Stubborn baked on brake dust is going to take more than simply washing with soap and water to remove. You’ll need to use a chemical that will react with the brake dust particles and break them down.
You need to ensure though that the chemical you go with is safe to use on your alloy wheels. In other words, you need a product that is strong enough to remove the brake dust but not so strong as to eat away at the rim finish.
There are plenty of effective and safe to use wheel cleaners but we found Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus to be the most effective.
Most wheel cleaners require that they sit a few minutes to begin to work their magic. Spray on and allow to sit for the manufacturers recommended amount of time then clean off.
Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus
Chemical Guys Wheel Woolies
Of all the wheel cleaners on the market, Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus comes out on top when it comes to breaking down baked-on brake dust.
Non-scratching wheel brushes like these from the Chemical Guys make the job of cleaning baked-on brake dust off your wheels a snap.
If you have some seriously neglected wheels you may need to get hardcore. Steam will power through a lot of things, including brake dust.
It’s a good idea to have a large brush and a small brush on hand. These can be used to work in the wheel cleaner and and remove the more difficult baked on brake dust.
Some wheels will be more difficult to clean than others depending on the complexity of the rim. Wheels with lots of small cavities will benefit more from the small brush than the large one.
A little soap and water once you’re done to remove the wheel cleaner and you should have a nice clean set of wheels free of brake dust crud.
Wheel Cleaner vs Iron Remover
Wheel cleaners are typically more gentle products that are generally very good at cleaning wheels but may have difficulty with brake deposits. Iron removers are usually good at breaking down brake dust deposits containing iron but may struggle with thickly caked deposits.
You’ll know iron removers are working to bind and remove iron due to the color change that happens with the chemical reaction to iron. The best wheel cleaners for dealing with heavy brake dust deposits are a mixture of the two.
Quality products that mix the two will not only do a good job of attacking brake dust buildup but also be effective at dealing with larger deposits in one go.
They will also be good at cleaning the wheel overall, not just dealing with caked on brake dust.
Best wheel cleaner for brake dust
While researching wheel cleaners one name came up over and over again – Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus It improves upon the incredibly popular Sonax Full Effect by increasing the formulation to be 30% stronger.
Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus is an impressive combination of wheel cleaner and iron remover that breaks down stubborn baked on brake dust extremely well.
It is acid-free and ph balanced so as to be safe for any type of wheel, including aluminum, alloys, painted, powder coated, clear coated, and even anodized wheels.
When sprayed on it will be clear but as it begins chemically reacting with the brake dust it will start turning red. This is the iron remover included in the formulation reacting with the iron particles from the brake dust.
If your wheels aren’t too terribly caked up with brake dust you may be able to simply spray on and rinse off.
Most likely if you’re dealing with baked on brake dust you’ll need to do a little bit of light scrubbing but the wheel cleaner should do the majority of the work breaking down the dust and dirt.
This is where having some good wheel brushes will come in quite handy.
Tips for cleaning off brake dust from wheels
Always be sure to clean your wheels when they are cool. High temperatures could adversely effect the chemical reaction that happens between the iron remover in the wheel cleaner and the brake dust.
In addition to some good wheel brushes, using a pressure washer if you have one handy would be helpful. A good pressure washer that doesn’t have too high of pressure can really help blast away brake dust build up in more difficult to reach places.
You will want to ensure that your pressure washer doesn’t exceed 2000 PSI. If you’re using an electric pressure washer you’re probably fine. Gas powered pressure washers can have much higher pressures and you’ll want to ensure that you’re not dealing with enough force that you’ll end up doing damage to the finish.
If you’re considering a pressure washer we suggest a couple excellent and affordable options in our article about safe water pressure for power washers.
Preventing excessive brake dust buildup on rims
Once you’ve gotten your wheels nice and clean you’ll want to ensure that they stay that way as long as possible. Some cars are notoriously difficult to keep wheels clean from brake dust. A few tips for helping you keep your wheels clean include:
Wash your car more regularly
If you can commit to a more regular car wash routine you’ll be washing off brake dust before it has a chance to adhere and build up on your rims. A quick wash will not only help protect your wheels but will also help protect your paint if you’re washing your car properly.
Apply a paint sealant to your wheels after you clean them
Paint sealants will not only protect your paint but they’ll also protect your wheels. They can be a little more involved to apply to rims but it’s worth the effort. Paint sealants usually are quite hydrophobic and things like brake dust tend to not stick as easily.
Even if you do find that you have some brake dust building up it will often easily rinse off if your wheels have a good coating of a quality paint sealant.
Replace your brake pads for low dust ones
There are manufacturers of quality brake pads that produce less dust with little effect to braking performance. By swapping your brake pads out for these you may be able to all but eliminate your brake dust buildup problem.
Also, ceramic brake pads can be a reasonable alternative. While they will still dust, they will not be as noticeable and ceramic isn’t corrosive to wheels so they won’t react with the wheel material and stick in the same tenacious manner.
Change your driving style
Yeah I know this one probably is not realistic. But it should be obvious that heavy braking produces excessive brake dust.
If you can begin to be a little more conscious about braking earlier and with less force you may see a reasonable drop in the amount of brake dust build up on your wheels.
I’m just as guilty as anyone of ripping around town and late braking to every light so I’m not judging. But if you’re looking for a way to control the problem this is the biggest one you have direct control over.
Brake dust is corrosive to wheels and you should do your best to keep your wheels clean and protected. Once brake dust adheres to your wheels it begins to eat away at them and builds up.
Regularly washing your car will help rinse off brake dust before it has a chance to adhere. Once brake dust builds up and is caked on it is difficult to remove unless you use a chemical specifically designed to tackle the job.
A quality wheel cleaner like Sonax Wheel Cleaner Plus will contain both great wheel cleaning properties as well as an iron remover agent to help break down brake dust without harming the finish of your rims.
By scrubbing gently with a wheel brush after the cleaner has sat for the manufacturers recommended amount of time should easily remove any last bits of the more stubborn dust buildup.
Once your wheels are clean you should take some steps to ensure that they’ll remain that way.
The easiest solution is to apply a quality paint sealant to the surface of your wheels. This sealant will significantly prevent the ability for brake dust to adhere to your wheels, slowing buildup and making cleaning in the future much easier.