As another caveat, wheels referred to as “black chrome” can either be chromed or anodized, so again contact the manufacturer for confirmation.
When chrome cleaner is sprayed onto a wheel, the brake dust and dirt will simply rinse away because it’s so strong. However, it’s not suitable for all surfaces, as we’ve seen. Subsequently, Aluminum Wheel Cleaner may require some agitation with a wash mitt or soft brush because it’s necessarily milder for delicate finishes. That said, if you wash your wheels often, a mild cleaner should be sufficient for all finishes.
If your car is equipped with its factory-fitted coated wheels, brakes and suspension, then All Wheel Cleaner would be sufficient. However, the name is misleading because it’s not suitable for “all” wheels (just all OE coated wheels) since it is too strong for uncoated aluminum, etc. The name is used throughout the car care industry but again, always read the label!
Just like paintwork, wheels should be washed at least weekly. Despite the name of the Hot Rims products, never wash hot components or a car in sunshine. Always allow the car to cool first because heat will increase the strength of the cleaner.
If the wheels are very dirty, spray the cleaner on a dry surface, and spray from the bottom upwards. The directions recommend you only leave the cleaner on for 15sec. Therefore, do one wheel at a time rather than circling the car with cleaner then water. This leaves it on too long and risks damage to center caps, brake calipers, etc.
Use separate buckets of water to wash your wheels and paintwork to avoid contamination. A separate wash mitt is best, but brushes are also recommended. Use soft, flagged bristles (split ends) on the wheel face and a spoke brush with a soft rubber nose to avoid scratches.
Painted or clearcoated wheels can get swirl marks like bodywork, or the color can fade, so Meguiar’s suggests several steps to restore the finish.
It starts with a clay bar to remove brake dust that might be baked on. Then use a liquid paint cleaner such as Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound to remove microns from the top surface and eliminate the swirls. You can even wax the finish afterwards for protection – it won’t last long on hot wheels but it might help at the next wash…
If the worst has happened and you used the wrong cleaner on uncoated, polished aluminum, you may have staining. In this instance, try Meguiar’s Wheel Polishing Kit (there’s an instruction video on meguiars.com).
Start by cleaning the wheels and apply the foam cleaner in the kit. Then use a Dynacone in a drill at a slow speed with All Metal Polish. It should help remove some of the staining. The same procedure can restore shine to chrome wheels as well. But if you have stained anodized components, there’s nothing you can do!
To reduce your effort at each weekly wash, you could try Meguiar’s Brake Dust Barrier. It’s sprayed onto dry wheels, is safe on any surface and will last for multiple washes.
The Barrier is a polymer coating that won’t allow brake dust to adhere, making it easier to remove by washing. And it won’t damage your brakes or suspension.
When the Barrier gets old it flakes off, at which point you apply another coat and it all merges together again. It dries clear and won’t go milky or discolor with age. Perhaps the only problem is that it’s hard to remove completely if, for some reason, you decide not to use it any longer. Rubbing alcohol and plenty of elbow grease will eventually shift it.