 

6. My wheels look dull and scratched, what should I use to restore the shine?

Chrome and Metal Polish will remove light scratches and general dull film on exterior metal surfaces.  Always test the product on a small inconspicuous area to see if the level of cleaning is right for your application.

 

7. Why do I need to test the wheel cleaner first before using it?

  • If you are not familiar with the product you plan to use, always clean, rinse and dry one wheel at a time.  Cleaning one wheel at a time will help determine if the product being used is right for your wheel's condition.  
  • Although Turtle Wax tests its products on all OEM factory wheel materials, there are some aftermarket wheels that may require special care.  
  • It is always advisable to test wheel cleaners fully on one wheel before proceeding to all four wheels.  It is always best to follow the manufacturer’s wheel care instructions when available, especially on aftermarket or custom wheels.

 

8. Do I need to scrub my wheels when using a wheel cleaner?

For most light to medium soiled wheels, no scrubbing is needed.  However, wheels with a heavy build-up of brake dust will require agitation with a stiff bristle brush.

 

9. Will Turtle Wax  Wheel Cleaners damage my wheels?

  • No.  Turtle Wax Wheel Cleaners are safe for all-wheel types and finishes including aluminum, alloy, steel, chrome, clear-coated, and painted wheels. 
  • Always follow label directions when using these products.  
  • Do not apply Wheel Cleaners to wheels that are hot to the touch. Dulling or blushing stains can occur.

 

10. Can I use a Wheel cleaner to clean other parts of my automobile beside the wheels?

Only Turtle Wax Max Power Car Wash can be used to clean the entire exterior of a car including wheels.  Wheel Cleaners may be too strong of a cleaner and could dull sensitive finishes and not designed to be used as an all-purpose automobile cleaner.

 

11. How often should I apply a tire shine product?

Most auto enthusiasts apply a tire shine product every time their car is washed.  Tire shines can be applied once a week, however, be careful not to overuse tire shines, too much product will spray or sling onto body panels while driving.

 

12. My tires look too wet after using a tire shine product.  How do I remove the excess?

Simply wipe the tire sidewalls with a non-linting cloth or microfiber towel, or wash the tire sidewall with car wash solution and rinse.  The tires will have a matte appearance.

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