How to clean aluminum rims covered in brake dust

How to clean aluminum rims covered in brake dust
How to clean aluminum rims covered in brake dust

Over time, it is normal to see fine black dust from the brakes collecting on the rims and hubcaps. Every time you brake, a tiny part of the brake linings gets deposited all over the place near the pads. Your beautiful aluminum rims will present, after a while, a very sad sight. Rest assured: we can fix it! Some claim that prolonged inhalation of this brake dust can cause, but it is rare, cancer. Cleaning the rims is an essential part of the regular maintenance of a car. Your health may also be a concern.


Part 1 of 3: Prepare

Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 1

Step 1. Park safely on a flat area with a drainage system

  • Apply the vehicle's parking brake. Do not park on a slope, this advice is valid every time you carry out maintenance on your car!
  • As you will be using a lot of water and cleaning products, it is better to avoid parking on a slope otherwise torrents will form at the bottom of the said slope. You can, for example, park on a piece of lawn, the earth will then absorb water and chemicals, without too much impact on the water table.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 2

Step 2. Remove all the hubcaps

  • Most hubcaps are removed by hand or with a large screwdriver to apply pressure. Some, however, are secured with plastic nuts or screws. If you are not sure how your hubcaps are fitted, consult your manufacturer's manual. If you try to pop a bolt-on hubcap with pressure, you risk breaking everything.
  • The hubcaps must be cleaned separately, then rinsed and dried before being reassembled on clean rims. Clean both sides of the hubcaps well, brake dust creeps in everywhere.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 3

Step 3. Before you start, make sure your wheels are cool

  • During braking, the pads rub against the disc and the frictional energy is then dispersed in the form of heat. In the event of repeated or sudden braking, the temperature of the rims can reach peaks. This is why we recommend that you, if you have just used your vehicle, wait for your wheels to cool completely. This will prevent you from burning yourself.
  • To tell if your wheels are hot, move your hand carefully near the wheels without touching them. You will quickly see what it is. Wait 15 to 20 minutes.
  • It is also possible that you have a problem with the brakes if your wheels are too hot. In the event of lasting heat, consider having your braking system checked.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 4

Step 4. With brake dust, it is wise to put on a protective mask and gloves

  • Some advance the hypothesis, not really verified, that prolonged inhalation of this dust would lead to cancer of the pleura, called "mesothelioma". The doubt is in fact at the level of the components of platelets and that only platelets containing asbestos would cause this cancer.
  • In order not to have any problems, just wear a surgeon's mask and gloves every time you clean your rims. Let's be reasonable: the risk of getting cancer is close to zero since this cleansing is brief and only takes place a few times a year.

Part 2 of 3: clean your wheels

With soap and water

Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 5

Step 1. Prepare hot soapy water

  • It is the most economical solution for removing brake dust. Pour the equivalent of one to two teaspoons (20 ml) of dish soap into a bucket of hot tap water.
  • Stir well by hand or with an object.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 6

Step 2. Briefly rinse your wheels

  • Start by scrubbing your aluminum rims with a garden hose (not yet with soapy water!) To remove most of the dirt. In addition to cleaning, this will prevent scratching your rims by rubbing on solid debris.
  • To have a more concentrated and therefore more powerful jet, put a narrowing nozzle at the end of your hose.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 7

Step 3. Scrub your alloy rims to remove encrusted brake dust

  • Take a small plastic brush, dip it in your soapy water, and scrub your rim. While brake dust comes off easily, this is not always true for other deposits that are well secured to the wheel. We must insist. Take your time to clean every square inch, do not forget to make the re-entrant parts if your rims are perforated.
  • The ideal brush should be narrow, handy with soft or semi-soft bristles. Some specialty stores sell brushes specially designed for rims that look suspiciously like toilet brushes.
  • Do not use a brush with hard bristles, let alone wire bristles (the kind you use to clean the barbecue grill!) As this will scratch and permanently damage the surface treatment of your rims.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 8

Step 4. You can also use a wash mitt

  • There is an accessory that could make your job easier: it is a car wash glove, made of plastic or synthetic, often bristling with spikes. You put it on like a normal glove and you can go to the most inaccessible corners of the rim. Some only use this accessory, others prefer the traditional brush. A matter of taste !
  • Note that these gloves are on sale in any good automotive supply store, for less than ten euros.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 9

Step 5. Then rinse each of your wheels to remove all traces of detergent

  • After having scrubbed well, take your garden hose again and wash your rims with plenty of water to remove dirt and detergent.
  • Repeat for each wheel. The easiest way is to prioritize cleaning all your rims, then rinsing them, rather than doing them one by one. This avoids you having to juggle with tools, hose, brush …
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 10

Step 6. If necessary, rub again the rims that would need it

After rinsing, it almost always happens that you have forgotten a few stains. In this case, all you have to do is take your brush or glove, a little detergent and rub. Rinse again until complete satisfaction

With a cleaning product

Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 11

Step 1. Obtain a container of aluminum rim cleaner

  • On the market, you can find cleaning products specially designed for aluminum rims (generally sold for less than ten euros). They are effective on brake dust that has accumulated for a long time. Warning: before buying, read the label carefully, some cleaners are designed to act on certain materials other than aluminum and could therefore damage the surface treatment of your aluminum rims.
  • In an American study, it was proved that the products of the brands Meguiars and Mothers (available in France) are among the most effective for cleaning rims. There are also other brands that have great products.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 12

Step 2. Spray the product directly on the rim

  • Spray the product directly on the rim (or apply as recommended). Be sure to cover all areas to be cleaned.
  • Some products are toxic to the skin, eyes or lungs (due to the vapors). Carefully read any warnings and precautions to be taken on the packaging.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 13

Step 3. You can also use an oven stripper

  • In case you don't want to spend too much money or just can't find the product you want, know that you can use an oven stripper. According to some motorists, a good oven stripper is as effective as a commercial cleaner. It would dissolve brake dust and would have stain removal properties.
  • Initially, an oven cleaner was not, by definition, designed to clean metal rims. Based on this observation, it is possible that its misuse for rims could have harmful consequences. Use with care therefore, especially if you attach a lot of importance to the exterior appearance of your car!
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 14

Step 4. Let the product act

Once the stripper has been sprayed, let it act for a few minutes, the time to dissolve the brake dust. This time varies from product to product, read the label to find out how long it takes

Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 15

Step 5. Then scrub with a small brush

  • Once the product has worked, rub gently to remove any residual stains. You can use a simple cloth, a brush with a handle or a special rim brush.
  • As noted above, the ideal brush should have soft or semi-soft bristles. A stiff bristle brush will forever scratch or damage the surface treatment of your rims.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 16

Step 6. Rinse well and make another application if necessary

  • As with the soapy water method, you should rinse your rims with a hose after rubbing them, there should be no foam left. Avoid using too much water to rinse, which would eventually lead the chemical to the water table.
  • After rinsing, you may still have a few spots. If so, apply stripper a second time, scrub and rinse.

Part 3 of 3: Getting to the Finishes

Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 17

Step 1. Immediately dry each of your wheels

  • When you are satisfied with your job, dry your rims immediately. Indeed, if you do not dry the chrome, the water easily leaves traces and it is as if you had done nothing. A little wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel and your hard work will be rewarded!
  • For this last finish, you have the choice between an old terry towel or multipurpose wipes. Take a soft cloth if you don't want to leave marks. If you use a microfiber cloth, for example, know that even after cleaning, they will be good to throw away because of their structure.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 18

Step 2. You can apply a coat of wax for longer lasting protection

  • If you choose a good quality wax, the dust will clump less and the aluminum of your rims will not be pitted. Wax your rims before reassembling your hubcaps, it will be done quickly and your rims will be protected for a long time.
  • For long-lasting protection, don't hesitate to wax your rims every six months.
Remove Brake Dust from Aluminum Wheels Step 19

Step 3. Replace all of your hubcaps

When you have washed, rinsed and dried your wheels, you are not far from having finished, since all that remains is to put your hubcaps back in place, which you have taken care to clean well. Congratulation ! Your rims shine, there is no more brake dust, your car looks fabulous


  • If you don't clean your rims regularly, they will end up wearing indelible marks from dust.
  • Regularly washing your rims will make it easier to keep them shiny.
  • When servicing, ask for good quality pads to be fitted. Thus, not only will your braking be improved, but you will have less deposit on your rims.
  • Install vacuum cleaners between the discs and the rims. They trap the abrasion microparticles of the platelets. If you have a sports car with powerful brakes (and because these vacuum cleaners are expensive!), Do not hesitate to equip it with this device which also allows a faster cooling of the brakes.
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for overhauling your brakes. Well-maintained brakes perform their function better and create less dust.

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