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Step by Step Guide to Clean and Polish Aluminum Wheels | 3D Car Care Miami Blog

Originally Posted by MIKE PHILLIPS on July 
| Credit: 3dproducts.com - 


Polished aluminum wheels look great when they are new or regularly maintained. The problem however, is over time, aluminum oxidizes and becomes cloudy and dull looking. The good news is, aluminum is easy to clean and polish and the polishing work can easily be done by hand on a Saturday morning in your own garage. Polished aluminum is a porous metal and as such, it's vitally important that the proper products be used to wash and clean the wheel and to also polish and protect the aluminum without staining the aluminum.

This how to article is broken into 4 segments to fully show how to address each aspect of cleaning and polishing the wheels and tires on your car.

  1.    How to safely wash and clean polished aluminum wheels and tires.

  2.    How to remove oxidation and polish aluminum to a chrome-like finish.

  3.    How to dress your car's tires to restore a deep, dark black appearance.

  4.    How to protect aluminum wheels to help prevent future oxidation.

How to safely wash wheels and tires

Supplies needed to clean wheels and tires

  Step 1: Mix 3D Pink Soap, at once ounce per gallon of water in a clean bucket.

Squeezing cleaner into cleaning bowl

Spraying water into bucket

Step 2:  Place wheel and tire cleaning brushes into car wash soap solution.

 bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush

Soapy scrub brush with a bucket of soapy water

Step 3: Spray the wheel using a 3D BDX Wheel Cleaner and allow the product to dwell and penetrate any built-up brake-dust, dirt, and road grime.

spraying car rims with cleaner

Step 4: Spray tire sidewall with 3D Orange Degreaser and tire cleaner.

Step 5: Scrub tires to remove old dressing and oxidized rubber.

scrubbing car tire with orange degreaser

scrubbing car tire with degreaser

Step 6: Use your wheel brushes to agitate wheel cleaner.  Gently agitate wheel and wheel cleaner to loosen and remove brake dust and road grime.

scrubbing tire rims with a soapy scrub brush

scrubbing tire rims with soap and a scrub brush

scrubbing tire with with soapy brush

scrubbing car rims with a soapy brush

Step 7: Rinse wheels and tires thoroughly with a strong blast of water to remove all loosened dirt, brake dust and road grime.

spraying soap off tire rims

spraying soap off tire rims

Step 8: Remove any standing water by drying the wheel with a 3D black microfiber wheel and tire towel to prevent any potential staining from hard water.

drying car rims with a microfiber towel

drying tire rims with a microfiber towel

Cleaned, washed and dried

The wheels are now sparkling clean and the tire sidewalls are clean and all the old tire dressing and browning have been removed.  

clean tire rim with car cleaning supplies

How to polish aluminum wheels to remove oxidation and restore a chrome-like shiny finish. 

Supplies needed to polish aluminum wheels

Step 1:  Apply some 3D Metal Polish directly onto your applicator pad.  Using your fingers, work the polish into the pad so the applicator pad is dampened with metal polish and then add a few drops onto the face of the applicator pad.

pouring metal polish on a rag before polishing car rims

rubbing metal polish into rag with hands

Step 2: Divide the wheel into natural sections and then polish each section thoroughly.  For example, the wheels on the vehicle used in this article can be divided into 5 individual spokes and the outer portion of the rim.

 Using the applicator pad, rub the polish over a section of aluminum for 30 to 45 seconds.  As you work the polish you will see the polish residue turn black or gray, this is a sign of oxidation being removed.  Add more polish to your applicator pad as needed or as you move to a new section of the wheel.

polishing tire rims with metal polish

polishing tire rims with metal polish

polishing tire rims with metal polish

polishing tire rims with metal polish

Step 3:  Using a clean, un-contaminated black wheel and tire microfiber towel, wipe each section of the wheel to remove the polish residue.

removing metal polish residue from tire rim

removing metal polish residue from tire rim

Step 4:  Using a fresh, clean black wheel and tire microfiber towel, re-wipe the entire wheel to remove any trace residues and buff the aluminum to a bright, mirror like shine.

polishing tire rim with microfiber towel

polishing tire rim with microfiber towel

Dressing the tires

After you’ve removed all the polish residue from the rims, the next step is to apply the tire dressing to the tire sidewall to rejuvenate the rubber, protect the sidewall from cracking and weathering and restore a deep, dark satin shine.

Supplies needed

Step 1: Apply an ample amount of dressing to a clean, foam applicator pads and work the dressing into the foam using your fingers.

applying rim cleaner to a sponge

applying rim cleaner to a sponge

Step 2:  Thoroughly work-in and massage the tire dressing into and over the rubber tire sidewall.

polishing car tire with cleaner

polishing car tire with cleaner

Beautiful shiny wheels and tires with a deep, dark black look!

With a little time on a Saturday you can clean your car’s wheels and tires, polish the aluminum wheels to restore a crisp, bright shine and add the finishing steps by dressing the tires for a perfectly detailed set of wheels and tires on your favorite ride.

clean and polished car tire

clean and polished car tire

Repeat this process to the rest of the wheels.

Before and after results

From neglected to respected!

before and after clean and polished wheels

This car is ready to cruise!
car with clean and polished tires

car with clean and polished tires

Detailed information

Below you’ll find some extra, more detailed information about the products needed to work safe, and to do the job right.

Non-Acid Wheel Cleaners

When it comes to cleaning aluminum wheels, it’s vitally important to use products that are safe and will not stain the delicate polished aluminum surface.  You should always look for a wheel cleaner that states on the label it is NON-ACID.  Wheel cleaners that use acid as part of the formula will stain aluminum and it will be time-consuming and require a lot of extra polishing to remove the staining.  Wheel cleaners that use acid are safe for chrome wheels because the acid will not harm chrome finishes.

 3D BDX Wheel Cleaner

 3D BDX Wheel Cleaner is a non-acid wheel cleaner that is safe and effective for all wheels and finishes including, polished aluminum, coated aluminum, painted and chrome wheels.

pH balanced car wash soap

While you use the wheel cleaner to break the bond of brake dust, road film and iron contamination from the rotors and brake pads so they can be flushed off the wheel surface, agitating the wheel with your wheel brush soaked in the car wash soap solution helps to more thoroughly and easily rinse and remove all the wheel cleaner plus all the gunk it has loosened.

3D Pink Car Soap

 3D Pink Car Soap is a pH balanced, concentrated car soap that removes dirt, grime, and road film without dully the surface.  3D Pink Car Soap is a high sudsing, free-rinsing car wash soap the offers excellent cleaning power while rinsing off the surface completely and easily without leaving any soap films behind.

How and why aluminum oxidizes and becomes dull looking 

Aluminum readily oxidizes when exposed to air and moisture, moisture in both the surrounding air in the form of humidity as well as rain, snow, wash and rinse water.  Knowing bare aluminum will always be in a state of oxidation the best way to keep polished aluminum wheels looking their best is to regularly polish them.  It’s fast and easy to polish aluminum wheels on regular basis as a part of preventative maintenance.  It’s only when you neglect aluminum wheels over time and the oxidation goes deep into the porous aluminum that it will require hours of work to remove the oxidation to restore a brilliant diamond-like shine.

3D Metal Polish

3D Metal Polish is a heavy-duty metal polish cleaner that cleans, restores, and protects all metal surfaces.  3D Metal Polish uses a proprietary blend of chemical cleaners and an abrasive technology that can remove oxidation without at the same time leaving its own scratches behind in the surface.  The result is a metal polish that can remove years of oxidation and tarnish while creating a better-than-new, chrome-like mirror shine.

  • 3D Metal Polish can be used by hand or machine.  It will remove oxidation, staining, surface impurities and contamination to restore brilliance and clarity to all metal surfaces.
  • Works on all metals – aluminum, gold, brass, silver, copper, magnesium, diamond plate and all types of uncoated metal wheels.
  • Powerful proprietary formula removes years of oxidation fast.
  •  Use as an ultra-fine polish for sensitive metal surfaces like jewelry.
  •  Apply by hand or machine including orbital and rotary polishers.
  •  Hybrid formula allows you to control cut and polish.
  •  Contains no ammonia or other harsh chemicals or solvents.
  •  Uses 3D green technology, Earth friendly, Prop 65 and V.O.C. compliant.

3D SPEED Tire Shine

Create a deep, dark black shine on the tires with 3D SPEED Tire Shine.  For the finishing touch to your car’s wheels and tires, apply 3D SPEED Tire Shine using a clean foam applicator pad.  After massaging the tire dressing over the rubber sidewall, using a clean wheel and tire towel, wipe the tire sidewall to remove any excess dressing to prevent tire dressing sling onto adjacent body panels. 

3D Black microfiber wheel towels

3D black microfiber towels are part of the 3D microfiber towel color coding system, which streamlines the detailing process by using dedicated colors of microfiber towels for specific job duties.

The 3D 4-color Microfiber Coding System
The 3D 4-color Microfiber Coding System
The 3D 4-color Microfiber Coding System
The 3D 4-color Microfiber Coding System

Yellow = Interior, leather, vinyl, plastic, and fabrics.
Green = Exterior, paint, chrome, hard plastic trim.
Black – Wheels, tires engines, door jambs.
Blue – Glass – glass cleaners and glass polishes.

Microfiber towels come in all sorts of colors including black.  The reason you want to use a color coding system for your microfiber towels is to avoid any potential cross-contamination when working on the different areas of a car.  For example, there’s exterior detailing of the paint, interior detailing of leather, vinyl and plastic surfaces.  Glass surfaces on both the inside and outside, including exterior mirrors and interior glass like, the inside of a sunroof, inside glass, vanity mirrors and the rearview mirror. 

When it comes to cleaning wheels and tires not only will you tend to get black stains on your microfiber towels, (black towels will not show this as readily as light colored towels), there’s also tiny metallic particles that can accumulate on the wheels and tires.  The metallic particles come from the brake rotors as a natural process of breaking down each time you use your brakes to stop the car.  It’s impossible to know if all the tiny metallic particles are 100% removed from microfiber towels when you wash and dry them so to avoid causing swirls and scratches in other surfaces like paint and plastic, it’s a good best practice to use a color coding system for all of your microfiber towels and black is the color professional detailers designate for wheels and tires.  Once a black microfiber towels have been used for cleaning, washing, wiping or working on wheels and tires in any fashion – they should never be washed with your other microfiber towels and only be used in the future as wheel and tire towels.


3D Black Foam Applicator – 3-Pack

This thick, medium density foam applicator pad has a tapered edge to make applying dressing into tight areas and around the edge of the rim fast and easy.

  • Thick, easy to grip soft foam applicator pad.
  • Open cell foam easily absorbs and releases products as you need.
  • Works great for applying and massaging tire dressings over tire sidewalls.
  • Perfect for hand applying paste wax, liquid wax, or synthetic sealants.
  • Use to apply leather and vinyl conditioners and protectants.
  • Excellent for applying dressings to plastic, vinyl and rubber trim and cladding.

Quality wheel brushes

While aluminum is a metal, it’s a soft metal and can be easily scratched with coarse bristle brushes.  Once scratches, it can be both time-consuming and hard work to remove the scratches via metal polishing.  A quality brush like the Wheel Woolies Black Wheel Face Brush has bristles where the tips are split called flagging.  This makes the bristles much safer for delicate surfaces.  The bristles are also medium density, so they are flexible, and this allows the bristles to agitate effectively without scratching.

Final thoughts…

Regular cleaning and polishing of your aluminum wheels will maintain the brilliant chrome-like shine and give your vehicle the finishing touch while also maintaining the resell or trade-in value.

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