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How to Properly Clean Wheels: Lug Nuts, Faces and Barrels…Oh My!


Some of the wheels out today are nothing short of amazing.

Wheel Money Shot

The design, build quality, lack of weight while still being amazingly strong are just some of these features. So why do so many people not take care of wheels to the level they take care of their paint? Wheel cleaning, just like paint cleaning, needs to have the correct products, the correct tools and the correct technique.

With that said, let’s move onto what type of cleaner you should be using. I like to think of wheel cleaners as having 3 “tiers” based on how dirty the wheel is.

Cleaning ADV1 Wheels

Cleaning STI Wheels

Now that you know what cleaner you need to use we can talk about the proper tools for the job. Brushes are your best friend and help you get the job done faster and better. They will allow you to get into every crevice and all the way into the barrel.

Face/Caliper – Glue Brushes

Raceglaze Wheel Brushes

Barrel – Wheel Woolies

Wheel Woolies

Now let’s talk about the process.

First, fill a bucket with water and a bit of car shampoo and place your brushes and a grit guard inside. Second you are going to either rinse the wheel down, or spray your cleaner (Read the label for specific product directions). Then, begin to agitate the wheel with your brushes, constantly dipping them back into the bucket as they become soiled. Work from top to bottom just like you would with the vehicle. Rinse out all of your brushes after each wheel to make sure you have clean brushes every time. Once every part of the wheel, including the barrel, the caliper, etc. have been agitated, rinse the wheel extremely thoroughly as to make sure no cleaner is left to dry on the surface. Now that the wheels are clean you want to protect them just like you would your paint. This will help them clean easier next time and resist contamination.

The main takeaway from this article is that wheels need to be treated just as carefully as the paint is treated. Whether they are custom one off wheels or hubcaps, treat every wheel like it is special.

Ian Martinez
Gloss Angeles
Irvine, CA
Instagram | YouTube

12 comments on How to Properly Clean Wheels: Lug Nuts, Faces and Barrels…Oh My!

  1. Chaz says:

    Nice article!

  2. Christian Nelson says:

    Thanks for this interesting article.

  3. mike Berman says:

    Better than a brush and elbow grease is a soapy high pressure washer on the outside as well as the inside of the wheel from under the car.

    Dry to a shine with a variety of popular products.

    • Stubborn brake dust needs agitation that a pressure washer just cannot provide. If the product is able to spray on and off and get everything clean than it is a very harsh chemical that can damage delicate wheels.

      • mike Berman says:

        I do the hi pressure cleaning 2x a week on all my cars with just water.

        Wipe down with Eagle’s dry and shine nano wax. End result a mirror without using harsh chem cleaners.

        A lazy mans way to spectacular wheel care.

  4. Moses says:

    A little light on details.

  5. Donavan says:

    What is the second spray?

  6. Chris H says:

    These tips are great if you are already starting on a fairly clean wheel, or one that has been even somewhat maintained. What do you do the first time you try to clean them when they have rarely if ever been cleaned, such as when purchasing a used car? The problem I can’t seem to find the solution to is getting rid of all the hundreds of extremely tiny specs of tar off the wheel. The only thing that has worked for me is tar remover or goo-gone, a micro towel, my fingers/hand and 2 to 3 hours of tedious scrubbing.

    • Have you tried a clay bar? If that doesn’t work unfortunately severely dirty wheels take severe measures to clean. Often multiple applications of cleaner and lots of elbow grease. That’s why maintenance is key!

  7. Patrick Breen says:

    As a “newbie”, does it matter if the tires or the rims are cleaned first?
    After the “cleaning” step, do you go on to the polishing/protection steps?
    OR. Do you go to the “cleaning” step for either the tires or rims whichever was done first?

    • Personally I clean the wheels first just so the cleaner you use on the tires doesn’t sit on the wheels while you clean them, but it does not really matter as long as you don’t let anything dry.

      Yes you would go onto the polishing/protecting steps after the wheel and tires are clean and dry.

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