A simple but annoying problem for most vehicle owners at some point are those sticky steering wheel buttons. Whether you are trying to clean a vehicle you just purchased (or even your own), it can be a disgusting inconvenience.
Whether it’s oils from your hands, soda, (or anything else), it’s a good idea to clean these from time to time to avoid buildup that will be harder to remove later on.
In this blog post, I’ll break how to clean these sticky steering wheel buttons in 4 steps, and what to do as a last resort.
Step 1: Kill the power before cleaning
Before cleaning steering wheels (or any electronics for that matter) you want to make sure you do not clean anything while the vehicle is running (or accessory power is on). Especially with electronics, you run the risk of damaging the components when cleaning with water.
Before cleaning, it’s also a good idea to use compressed air. You can used compressed air in a couple different ways when detailing your interior as I cover in this post.
Don’t spray anything on the buttons
Just to be safe, I wouldn’t apply any type of spray directly to the buttons, unless it is safe for electronics. Also don’t use protectants like Armour All, these can leave plastic buttons greasy and just isn’t the best way to remove grime. You need a very basic cleaner, not a protectant.
Step 2: Select an electronic-safe cleaner
While some degreasers are great for wheels, you really want to avoid contacting buttons or electronics with powerful acids that can possibly slide into cracks and potentially interact with electrical components. In the case of cleaning sticky buttons, there are a few ways to do this safely by selecting a cleaner safe for electronics.
With whatever product you use it’s best to work with precision and use a minimal amount of product. You may have to repeat the process a few times in order to clean all the dirt and grime off the buttons, but it’s best to avoid heavy coats.
Below are a few products that have been known to clean buttons safely.
Option 1: WD-40 Electrical Contact Cleaner
This product by WD-40 is specifically designed for cleaning electronics, is safe for plastics) and isn’t corrosive like degreasers or other harsh chemicals. It comes with a straw for application, although you may just want to apply it with an applicator (step 3).
This is probably the best solutions for cleaning buttons, and the one I personally recommend for most people.
Option 2: Goo Gone
If you have very sticky buttons from candy, soda, or another external substance baked on, using a product like Goo Gone can help cut through sticky substances that some water-based solutions may not be able to.
Option 3: Distilled water
If using any homemade cleaning solution, start with using distilled water as the base. Distilled water can be found at most stores, and one of it’s properties is that is does not conduct electricity, and can be used for cleaning electronics.
You need an extremely small amount of solution for cleaning buttons, which is why it’s important to use an applicator instead of spraying your cleaning solution directly on the buttons themselves. Be careful when cleaning plastic buttons, as some chemicals can take the paint or lettering off quite easily.
In the detailing world an IPA solution is basically isopropyl alcohol diluted with distilled water and can be effective if your buttons aren’t too sticky. You can also use undiluted isopropyl alcohol for rubber buttons, but keep in mind that it can remove paint (more common with plastic buttons). It’s not too extreme of a cleaner (like a Goof off), but something to be aware of. Always test first.
Step 3: Apply solution with a horsehair Brush, Q-tip, or microfiber towel
Depending on how large the button cluster is, it’s probably a good idea to use an applicator like a boar’s hair or synthetic hair detailing brush. Simply spray some solution in a paper cup (or similar) instead of spraying it directly on the surface.
Detailing brushes are great to have around for cleaning all buttons in your vehicle, because their fine bristles great for reaching edges difficult to clean with a towel alone.
While fine bristles are generally the best for cleaning areas like buttons, a Q-tip (cotton swab) or microfiber towel can also be effective.
Step 4: Let the buttons dry before powering on your vehicle
Just to be on the safe side, give the surface of your buttons a chance to dry before powering on your vehicle. Especially if you are cleaning buttons with a contact cleaner you have sprayed, I would probably clean them in the evening (after work, while it is still light outside) and just leave your car to dry overnight.
When to replace your steering wheel buttons
It may be time to replace your steering wheel buttons if they are beyond repair. In some cases, you may find that the controls for turning the volume up or down (or other buttons) are no longer visible due to normal wear and tear.
If you notice this is beginning to happen after you clean them, you do have a couple of options for either replacing them or fixing them.
Check your warranty or manufacturer for replacements
For vehicle brands like Mercedes, some warranties cover steering wheel button replacements. Usually the steering wheel has to be taken off and everything re-wired to your new buttons and is not something you want to attempt yourself unless you have experience.
You can have this done without a warranty, but some buttons can cost around $300 to replace (plus labor) so keep that in mind.
Other manufacturers like Ford and Chevy actually make OEM switch replacements for the wheel (like cruise or volume control clusters) you can find on Amazon or eBay for usually less than 50 bucks.
There are a ton of tutorials on replacing them yourself if you have the tools and experience. Most of these switches are pretty simple to replace, but it depends on your vehicle.
Purchase replacement button decals
For plastic buttons, a simple alternative to faded out buttons is to purchase a replacement button decal set. These can be picked up on Amazon for most vehicle makes and models, and is ideal for backlit buttons that have been worn out to the point where the entire button is glowing (due to the paint being worn off).
When it comes to cleaning buttons that you use every day (like on your steering wheel), it’s best to wipe them down with a cloth from time to time just to prevent oil buildup from your hands. You can even blast them with compressed air to get rid of any hair, dust or debris trapped underneath that may cause problems down the road.
For more interior detailing tips, check out 17 interior detailing secrets used by professionals.