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Detailing

A wheel cleaning case study

November 30, 2011
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Case study

The wheels: Original BMW wheels that we have determined are clear-coated with no chip or flaking problems.

The problem: Problem is a heavy concentration of brake dust. One wheel has road tar on it and some road paint.

The chemicals: Wheel acid, non-acid cleaner, solvent and paint remover.

Tools: Wheel brush — stiff, spoke brush, toothbrush and steel wool.

Procedure: Some of these steps are basic to cleaning all wheels. You have to determine which you will use for your situation.

  1. Always pressure wash the wheels to knock off as much dirt and dust as possible, and more importantly, to cool the wheel. Never apply chemical to a dry or hot wheel. This can cause streaking and staining.
  2. Apply wheel acid to the wheels. Follow this with an application of non-acid (alkaline) cleaner to neutralize the acid. On hot days, it is advisable to apply chemical to only two wheels at a time, or even individually if it is too hot. Allow the chemical to dwell and work for you, but do not let it dry.
  3. Take the wheel brush and scrub the flat surface of the wheel using a lot of water and getting the bristle into as many recessed areas as possible.
  4. Use the spoke brush and water to clean the deeply recessed areas of the wheel.
  5. Rinse with clean water and if there is still brake dust in the recessed areas, which is typical with BMW wheels, reapply the chemicals. Then use the toothbrush and/or a piece of steel wool to clean out the recessed areas. It is a lot of work and can take a lot of time, but if we as detailers cannot clean the brake dust off, who can? And, turning a car back to a customer with brake dust still on the wheels is like a carwash giving you back your car with dirt still on it. To provide quality work takes time, and time is money. That is why you must get a fair price for your work.
  6. Apply solvent to the road tar, let dwell and remove with a small piece of steel wool or a towel, whichever works best.
  7. Apply paint thinner to a towel and see if that will remove the road paint. If it does not, you may need to use steel wool to remove heavy paint concentrations. Always take care when using steel wool so that you do not scratch the wheel. Remember, it could be polyurethane enamel, just like the paint. Aluminum or magnesium wheels will also scratch if rubbed too hard with steel wool.
  8. Rinse all four wheels and they should be perfectly clean if you have done your job.

Remember this is only a case study. There are many types of wheels and hundreds of different problems. You must evaluate each and every situation with the same care and attention you would the paint finish.

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