Hagerty Community member audiobycarmine writes:
Sajeev, I have a question about removing brake-dust residue from alloy wheels. My 28-year-old car has alloy wheels, which may have been clear-coated once. They no longer are, and that may be why this residue has built up.
The best method I’ve found (so far) is using a small wire brush (shaped/sized like a toothbrush) with an ammonia/detergent mix. I’m hesitant to use the very volatile brake cleaner sprays. Any better methods? Thanks much.
Interesting question! Most alloy wheels are like paint jobs; they have a factory-applied clear coat for protection, keeping them shiny during the warranty period for many years. And to ensure we’re on the same page, note this doesn’t apply to chrome-plated alloy wheels, as their protection lies within that plating ...
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Meguire's has a neat wheel cleaner called Ultimate All Wheel cleaner that turns purple as it reacts with dirt and brake dust, and washes off easily as long as the surface is smooth. I don't think brake dust cleaners will harm aluminum wheels - whatever solvent is there evaporates fast. I think the main reason brake dust bonds to wheels is because it's very hot, and there isn't much you can do about that, even if you're easy on the brakes. Salt can attack aluminum wheels, and they're going to be vulnerable to corrosion on snowy roads that get salted or near coastal areas. Aluminum wheels can be restored to look like new, and there are business that specialize in this, but it could also be done by any hobbyist, although best results are going to be achieved by using the right process to refinish the wheel. I saw a guy mount a wheel on a brake lathe (low rpm) and use sand paper to transform an old dark grey mag wheel from the 60's into a blinding bright shiny finish. Once you have clean bare aluminum, you need to protect it, and then you have to wonder how well can a clear finish on aluminum hold up over time against the bombardment of burning hot brake dust in all kinds of environmental conditions. Eastwood offers an aluminum clear spray called Nyalic which looks great, but I have no idea how well it holds up on wheels. I don't know if you can get wheels clear powder coated - that might be an option - I know there are translucent power coating colors. How long a finish can last depends on a number of factors. You might need to get a second set of wheels for seasonal driving, or another car to use as a daily driver.
I use simple green on all my high end wheels and it takes the dirt off instantly without rubbing. Cheap too if you buy it in gallon concentrate. Start with fairly diluted and increase concentration just until it is easy to get dirt off. Better than any specializer wheel cleaner I ever purchased.