How To Remove Corrosion From Aluminum Wheels

Do you have a set of aluminum wheel rims that look all dirty and pitted? Tired of rolling around town with a dirty looking set of rims? If you have answered ‘yes’ , stick around – I am going to show you how to remove corrosion from aluminum wheels .

Dirt, road-salt, grit, brake dust, and all sorts of stuff build up on your wheel rims over time, and eventually, they start to leave blemishes on your nice shiny aluminum wheel rims. But today, I am going to teach you how to make your aluminum wheels look like new again!

Step 1- Remove any surface debris from the aluminum wheel rim

Be sure to find a nice flat surface to park your car on, and then block off the wheels so that your car/truck does not move at all during the cleaning/restoration process.

If possible, find a nice spot in the shade so that your cleaners don’t dry too fast. IF the cleaning products dry too fast on the wheel, then their cleaning power is reduced and you will end up with some marks left on the wheels.

Step 2 – Test your Aluminum wheels to see if they have a protective coating

Do you know if your aluminum wheels have a protective coating? If you are not sure, just apply a little bit of aluminum wheel polish to a spot on the rim that is not very visible (use a clean cloth or polishing applicator pad).

Take a look at the cloth after applying the polish – if the cloth/pad has black residue, then you have confirmed that there is no coating on the aluminum wheel rims.

Ahhh……black smudge = non-coated aluminum wheel

If your aluminum rims are non-coated, then the cloth will be black where you applied the polish. If no signs of black coloring on the cloth – your wheels most likely have a protective coating.

Step 3 – Rinse the aluminum wheels with water

Rinse your aluminum wheels thoroughly – preferably with a pressure washer if possible.

You want to remove as much dirt, grit, brake dust, and debris as possible at this time. Rinse all parts of the wheel very thoroughly.

Step 4 – Remove oxidation with some aluminum wheel cleaner

Try to select an aluminum wheel cleaner that is not acidic, if possible. Acidic wheel cleaners can sometime cause spots on aluminum wheels.

I always recommend the use of rubber gloves and eye protection of some sort for this step.

Some cleaners may require that you follow specific instructions in order for it to work thoroughly. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the product packaging to achieve best results.

NOTE: If you have coated aluminum wheels, make sure to ONLY use a cleaner that is safe for use on coated aluminum wheels.  This should  be identified on the package somewhere.

Use a soft bristle brush to ‘work’ the cleaner product into every part of the aluminum wheel. Work the cleaner all over the wheel very thoroughly. Use a smaller fine bristle brush (soft) to clean the areas around the lug nuts, and any other hard to get areas.

Be sure to keep the wheel wet while you are scrubbing with the soft bristle brush. You can spray on a bit of water on the brush to help keep the wheel wet during this cleaning procedure. This will help prevent scratches during the cleaning process.

NOTE: You could also use a drill attachment tool to help save your arms from all that scrubbing action.  I would personally recommend the Chemical Guys ‘Ball Buster’ Rim Cleaner/Polisher, or the Mothers PowerBall / PowerCone Cleaner/Polisher.

Step 5 – Rinse the fender well and aluminum wheel thoroughly

Again, use a power washer if you have one available. Make sure you get all soap & soap residue off of the wheel surfaces. Be sure to check the lug nut areas and any other hard to reach spots to make sure they are rinsed thoroughly.

Step 6 – Dry off the cleaned wheels with some clean microfiber cloths

Allowing the aluminum wheels to dry on their own will likely lead to spotting on the surfaces.

The use of the microfiber cloths will ensure that all the areas are dried well and will help prevent any ugly spotting.

NOTE: Be sure to wash the dirty cloths in a separate load of laundry away from any clothing that you are washing.

Step 7 – OPTIONAL – Clean the wheels one more time with a cleaning clay to remove any leftover fine particles

This step is optional, however, it will ensure that you get the best results out of this whole aluminum wheel restoration process.

Follow the directions on the cleaning clay package, but the general process for using cleaning clay is as follows:

• Spray the wheel with clay lubricant
• Take a portion of the ‘clay’ product and form it into a flat ‘disc’ or something that resembles a pancake or burger patty
• Rub the clay over all of the aluminum wheels surfaces (be sure to get into the hard to reach areas)
• Fold over the clay as it gets dirty, to ensure that you have clean clay surfaces to help maximize the clay’s effectiveness
• Spray the wheels with clay lubricant again, and wipe them dry with clean microfiber cloths

Chemical Guys make GREAT cleaning & polishing products (like this cleaning clay kit)

Step 8 – Time to polish the aluminum wheels

IF you have protective coating on your aluminum wheels, you need to use a clear coat safe polish. You probably shouldn’t have too much (or any) oxidation on the wheels if they have a protective coating, so tread lightly with the polishing process if you do have the protective coating.

The general process for polishing aluminum wheels is as follows:

• Apply the wheel polish one rim at a time with a clean soft microfiber cloth
• Buff all surfaces of the aluminum rims – preferably with some sort of power polishing attachment, like the Mothers PowerBall/PowerCone, or the Chemical Guys BallBuster 
• If you do not have a power polishing attachment – use separate clean soft microfiber cloths to buff the wheels by hand
• When you see that the polish is fully dried (or gone), wipe down the wheels one more time with clean microfiber cloth
• Check the instructions on the polish product – some polishes are meant to be used in a multi-step process (where you polish with a ‘polishing compound’, wipe dry, and then polish again with a ‘finishing compound’)

If you still notice some oxidation on the wheel, then repeat the pre-cleaning process.

IF you still have any pitting or oxidation on the aluminum wheel, then wet-sand the pitted/oxidized areas with 320 grit sandpaper, to start. Be sure to keep the wheel & sandpaper wet, and gradually move to a higher number grit sandpaper (finer grit) until the pitting/oxidation is gone.

You can use a power polisher attachment for this step as well, to make things easier. Try the power polisher attachment and some rubbing compound to see if that removes the pitting & oxidation.

In the video below, you can see the use of the drill-attachment tools for cleaning and polishing/buffing aluminum wheels.  You don’t need to use the specific products they recommend – the video is just for reference so that you can see how these tools work for wheel restoration purposes.

The power polisher attachment will save your hand & arms from a LOT of heavy duty scrubbing.

Once the oxidation & pitting are all gone, go back to Step 8 above – Polishing the wheels.

Step 9 – Remove any remaining polish from the wheel with a clean microfiber cloth

Check all areas of the wheel and use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe any any residue or remaining polish.

Wipe it down until its niiice and shiny!!!

At this point your wheels should be looking shiny like new! IF you are not satisfied with the final results, feel free to repeat the polishing process again.

RECOMMENDED: Once you have restored the aluminum wheels to your satisfaction, use a wheel wax to help prevent any further oxidation, pitting, or spotting.

The wax will also help keep dirt and brake dust from building up over time.