Clean Your Rims Like a Pro – How To Do It

Your car rims collect a lot of dirt, grime, and grease as you cruise around the city. Over time, the gunk accumulates to make your wheels look unsightly. Hefty buildups may affect your drive performance, so how do you clean the rims?

Here’s how to clean very dirty and neglected rims like a pro:

  • Gather your cleaning supplies.
  • Park the car under shade and wait for the rim to cool down.
  • Pro Tip: Jack up your car and take off the rims
  • Rinse off loose filth using a high-pressure hose. 
  • Apply a wheel cleaner.
  • Apply snow foam.
  • Clean the rims with a wheel brush. 
  • Clean the brake calipers with a detailing brush
  • Rinse the rims. 
  • Scrub the rims thoroughly.
  • Rinse a second time.
  • Allow the rims to dry. 
  • Pro Tip: Apply car wax or ceramic coating after drying

Blasting some water on your rims isn’t enough to return it to its magnificent appearance. I’ll cover the steps above in more detail in the rest of this article to help you get the cleaning right every time.

Gather Your Cleaning Supplies

You’d need a few supplies to clean your rims properly. Some of the materials you’ll need to gather are:

  • A high-pressure hose
  • A wheel cleaner
  • Snow foam
  • Wheel cleaning brush
  • Detailing brush
  • Microfiber towels
  • Pro Tip: Apply car wax or ceramic coating after drying

Don’t worry if you’re unsure what wheel cleaner or snow foam is. We’ll cover both more in-depth later, so you know how to use each and why they’re essential.

Park the Car Under Shade and Wait for the Rim to Cool Down

Parking your car under shade before cleaning the rim protects you from harsh UV rays as you work, but it’ll also keep your rim from drying out too fast as you apply cleaning agents. 

Similarly, a hot rim will dry out the cleaning agents before they’ve had the chance, and the resulting fume may be unhealthy for you (depending on the products used). Once your rim is cooled, you can get to work.

Pro Tip: Jack Up Your Car and Take the Rims Off

Before you get to washing, it’s an excellent idea to get your car jacked up and remove your rims. Doing so provides a couple of valuable benefits. 

For one, it allows you to reach places you might not otherwise be able to. Dirt and grime quickly pile up behind your rims and towards the inside of the wheel well. To keep your wheels looking immaculate and extend their longevity, it’s crucial you wash them back there.

Secondly, it helps you detect any marks your rims might have. Since wheels are usually under cars, finding all the cosmetic damage can be tricky. Removing them for cleaning solves that problem.

Rinse-Off Loose Filth Using a High-Pressure Hose

Grab your high-pressure garden washer to spray the rims thoroughly to get rid of caked filth. Pouring water on the rim with a bowl or bucket won’t do the job as you need the high pressure from the water jet to get rid of the dirt. Getting rid of as much dirt as possible at this stage will make the job a lot easier for you.

Apply a Wheel Cleaner

Rinsing your rims off is a good start, but you should also apply a wheel cleaner. 

Wheel cleaner is a solution that helps break down any filth caked onto your rims. After applying it, you generally have to wait a few minutes. Then, you can scrub off the softened dirt and rinse any remaining debris away.

However, you should combine wheel cleaner with snow foam for the best results. We’ll cover snow foam in the next step.

And don’t forget to use wheel cleaner on your brake calipers too! 

If you remove your rims for cleaning, it can be easy to overlook them. However, they accumulate wear and tear just as much as your rims. 

Apply Snow Foam

You can add snow foam on top of the wheel cleaner mix. Just pour some of the liquid into the handheld applicator device included in the packaging. Spray an even layer across the rims, making sure to cover all the corners. The snow foam will help dissolve any remaining dirt from your wheel cleaner application.

And like with the wheel cleaner, ensure you also apply snow foam to your brake calipers

Snow foam is excellent at carrying away dirt from nooks and crannies. This makes it great for cleaning your brake calipers since they have parts difficult to reach with a brush.

Clean the Rims With a Wheel Brush

With the dirt softened by the wheel cleaner and the snow foam, you can scrub the wheel with a wheel brush. 

Scrub thoroughly, making sure to reach the rim bed. For the best results, use the brush in a circular motion. If the rims on your car are star-shaped, be sure to give extra attention to the edge on each arm. Cover all the nooks and crannies.

Clean the Brake Calipers With a Detailing Brush

A traditional cleaning brush will struggle to reach the brake calipers. Their recessed position makes them dirt magnets, so ignoring them will undo all your work. If you drive off without cleaning the calipers, the dirt around there will quickly spread to the rest of your rim. So, use a detailing brush to give the calipers a thorough scrub.

Rinse the Rims

At this stage, you’ll have a thick, soapy foam filled with dirt. Pull out your high-pressure hose again to rinse off the mix. Check to ensure you don’t have any residues—more important if you’ve bought wheel cleaners with a very short reaction time. You don’t want such products staying too long on your rims. So, hose the rims down as quickly as possible.

10. Scrub the Rims Thoroughly

With the initial dirt from the first wash rinsed away, you have to scrub your rims again for a final wash. 

Mix water and standard car washing soap in a bucket for this washing session. Soak a microfiber towel inside the mix and then use it to scrub the rims. Maintain circular motions and start from outside the rims to work your way inwards towards the crevices.

Rinse the towel as it collects dirt and grime and re-soak it to continue the scrubbing. Repeat the step as many times as necessary until the rims are super clean. 

For parts of the rim that you can’t reach with your towel or detailing brush, a toothbrush can come in handy. Find one with a wide brush area and dip it into the scrubbing mix.

Rinse a Second Time

Once you’ve scrubbed the wheels thoroughly, it’s time to rinse for the final time using your high-pressure hose. Be sure to clear out all the soapy lather on your rims completely. Any remnant will only hasten the pick-up of fresh dirt and grime. Even worse, they can cause etching and weaken your tires.

Allow the Rims To Dry Before Driving the Car

Allow five minutes for the water on the rims to run off. After the water has dripped off, use a fresh, dry microfiber towel to pat the rims until they are dry. 

If you notice any leftover marks or scuffs, you can try gently wiping them away. Although, some blemishes will require a ceramic coating or other treatment to eliminate.

Pro Tip: Apply Car Wax or Ceramic Coating After Drying

Just because your rims are spick-and-span doesn’t mean your work is done!

Now it’s time to give them that extra shine with a protective coating. And to those ends, you can use either car wax or ceramic coating.

Car wax is the old-school way to give your vehicle that extra luster. After you rub it on your rims, it dries into a hazy film that you buff out. The resulting coat adds shine, repels moisture and debris, and makes it easier to wash your wheels.

Ceramic coating works similarly but has significantly more longevity. While you should reapply wax every couple of months, some ceramic coatings can last for over a year or more. They’re trickier to use but offer superior overall protection.

Once that’s all done, you can pop your rims back on and take your ride for a cruise.

How To Clean Rims That Get Cleaned Regularly

If your rims get cleaned regularly, the cleaning process is a lot less demanding than what you’ve seen above. 

For starters, you don’t need to use a wheel cleaner as standard car washing liquids can get the job done. You also don’t need to scrub twice to get your rims shining again.

So, if you don’t want to spend too much time washing your rims in the future, you should increase the frequency. If you drive off the beaten path any day, don’t allow the dirt to dry on the rims. Use your pressure hose as quickly as you can, and wash the rims in your next car washing session.

What Is Best for Cleaning Rims?

The best tools for cleaning rims include wheel brush, detailing brush, wheel cleaner, and snow foam. The wheel cleaner and snow foam combination will break down the dirt and grime on the rims, while the wheel brush and detailing brush will make scrubbing the mix off the rims easier.

The friction from using the wheel and detailing brush will loosen up any dirt on the rim’s surface and help the wheel cleaner and snow foam work faster. The chemicals will work faster on broken-up dirt but run off caked mud.

What Household Items Can I Use To Clean My Car Rims?

You can use conventional household cleaning agents to clean your car rims. The top options include lemon juice, tartar paste, baking soda, dish soap, carbonated drinks, vinegar, and toilet bowl cleaner.

Cleaning Your Car Rims With Baking Soda and Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is widely known for its stain removal properties, so it can come in handy when you’re trying to clean your rims. Combining lemon juice with baking soda gives you a powerful wheel cleaner to eliminate all kinds of stains.

Mix half a cup of baking soda and two tablespoons of lemon juice in a spray bottle, and you have a cleaner you can spritz onto your rims when washing your car. Shake the mix well before use and brush the rim like you would with a conventional wheel cleaner.

Cleaning Your Rims With Tartar Paste

Tartar paste isn’t a cost-efficient product for cleaning your rims, but if you already have some you don’t intend to use, you may not need to buy a wheel cleaner. You just need to take out some tartar cream, rub it onto your wheels, and get to work with your wheel brush. It’s an excellent household product for getting rid of rust and scrubbing off stains on rims.

Cleaning Your Rims With Dish Soap and Baking Soda

Baking soda is good for cleaning grime if used with a sponge, while dishwashing soap acts as a degreaser. The combination can give you sparkling rims. Mix half a cup of baking soda, a teaspoon of dish soap, and one gallon of hot water to get the cleaning solution.

You’ll need a sponge or rag and an old toothbrush to apply the mix. Soak your sponge in the mixture and sprinkle a little extra baking soda on the sponge before you start scrubbing the rims. 

Maintain a circular motion and give each portion of the rim a thorough scrub. Rinse the rims with clean water once done and dry with a clean towel.

Cleaning Your Rims With Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Your toilet bowl cleaner is good at dealing with tough grime. It can get rid of all kinds of stains on your wheels, but you need to be careful with using the mix to avoid damage. The best toilet bowl cleaners to use here are those with hydrochloric acid on the labeling.

Pour some of the cleaner into a ceramic or glass bowl. Add some baking soda into a spray bottle filled with water to serve as a neutralizer and shake it thoroughly. Using your brush, take some of the bowl cleaner and scrub an area of the rim you’re cleaning for a maximum of 15 seconds. Set the brush down and spray the baking soda solution on that spot to neutralize the acid immediately.

Repeat the process to clean the rest of the rim and rinse thoroughly with a pressure washer when you’re done.

Can I Use Dawn To Clean My Rims?

You can use Dawn to clean your rims. However, a combination of wheel cleaner and snow foam works better for removing dirt. Dawn can also cause cosmetic damage to your wheels if not applied carefully.

Here are some reasons to avoid applying Dawn (and other dish soaps) to your vehicle:

  • Dawn is an abrasive soap: It may leave scratches and scuffs when used with brushes.
  • Dawn deteriorates wax and ceramic coatings: The harsh chemicals that break down food grease aren’t suitable for your rims’ exterior treatments.
  • Dawn lacks shine on rims: Dawn can be effective at removing tough grime, but it doesn’t provide much luster. Wheel cleaners and snow foams leave your rims looking far more pristine.

If you’d like to use Dawn products, you should reduce the scrubbing pressure to avoid scuffing up your rims. Also, mix the soap with water instead of directly applying it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Let your rims cool down before washing them
  • Jack up your car and remove the rims for the best results
  • Make sure to clean your brake calipers too
  • Apply wax or ceramic coating after your rims dry
  • Washing your rims often makes cleaning them easier
  • Many household products can help clean your rims


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Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge