What’s one thing that all show cars have in common? Clean wheels. The details are often times what distinguish a truly breathtaking car from one that’s just pretty. Brake dust and other junk from the road surface are constantly building up on your wheels, so getting and keeping them clean is key to maintaining a showroom finish.
Chrome wheels need more special care and attention to detail than other alloys. New chrome owners typically ask:
- How can you get them completely clean though?
- How can you be sure that what you’re doing is really working and not just wasting your time?
- What can you do to avoid damaging the wheel while you work on it?
- Once cleaned what’s the best way to get an amazing reflection in the wheel surface?
Let’s look at what the pros do and how you can apply their techniques and tools to get professional level results without the hassle of finding a place in your area and hoping that they care about your wheels and their finish as much as you do.
Let’s begin with a couple of details that are important when it comes to how you’re going to go about this project. First, if you can take your wheels off that will make the entire process considerably more enjoyable and it’ll allow you to be more thorough. Sometimes we forget about cleaning lugnuts and the little bit of space behind them and let me tell you from personal experience, if you don’t clean your lugnuts they will absolutely be a fly in the ointment so to speak. If you can’t remove the wheel you can still remove these one at a time and clean them, just be sure to replace them and torque to spec before removing the next one.
Second, it’s important to consider if there is damage to the chrome. Brake dust is notoriously corrosive and will eat into the wheel surface easily. If it’s done this, some chrome wheels can actually experience more damage if they’re beginning to flake and you scrub too hard around these sites. So if you spot corrosion check to see if the wheels are flaking (which shouldn’t happen in solid chrome rims) and if so, be careful around these sites with your force and pressure. Now that those things are out of the way, let’s get cleaning and polishing.
The Tools Needed to Clean Chrome Rims
1. Water and non-acidic Soap
Unless you’re sure of the finish of your wheels, non-acidic is the right choice here. It’ll be a guaranteed safe play no matter what type of finish you have and I recommend BioTech NonAcid wheel cleaner. It is at the same price point or less than it’s major competitors and it’s the only one to have two major features I love. First, it is rated to get rid of heavy carbon and other road surface deposits. Second, it has rust inhibitors included with the formula to help protect your wheel long after you’ve cleaned it. It’s a good idea to have a spray bottle to combine these products when the time comes to use the soap.
2. Wheel Brush
Really you’ll thank me for this one. You’re going to spend twice the time and at least a few bucks on new rags, or worse you’ll risk your finish by using something like paper towels if you don’t go this route so do yourself a favor and go get a wheel brush. It’ll loosen up the dirt and grime and be simple to clean and care for.
3. Microfiber Towels
Any brand is fine so long as you wash them first to get the little bits of unattached fuzz off of them before you begin using them.
4. Fine Steel Wool (Optional)
This is totally optional and a smidge controversial but if you have solid chrome rims this can make your finish incredible. Consider it an old-timers secret that has adverse effects if you only have a chrome finish so it’s vital to know which you own before going this route.
5. Wheel Polish
There are tons of options out there and most are good but I personally use Mothers California Gold Chrome Polish for a few reasons. It goes on easily and takes almost no fine attention to leave a super clean finish. It also adds a layer of protection to the wheel surface and finally, it costs almost nothing.
Steps to Clean Chrome Car Rims
- Spray the wheels down with a strong jet of clean water. It’s not something you need a pressure washer for but a step below that is a good idea. This will begin to loosen more stubborn deposits and totally remove anything that’s just barely there. Let each wheel sit roughly 2 minutes before proceeding to step two.
- Spray on your soap and water mix and let this sit for at least 5 minutes on each wheel. Then rinse it again. The soap will have grabbed many of the more sticky dirt particles and helped remove them from the wheel surface. This is the step where most people tell you to just get in there with the brush and that’s a waste of time. A second rinsing will remove a lot of the dirt so you’re not wasting your energy doing something the water and soap could’ve already done.
- Now go in with your brush. Be thorough. Be systematic. One of the most annoying things is thinking you got every bit and then realizing as you’re about to polish that you’ve missed a large swath of metal.
- Time to get in there with your microfiber towel. You can use a little more soap here if there’s much in the way of deposits left but at this stage, they should be minimal. Again, being systematic is helpful.
- Now you should have a very clean and dry wheel. It’s time for polish at this point and if you so choose, this is where the fine steel wool comes into play. Whether you choose that or microfiber towels, go ahead and apply your polish and rub it into the wheel. One thing to consider is this, go back and forth. Do not polish in circles. If you should find a way to press hard enough to leave marks, circles will show up easily whereas forward and backstrokes will not. Also if using microfiber towels you want to keep polishing until you don’t get deposits back onto the towel. So when you rub and it remains the same color and picks up no particles you’re all finished. Either way, you don’t want to leave the polish on the wheel to dry unless that’s a part of the directions of the polish you’re using. Most will do best if removed before drying.
After your rims are cleaned and polished, it’s time for the interior. Check out our article on the best shampoos for car carpets.