How to Clean Chrome-Clad Wheels

by Joshua Smyth
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Chrome car parts are electrically plated (or "clad") with a thin layer of chromium, which gives them their bright shine. Beneath the chromium there is always another material, since pure chrome is too soft for constructing wheels. Chrome has long been a popular material for car detailing, due to its bright shine and its resistance to heat. Chrome wheels, however, quickly lose their shine as road dirt builds up on them. Rust is also always a worry with chrome surfaces. There are several ways to clean chrome-clad wheels, depending on how dirty they are.

Step 1

Wash the wheels with soapy water. Basic dish soap mixed into a bucket of warm water will remove light dirt from chrome wheels. Just dip a clean, soft rag into the water and wipe the wheels with circular strokes. Be sure to rinse the wheels with soap-free water when you're finished, then dry them promptly to prevent spotting.

Step 2

Remove tarnish from chrome with vinegar. Standard white vinegar, available at any grocery store, is an acid that will work to dissolve deposits of tarnish and caked-on dirt from chrome-plated wheels. Just pour some vinegar into a bucket, then dip a soft rag into it and scrub the wheel until clean. The rag will absorb the dirt, so flip it over regularly to ensure you are scrubbing with a clean section. Adding some baking soda to the vinegar will make it more powerful. Always wash the wheel with water and dry thoroughly immediately after cleaning with vinegar.

Step 3

Remove rust from chrome using aluminum foil. You will need to scrub the wheel first with an acid; either white vinegar or cola (the fizzy drink) work quite well, although cola leaves the wheel sticky. Crumple a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side outwards, and use the ball of aluminum to scrub away rust from the chrome. This is less likely to scratch and pit the chrome than scrubbing it with harder steel wool.

Step 4

Apply commercial chrome cleaning products. Any car-parts store will have several types of chrome polish available. These restore shine to chrome wheels quite quickly. You will need a clean, soft rag to spread the polish onto the wheel and another soft rag to buff the chrome after the polish is applied. You can also apply wax after cleaning and polishing; this will protect the chrome and allow you to clean less frequently. Apply wax to the wheel in the same way as polish: on a rag, then buffed with a second rag.

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