How to Properly Care for Your Chrome Wheels

Posted 10/14/2016 by Phillip Perez

Chrome wheels are among the most popular aftermarket additions enthusiasts make to their vehicles. Clean, polished chrome wheels have a mirror finish that attracts attention. To keep chrome wheels looking great, some regular maintenance required!

How to Properly Care for Your Chrome Wheels - How to Properly Care for Your Chrome Wheels

HOW TO PROPERLY CARE FOR CHROME WHEELS

First of all, it helps to know what you’re cleaning and polishing. Chrome is a very soft metal and it’s used to coat other metals because of its attractive finish. But you’ll never see anything made entirely of chromium because it just wouldn’t hold up well. However, because chrome is relatively soft, it responds very well to polishing. Some elbow grease will be rewarded with incredibly shiny, reflective chrome wheels (or exhaust tips, trim, and any other chrome surface).

Wheels’ worst enemy

Brake dust! The high heat and friction that is generated by the braking makes this combination highly corrosive and damaging to chrome! Because most cars are driven every day, more brake dust is constantly being made and can build up quickly. Frequent cleaning is the only way to keep your wheels clean and free from cosmetic issues. Chrome is a soft metal. Brake dust can and will pit chrome and penetrate the wheel finish very quickly! They must be kept clean and protected in order to maintain their finish.

Step by Step

  1. First, wash the wheels with soap and water to remove loose dirt and brake dust. Use high pressure to deliver a strong blast of water.
  2. Next, spray one wheel at a time with a non-acidic chrome wheel cleaner that will not eat into the wheels' finish.
  3. Use a soft bristled wheel brush to agitate the wheel surface. A Brush that can fit in the narrow or wide spaces and has a flexible stem works best. The soft bristles loosen grime and brake dust without scratching the chrome. This is essential since chrome can scratch quite easily. Reach through spokes to clean each wheel front to back, including the barrel of the wheel. You never want to let a wheel cleaner dry on the wheel because it will spot the finish. Also, clean out the lug holes. Do not forget this step! While working with brushes, the wheel should always remain wet. The water and wheel cleaner help loosen grime, but they also lubricate the wheel surface to prevent scratching. You never want to let a wheel cleaner dry on the wheel because it will spot the finish.
  4. (NOTE: While not required, you may want to clean the wheel wells or “fender wells”. Dirt and mud is kicked up in the wheel wells as the tires roll. You might need something a bit stronger than what you used on the wheels. Spray the wheel well generously with an all purpose cleaner. Use a long handled brush with sturdy bristles to agitate the wheel well. Do not use your soft wheel brush on the wheel wells. Likewise, do not use the wheel well brush on the wheel itself.)
  5. Rinse everything off very well removing all of the cleaning solution.
  6. Dry wheels very well. Water spots are unattractive wherever they appear, especially on the wheels. Chrome wheels, in particular, will show water spots and they will detract from the mirror finish. Use a low abrasive towel like a microfiber towel. To avoid cross-contamination, use this towel only on wheels and wash it separately from your other microfiber towels. Brake dust is the last thing you want on your paint!

Wheel Polishing

Choosing a metal polish for chrome is interesting. Chrome wheels technically are coated but they’re coated with metal. It’s not quite the same as being coated with clear coat or paint. Chrome is a tougher material than clear coat. Many metal polishes that can be used on aluminum or steel can also be used on chrome. It’s just a matter of reading the label to determine if a product is safe on chrome.


(NOTE: Plastic chrome wheels or plastic chrome trim is not real chrome! The same rules do not apply. Plastic with a chrome finish should be treated like plastic, not metal.)

Chrome can tarnish and rust, unlike clear coated alloy, so selecting a polish that is designed to remove oxidation is key.

For the best results, apply metal polishes to the wheels with a polishing tool, such as a Detailing Ball. It will give you the consistent speed and power needed to effectively polish wheels.

  1. First, wipe the chrome polish of your choice onto the wheel. Apply it to one wheel at a time.
  2. With your Detailing Ball attached to your electric drill, start slowly and spread the polish over the wheel. Gradually increase the speed. Keep the Detailing Ball moving over the wheel until the polish starts to dry or diminish.
  3. Use a soft, clean microfiber towel to wipe the wheel clean.
  4. Repeat on all four wheels.

Wax/Seal chrome wheels

Once your chrome wheels are clean and dry, apply a quality wheel protectant (Wheel Wax or Wheel Sealant) to seal the wheel surface. These products work just like car wax. Apply them with an applicator pad and then buff the wheel. They keep your wheels looking shiny, and they prevent brake dust adhesion. These products dry clear, like a wax, so they will not diminish the shine of chrome wheels. Your wheels look cleaner longer. You have to reapply these products weekly, but it’s better than scrubbing your wheels every two days. The good news is, if you use a wheel wax as recommended, water is the only thing you need to clean your wheels between waxing sessions.

Following these steps will not only keep your chrome wheels looking great, but will help keep your wheels covered under Warranty!