For most of us, a set of wheels is one of the first essential purchases after the car itself. It can also be one of the biggest expenses, so keeping those wheels clean is crucial both for their appearance and longevity. Threfore, we decided to return to our friends at Meguiar’s for some wheel cleaning basics.

Our original car cleaning guide ran in the 12/11 issue of eurotuner magazine and can be found under the “Tech” menu at eurotuner.com It looked at weekly washing maintenance, when to use clay or liquid compound to remove surface contaminants, then talked about waxing to protect the paint and how often you need to maintain it.

All the information came from Meguiar’s, who simply want people to know how to look after their cars properly. Once educated, they assume we’ll look for the best products…

While specific Meguiar’s products are referred to here, similar products are available from all car care companies and the same advice applies.

Meguiar’s has a comprehensive website with tips and how-to advice videos as well as an active forum to help you understand many of the process. SoCal drivers can even sign up for weekly classes to learn from the experts in person. Visit meguiars.com for more details.

When we embarked on this story, Mike Pennington and Mike Stoops from Meguiar’s explained that wheels represent the most common enquiries on their telephone hotline, and they cause the most common and costly mistakes!

Finishes
The biggest problem is identifying the finish on your wheels because most people don’t know. They could be factory “coated” silver, painted, powdercoated, uncoated aluminum, uncoated polished auminum, anodized, chromed or any combination of the above. The problem is, if you guess wrong and use a strong cleaner you could do irreparable damage.

You also need to be aware of what’s behind the wheel, because strong cleaners can damage the finish on aftermarket brake calipers, rotor hats as well as suspension components.

Even the center caps need to be considered, plus the lug nuts and some inner wheel barrels are occasionally left uncoated. It’s a minefield out there!

It’s essential to always address the most sensitive material when cleaning. So while chrome is the toughest material that withstands the strongest cleaners, a chrome cleaner could ruin the finish of uncoated aluminum or powdercoated brake calipers, for example, turning them an unpleasant milky white.

In short, chrome is very resilient while aluminum is very sensitive. So if you’re not sure about the finish on your wheels, brakes and suspension, phone the manufacturer (not where you bought them – get it from the horse’s mouth).

The best advise is to read the directions on the product, don’t simply go by the name. Meguiars All Wheel Cleaner, for example, isn’t suitable for uncoated aluminum and the directions will explain that…

Chrome/Polished Aluminum
To check if your wheels are either chrome or polished aluminum, you can use a metal polish such as Meguiar’s All Metal Polish on them. Rub it on and if the cloth turns black, it means you have uncoated aluminum wheels, so you need to be very careful with cleaning liquids.

If the wheels are clearcoated, the cloth won’t turn black but a chrome cleaner could still damage them, so beware before applying a liquid wheel cleaner.

The problem is the ph value of individual cleaners. The more acidic liquids can eat into delicate finishes and cause damage. Here are the ph values for Meguiar’s Hot Rims wheel cleaners and household products to give you an idea:

Chrome Wheel Cleaner ph3-4
All Wheel & Tire Cleaner ph13.5
Aluminum Wheel Cleaner ph7.0
Lemon juice ph2.0
Vinegar ph2.5

As you can see, all are very strong apart from the neutral Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner. This should be your default choice if you’re unsure about your wheel finish. Using acidic Chrome Wheel Cleaner on uncoated aluminum, anodized surfaces, magnesium wheels, aluminum brake components or aftermarket suspension could spell disaster. And don’t even get us started on motorcycles – these have lots of exposed metals and plastics and require specialized care!

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