Aluminum Wheel Cleaners and How to Use Them Effectively

Aluminum wheels add a touch of class to any car, but keeping them looking their best requires special care and dedicated chemicals. Before we dive into the cleaning process, we need to answer two crucial questions: what material are the wheels made of, and do they have a coating?

How To Identify the Wheel Material:

There are several ways to determine if the wheels are aluminum. First, you can use a magnet. If it sticks, the wheels are steel; if it drops, they’re likely aluminum, an alloy, or magnesium. Remember, use caution with strong magnets, as they can be difficult to remove.

Alternatively, you can ask your customer. They may already know the material, especially if they’re serious about car care. If not, the user manual might offer some clues, like a model number that can help you identify the material online.

Finally, the wheels themselves might hold the answer. Some manufacturers etch markings or labels indicating the material and model number. You can even contact the manufacturer for assistance.

How to Check for a Coating:

Once you’ve confirmed the wheels are aluminum, the next step is crucial: checking for a coating. Choosing the wrong cleaner for coated or uncoated wheels can lead to etching, pitting, or even removing the coating entirely.

To check, apply a small amount of polish to a clean spot on the wheel and wipe it off with a light-colored microfiber cloth. If the cloth shows black residue, the wheel is uncoated aluminum. If not, it has a coating.

Choosing An Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to pick the perfect cleaner. Here are some of our top recommendations for both coated and uncoated aluminum wheels:

Some of our favorites include Meguiar’s, Mothers, and even an aluminum wheel cleaner from our line of products.

Kleen-Shine Wheel Kleen Wheel Brightener

A staple for many detailers we supply, Kleen-Shine Wheel Kleen Wheel Brightener is a go-to cleaner for many types of wheels including those made of aluminum. If you’re looking to tackle heavy brake dust and want to use an acid for cleaning aluminum wheels this is the product for you!

Wheel Kleen produces exceptional results. Plus, it is safe for both coated and uncoated aluminum wheels. It is formulated with ammonium bifluoride which means it won’t cause bubbling, pitting, or etching which is typically associated with cleaning aluminum wheels using hydrofluoric acid.

As you’re using this product, you will smell a fresh cherry aroma which makes your experience using this product much more pleasant when compared to other acid cleaners for aluminum wheels.

Meguiar’s Detailer Non-Acid Wheel and Tire Cleaner

Detailers that purchase this popular product choose Meguiar’s Detailer Non-Acid Wheel and Tire Cleaner because it is safe for just about any type of wheel. This includes coated, factory-painted, chrome, and both coated and uncoated aluminum wheels. Plus, it is easy to use!

Meguiar’s Detailer Non-Acid Wheel and Tire Cleaner is offered in a 1-gallon container, a 5-gallon pail, and a case of six, 32-ounce spray bottles. This will help you pick the amount of wheel and tire cleaner you need to buy that matches the number of vehicles you regularly detail.

Meguiar’s Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

Working with uncoated aluminum wheels? Meguiar’s Aluminum Wheel Cleaner is a great choice. Not only is it safe for uncoated aluminum, but it can also tackle other sensitive parts such as aftermarket and high-performance brakes which are typically made using specialized components and materials that are often sensitive and require specialized products.

Meguiar’s Aluminum Wheel Cleaner is the least aggressive in their Hot Rims line and a good starting point if you are unsure what materials were used to manufacture the wheels. It will remove brake dust, but it’s not as effective as some of the products mentioned above.

You can purchase this amazing product from us as a case of six, 24-ounce spray bottles. The great thing about this type of packaging is that you can split the six bottles between use for your detail jobs and you can offer it to your customers for purchase. This way they can use exactly what you use to keep their wheels clean in between detail sessions.

Mothers Polished Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

Another great product to remove brake dust from uncoated aluminum is Mother’s Aluminum Wheel Cleaner. You can also use it for painted, clear-coated, color-coated, steel, modular, chrome, custom, or factory-coated wheels, and hubcaps. It’s easy and safe to use. When you purchase this Mother’s wheel cleaner from us, you get a case of six, 24-ounce spray bottles. Meaning you can use it to detail cars and sell them to your customers.

There are many other great aluminum wheel cleaners out there too! If you haven’t found one from our recommendations you like, make sure to choose one that mentions the specific type of wheels you are going to clean and it should be safe to use.

Remember, these are just a few examples, and there are many other excellent aluminum wheel cleaners available. If you don’t find one mentioned here that suits your needs, be sure to choose one specifically designed for the type of wheels you’re cleaning.

Cleaning Aluminum Wheels

With the right cleaner in hand, you’re ready to get started!

Before we start, if you are a visual learner check out our video. If you would rather read the steps of cleaning aluminum wheels, continue reading below.

Initial Rinse

After the wheels are rinsed, apply aluminum wheel cleaner to the wheels.

To start, you are going to want to rinse off the wheels to remove as much loose brake dust and grime as you can before applying a wheel cleaner. That way you don’t waste product on something you could have removed by simply blasting it with water.

You can either use a pressure washer to do this or a hose with a nozzle that boosts that pressure to increase cleaning power.

Apply Your Choice of Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

Before you apply any cleaner, read the instructions and follow them closely to ensure you use the product safely.

Once the wheel has been rinsed and the loose debris is gone, you can apply an aluminum wheel cleaner of your choice. As the product dwells, it will begin to loosen up the stubborn brake dust making it easier to remove.

Agitate with a Wheel and Tire Brush

After spraying the cleaner on the wheels, agitate it with a brush to

Some products require agitation using a brush. This step will be mentioned in the instructions. You will want to use a brush specifically designed for cleaning wheels. There are various options to choose from. A good one to start with is a scrubber with soft bristles that won’t scratch the wheel. You will also want a brush that can reach in between the spokes of the wheel. That is because brake dust flies everywhere and will work its way into any small space, even the lug nuts can get brake dust in them, and cleaning them requires a special brush.

Clean the Wheel Wells

Don’t neglect the wheel wells. The wheels are not clean until this is done. You might want to use a stronger cleaner here and a brush with a longer handle to make it easier to reach into the small area around the tire and the wheel well. The extra attention to detail will impress your customers as this area gets exceptionally dirty too!

Rinse Off the Wheels

Once you have applied the cleaner, removed the brake dust, and cleaned the wheel wells, you can rinse everything off. Make sure to adhere to the dwell time of aluminum wheel cleaners. Manufacturers will provide recommendations on the product label to help you protect your customer’s wheels from damage. Optimal dwell time allows the product to be effective while not drying on the wheel. Now the wheels should be nice and clean.

Dry the Wheels

All you need to do now is dry the wheels. For this task use a dedicated microfiber towel so you don’t cross-contaminate. If you allow them to dry on their own, they will show water spots. Drying the wheel will prevent this and allow your hard work to shine!

Other Considerations

It is important to note a couple of things before we finish up.

Curb Rash

First, aluminum wheel cleaners will not fix curb-scrapped wheels. This requires a much more complicated process and a specialized professional depending on the severity of the damage. There are plenty of resources available online if you want to learn how to do repair curb rash.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Aluminum wheel cleaners, even the least aggressive formulas contain chemicals that are harmful for humans to be exposed to. It is a good idea to wear gloves, goggles or glasses, and a NIOSH-approved mask or respirator to protect yourself from chemical fumes and brake dust particles thrown into the air by high-pressure spray. You can also work outside to create better ventilation or open the garage doors to help ventilate your work area.

Check out our blog titled Exterior Detailing Necessities for even more information about PPE!

Other Aluminum Wheel Care

Once the wheels are clean there are a few steps you can take which are not covered in this post. Here are a few of them. You might want to sand or polish them to restore a smooth, shiny finish. Additionally, you can add a protectant such as a wax, coating, or metal sealant. There are great guides on the internet to help you pick and apply the right protectants and polish or sand aluminum wheels.

Now that you know how to clean aluminum wheels, you can transform the appearance of their wheels and bring back their original shine. Your customers will be blown away when they see the results and will recommend you to their friends and family!

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