Wheel wells are one of those often overlooked areas to keep clean, but can really detract from all the work you do to make your tires and wheels look great. If you are cleaning your own vehicle at home, you may even want to remove your tires before getting started (if you have the ability) just to make things easier.
In this blog, I’ll break down how to clean and protect your wheel wells in 4 simple steps.
Step 1: Start by Knocking the Dirt Off
You can use a pressure washer if you have one or even a hose, but the key is to remove larger chunks of dirt that soap and other cleaning products will have to fight. Although it’s pretty obvious that mud, dirt, and everything else collects in your wheel wells pretty easily, it’s important that you spray it off first before cleaning.
I recently handpicked 5 of my favorite budget pressure washers for this type of job that can make it a lot easier (for less than $300).
The purpose of car soap is to really be a lubricant that picks up the dirt and carries it away. When there’s a high amount of dirt (like in your wheel wells) you need more soap for it to be carried away.
That’s why it’s so important to hose off your vehicle before washing it. Not only will you keep your rinse bucket cleaner, but you’ll use less soap.
For low-profile vehicles, this may be less of a problem than with trucks with larger offroad tires.
Step 2: Apply All-Purpose-Cleaner, Body Solvent, or Degreaser
Wheel wells typically stay pretty filthy, since whatever is on your tire (tar, dirt, etc.) has nowhere to do. One of the most common ways to break down these substances is by treating your wheel wells with an APC (All Purpose Cleaner).
Sometimes it may even make sense to use a body solvent like this one by Meguiar’s that specializes in breaking down bugs, tar, sap, and most substances you’ll commonly see.
Always use rubber gloves whenever you use degreasers just to avoid drying out your hands and coat the surface before agitating with a brush (as needed).
One of my favorites is a spray-on product like Super-Clean. I like this product because it is a foaming degreaser that comes in an aerosol can, which makes it a little easier to apply to these hard to reach areas.
If you have a foam cannon this is a good time to use it in order to properly coat the wheel well with soap, APC, your favorite degreaser, or a combination of these products. If your wheels wells are made from a woven felt-like material instead of plastic, a standard degreaser like Purple Power is safe to use.
Step 3: Agitate with a Wheel Well Brush
After spraying your wheel wells, you will want to use a dedicated wheel well brush (or fender well brush) for reaching hard to reach areas. These can be purchased for usually around 10 dollars and have an extra long handle for reaching areas that other brushes can’t.
If you’ve ever cut your hand when cleaning wheel wells with a wash mitt like I have, you definitely will want to pick on of these up.
Some people have suggested purchasing a toilet brush, but I would opt for a brush with boar’s hair for contact with paint. You don’t want to use any kind of tire brush or other brush with firm bristles that could potentially leave scratches.
Step 4: Restore and Protect
Once you rinse everything off and everything is dry, it’s a good idea to dress the wheel wells simply for protection if they are plastic. For most people, I would recommend diluting a water-soluble vinyl cleaner spray.
Chemical Guys VRP and Meguiar’s both make a water-based dressing that’s perfect for diluting in a spray bottle.
If your goal is to simply return the plastic from slightly faded to its original color, diluting your dressing should be fine. These dressings can get expensive, and I’d personally rather dilute them for areas like wheel wells that aren’t really that visible. It’s really what looks best to you.
If you do want more of an all-in-one solution you can either use a dressing straight-up or an undercarriage spray. Many of these are formulated specifically for treating plastic wheel wells and help to enhance the color and help repel dirt or dust (to varying degrees). Here are a few options you have:
- DK Black Out
- Adam’s Undercarriage Spray
- Griots Undercarriage Spray
- Chemical Guy’s Bare Bones
- Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing
Many of these options are great for restoring appearance, but some have some cleaning properties as well.
Wheel Well Liners
If you drive a truck, SUV, or have painted rear wheel wells like I do, installing two rear wheel well liners is going to be the best form of protection. These are basically plastic covers that protect your paint from rocks, mud, road salt, and anything else.
Most trucks/cars have plastic protecting the front wheel wells, but many do not come with plastic covers for the rear from what I’ve seen.
These liners are about 100 bucks for a set of two and can be found for just about any vehicle that needs them. Husky is one of my favorite brands for mud flaps and other protective devices, but you can find numerous options that fit your vehicle here on Amazon.
Undercoating Wheel Wells
Especially for rear wheel wells that have exposed metal (not plastic), spraying them with a bedliner or other undercoating is a popular option especially if you are looking to restore or protect an older vehicle. If you live up north or deal with road salt on a regular basis, adding level of protection on your entire underbody (including wheel wells) is never a bad idea.
You can either have a professional that specializes in spray-on bedliners quote you for doing your wheel wells (usually a few hundred dollars) or go the DIY route.
Dupli-color makes a popular rubberized undercoating that you can spray on, which can help cut down on noise and paint damage. You can remove it, but it will need to be touched up over time. Polyurethane coatings are also another popular option as a sealant if you don’t want a rubberized finish.
If you’re a detailer, you obviously know that it’s best not to overlook small details. For customers that like to inspect every nook and cranny, wheel wells are usually one of those areas that these types of customers are going to be impressed by, or slightly disappointed by. Even though wheel wells are not extremely visible, by giving them the attention they need can really put your detailing business in a class of its own.
Even if you’re just the average joe, it’s smart to keep them clean and protected to avoid rusting and pitting over time. Check out our blog post on fixing and preventing rock chips if this is a problem you are also dealing with.
A few extra seconds per tire can really go a long way to remove substances inside your wheel well that can lead to scratching or pitting.
Have anything else to add? Leave a comment below.