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Wheel Cleaning Basics


Wheel Cleaning Basics

Everyone loves a nice pair of shoes on their car.  The build of brake dust can make them grimy and unsightly, and in time will erode the rims if left unattended.  A clean set of rims helps set the appearance of the total car.

One of the first things that needs to be known is whether your rims are uncoated or coated (do they have a clear coat or not).  Uncoated wheels need special attention in the cleaning as to not tarnish metal, which can happen if you spray most cleaners on them.  Most cleaners have a low pH to help break down the grime; this will cause oxidation of the metal if uncoated.  Uncoated wheels will make you a slave to them, so prepare!

How can one know if their wheels are coated or not?  Get any kind of metal polish, even the stuff your grandma used for the Thanksgiving ware, and then apply some with a cloth to the rims.  If the rims polish easily and the black tarnish is transferred to the cloth they are UNCOATED.  I would suggest P21S Wheel cleaner as this cleaner is pH neutral in it ability to clean.  I have used this cleaner on $50,000 vintage Ferrari Boranis wheels, and have left it on for 20min to work its magic with no ill effects.

If the wheels are coated I still suggest using P21s, but sometimes the wheels are just dang dirty and you need them clean quick.  I would then look towards Optimums Power Clean to help you.  You can dilute this down to different strengths to clean different places on the car, a highly versatile cleaner.

Make sure the wheels are cool, and the car’s brakes are not warm as this will cause problems you’d rather not have.  Once cool, hose off the rims with a jet of water to loosen the grime.  Spray your wheel cleaner, either P21s or Power Clean…more is not always better so apply and allow to dwell.  I do one side of the car at a time, so repeat the process with the other wheel.  Here’s a tip: The front rims are usually grimier than the rear so do the front first so it will have the most dwell time.  Using the E-Z Detail brush to get into the inner rim, foam up the wheel cleaner which will expedite the working action. If you need other brushes, use them to work the chemical into all the nooks and crannies.  If after this you see some of the grime is still adhering to the rims, give that area another shot of cleaner and work with the brush.  Allowing some dwell time really helps the process, especially if you’re using P21s.  Keep working the rims with your brushes and don’t allow the chemical cleaners to completely dry.  Hit the wheels with a strong stream of water, and wipe them dry, repeat process if they are still dirty.
Wheel Cleaning Basics by Reflections Detailing of Utah
Wheel cleaning is much easier the more often you get to the grimy wheels; it’s also much easier if you apply a nice sealant like Optimums Opti-Seal to the rims after you have them super clean.  Subsequent cleanings should only take the car shampoo and a brush to get them clean. If you use the cleaners mentioned they will remove the sealant.
Wheel Cleaning Basics by Reflections Detailing of Utah
Here’s to clean shoes to help offset your ride!

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Greg Nichols Reflections Detailing
Greg Nichols
Reflections Detailing
Logan, Utah

5 comments on Wheel Cleaning Basics

  1. Mike S says:

    It’s easy to do a demonstration on brand new wheels. How would you treat wheels that have seen a lot of road grime build up? I’m referring to wheels with road grime that P21S will not remove. I have come across these types of wheels a lot and P21S only does so much. Thanks.

  2. Greg Nichols says:


    thanks for the question. I shall assume you are talking about wheels that are etched with brake dust and road grime. I just let the my wheel cleaner of choice dwell and have to maybe use several trials of cleaning. if you are looking for a quick one time application, a strong acid or alkaline cleaner will work but you risk also damaging the finish or actual wheel. CG diablo gel wheel cleaner might be a good choice, or a 3:1 mix of Optimums Power clean.

    let me know how it turns out!


  3. Chuck Webber says:

    I have a 2011 Shelby Mustang with painted wheels. Are both P21S and Optimum Power Clean safe for these types of wheels? Any special tips?


    – Chuck

    • greg says:

      if the painted wheels are CLEARED you will be fine with either. Optimum needs to be diluted to 3:1 water to OPC as a baseline starting point. I don’t use OPC on wheels unless I know they are cleared, it might be fine to use on uncleared……..I’ve just never tested to know for sure……….maybe other pros here have?

      I would stick with P21s I know that is a great cleaner and safe on the most expensive wheels in the world. I have used it on vintage borranis on a vintage ferrari worth 4 million dollars.


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