How to Remove Corrosion from Aluminum Wheels

When keeping up your car’s appearance, the details can make all the difference. Even if your car is clean and shiny, corroded aluminum wheels can spoil its entire look. It’s important to remove corrosion from aluminum wheels as soon as possible — aside from making your car look bad, corrosion could ruin the wheels themselves!

Polishing your car’s wheels to a mirror sheen is no small task. It’s time-consuming work that requires patience and the right tools. One mistake could mean having to replace the wheels entirely. If you’re up to the task, then keep reading — this guide will walk you through the easiest and safest way to remove corrosion from aluminum wheels.

Removing corrosion from aluminum wheels.

Why fuss about corrosion on aluminum wheels?

Let’s face it — many car owners neglect taking care of their car’s wheels. I can understand why. Cleaning your car’s wheels means getting on your hands and knees, wrist-deep into the dirtiest part of your car. Not the most exciting way to spend your weekend!

But the lack of proper wheel maintenance can lead to unsightly corrosion. Corrosion happens when dirt, water, brake fluid, and other foreign substances accumulate on wheels. These materials cause aluminum to oxidize, which is a process similar to iron or steel rusting.

Corrosion on aluminum wheels is unattractive — it makes your car look old or cheap. More importantly, corrosion can permanently damage your car’s wheels if left unchecked. Replacing corroded wheels can be costly, so why let it get to that point?

Fortunately, it’s possible to salvage aluminum wheels that show signs of corrosion. With a little know-how and dedication, you’ll be able to save your car’s wheels before it’s too late.

Aluminum wheels — coated or uncoated?

Not all aluminum wheels are created equal. Some aluminum wheels are coated with a special protectant, while others are not.

Obviously, the process of removing corrosion from aluminum wheels is different for coated and uncoated wheels. So it’s very important that you know what kind of wheels your car has! If you use the wrong product on the wrong type of wheel, you can worsen whatever damage already exists.

Thankfully, it’s easy to tell whether aluminum wheels are coated or uncoated. Get a bit of aluminum polish, and put it on a clean cloth. Rub the polish on the wheel’s most corroded area — if there’s a black residue on the cloth, then the wheel is uncoated. You should only do this after you’ve thoroughly cleaned the wheel.

What you’ll need to remove corrosion from your car’s wheels

Once you know whether your car’s wheels are coated or uncoated, you’ll have to gather the right materials. Here’s a list of everything you need to do it yourself:

  • Power washer, or a high-powered hose
  • Car-safe all-purpose cleaner
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Wheel cleaner and polish (for coated or uncoated wheels)
  • Soft wheel brush
  • Sandpaper, or a power sander with a wool buffing head

Optional (but recommended):

  • Wheel clay with lubricant
  • Wheel wax

Cleaner vs polish

Why use a special wheel cleaner when you already have a good all-purpose cleaner? Wheel cleaner is specially designed to help remove corrosion and damaging substances from wheels. Without it, you’ll have a much tougher time getting rid of that stubborn pitting. I recommend Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus — it’s easy to use, and works on coated and uncoated wheels alike.

Cleaning is an important part of removing corrosion from aluminum wheels, but it’s not enough on its own. If you really want to make your car’s wheels shine, you’ll need to invest in a good wheel polish. Wheel polish will finish the job that the wheel cleaner started — it will buff out all of the pitting and scratches that the wheel cleaner couldn’t. If you want a good quality polish at a good price, you can’t beat Mothers — it’s one of the best you can get.

Sandpaper vs. power sander

No matter which products you decide to use for cleaning and polishing your car’s wheels, you’ll either need a power sander with a wool polishing head, or sandpaper in a variety of grits. Without sanding tools, you won’t be able to get rid of the deep pitting caused by corrosion.

I recommend using a power sander to remove corrosion from your wheels. Using a power sander is much faster and less tiring than using sandpaper. If you don’t have it and don’t want to buy one, I suggest asking your friends and neighbors if they have one you can borrow.

If you can’t get a power sander or are hesitant to use one, then sandpaper can work as well. You will need several different grits, from the roughest to the finest. Moreover, you’ll need a lot of each grit — sandpaper runs out quickly when you use it to remove corrosion from metal surfaces like aluminum wheels.

Wheel clay and wheel wax

While these products are optional, I strongly recommend using wheel clay and wheel wax to clean and protect your car’s aluminum wheels. Without them, you might end up having to do more work than necessary. Furthermore, you’ll leave your car’s wheels exposed to damage later on down the road.

How to Remove Corrosion from Aluminum Wheels

Now that you’re familiar with the products you’ll need, here are the 5 steps you can take to remove the corrosion from your car’s aluminum wheels.

1. Clean the wheels with soap and water

Before you can start removing corrosion, you’ll need to thoroughly clean your car’s wheels with water and all-purpose cleaner.

Start by spraying the wheels with a power washer. If you don’t have a power washer, then a regular hose with a spray nozzle should do the trick. Your goal is to remove as much grime, dirt, and other debris as possible.

After you’re done spraying, apply soap to the wheels with a clean towel. Make sure to reach all the corners and crevices you can. Once you’re finished with the soap, spray the wheels down once more. You may repeat this process until you feel that the wheels are clean enough.

When you’re satisfied with your first round of cleaning, rinse the wheels thoroughly and dry them off with a clean microfiber cloth. Now you’re ready to begin an even deeper clean.

2. Clean the wheel with wheel cleaner

Once you’re finished cleaning your car’s wheels with soap and water, it’s time to apply the wheel cleaner. While you should always follow the instructions included with your wheel cleaner, the process is generally the same regardless of which cleaner you choose.

Note: You should complete the remaining steps one wheel at a time!

Apply the wheel cleaner to your car’s wheel, making sure to follow the cleaner’s instructions. After you’ve applied it, you’ll need to work it in with a soft wheel brush. There’s no need to scrub too hard — too much elbow grease, and you may end up scratching the wheel!

By now, the wheel should already start to look shinier and less corroded. Once you’ve finished brushing, rinse the wheel with water and dry it with a clean cloth.

3. (Optional) Use wheel clay to remove large particles

This step is not required, but I highly recommend it — especially if your car’s wheels are very dirty or heavily pitted.

Start by applying wheel clay lubricant to your car’s wheels. Then, take a large chunk of clay and work it into a flat patty, like a small hamburger. Rub the clay all over the wheel, making sure to fold it to a clean section whenever it gets too dirty.

Once you’ve removed the more stubborn bits of debris from the wheel, simply rinse it with water to wash away any remaining clay or lubricant. As always, be sure to dry the wheel thoroughly with a clean microfiber towel.

4. Apply wheel polish

Polishing is the most important step in removing corrosion from aluminum wheels — and the one where you need the most patience! Even though it may seem tedious, it is vital that you don’t rush this step.

If you’re using a power sander, start by applying your wheel polish to a wool polishing head. Then, set your sander to a low power setting — around 1000 RPM should work well. Slowly and evenly apply the polish to the wheel.

After you’ve covered the wheel with polish, start raising the RPM in stages. You won’t need to exceed 3000 RPM. Continue buffing the wheel until you can’t see any more signs of corrosion.

If you plan to use sandpaper rather than a power sander, you’ll have a lot more work to do.

First, before applying any polish, you need to wet the wheel with water. Then, starting with the roughest grit sandpaper, start rubbing away any corrosion. You should switch to progressively finer grits as the corrosion disappears, and be sure to keep the wheel wet with water. After sanding, apply wheel polish to the wheel with a clean microfiber cloth.

No matter which method you use, you’ll need to wipe off any remaining polish with a clean cloth. At this point, your aluminum wheels should not only be free of corrosion — they’ll also look factory-fresh!

I found a video that shows how much of a difference polishing your car’s wheels can make.

5. (Optional) Apply wheel wax to the wheel

As with Step 3, this one is also optional — but I highly recommend that you follow it! Your car’s wheels may be shining brighter than the sun now, but that doesn’t mean that they’re immune to further damage.

You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble later on by applying wheel wax — even if your wheel polish claims to protect aluminum wheels from corrosion. It provides an extra layer of defense that prevents moisture, dirt, oil, and other harmful elements from eating away at your car’s wheels. After applying wax, you won’t have to reapply it anytime soon — your wheels will be safe for a long time!

Apply the wheel wax with a clean cloth, making sure to spread it evenly and without leaving behind any residue. Then, you should let it dry. Once it’s dry, wipe it off again with another clean cloth. It’s as simple as that — and best of all, you won’t have to remove corrosion from your radiant aluminum wheels for years to come.

Final thoughts

If you want to keep your car looking its best, it’s vital that you pay attention to details like the wheels. Other things can make a difference too, whether it’s getting your car’s tires clean and shiny or cleaning your car’s leather seats. I wrote these guides so that your car can look as great on the inside as it does on the outside.

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