Best practice dictates that wheels should be cleaned first as this means any splatter on to the body from when rinsing with the hose can be mopped up and cleaned as part of the regular two bucket approach to bodywork. My approach is to power hose them as part of the rinse stage and then foam them during the pre-wash stage. Once the snow foam has been rinsed off, I then clean the wheels before rinsing again and following the two bucket method.
Wheels are generally one of (if not the most) dirty area of a car. This is due to brake dust from where the pads wear out on the disks (and vice versa to a certain extent). This can bake onto the wheels forming a very hard layer of dirt on the rim. I bought a car with this before and ended up having to sand the area of build up back, as washing simply would not penetrate the dust once it had cooled. The moral of that story is to try and keep on top of your wheels!
I will flag just now that there are different types of wheel – I am dealing with one piece alloys however there are lots of split alloys wheels out there. A lot of wheel cleaners will specifically exclude use on split rims so be sure to check the label before proceeding. The Muc Off cleaner I use here is suitable for split rims I believe.
Recently I have been using Muc-Off wheel cleaner. While this is very gentle on the alloys it can lack bite if there is a build up of tar and brake dust. Generally, once every few months, I will treat the wheels with a tar remover such as Tardis to get more stubborn marks off.
Given the pre wash routine I apply to the wheels a lot of the dirt is already washed off, therefore when cleaning the wheels with Muc Off I usually apply and agitate with a microfibre cloth. This minimizes scratches that can come from wheel brushes and preserves the wheel protection by not aggressively rubbing it off.
Generally the approach for all wheel cleaners will be the same. I liberally hose down each wheel one at a time when rinsing the car, then apply snow foam leaving it to dwell for a few minutes. Once rinsed, I apply wheel cleaner liberally to a wheel at a time and agitate with a microfibre.
Now leave the wheel with the suds on it for a few minutes. I usually do the same on the next wheel in this time then return to the original wheel with the hose. Once the settling period is over rinse thoroughly ensuring all the suds are gone. Repeat this process on each wheel.
At times I will leave the process here, however for full protection there are additional steps to follow.
At this stage I then perform the two bucket wash method on the body of the car, and return to the clean wheels once the whole car has been dried.
At this point there are a number of options available to add a layer of protection as there are numerous wheel sealants on the market. I have Autoglym Wheel Sealant lying around so have been using it. I’ve not been blown away by its performance however so will try alternatives once finished.
For these follow the instructions on the container as they can vary. Generally the product should be applied to a microfibre towel and worked into the wheel surface. I avoid spraying directly on to the wheels as I don’t want any protective layers building on the brake disk.