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Want Buff Alloy Wheels? Here’s How to Clean and Polish Rims

Aluminum alloy wheels are the most popular rims for cars and trucks. Aluminum alloys are lightweight, strong, and can be finished many ways. However, aluminum alloys are easily pitted and corroded by brake dust and road debris. The good news is that it isn’t hard to get those rims looking good again. If you want buff alloy wheels, just keep reading. Here’s a step by step guide on how to clean and polish rims.

Wash First

Sounds elementary, but if you are going to get buff alloy wheels, you’ve got to start with a good wash. The last thing you want is a bunch of brake dust flying around and sticking to your paint. So, hose the wheel down thoroughly. But, keep the water spray away from the car or truck as much as possible.

Wash with a low or no acid soap. If you don’t know if your wheels have a clear coat finish or not, play it safe and wash them with P21S Wheel Cleaner. It will safely clean the road debris and brake dust away without harming the alloy or any clear coat that may be on the wheel.

Scrub the spokes and all the nooks and crannies with a soft bristle brush. Brake dust gets everywhere, and it sticks to everything. Don’t skip this step. Say you are riding on the Rohana RFX10 these days.

That spoke within a spoke looks is truly an eye-catching design, but it catches plenty of brake dust and dirt as well. A soft bristle brush will easily slip in the splits and dislodge anything lurking there. Clean front to back when slip sliding between those spokes.

Patience here grasshopper, the buffest wheels are the cleanest wheels. Wash one wheel at a time and don’t forget the lug nuts! Use a small brush to clean those. Remember to keep the wheel wet while you are washing and brushing. The water keeps the dirt moving away from the wheel surface, acts as a surfactant, and a lubricant to keep the debris from scratching the finish on the wheel.

Since you’re already down there, go ahead and wash the wheel wells while you are at it. That’s an area you probably forget when washing the body of your car or truck. You’ll need something tougher than your wheel brush, so use a stiffer bristle brush when cleaning this area. Don’t use your wheel brush to clean the wheel well; if you do, throw it away. The debris from the wheel well will stick to your wheel brush and next time you brush the wheel you might scratch the finish. Don’t be cheap and don’t be stupid. Use the right brush for the job. One soft bristle brush for the wheel and lug nuts and another stiffer brush for the wheel well.

Once the wheel is clean, dry it thoroughly. Then move to the next wheel. Rinse and repeat until all wheels are clean and dry.

Clay Next for Really Buff Alloy Wheels

The next step is what will make your wheels stand out from the posers. You’re going to grab a bar of detailing clay and lubricant and clay the wheels. I like the Griots Garage Wheel Cleaning Clay myself. Like your cleaning brushes, you don’t want to cross contaminate. So, you need one claying bar for your paint job and another one just for the wheels. Mark them so you don’t mix them up. When it comes to the lubricant, I’m not so picky.

Get a piece of your soft and pliable clay in your hands and then spray the wheel with lubricant. Now, start claying a small area of the wheel at a time. Use a circular motion. When the clay picks up a bit of debris, fold it to create a new clean side and continue rubbing. This prevents scratching the wheel during this step.

Washing the wheel removed the large pieces of dirt, brake dust, and road debris. The detailing clay is going to remove microscopic and embedded debris you don’t see but keep the surface from shining.

When you clay after you wash but before you polish you will get the buffest alloy wheels around. This is important even if your alloy wheels don’t have a machined or chrome finish. Say you roll on Rohana Wheels RFX1 with a matte black finish.

Rohana Wheels RFX1 on BMW M3
Rohana Wheels RFX1 on BMW M3

The only way you are going to keep that black finish from getting dull and pitted is with regular cleaning. And that includes claying the wheels. The big, beefy spokes are boss, but they need TLC to look their best.

Once you’ve clayed the wheel, give it a quick squirt of your lubricant and a quick wipe down with a soft, microfiber towel. Then go on to the next wheel. Clay one wheel completely before moving on to the next.


Now those rims are really clean, you can get down to buffing. How aggressive you want to get at this point is up to you. If you want the best results, you need some power. That comes in the form of your corded or cordless drill. There are loads of products you can attach to your drill to polish your wheels. Mothers makes a PowerBall and a PowerCone that gets in the tight places and makes this step easier than polishing by hand. Personally, I think more power equals a better polish. And you know a better polish looks more buff.

When you pick your polish, you must know if your wheels have a clear coat finish on them or not. The presence of a clear coat determines what polish you will use. If your wheels are clear coated, you need to use a less aggressive polish. Think of it like this, clear coat is just paint with no color. So, clear coated surfaces are treated like painted surfaces.

If your wheels are not clear coated, you can use a more aggressive polish made for metal. Personally, I use Shining Monkey Metal Polish Pad for wheels that aren’t clear coated. But since my Wrangler is currently riding Worx Conquest wheels with a clear coat, I use the Flitz Liquid.

Shining Monkey Metal Polish Pad
Shining Monkey Metal Polish Pad

If you don’t know if your wheels have a clear coat on them, it’s time to find out. Take a small piece of white cloth and a bit of metal polish and rub on an inconspicuous area. If your cloth doesn’t turn a grayish black, then the wheel isn’t bare aluminum, so it has a clear coat. If some of the paint transfers off, then the painted wheel isn’t clear coated.

To polish, just wipe the polish on the wheel (working on one wheel at a time) and use your power polishing tool or arm muscle to polish.

Wax and Buff for Buff Alloy Wheels

After all this work, you want it to last. So, apply a thin coat of wax and buff with your polishing tool. Wax on your wheels protects the finish just like wax on your car protects the paint.

As a bonus, when you wash your car next week, any brake dust and grime that may have stuck to the wheel will slide right off.

There you have it. If you want the baddest buffed wheels, just follow these instructions!

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