Just like the rest of your car, regular maintenance is important for keeping your wheels and tires in good condition. Given enough time, any tire or wheel is susceptible to exposure to the elements. While aluminum alloy doesn't rust like steel, prolonged exposure to corrosive substances can still tarnish your alloy wheels, degrade their appearance over time, and pit the finish if left unattended. Some common culprits include brake dust, road salt, harsh cleaners, tar, curb rash, grease, oxidization, and accumulated dirt and moisture. Cleaning your wheels will help to preserve their shiny looks and prevent them from corroding.
The finish on your wheels requires just as much attention and care as the finish on your car. Many manufacturers recommend frequently washing your alloy wheels with a mild soap and water solution weekly to prevent dirt and road grease from building up. Applying wheel wax or similar sealants regularly will help to prevent brake dust and similar substances from sticking to your wheels. Bare aluminum wheels in particular should be waxed and polished after cleaning to maintain their appearance.
Depending on how often you clean your wheels, however, you'll likely need something stronger than soapy water to get rid of the brake dust and other dirt buildup on your tires and wheels. Be careful: Many household and all-purpose cleaners contain harsh acids or alkalines that can stain and ruin the wheel finish. They may also have ingredients that can cause tire rubber to breakdown. Even dedicated wheel cleaners can vary considerably in strength. Always check the labels when selecting a wheel cleaner to make sure that it's suitable for use on alloy wheels and for your type of finish.
Beware of polishing compounds if your wheels are painted or have a clearcoat. Many wheel polishes are designed for bare aluminum wheels, and should not be used on clear-coated wheels unless specially designed for them. You should also be cautious when taking your car to an automated car wash, as many car washes use steam cleaners or acidic cleaning solutions that can tarnish or destroy the finish on your wheels. Using the wrong cleaner products or procedures will void your finish warranty.
Your wheels and tires are generally the dirtiest parts of your vehicle, so it's best to clean them first to avoid splattering your freshly washed car with muck and grime. Make sure that your wheels and tires are off your car and cooled down. Cleaning your wheels while they are still hot will cause your cleaning solution to dry out faster, leaving behind unsightly water spots and soap residue on your wheels.
Start by hosing your tires and wheels down to rinse off any loose dirt and dust before applying your soapy water or other appropriate cleaning solution. Use a sponge, soft cloth, or dedicated wheel brush to scrub your tires and wheels. Avoid stiff-bristled brushes, steel wool pads, or other abrasive materials, as these can scratch your wheels. One or more dedicated wheel brushes will help to remove persistent grime without damaging the finish.
Rinse the tires and wheel wells thoroughly to wash off any cleaning residue, and dry with a soft microfiber cloth to prevent water spots. You may want to wash your wheels one at a time so that you can rinse each one off before it dries. Once your wheels are clean and dry, you can apply a fresh coating of wheel wax to insulate them against the elements.