How to Clean Chrome Rims to a Mirror Finish Easily

Chrome rims have a unique standing in the market thanks to their mirror-like reflective shine. However, these wheels require proper maintenance to keep them shining and ensure their longevity. On top of the maintenance requirements for chrome wheels is regular cleaning.

But since not everyone knows how to clean chrome rims, we are about to crack the puzzle wide open to help you stay ahead of the curve. If you’re new to vehicle accessories, chrome wheels are alloy wheels coated in chrome to give them a shiny and sparkling-clean look. 

And unlike their rivals, chrome rims are much more resistant to corrosion and rusting. But when they aren’t properly maintained, they can become susceptible to all these natural elements. Stay with us as we’ll walk you through the process of cleaning and polishing your chrome wheels with some essential tips to keep them looking like new.

How to Clean Chrome Rims

A Step-By-Step Guide to Cleaning Chrome Rims

Cleaning your chrome rims to give a mirror shine is a simple task. You must, however, be willing to put in the work, as the process requires cleaning and polishing the rims.

Washing the rims helps to remove all the dirt and embedded brake dust, thereby prepping the rims for the polishing process. Then the polish eliminates all the surface imperfections, further improving the shine of the rims.

But before you start, check that your wheels are chrome rims and not polished aluminum since both wheels look very much alike. You can do a quick test by using a magnet — the magnet will stick to chrome rims. Below are all the products you’ll need:

Step 1: Soak the wheel and tire with chrome wheel cleaner

Start by thoroughly rinsing the wheels to remove the majority of the dirt. Once you are done rinsing, get your Adam’s wheel and tire cleaner and proceed to deep clean the wheel. 

Spray a coat of the wheel cleaner on the tire and wheels, leaving the product on for some minutes to dissolve the dirt. While the manufacturer recommends spraying on and rinsing off, you should go the extra mile by scrubbing to ensure you remove those stubborn dirt and brake dust.

But before you do the scrubbing, get a bucket of clean water and make a soap-water solution using the car wash shampoo. The reason for the soap-water solution is to clean the brush while scrubbing. 

Step 2: Scrub the rims with a soft-bristled wheel brush

When you are scrubbing, you want to ensure that you are only using a soft wheel brush to avoid scratching the chrome finish. Get your long-wheel brush and start scrubbing inside the wheels. Focus on the wheel barrel and wheel spokes to remove loose dirt and caked-up brake dust.

Rinse the brush in the soap-water solution once it’s soaked with dirt, and continue scrubbing until you’re done cleaning the barrel. Now, switch to the smaller lug nut brush to clean the tight spots like the lug nuts holes and brake caliper.

The smaller detailing brush can easily wriggle its way into the lug nut holes and other hard-to-reach areas that the long brush can’t reach. After cleaning out all the hard-to-reach areas, get your wheel and tire brush to round off your scrubbing with the wheel surface and tire.

Once you are sure that you have completely removed all the embedded dirt and brake dust, give the tire a good rinse to wash off all the loose dirt. Then dry the wheel and tire using a microfiber cloth.

Step 3: Polish the wheels with chrome polish

Washing alone won’t remove rust, hard water marks, oxidation, or light staining that has etched into the surface of your chrome wheel. You’ll have to polish out the imperfections with a chrome polish to restore the shine and luster. 

Before you start polishing, you should consider taking off the wheels to allow for better access and make the whole process much easier. Apply some Chemical Guys Light Metal Polish on the Steel Wool and work it into the chrome wheel.

Although you can also use any other metal polish of your choice, you need to check that the product is suitable for chrome rims and won’t damage the finish. You also need to be sure that you are using super fine steel wool, as using anything stronger would scratch the rims.

When polishing, you’ll need some elbow grease to polish out the stubborn imperfections. After polishing for about a minute, wipe off the polish residue with a clean microfiber cloth to check the progress. When you polish chrome wheels, polish in segments focusing on one area at a time. 

You can also use a microfiber towel instead of steel wool for chrome wheels without surface corrosion or hard water marks. Once you are done with one rim, repeat the same process for the others.

Usually, your wheels will remain shiny for about three months to a year after polishing, depending on how often you drive and the type of weather conditions they are exposed to. After polishing all four rims, proceed to wash the car to clean up the mess.

A good rule of thumb when washing your car is to always clean the tires and wheels first before washing the body, as you don’t want all the dirt getting on the car, ruining the progress you’ve made, and creating more mess.

Some Maintenance Tips to Keep Your Chrome Wheels Shining

Undoubtedly, chrome rims add a touch of elegance and mirror-like shine to every car. However, those rims need proper maintenance to retain that gleaming shine. Below are some essential maintenance tips to keep your chrome rim looking like new.

1. Regular Cleaning

The most important takeaway here is to ensure that your wheels are always clean and sparkling. If left uncleaned, brake dust accumulates on the chrome rims, becoming quite difficult to clean and reducing the mirror shine of the rims.

Chrome rims are simply alloy wheels coated in chrome and are equally susceptible to road salt. And when they are exposed to road salt for an extended period, it can result in pit chrome wheels. With frequent cleaning, you get rid of accumulated brake dust and salt remnants that cause corrosion.

All you need is to learn how to clean chrome rims, invest in a garden hose or a pressure washer and use the right products. Another perk of chrome rims is that they’re very easy to clean and less time-consuming, so cleaning them should be a walk in the park.

2. Avoid Using Harsh Chemicals

Removing caked-on brake dust from rims can be a grueling task, but we strongly advise against using abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals such as ammonia, oven cleaners, or bleach on the chrome wheels. These cleaners contain corrosive ingredients that are harsh on chrome rims and can damage or discolor the rims. 

Instead, use a Wheel and Tire Cleaner or Car Wash Shampoo. You also need to be very cautious when refilling brake fluid and try not to spill any on your chrome rims, as it can severely damage the chrome plating. And if you mistakenly spill any on your rims, clean it off before it does any damage. 

Also, ensure you thoroughly rinse the rims after washing to rinse off any residue of the cleaning product. Because leaving cleaning chemicals on the wheels can also lead to discoloration or pitting.

3. Inspect the Wheels for Damage

You also need to develop the habit of regular inspection to prolong the lifespan of your chrome wheels. You need to be on the lookout for the area of the rim base. Check for surface rust, corrosion, curb rash, and pitting. 

Most of these damages, when detected early on, can be fixed before it gets worse. For instance, a pitting chrome rim can be restored when tackled early on before the damage becomes extensive. The same thing applies to corrosion. So, you should always inspect your wheel regularly to detect issues before they become full-blown.

4. Apply Wax or Sealant

Going the extra mile by applying a coat of wax or sealant to the rims will help add another layer of protection to the wheels and add hydrophobic properties. But you’ll need a product that is specifically formulated for chrome surfaces and closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

For traditional wax, you’ll need a fresh coat after every three months. However, sealants last a bit longer than wax going six months before a fresh coat is needed. 

5. Avoid Harsh Brushes

As we’ve mentioned earlier, chrome wheels are alloy wheels coated in chrome, so you don’t want to use stiff or harsh brushes on them to avoid scratching the chrome surface. Instead, use a wash mitt, microfiber towels, or soft brushes when washing to safely remove the dirt without causing damage.

The importance of proper maintenance of chrome wheels cannot be overemphasized. Regular cleaning and inspections, avoiding harsh chemicals, and applying a coat of protection is the foolproof way to keep the wheels shining and prolong their lifespan. 

Chrome or Polished Aluminum Wheels, Which is Better?

Chrome-plated wheels are sometimes confused with polished aluminum since they both have a mirror-like shine. Although both wheels look the same, they are quite different. One quick way to differentiate the two is using a magnet — the magnet will stick to chrome wheels. 

A polished aluminum wheel is an alloy wheel buffed to a high shine, while a chrome wheel is a hard metal coating on the surface of an alloy wheel. But which is the better one? Before we draw a conclusion on which one is better, let’s quickly go through their differences.

1. Material Composition

The material composition of both wheels is the primary distinction between both types of wheels. Chrome rims are alloy wheels coated in chromium to achieve their bright, mirror-like finish. On the other hand, polished aluminum wheels are made from forged or cast aluminum alloy, subjected to a meticulous polishing process to achieve their high-gloss appearance.

2. Appearance

While both types of wheels have a similar finish, offering a stunning shine, they aren’t entirely the same. Their difference lies in their reflective properties. Chrome wheels have a better reflective surface, giving an almost mirror-like appearance. Conversely, polished aluminum wheels have a more natural, silvery shine with less distortion in reflections.

3. Maintenance

Another factor that further differentiates a chrome wheel from a polished aluminum is the maintenance requirement. The chromium coating on chrome rims forms a shield which makes them more resistant to environmental elements and corrosion. 

The absence of a coating on polished aluminum wheels makes them more susceptible to tarnish and oxidation and thus requires more frequent maintenance. You have to regularly apply aluminum wheel polish to maintain its glitter and a coat of sealant or wax to create extra protection against environmental hazards. 

Even with the coating on chrome wheels, they are still susceptible to damage from harsh chemicals and road salts. You need to clean them regularly with non-abrasive and chrome-safe products to preserve their luster.

4. Weight and Performance

The weight of a wheel impacts a vehicle’s overall performance. And while chrome and polished aluminum wheels both have a stunning shine, their weight differs. Chrome wheels weigh more than polished aluminum wheels. The weight difference is due to their manufacturing process.

The lighter weight of polished aluminum wheels means better handling and fuel efficiency, invariably resulting in improved overall vehicle performance. 

5. Pricing

The last but not the least differentiating factor between both wheels is their price. Chrome rims are often more expensive because of the manufacturing process and materials involved in chrome plating. However, polished aluminum wheels are more affordable than chrome wheels. 

Despite the improved performance and lower price of polished aluminum, some still prefer chrome wheels because they are easier to clean and have a more reflective surface. Ultimately, there are tradeoffs, and which one is deemed better depends on individual preference. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Toothpaste Shine Chrome?

Yes, toothpaste can be used to shine chrome wheels. Other make-do household items like isopropyl, rubbing alcohol, and even Coca-Cola can be used to polish out hard water marks and brake dust from chrome rims. Apply pea-sized toothpaste to an applicator or soft cloth and use it to scrub the chrome surface. 

How Do You Fix Deep Scratches on Chrome Rims?

Deep scratches or gashes on chrome rims won’t go away by respraying with chrome paint. You’ll need to start by fixing the gouge using a hard epoxy resin to fill the gash and smooth it out after it dries. You can then go in with your chrome paint after smoothening the filling.

Can Scratches Be Buffed Out of Chrome Wheels?

Yes, they can. It’s even easier when the scratch didn’t get past the chrome-plated layer. You can use aluminum foil for this restorative attempt by rubbing it intensely over the affected areas.

Are Chrome Wheels Resistant to Scratches?

Chrome wheels are quite durable, thus, resistant to scratches and dings. Their sturdy nature makes their maintenance much easier. However, you want to tackle issues like rust, corrosion, and pitting early on, as leaving them for an extended period reduces the chances of fixing them. 


Chrome wheels are popular for their reflective surface and mirror-like appearance. But you must regularly care for the rims to retain the stunning appearance. By caring, we mean thoroughly washing and polishing to improve the shine. 

To help you stay on top of your chrome rim maintenance, we made a detailed guide on how to clean chrome rims. But besides cleaning and polishing the rims, applying a coat of wax or sealant is an extra step you can take to keep it sparkling.

The coat of wax improves the hydrophobic properties of the rims, making cleaning even easier. A fresh coat of wax will last three months, while sealants last about six months. 

Ultimately, you must be proactive when using chrome wheels. That is regularly inspecting the wheels for rust, corrosion, curb rash, or pitting and fixing them quickly before they become full-blown and damage the wheel. 

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