Is Brake Dust Making Your Wheels An Eyesore?


Caked on brake dust before & after.

Brake dust is a pain for anyone who drives and wants to keep their wheels clean and shiny. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil of being able to stop your car. Luckily there are things we can do to get rid of it and help minimize its effects on our wheels. With proper cleaning, polishing and protection we can decrease its negative impact on the surface of our wheels.

What Is Brake Dust?

Brake dust is the result of the brake pads squeezing against the rotor while the car is stopping. When the pad wears down under heat and pressure applied to the rotor small metal filings and other components of the brake pad fly off and stick to your wheel. Overtime these particles rust and corrode potentially damaging your wheels if left on the surface too long. A common result of brake dust corrosion is surface pitting specially on chrome plated rims.

Types of Rims and Wheels

Honda Steel Rim With Hubcap
Steel rim covered by hubcap.

Steel rims are the most basic form of rim available. They are typically coated black and are covered by a hubcap. Steel rims are strong and cheap compared to other alternatives, but they lack in performance, lowering the cars center of gravity and decreasing acceleration and handling abilities. Steel wheels are typically made 16 inches in diameter or less, as increasing the size also increase its weight. On the positive side, steel rims do well in snow, allowing the tire to bite harder for better traction due to its heavier weight.

Honda Alloy Rim
Aluminum Alloy rim.

The most popular rim used today is Aluminum Alloy due to its versatility. It’s much lighter than steel, aesthetically pleasing and better performing. Alloy can be cast and worked in many different designs allowing for higher levels of customization than steel. Alloys can also be finished in a number of different ways: polished, painted, machined or chrome plated. Alloy wheels are more expensive than steel but still affordable and allow for many different styling options and finishes to choose from.

Wheel and Tire Cleaner

There are all types of dedicated wheel cleaners on the market to cover all types of materials and situations. When selecting a wheel cleaner make sure it’s safe for your type of wheels and always follow the manufacturer’s directions. Degreasers specifically designed for auto detailing are another great choice for cleaning wheels. There are tons to choose from so select one that works best for your application. I do not suggest using all-purpose cleaning products/degreasers made for commercial cleaning purposes. These products may include chemicals that are not safe for your specific wheel, tire or painted surface. It’s cheaper to buy the correct cleaner for the job than to use the wrong cleaner and damage what you were trying to clean.

When cleaning tires all purpose cleaners and degreasers designed for automotive use make excellent tire cleaners and are safe on almost all surfaces.

Wheel and Tire Brushes

Depending on the type of wheel you are working on, they can be very scratch sensitive like the clear coat paint on your vehicle. You will want to use wheel brushes that are soft and will not mar the surface. I personally like Mothers Wheel Brushes and Boars Hair brushes for more sensitive surfaces.

Tire brushes should be firm and contour to the sidewall of the tire. This makes for a more ergonomic design and more surface area of the brush is in contact with the tire while you’re scrubbing. Never use a brush that is designed to clean a tire to clean your wheels. The bristles on a tire brush are not gentle enough and will scratch the surface of your wheel.

Wheels and Auto Detailing Clay

Using Auto Detailing Clay On Paint
Auto Detailing Clay.

Do your wheels still feel rough and gritty after washing? If so bonded contamination is present that only auto detailing clay can remove. Auto detailing clay is designed to remove bonded contaminates such as industrial fallout (another name for pollution), brake dust, rail dust, tree sap and tar that embed themselves into the surface of the paint leaving the surface gritty and rough. Detailing clay is safe on most non-porous surfaces such as auto paint, glass, mirrors, plastics and most metals. Once the contamination is removed your wheels will feel as smooth as glass.

Want to learn how to use auto detailing clay? Check out our how-to guide: How To: Auto Detailing Clay Guide & Tips.

Let’s Get Started: How To Clean Wheels And Tires

Supplies:

Having a good assortment of brushes really makes cleaning wheels, tires and wheel wells faster and easier.

Assortment of auto detailing wheel cleaning brushesMost of the brushes I use on every detail.

Soft paint brushes that will not mar the surface of your wheel are great for hard to reach areas.

Paint Brush with electrical tape around the metalTip: Wrap black electrical tape around the metal on the brush so you don’t accidentally scratch the surface you’re working on.

Brake dust build up after 6 months and 1,500 miles of driving.

Starting dirty bmw m3 wheelOne Dirty Wheel.

Close up of dirty BMW M3 WheelSwiped the wheel with my fingers to see how dirty it really was. I waxed the wheels last time I detailed and it definitely helped. This is 6 months, 1,500 miles of driving.

Step 1: Gathering Supplies and Setting Up Buckets.

Set up two buckets filled with water. One will be your wash bucket and the other your rinse. The wash bucket should have enough car wash soap to help lubricate the bristles of the brushes and the wheel when cleaning. The rinse bucket just needs water. After scrubbing your wheel put the brush directly in the rinse bucket before putting it back in the wash bucket to keep the wash water clean and minimize dirt coming back in contact with the wheel. I typically soak the brushes in the wash bucket for 3-5 minutes to soften the bristle and saturate them with solution. If you are using a boars hair brush it’s best to leave it soak for 20-30 minutes before use.

Auto detailing car brushes soaking in wash bucketBrushes soaking in 4 gallons of water and an ounce of car wash soap.

Step 2: Coat Wheel In Cleaning Solution and Let It Dwell.

Coat the face and barrel of the wheel with cleaning solution. For this guide I’ll be using Sonax Wheel Cleaner. It’s one of my favorite products and turns from lime green-yellow to red-purple after breaking down and interacting with break dust. After spraying down the wheel I left the cleaner dwell on the surface of the wheel for 5 minutes before scrubbing.

Spraying Sonax Wheel Cleaner On Dirty WheelSpraying away.

Spraying Sonax Wheel Cleaner On Dirty WheelPretty good distribution of product while spraying.

5 minutes later the wheels were bleeding everywhere and the brake dust was being broken down.

Sonax wheel cleaner changing colors on dirty wheel5 minutes after coating the wheels.

Sonax wheel cleaner changing colors on dirty wheelBottom close up.

Sonax wheel cleaner changing colors on dirty wheelClose up of center cap and lug nuts.

Step 3: Clean The Tire Before The Wheel.

Before scrubbing the wheel I like to start by cleaning the tire. Spray your tire cleaning solution on the wheel and let it dwell for a minute. Then scrub the tire down with your tire brush. You want to make sure to get all the dirt and grim off along with any old tire dressing. Tire dressing bonds better and lasts longer on a clean tire.

Sonax wheel cleaner changing colors on dirty wheelAll Purpose Cleaner dwelling on the tire.

Scrubbing tire with tire brushScrubbing the tire being careful not to scrub the rim or hit the fender with the brush.

Scrubbing tire with tire brushStill paying close attention not to hit the fender.

Scrubbing tire with tire brushScrubbing the bottom of the tire can be tricky. Driving your tires up on 2″ x 4″ lumber helps to access the entire tire for cleaning and dressing.

Scrubbing tire with tire brushTire done.

Step 4: Scrub and Clean The Wheel.

Now it’s time to scrub the wheel. I like to start with the wheel well, then move onto the face. It just seems to make more sense to me but I can’t justify it, so do whatever your heart desires. I also like to start with the top of the wheel and work my way down. Using the same logic when washing your car, the dirty solution won’t be running back down a clean surface.

Scrubbing wheel well with detailing brushStarted with The Daytona Speed Master Wheel Brush.

Scrubbing wheel well with detailing brushMake sure to get behind the spokes.

Scrubbing wheel well with detailing brushMoved onto The Daytona Speed Master Jr. Wheel Brush to get into the tight areas.

Scrubbing wheel well with detailing brushMake sure to cover every area with the brush. Later when drying with a microfiber towel you’ll be able to see the spots you missed because your towel will be covered in brake dust. Drying by hand is a good way to check your technique and cleaning routine.

Move on to the face of the wheel. I like to start with the inside and work my way out. You can choose to clean the lug nuts before or after, order isn’t important.

Scrubbing face of the wheel with detailing brushMothers Wheel Brush in action.

Scrubbing face of the wheel with detailing brushMore scrubbing.

Scrubbing face of the wheel with detailing brushMaking sure I didn’t miss a spot between the spokes.

Detailing lug nuts with brushUsing the paint brush to clean up the lug nuts.

detailing center cap with brushMoving onto the center cap.

Step 5: Rinse The Wheel.

I decided to rinse the wheel using a basic shut off value and a hose. I want this guide to apply to the broadest audience and I understand most people do not have pressure washers. If you do own a pressure washer now is the time to use it.

Rinsing wheelGently rinsing the tight areas.

Rinsing wheelValve all the way open and rinsing the wheel a final time.

Rinsed, clean, wet wheelWheel completely rinsed and ready to be dried.

Up close cleaned, rinsed wheelLooking clean close up.

Dirty water in rinse bucketMy disgusting rinse bucket. My wash bucket was still crystal clear.

Step 6: Dry The Wheel By Hand.

Now it’s time to dry the wheel with a clean microfiber towel. You can also use a leaf blower which is more efficient. I liked to use a microfiber towel so I can check how well I washed using the brushes. As you’ll see in the photos I missed a couple spots behind the spokes which I cleaned up while drying.

Drying wheel with microfiber towelStarting with the center and working my way out, then behind each spoke.

Drying wheel with microfiber towelMore drying.

Drying wheel with microfiber towelIf you look closely at my towel you can see some of the brake dust I picked up while drying behind the spokes.

Completely dry wheel and tireWheel and tire completely dry and the tire is ready to be dressed.

My favorite applicator for tire dressing is a microfiber applicator pad or using an old (but clean) wax applicator pad. Run a bead of dressing down the center of the pad and spread it out evenly over the tire. The first tire usually requires the most dressing because you have to also saturate the applicator pad. Never apply tire dressing to parts of the tire that contact the road. It is extremely dangerous.

applying tire dressing to tireSpreading the dressing out with a microfiber applicator pad.

applying tire dressing to tireGoing over each area several times to make sure I cover the grooves in the tire from the labels and writing.

applying tire dressing to tireStarting to look perfect.

applying tire dressing to tireWorking dressing in the tight area between the tire and rim.

After coating the tire with dressing let it cure for a couple minutes. Once it’s cured go over the tire with the clean side of your applicator to buff off excess dressing. You can add as many coats of dressing as your heart desires, just make sure to let each application dry before adding another.

Step 7: Add Protection and Enhance Its Shine.

Most people will stop their wheel cleaning here, but not us. Now it’s time to add some protection to the surface you just cleaned. This will enhance the shine of your wheel and make cleaning next time faster and easier. I chose Chemical Guys V7 Sealant. I’ve never used it on my wheels before so it was an experiment and it turned out great. Check the uses for your product or contact the manufacturer if it’s safe on your wheels and will hold up against extreme temperatures.

spraying sealant on microfiber towelSpray the product on your clean microfiber towel rather than on the wheel. This allows you to control where the product goes and avoids overspray on other parts of the car.

wiping sealant on wheelStarting in the center.

wiping sealant on wheelCovering the outside and the sides of the spokes.

Go over the wheel one more time with a clean microfiber towel to buff off excess sealant or wax.

Step 8: Admire The Results and Move On To The Other Wheels:

finished clean wheel and tireFinal Product. What a huge difference.

After shot of whole car.A shot of the M3 after washing it.

How Did It Hold Up In The Rain?

With Chemical Guys V7 you get less beading of water, but more of a sheeting effect as water just slides off the surface. Even the Chemical Guys VRP Dressing was beading water.

water beading on tire and wheelChemical Guys V7 After Rain.

The Run-Down:

  • Get rid of brake dust. Brake dust particles rust and corrode potentially damaging your wheels if left on the surface too long.
  • Steel rims are the most basic form of rim available. They are typically coated black, covered by a hubcap, strong and cheap compared to other alternatives. The most popular rim used today is Aluminum Alloy due to its versatility. It’s much lighter than steel, aesthetically pleasing and better performing.
  • There are all types of dedicated wheel cleaners on the market to cover all types of materials and situations. When selecting a wheel cleaner make sure it’s safe for your type of wheels and always follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • When cleaning tires all purpose cleaners and degreasers designed for automotive use make excellent tire cleaners and are safe on almost all surfaces.
  • Choose wheel brushes that are soft and will not mar the surface. Tire brushes should be firm and contour to the sidewall of the tire.
  • Auto detailing clay is designed to remove bonded contaminates such as industrial fallout (another name for pollution), brake dust, rail dust, tree sap and tar that embed themselves into the surface of the paint leaving the surface gritty and rough.

Want To Learn More About Cleaning Wheels & Tires?

If you have any questions or comments about cleaning wheels and tires or any other detailing topics please don’t hesitant to contact me via Facebook at Facebook.com/IncrediblyDetailed, Twitter at Twitter.com/IDAutoDetailing, E-mail at Scott@IncrediblyDetailed.com or leave a comment below.




— By  Scott Race  |  Owner & Operator