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How to Clean and Shine your Tires

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If wheels are your car’s shoes, the tires are the laces. After you’ve spent time cleaning up your car’s shoes (read Greg’s article here), nothing sets off a detailed car like a set of fresh black tires. Unfortunately, as the miles roll-on, that fresh black look seems to roll-off. Then you’re left with nice shoes, but dirty laces. Knowing how to clean and dress them will not only keep them looking nice and fresh, but prolong their life as well.

Before:

Tires before cleaning

After:

Tires after cleaning

The first step is to get the tires clean.  Tires collect all kinds of debris from rolling on the ground as well as dust created from braking.  These pollutants work their way into the pores of the rubber causing a grey, dirty tire.  These pollutants cannot be rinsed off with a hose- not even a pressure washer.  For proper cleansing you will need the following:

  1. A stiff bristled brush (SBB)
  2. Degreaser of All Purpose Cleaner like Optimum Power Clean
  3. 2 Buckets (One filled with Water and One with Soapy Water)
  4. Tire Dressing like Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing
  5. 1 Tire Dressing Applicator like Lake Country Tire Dressing Applicator

Begin by wetting the tires with a hose.

Wetting your tires with a hose

Then apply the Optimum Power Clean generously to the presoak the tire.

Presoaking tires with Optimum Power Clean

It can be used at full strength but I find 2:1 or 3:1 dilutions to be effective for general use.  Allow the Optimum Power Clean to dwell while you fill up your buckets.

Filling bucket

If it is a very hot and sunny day, fill your buckets ahead of time so the Optimum Power Clean doesn’t dry on your tires (you don’t want to allow it to dry although it won’t cause irreversible damage).

Next, agitate the tire’s sidewall with the SBB.  Rinse the brush with every couple of swipes on the tire in the clean water.

Agitating tire's sidewall

Then, wash the tire with soapy water to neutralize any residue from the Optimum Power Clean and rinse with the hose.

Wash the tire with soapy water

Allow the tire to dry while you work your way around the rest of the 3 tires.  This is also a good time to check tire pressure (and don’t forget the spare).

Now that the tires are clean, it’s time to give them that fresh look and help protect them from destructive UV rays.  While the level of shine you like is a personal preference, the type of dressing you select is easy to recommend.

Dressings come in two varieties: Solvent Based (which are clear and greasy) and Water Based (which are milky).  Aside from being non-biodegradable and often slinging up onto your paint while you drive away, solvent-based silicone dressings contain an compound known as Dimethyl (DMS) which leeches the elasticity from the tire causing it to harden prematurely.  It also advances the movement of Antiozonant out of the rubber, causing premature browning of the tire called “blooming”.  Antiozonant is added to the rubber to block Ozone and UVrays from damaging the rubber. As the DMS evaporates, it takes all the positive properties of the rubber with it, leaving behind a hard rubber and an unnaturally shiny tire that will attract dirt like flypaper.

Water based dressings (like Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing) contains a silicone based organic polymer known as PDMS.  It is used in everyday items like shampoo to leave hair silky and shiny.  In addition, they often contain products that assist in UV blocking, are non-toxic, and are largely biodegradable.  They won’t last as long as a solvent based dressing, but the benefits (and even the cost) are worth their use; and, they don’t attract dirt like their counterparts.  Unlike solvent based dressings, Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing can be diluted to become more cost effective and control the amount of shine or sheen you desire.

Last come the application of the dressing.  Apply via sprayer or pour the like Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing onto the Lake Country Tire Dressing Applicator.  When using a sprayer, it is better if you dilute the dressing 1:1 – 4:1 (depending on your desired level of shine) so that it sprays rather than streams out of the bottle.  If you apply too much, it will run, but it can always be wiped even with a microfiber or second Lake Country Tire Dressing Applicator.  Do this to all four tires, and you are finito!

Applying tire dressing

Here you can see the difference between dressed and not-dressed.

See the difference between tire with dressing and without

And one more time…After:

Clean and shiny tires

So the next time you shine your shoes, don’t forget the laces.  Spend a few extra minutes now, and they will provide you with a few extra miles in the future.

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21 comments on How to Clean and Shine your Tires

  1. Mo says:

    Thanks for the write up David! I usually pre-soak each rim w/P21S Gel and tire with P21S TAW and procedd to clean my rims and tires with the same soapy water. Is this a bad idea? Should i seperate this process?

    • Your Welcome! I don’t think it’s a bad idea to use the same soapy water bucket. Although I tend to work tires (and Undercarriage) first and then wheels (and then change water), I think that as long as you use a Grit Guard (or 2) in your buckets, you should be fine. As with any washing, use your own discretion for when the water becomes too dirty to keep using.

  2. Mark says:

    After scrubbing power clean with a tire brush, do you immediately go to neutralizing with soapy water, or rinse the off OPC first?

    Thanks!

    • Mark, thanks for the question. I like washing with the soapy water immediately following the cleaning with the tire brush as a “second” wash before rinsing the whole tire.

  3. Brian says:

    David, thanks for the nice write up.

    I have two questions: 1. what do you use to clean the white letters on white-lettered tires? I’ve been using a Brillo pad. 2. The tires on my small SUV are a bit scuffed from hitting curbs, and those areas look brown in comparison to the rest of the tire. What cleaning and dressing products would result in a uniform (and attractive) finish?

    Thanks!

    • Brian thanks for the questions. I tend leave the Brillo pads in the kitchen and reach for a stiff bristled brush made specifically for tires when cleaning tires and the white letters or sidewalls. I find that the Brillo pads, or other coarse kitchen items, tend to give the raised letter edges a tattered look over time. If you cannot find a suitable, or specific, tire brush, try a nail or (firm) tooth brush. It will take a bit longer, but soaked in cleaning solution, it will provide a nice white letter or sidewall with no damage to the tire.
      As for your second question, I am afraid the scuffs won’t be able to be removed. The best thing you can do is to clean the tire as best as you can, and then dress the tire with something like Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing or Optimum Opti-bond (which is also not solvent based and may last longer). If the area in focus doesn’t darken uniformly on the initial application, apply several layers to that area until the desired look is achieved. I always use these with the Lake Country Applicator.

  4. Ciro says:

    Hey there,
    I bought optimum power clean to specifically clean tires in an economical way…but every time I do so it turns them BROWN!(diluted 4:1 with water) Boo pooo. I wanted the opposite effect. Any help with this?
    Cheers!
    Ciro

    • Hi Ciro! Power Clean is a wonderful cleaner and when diluted, is not only still effective in cleaning but also in price! However, my guess is that it is not necessarily the Power Clean that is leaving your tires brown. Tires will brown over time as their Antiozonant wears away. In addition, some tires are more prone to premature browning than others. To avoid browning try dressing the tires after cleaning with Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing or Optimum Opti-bond. Apply either of these dressings with a Lake Country Applicator and you should see the look you’ve been after. It only takes a few extra seconds to swipe on the dressing. I hope this helps Ciro!

  5. darron says:

    can the mixture of the browning / antiozonants and tire dressing leave a stain on paint? if so, how do you clean it off? I have some weird brown stains on my white car that were not there before and I have noticed that my tires are turning brown between dressings. any ideas?

  6. Roger says:

    I have white wall tires on my early Cadillac Eldorado. I have used Westley’s Bleach White for years to clean all my tires but have avoided using a tire dressing because past experience has tought me that they turn the white a yellowish brown.
    Will a water based dressing not do this?

    • Greg Greg @ DI says:

      Roger – To be extra safe you can avoid hitting any tire dressing on the white walls. The tire dressing is often not making the white letters look yellow, it’s a combination of dirt, road grime, etc. accumulating on the applicator. Tires are often filthy but it’s not obvious to the eye. If you thoroughly clean the tires before and use a clean applicator you shouldn’t have that problem. I use the TUF SHINE Tire Cleaner and it often takes about 5x – 8x passes to get the tires totally clean. When they are totally clean try applying a dressing with a new or freshly cleaned applicator. The white walls should be fine. As for what dressing you use most good water based dressing should be fine. I’d recommend the same TUF SHINE Tire Clearcoat and the Poorboy’s World Bold n Bright as I did above. Both of these should work great and they are actually white in color.

  7. joe says:

    I have a Dodge truck with chrome clad rims. I’m afraid any cleaner I use for the white letters will drip or spray on the rims and ruin the finish. Any ideas?

    • Greg Greg @ DI says:

      I owned an 04 Ram so I’m familiar with that wheel and tires. You can use some APC on the tires and scrub them without too much fear of harming the wheels. I just try to avoid a lot of direct sun and then also clean the wheel immediately afterward. As long as the splatter doesn’t sit on the wheel for a while you should be fine. Spray the APC with care or spray your brush directly to minimize over spray.

  8. Greg Greg @ DI says:

    darron – It certainly could leave a stain on the paint, but it’s not particular easy to get the cleaning solution off the tires and on to the paint. A more common scenario is tire sling, where the tire dressing slings on to the paint when driving. Silicone based dressings don’t absorb in to the rubber, they sit on the surface and are more likely to sling off. Silicone based dressings are also prone to browning the tires. I recommend cleaning the tire first with an APC and a scrub brush, dry and then apply the water based dressing. The Poorboy’s World Bold n Bright is a good choice or my personal favorite the TUF SHINE Tire Clearcoat.

  9. Andy says:

    Can someone speak more to the browning or “blooming” issue. I have new Nitto truck tires and can’t completely or permanetly remove the brown depite trying several products (Westly’s, Meg. All Wheel, Eagle One All Wheel, Simple Green, etc) . Dressing will hide it for a a short time but it’s major prolem for me.

    • Greg Greg @ DI says:

      Andy – I’m guessing your tires have some serious dry rot, which is usually from a lot of usage of certain silicone based dressings. Not all silicone dressings are the same and some can be really harmful to tires. With repeated usage, sun exposure, etc. it can literally rot the surface and I’m not sure if it can be removed in more extreme cases. It sounds like you’ve tried several strong cleaners that should have removed contaminants if that was the case. I typically use the TUF SHINE Tire Cleaner with the TUF SHINE Tire Brush but I don’t think this will produce a much different result, assuming you scrubbed the tires well with the cleaners you mentioned. Unfortunately I’m not aware of an easy solution in these situations and I’m sorry I don’t have a good suggestion for you.

  10. Carmelo Junior says:

    Great advice. My God, I was using degreaser and leaving it there! Then I used “Tire Shine” spray. Never knew how dealers and detailers had those tires shining so great.

  11. Craig says:

    I use Scrubbing Bubbles on the tires, spray it on and either wipe it off or just let it dry. Not as shiny as using some of the tire shine products but makes the tires black and clean

  12. Keith says:

    people would be amazed at what soap and water can do to their cars’
    and I mean that in the most eloquent way possible-

  13. Derek says:

    What’s the best way to clean a spare tire so it doesn’t stink up or grease up the trunk? Just soap and water with a brush?

  14. Cynthia Jones says:

    Hi, I actually have a question. What is the best and affI ordable way to remove brown stains on my tire? I use Amorall products and have gotten no good results. Can you please help? I have a Firehawk raised white letter tires.
    I look forward to hearing from you soon.
    Thank you,
    Cynthia Jones

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