break-build-up-300x200-9274800Here’s something that afflicts a lot of the cars on the road. I guess you’d call it ugly wheel syndrome. That dark, almost black dust on your rims is brake dust and comes from your brake pads. As you apply your brakes, the pads create friction to slow you down and at the same time, and as designed, this friction wears away your pads.  What you may also notice is that some cars have little to no brake dust buildup while the brake dust on others is thick and dark.

Not only is this unsightly, if not cleaned regularly the dust can etch into the finish on your wheels.  Since the coatings on wheels vary, you need to be careful to apply the proper wheel cleaner. One thing that you could do that actually works is to convert the brakes to ceramic brake pads. Ceramic brake pads still produce dust just like the metallics, but the dust is light colored so you don’t see it. Also because it doesn’t have metal in it, it is not corrosive and it’s not going to damage the finish on your wheels. So something to consider either right now or at the next brake job. It will make a world of difference in the way your wheels look.

There are a few things you can do to keep your wheels clean:

  • Avoid aggressive driving – driving with hard stops heats up your brake pads and speeds up their wear.
  • Replace your brake pads with more expensive ceramic pads – since ceramics are not a metal composite they are not corrosive and do not leave behind black dust.

While Ceramic brake pads are the “new kid on the block”. They’re typically the most expensive type of brake pad. If you’re not ready for this conversion. Here are a few DIY tips on how to remove brake dust from aluminum wheels:

    1. Park on a safe, flat surface with good drainagePark with your emergency brake up. If you’re using a soap or a commercial tire cleaner, you won’t want to park where the runoff will pollute into a storm drain. Try parking on your lawn. The grass will absorb the water and chemicals without polluting your area’s water supply.
    2. Remove the hubcapsThe hubcaps should be washed, rinsed, and dried separately from the aluminum wheels. Don’t forget to wash the insides of the hubcaps — brake dust also settles here.
    3. Make sure the wheels are cool before cleaningIf you’ve just driven your vehicle, give your wheels a chance to cool off to prevent painful burns.
    4. Make a DIY mixture of warm, soapy water. For a simple DIY solution. Mix a teaspoon or so of dish detergent into a bucket of warm tap water and mix the solution.
    5. Blast the wheels with high-pressure waterSpray the aluminum wheels with tap water from your garden hose. This helps loosen accumulated grit and grime. Loosening the grime prevents it from scratching your wheels while you scrub. If you have a hose attachment with a jet-setting, it helps with a little extra power when loosening up the wheel muck.
    6. Scrub the brake dust offSome auto stores sell special wheel brushes; however, an old toothbrush will do the trick. Just dab the brush in the soapy water solution and start to scrub. Be patient and take your time. It may take some light scrubbing pressure to remove the build-up. Do not use a steel-bristled scrub pad. It can scratch your wheels aluminum finish.
    7. Grab a sponge, washcloth, or washing mittOnce you’ve scrubbed the brake dust grime. You’ll want to wipe away the residue with a washcloth. Some vehicle maintenance experts claim a washing mitt makes it easier to clean the crevices within the wheels, while others recommend traditional brushes.
    8. Rinse each wheel thoroughly, removing all soap residueWhen you’ve given your wheels a good scrubbing, hitting the tires with the “jet” setting on your garden hose attachment removes the dust and any remaining soap residue.

    All in all, if dirty wheels are an ongoing concern, it’s time to switch to a better brake pad that sheds less dust. Until then, whether you’re a DIY’er or you want to leave this job to the professionals. Sunset North Car Wash has all the right tools to get the job done right. So next time you’re in, ask for a quote on our Rim Detailing. We are your local All Hand Wash and Detail Center, Home of the Happy Car!



  1. Dan Collins September 1, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Been experiencing this for quite a long time now and I have no time to go to any car dealership yet. I am thankful I found this post and would immediately follow the steps stated above.

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