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A Quick Guide On How to Clean Wheel Wells and Protect Them

Maybe your tires look good, but the wheel wells…not so much. Wheel wells or fender wells—the area behind and around the tires—can sometimes be hard to reach. Or an afterthought. But they’re worth cleaning!

 After all, if your paint and wheels look great, stuck on dirt or faded plastic can ruin the aesthetic. 

After struggling for years to get it right, today I’ll share the best way I’ve found to clean wheel wells for any type of vehicle.

What you’ll need

  • Long arm brush for tires
  • Water hose
  • Tire bucket and soap
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Vinyl or plastic trim restorer
  • Old microfiber towels or wash mitt
  • Rubber gloves
  • Tar remover (optional)
  • Power washer (optional)

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves as cleaning wheel wells can get messy.

Step 1: Wash and rinse to remove dirt

cleaning dirt off wheel well

The first step is to use a garden hose or a pressure washer to remove any heavy dirt from your car’s wheel wells. You can use a power washer to knock off heavy mud, especially if it’s dried on. If you have fender liners be sure they aren’t loose or brittle.

Caution!

Whenever using a pressure washer, never exceed around 1,200 PSI. Always stick with a wide-angle nozzle like a 25 or 40 degree, and stay a few feet from the wheel well.

For heavy dirt, I like to use a lot of foam if there is a lot of dirt to remove. You can make snow foam using a device called a foam cannon; it’s ideal for pre-treating filthy vehicles before handwashing. You can read more about snow foam in our beginner’s guide to foam, shampoo, and car soap.

Foam is a hands-free way to remove heavy dirt and makes the handwashing phase much easier.

Step 2: Agitate with a wheel well brush

One trick to easily cleaning very dirty fender wells or wheel wells is using a long-handled brush. Use plenty of soap when using these brushes for extra lubrication to avoid any potential scratching of the vinyl or plastic surface.

Look for an angled brush or thin wheel brush made of microfiber if you don’t have much room to work with behind the tires.

Long Handle Fender Well Brush

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Quick Tip

As a best practice, always use a separate tire bucket in addition to your primary wash bucket to keep your regular soap bucket free of brake dust and grime. To prevent scratches, never introduce dirty tire water on paint.

Whenever using towels to clean fenderwells, store them separately from your other towels to avoid cross-contamination.

Step 3: Apply a degreaser or undercarriage spray

After you apply soap to remove heavy dirt, use a degreaser or all-purpose cleaner like Super Clean for substances like tar or road grime. This product is popular among detailers because it’s effective, safe, and can be used on many interior and exterior surfaces when diluted.

I like Super Clean in the aerosol can because the foam makes it easier to see what I’m doing, but you can find it in liquid form too.

Quick Tip

You can remove your tires for added mobility during this step if you feel comfortable doing so. Just be sure to cover brake calipers with a plastic bag.

Undercarriage sprays

Aside from degreasers, you can also use undercarriage sprays formulated to clean metal, plastic, and other discolored areas. This is a good all-in-one solution after you remove dirt if you decide not to apply a dressing or protectant.

Griot’s Garage makes one of these products and it does leave a nice shine or gloss on metal and plastic.

Griot’s Garage Undercarriage Spray

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Step 4:  Restore any faded wheel liners or plastic

wheel well liners

Once you rinse everything off and everything is dry I recommend a rubber or vinyl cleaner if you have plastic liners. I’ve been using Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze 49 for years to restore faded plastic and trim, and it does a great job on these types of surfaces.

For added protection and a great aesthetic look, Chemical Guys VRP is a good vinyl, rubber, and plastic protectant that acts as a conditioner and protectant.

Chemical Guys Vinyl + Rubber + Plastic Protectant

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Step 5: Apply temporary or permanent protection

For the last step, you may want to apply a spray-on ceramic product or other protectant for maximum protection against the elements. For painted surfaces, many modern ceramic coatings work well as they repel liquids. 

Need a more permanent protection solution? Consider wheel well liners or a rubberized undercoating.

Wheel well liners

If you drive a truck, or SUV with painted wheel wells, plastic wheel well liners offer the best protection against debris. These plastic covers help protect your paint from rocks, mud, road salt, and anything else.

Most trucks/cars already come with covers behind the front wheels, but many do not come with plastic covers for the rear.

Wheel liners are about 100 bucks for a set of two and can be found on the aftermarket for most vehicles.

Undercoatings

Sometimes it makes sense to apply a spray-on bedliner or a professional rubber undercoating if you have a lot of exposed metal. You can either have a professional provide a quote for just your wheel wells (usually a few hundred dollars) or go the DIY route.

Dupli-color makes a popular rubberized undercoating I’ve used on truck wheel wells; it can prevent rock damage and help dampen road noise from rock or gravel (to a degree).

This solution isn’t for everybody or for every vehicle, but another way to prevent corrosion and rust for older vehicles.

Learn how to clean wheels from A to Z

While wheel wells are not extremely visible, A few extra seconds per tire can go a long way (and impress customers if you’re a detailer).

 Before you begin, check out our beginner’s guide on washing wheels and tires if you’re ready to see better results by learning some basic techniques the pros use.

Good luck and happy detailing!

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Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

4 thoughts on “A Quick Guide On How to Clean Wheel Wells and Protect Them”

    • I have not tried that one personally, but as long as it doesn’t have silicone it may be safe for metal if it is multipurpose. Would probably try on a small area first after reading the label or use another product. Hope it helps!

      Reply
  1. I like that you mention spraying rear wheel wells with undercoating especially if there is exposed metal to restore or protect an old vehicle. My truck is getting a little rusty due to heavy-duty work. Thank you for the tips. I’ll make sure to do this when doing maintenance to my car.

    Reply

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