How to Properly Clean Car Tires

Proper maintenance of your vehicle's tires depends upon a regular cleaning regimen. Here's how to clean tires using a simple, inexpensive process.

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At the point where the rubber meets the road, your vehicles' wheels and tires grab a lot of dirt and grime — not to mention collecting layers of brake-pad dust and fine shavings from the rotors. Of these, road salt and brake dust represent particularly caustic threats that can pit your wheels and steal life from your tires.

Both tire manufacturers and installers recommend cleaning your tires and wheels at least every other week to keep them looking great and performing their best.

Environmental Tip: You may be tempted to clean your car in the driveway, and we can't argue the convenience and time savings associated with that. However, car washes are legally required to collect gray water from their washing bays, recycling the water and disposing of the cleaning agents in the proper way. We recommend working there whenever possible.

Tools Required

  • Bucket
  • Clean & dry towels
  • Hose and spray nozzle
  • Lug-nut brush (optional)
  • Pressure washer (optional)
  • Soft/medium-bristled brush
  • Waxing mitt or foam pads (optional)
  • Wheel brush (optional)

Materials Required

  • Baking soda (for whitewalls only)
  • Dish soap or mild degreaser
  • Warm water
  • Wheel cleaner (optional)
  • Wheel wax (optional)

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Prep for the Job

  • Gather all your equipment and materials before starting the job.
  • For the best results when cleaning tires and wheels, work each one through the entire process before moving to the next.
  • Above all, make sure your tires and wheels have cooled before washing them and/or applying any cleaning products.
  • Dedicate a specific cleaning rag and drying towel to this task. As previously mentioned, tires pick up a lot of dirt and grit from the road as well as collecting caustic brake dust. Keep these contaminants away from the other surfaces of your vehicle.

Tire cleaning suppliesCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman

Step 2

Start With a Rinse

  • Rinse off as much loose grime as possible using a spray nozzle or pressure washer.
  • Work the water from several angles and try to remove as much from the interior of the rim as possible.
  • Keep the tire wet as you clean it because the moisture provides lubrication and prevents scratching.
    • Pro Tip: For a deep cleaning or for extremely dirty rims, you may choose to remove the wheel for cleaning. If you do, work from the back of the tire to the front so that rinsing the back doesn’t re-soil the front.

Cleaning tiresCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman

Step 3

Wash the Tire

  • Starting with the tire prevents tire grime from running down over a cleaned wheel face.
  • Scrub the surface of the tire with warm water, a mild detergent and a medium- to soft-bristled brush.
  • Allow the detergent to sit on the tire for a few minutes to soften the grime, then rinse.
  • Repeat scrubbing and rinsing as necessary, being careful to not allow the tire to dry during this part of the process.
  • Always finish by rinsing out the brush.

Cleaning tiresCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman

Step 4

Wash the Wheel

  • Wet the surface of the wheel.
  • Use the brush to scrub with warm, soapy water.
  • Use any additional brushes to get into tough spots.
  • Repeat wash/rinse as necessary.
  • Thoroughly dry both the tire and the wheel with a cloth.

Cleaning tiresCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman

Step 5

Wax Application (Optional)

  • If you apply wheel wax to your aluminum wheels, plan to do it every three to four months, which may turn your regular cleanings into a simple high-pressure rinse-and-dry process.
  • Apply cream or paste wax with a mitt or foam pad.
    • Defer to the instructions provided on the wheel wax you choose.
  • Remove/finish with a clean cloth.

Cleaning tiresCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman

Step 6

A Final Step for Whitewall Tires

  • Keeping your whitewalls pristine requires an aggressive cleaning routine, including weekly cleanings at minimum that end in this process.
  • Apply a 1-to-1 paste of water and baking soda to the whitewall, then leave it to work for several minutes.
    • Most of the products available to clean the grime from whitewalls actually shorten the life of the tire.
  • Scrub gently with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Rinse.

Baking sodaCraig Gustafson for Family Handyman