How To Safely Clean Your Wheels and Tires

So you want to clean your wheels and tires?


You’re in the right place.

In this article, I’ll take you through the exact process we use in our detailing business to clean our customers vehicles.

At this point, we’ve cleaned hundreds of wheels and tires for our Basic Car Wash and Wash and Wax services. So what we teach here is what we use in the real world.   

Tools and Products

This is probably going to be the most time-consuming part because you have to decide what you’re willing to purchase or what you can find locally (see our full list of tool/products here).

There are so many options on the market from different brands, price points, and setups.

Take what I say here and mold it into your own situation (or just leave a comment and I can help you out).

For this specific wheel cleaning demonstration, we’ll be using the following (DISCLOSURE: Some of the links below are affiliate links):

Spray bottle: You’ll use this to spray your cleaner onto the wheel. Personally, we use the iK pump sprayer (shown in examples below). You can purchase these locally.

EZ Detail Brush: This brush is used to get into the inner wheel barrel. This is definitely optional as not everyone wants to want to get this detailed with their wheel cleaning.

Montana Brush: This brush is primarily used for cleaning the face of the wheel. Depending on the style of wheel you have, that may or may not be enough.

Detail Buddy Brush Set: If you think the above brush is not going to work for you, you can also try using a brush like this.

You’ll use it for both the face of the wheel and the brake caliper.

TUF Shine Tire Brush: This is by far my most favorite tire brush I’ve ever used. It is the perfect amount of stiffness but you can also buy a brush locally.  

Super Clean: This is the cleaner I’m using inside the pump sprayer. I dilute it 10:1.  You can purchase this locally.

Water hose setup: To make life much easier on you, you’ll need access to water hose.

You don’t need a pressure washer. If you live in an apartment and you don’t have a water hose available, you can use a spray bottle or pump sprayer with just water.

It’s going to take longer then if you had a garden hose, but you can rinse the wheel with it (I’ve done it plenty of times).

So that’s everything you need.

I know it seems like a lot. It can be a bit pricey.

Make sure you’re not just purchasing what I mention here. Take a look at your wheel, search around online, and check out your local stores to see what they have.

The Cleaning Concept

There’s no one perfect way to clean your wheels and tires.

For instance, some people like to start with the tires, then wheel barrels, then the face of the wheels.

Someone else might like to clean the wheel barrel, then the face, then the tires.

There’s no perfect method. You can change things up as you’d like.

Here’s our process:

Clean tire > rinse > clean inner wheel barrel > rinse > clean wheel face > rinse > clean brake caliper > rinse > wipe down wheel

But again, don’t take this as hard science. You can switch it up however you want.

Keep This In Mind

This isn’t rocket science, but there’s definitely good rule of thumbs you should follow to get the best results.

Thing #1: Don’t work in direct sunlight or on really hot wheels.

Both of these will cause the cleaner to dry on the wheel very fast .

By the time you try to agitate with your brush, the cleaner is completely dry and all you’re doing is moving dirt around.

For best results, work in the shade and on cool wheels.

Thing #2: If the wheel is warm or it’s hot outside, rinse frequently.

You don’t want to let any cleaner or dirt sit and dry on the surface.

So if you have to work in these environments, make sure you’re rinsing the wheel down.

Thing #3: Depending on your wheel setup, this can take very long (or go by quickly).

If you have an aftermarket multi-spoke wheel, that might take a lot longer to clean compared to someone that has an OEM wheel with 5 spokes and a lot of clearance.

Let’s start…

Step #1: Clean The Tires

Spray your cleaner onto the tire. Make sure you cover the entire sidewall down.

Next, agitate the tire. If you have thin sidewalls, this should be pretty easy.

If you tire is really dirty, you may want to put some force down on the brush to really agitate the tire.

You want to pull all the gunk out of the tire.

Once you go around the entire tire, rinse it off. You should see a bunch of black/brown gunk coming down.

Now you could give it a second pass if you’d like. If it’s really dirty and you want ensure you removed most of the gunk, you’ll just repeat the same process again.

Pay attention to the cleaner.

Does it turn brown again like it did in the first pass that you did or does the cleaner remain white?

If it turns brownish again, that means there’s still dirt being pulled off from the tires.

If it remains white, then most of the gunk has been cleaned off!

Now rinse off the tire as we’re done with that part.

Step #2: Clean The Inner Wheel Barrels

Spray the cleaner into the barrels. You may have to stick the spray nozzle into the wheel so you can really cover the barrel.

If you haven’t cleaned your wheel barrels in a while, you definitely want to spray liberally with the cleaner so it can break the dust and dirt down.

Now using your EZ Detail Brush, work it between each spoke. For added measure, spray a bit more of your cleaner onto the brush so it stays lubricated.

Repeat this process throughout the entire wheel.

Don’t hold back on spraying the cleaner. There might be a lot of brake dust and dirt in there.

As a heads up, if you’re using the EZ Detail Brush (or something similar), the bristles will slingback gunk back to you.

So if you want to keep your hands, arms, and face clean, you’ll want to use gloves, a long sleeve and eye protection (at a minimum, wear eye protection. You don’t want brake dust in your eyes!)

Remember to rinse off!

This is very important. You don’t want to let it dry in the barrel as you’ll have to do the process all over again.

Step #3: Clean The Wheel Faces

We’re bringing it home now!

Finally you’re going to spray the face of the wheel and agitage with the Montana brush.

Make sure you’re fitting the bristles into the spokes. You’ll angle it in different manners to reach those tight areas.

An overlooked areas are always the wheel lugs. Make sure you’re getting in those tight areas.

Once you’re done, rinse off the wheel face.

Now at this point, you can easily spray down the brake caliper and agitate with a smaller brush like the Detail Buddy brush I mentioned.

Sometimes it’s easier to clean than others depending on your design and if the spokes are in the way.

You can always move the car forward or backwards to rotate the spokes for more access.

Then rinse off again.  

Step #4: Wipe Down The Wheel

You don’t want to let the water dry on your wheel as you’ll create water spots.

Take a dry clean towel and wipe them down.

It’ll be a bit difficult to get the towel in the inner barrel, but you’ll squeeze it through the spokes the best you can.

Repeat On All Four Wheels and Tires

Now it’s time to repeat this process!

If this is your first time, it’s going to take you a while to get the hang of things.

Don’t be in a rush!  

The first wheel you clean should take a while, the second should go a bit faster, so on and so on…

Once you get a few cleanings in, you’ll be doing it like a pro in no time 🙂

I Followed The Steps Them But They’re Still Dirty?

Ah, I hate it when that happens.

We see it all the time.

You go through the whole process, the wheel looks cleaner, and then it dries and there’s still a bunch of brake dust on it.

When this happens, you can try different things:

You can try a stronger cleaner from what you’re using.

If you’re using Super Clean diluted 10:1, you can try using Super Clean diluted 4:1 or even use it straight out the bottle for maximum strength.

The next thing you can do is clean up the wheels with your towel.

Spray your cleaner onto a section of the wheel. So pick one or two spokes that you’re going to clean, and wipe it down with a towel.

This method will take a lot longer, but it’s something that we do all the time as well.

This usually happens when the wheel hasn’t been cleaned in a while and it’s really stuck to the surface.

And that should wrap it up.

You have the tools, process, and tips.

Now it’s all up to you! Go out there and take care of business.


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