How to clean wheels and tires

Brake Dust

Brake dust is an unwanted sight on any car, especially to someone who wants to keep their wheels looking clean and shiny. Unfortunately brake dust is a bi product of being able to stop your car. Luckily there are many things we can do to get rid of unwanted brake dust and prevent it’s build up. Not cleaning off brake dust soon enough can actually damage the paint work of your wheels. With proper cleaning, polishing and protection we can easily negate the effects that brake dust can cause to our wheels.

clean wheels brake dust

So what exactly is brake dust?

Brake dust is the result of your brake pads rubbing against the disk rotor whilst the car is coming to a stop. When the pad wears down under the heat and pressure from squeezing the rotor so much. The metal filings and other compounds that make up the brake pad disperse as “brake dust” which then settle and stick to your wheels. Over time this can have a negative impact on your wheels by corroding the metal and paintwork. Typically the damage from brake dust comes in the form of pitting on the wheels and peeling lacquer.

Types of wheel

The two most common forms of wheels that are on all modern cars are the steel rim and the alloy rim. Steel rims are the most basic wheels that come fitted to a car, they are typically painted black and covered with a hubcap. Steel rims are cheap and strong but they lack the performance that can be obtained from alloy wheels.

Alloy wheels are the most popular wheels on cars today, they are light and very strong. Also alloy wheels come in a much larger variety of designs, styles, and colours. In short, they can be customized to a far greater level than steel. Alloy wheels can also be finished in many more ways, polished, painted, machine, diamond cut and chrome plated.

Wheel and tyre cleaner

There are many types of dedicated wheels cleaners on the market that can cover the vast selection of wheels, specific to the type of wheel and finish. When selecting a wheel cleaner you should always ensure that it’s safe to use on your wheels and always follow the manufacturers instructions. There are many wheels cleaners available so selecting the right one is important. I recommend selecting one that is as pH neutral as possible (pH 7). There are cheap all purpose wheel cleaners available but these can often do more harm than good as they contain chemicals which may damage the metal of your wheels, strip the paint or dull a polished surface.

Clean wheels

Wheel and tyre brushes

Selecting the right type of brush to clean your wheels is key, you want something that is going to get that tough brake dust off the wheels but at the same time not so tough it scratches them. If you have painted wheels, it’s normally recommended you go for a very soft bristle brush as the finish will not be scratch resistant, much like the clear coat on your cars paint work.

Large Wheel Brush

Larger brushes are great for cleaning the bulk of the wheel quickly, always important to ensure they’re rubber tipped so the wire at the end isn’t exposed as this could cause scratches.


Small Wheelbrush

A smaller brush is great for detailing the wheels and cleaning those tighter areas.

When choosing a wheel brush I’d recommend considering going for both a smaller and larger one, purely because a larger brush will clean the bulk of the dirt and dust off allowing you to then detail the rest using the smaller brush. However this depends on the style of wheel you have and may not be an option, if you have tight spaces between the spokes you’ll be able to fit a bigger brush through however it will likely be just as much effort as a smaller one and cover you in dirt.

Wheel Cleaning

If you have the space between spokes, the larger brush will clean the bulk of dirt and brake dust quickly.


Tyre brushes should be very firm and contour the side wall of your tyres, this makes cleaning easier and allows more surface area of the brush to come in contact with the tyres at once. You should never use a tyre brush to clean your wheels, the bristles on a tyre brush are much stiffer and can badly scratch your wheels.