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How to clean alloy wheels

Our top tips for keeping your car's wheels looking 'showroom fresh'

Alloy wheel cleaning

Most cars sold these days come with a set of smart and shiny alloy wheels as standard. However, it's often not long before they start to look faded and dirty. This is not surprising, as not only do wheels pick up dirt from the road and air, they're also exposed to the high temperatures emanating from the car's brakes, which can result in dirt getting 'baked' on to the wheels.

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That said, electric cars' regenerative braking systems can reduce this phenomenon compared to a purely internal-combustion-engined car, as they allow for a degree of 'one-pedal' driving and reduce your reliance on the brakes to slow down the car.

Nonetheless, even an electric car's alloys will get unappealingly dirty eventually, so what's the best way to clean alloy wheels? Standard 'car shampoo' will do an okay job, but only surface dirt will be lifted off this way. Baked-on dirt can only be gotten rid of by using a specialised alloy-wheel cleaning liquid, while very hard tar deposits may require the use of some WD-40.

Wheel-cleaning fluids are generally best, however, as they're very effective at shifting dirt in just a single application and rinse off easily with water once you're finished the job.

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You'll most likely clean your car's wheels while you're washing the rest of it. Many people favour pressure washers to make this job easier, but even these can struggle to shift that baked-on dirt we mentioned earlier. The wheel cleaner allows you to reach all the narrow gaps in a typical alloy, without damaging the wheel's coating in the process.

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It's best to use latex or rubber gloves while washing alloy wheels, to keep both the cleaning product and brake dust off your skin. They can irritate it, and the dirt particles can get ingrained under your nails or into your skin.

The best wheel-cleaning products don't require too much work – you just spray them on, leave them for a few minutes to loosen the dirt, and then use water to rinse them off. Some will even change colour to reveal how much dirt is being removed. All use ingredients that won't damage your tyres or cause pollution if rinsed down a drain.

It's good practice to give your car's wheels a second wash once you're done using the cleaning product, however you should keep those gloves on while doing so, as there may still be some dust and particles present.

Now that your wheels are spotlessly clean, there are some steps you can take to keep them looking that way for longer, so you won't have to repeat the cleaning job as often. Specialist wheel wax can be used to treat the wheel after cleaning, creating a layer on the wheel that minimises the amount of brake dust accumulating in future.

Having cleaned your wheels, you can complete the car's 'showroom fresh' look by adding a coat of tyre shine to the four tyres – just be careful to spray it on the sidewalls only, not the treads, as this can affect the tyres' grip.

For more tips on cleaning your car, see our full guide packed with advice for you to bring your car to showroom quality. 

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Richard is editor of DrivingElectric, as well as sister site Carbuyer.co.uk, and a regular contributor to Auto Express. An electric and hybrid car advocate, he spent more than five years working on the news and reviews desk at Auto Express and has driven almost every new car currently on sale.

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