Whenever I’m washing wheels, I always fill up my wheel bucket with cheap soap. In cases where the wheels aren’t too dirty, this is enough to clean them (especially ceramic coated wheels). But for dirtier wheels, I like to use this wheel cleaner from Griot’s Garage. It’s much more powerful than a regular over-the-counter wheel cleaner, yet still safe on all surfaces but polished aluminum.
No, it won’t turn red or purple when it comes into contact with brake dust like other fancy cleaners. But you also won’t have to clean up what looks like a crime scene on your driveway afterward either. It’s helpful to know that Griot’s Garage also sells a Heavy Duty version of this wheel cleaner meaning this one is fairly mild. I’ve used this on custom powder coated wheels where the coater recommended only using soapy water, with no ill effects.
I don’t waste money on fancy wheel-specific soaps. After all, they’re just a slightly more powerful version of a traditional car soap.
The reason most of us don’t use cheap over-the-counter soaps on our paint is not because they aren’t strong enough. It’s actually because many of them are TOO strong, and could potentially strip your wax and sealant.
For that reason, I like to fill my wheel bucket with them. Realistically, I’m only using it to dunk my wheel brushes in to clean them off. My suspicion is that those wheel-specific soaps use a similar formula to these cheap ones. I’m not going to get into the darker side of the detailing industry, but that’s where my head’s at on this one.
Assorted Wheel Brushes
The brushes you choose really come down to personal preference. It also depends on the design of the wheels you’ll be cleaning. If your wheels have a bunch of intricate spokes, a big fat brush probably won’t do you any good.
In general, I like to have a long and skinny brush for getting into the barrel of the wheels and between the spokes, a fatter one for bigger areas of the wheel and the fender liner, a small detailing brush for the lugnuts and an old wash mitt for wiping down the rest of the wheel. I don’t purposely go shopping for a mitt for wheels, I just downgrade my regular wash mitt once it gets too dirty and worn out to continue using on the paint.
I have 2 tire brushes from Simoniz Platinum in small and large sizes. As you could probably guess, the small one works best on low-profile tires and the large one is better for truck tires.
This product proves that you don’t have to spend big money to get good results. I use this any time I want to apply a new coat of tire shine. The idea here is to spray it on, scrub it, and rinse it off. If the suds are brown when you rinse, do it again. Eventually, the suds will stay white, meaning there are no other contaminants being dissolved.
This tire cleaner is readily available on the shelves of any Canadian Tire and it’s cheap!
This is a thicker gel than the tire dressings you might be used to applying. It does a great job of moisturizing the rubber and protecting it from UV rays. A spray-on product might work better on off-road tires but for regular ones, this is a great way to go.
I used to be a big fan of Meguiar’s Super Degreaser and I still am. Truth be told, sometimes I just get too lazy to mix up another bottle of concentrate and water. Detail Firm’s Degreaser is ready to use and it works quite well.
Spraying this on your engine bay and scrubbing with your wheel brushes is the easiest way to clean it up under your hood. This might not have the strength to restore oily engines that have been neglected for 30 years but then again, most detailing degreasers won’t.
For the other 95% of vehicles, this product works great and won’t dry out the rubber and plastic in your engine bay. It can also be diluted 10:1 and used for stubborn interior cleaning when a regular interior cleaner isn’t up to the task.
Dressing For Engine Bays and Inner Fenders
I like to use Trim Shine on black plastic fender liners for 2 reasons: the aerosol can makes it quick and easy to apply, and once applied it dries to the touch. Since it doesn’t stay greasy, it won’t attract dirt and dust as much. A lot of people overlook this step, but having clean, dark fender plastics contrasting against your shiny wheels is one of many tricks you can do to make your vehicle stand out from the rest.
I don’t bother with this on low cars with very little gap between the tire and fender. My motto is “if you can see it, it should be clean”. This also applies to whether something needs to be dressed or not.
I’ve also used Gtechniq C4 Permanent Trim Restorer on my 4runner’s black plastic fender liners. This is an off-label use, but in my mind, black plastic is black plastic whether it’s a windshield wiper cowl or fender liner. It gave them a fresh, dark look and offered great protection. I found that dirt and mud were much less likely to stick to them, and when it did, it sprayed off easily with the hose. This stuff is expensive though, so it might not be for everyone.