The Best Things to Use to Clean Aluminum Rims


Aluminum rims must be maintained if that fresh, just out-of-the-box look is desired. Over time, brake dust, grime and dirt from the road accumulate on the rims; taking the time to properly clean them will keep them looking sharp and save the car owner money.

Soap and water

  • The best way to clean aluminum rims is by using a mild soap and water. Acid and harsh chemicals will damage the rims. Some commercial cleaners and soaps are too harsh to use on aluminum wheels. Wash the rims in soapy water as often as is needed.

Liquid polishes and pastes

  • The best liquid polishes to use on aluminum rims should not contain ammonia or acids. Anhydrous chemicals should also not be found in the polish. Pastes should be free of these ingredients as well. While being manufactured to counter oxidization, they continue the process of oxidization and etch into the aluminum. Zinc is found in high concentrations in aluminum, and acids, anhydrous chemicals and ammonias dissolve zinc.

Sanding and buffing

  • Cleaning up pits can be done by using a foam painter’s abrasive pad. Never go above 180 grit in sanding out pits on an aluminum rim. A belt grinder can be used on the faces of the rim. Even lines should be used when sanding around the rim. Roloc-type tools can also be used. Caution should be used when sanding pits, as wrinkling or gouging the face of the wheel is easy to do.

Power buffing

  • Another way to make aluminum rims look their best is to power buff them. English Custom Polishing recommends a coarse stainless or a Tripoli compound to buff the rims. They also recommend applying the compound by using a very stiff canvas-type buff that has been mill treated. The coarse stainless compound gives a bright look of steel to the aluminum rim. Once buffing is complete, clean the compounds off of the rim.


  • For hard-to-clean areas, use a toothbrush that has been wrapped in cloth. Bare bristles will scratch the finish on the rim. Cut down a lollipop stick, cover it in a soft cloth and use it to clean small, tight areas. Tear the labels off of any cloths, as they will scratch the aluminum. Go slow, and do about one quarter of the aluminum rim at a time. Trying to clean the wheel all at once can result in hazy areas. Once the buffing process is complete, mist the rim with water. Then dry it with a very soft towel and buff it again.

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