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How to clean tires

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Even though tires can have a big impact on how a car looks, they are often ignored. They get a quick wipe and then a new coat of dressing. But cleaning your tires properly can decrease the need for a dressing and can help a dressing to perform better for longer.

What is a tire made up of

A tire is made up out of 2 basic parts, the cords that make up the ply and the elastomer which encases them. The elastomer, which forms the tread and encases the cords to protect them from abrasion and hold them in place, is a key component of pneumatic tire design. It can be composed of various composites of rubber material – the most common being styrene-butadiene copolymer – with other chemical compound such as silica and carbon black.

Simply put, the outside you see and put your dressing on, is a rubber-like material with some additives. The tire will get dirty over time and the grime might get into the tire because of its open structure. This means that there is dirt on top of the rubber, but there will also be a small amount in the surface layer of the rubber.

Special cleaning products

There are a few product on the market that are specifically designed to clean rubber tires, but they are fairly rare. People who are looking for a good product will often end up with a heavy degreaser.

the pros of a specialized product

  • It is designed to clean the tire without damaging the material
  • It will clean far better then a generic product
  • It won’t interfere with any important materials in/from the tire
  • Most are designed to be easy in use
  • Will clean much more different types of dirt

The cons of a specialized product

  • More expensive then generic products
  • More difficult to find
  • Often less economical

the pros of a generic product

  • Cheaper
  • Easier to find
  • More versatile (can also be used for other jobs, such as door hinges and the engine bay)
  • Often more economical to use

The cons of a generic product

  • Can clean less different types of dirt then a specialized product
  • Often more chemically based which is bad for your skin
  • Can affect the tires material
  • Won’t clean as thoroughly as a specialized product

It is best to use specialized cleaning products for certain tasks, and cleaning the tire is one of those cases. But many detailers won’t put much effort into them, because it is much to easy to hide the imperfection with a dressing.

The benefit of cleaning tires

There are a few benefits for cleaning tires.

  • Dressing will perform better (although it might take a few more coats the first time)
  • Cleaning is part of maintenance
  • Clean tires won’t dry out as quickly, and will crack less quickly
  • When you do the weekly wash and wipe the tires, your washmitt won’t be as dirty
  • Clean tires will need less dressing
  • When you are using a tire sealant, the performance will drastically improve when the tires are perfectly clean
  • It is very much recommended to remove old layers of dressing before you are applying another dressing-product

The cleaning process

A tire being cleaned with a hard-haired brush
A tire being cleaned with a hard-haired brush

What you’ll need: old MF towel, brush with hard hairs, bottle of APC, bottle of tire cleaner or heavy degreaser, access to running water (a hose for example).

If you are using a specialized product

  • It is best to remove the wheel from the car, this will make it much easier to work on
  • Pour water over the tire, and spray APC liberally over the tire to just loosen up the biggest buildup of dirt
  • Use the brush to agitate the APC
  • Use the running water to rinse away the loosened dirt
  • Spray the tire cleaner over the wet tire
  • Leave it for 30 or 60 seconds
  • Agitate with a brush
  • Rinse away the loosened dirt
  • Repeat the previous 4 steps until the suds are snowwhite (this can take between 3 of 10 times)
  • Rinse off the tire thoroughly, and use the brush to help rub all the residue off
  • Dry the tire with the old MF towel, you shouldn’t get any dark stripes
  • If you see any dirty spots on your towel, you need to clean the tire even more
  • If the MF towel stays clean, dry off the tire and leave it to dry for about an hour before you apply any type of product
  • If you are using a dressing, you might wanna apply 3 coats with 4 to 5 hours in between for best results, if you are using a sealant just follow the directions on the bottle

If you are using a generic product

  • It is best to remove the wheel from the car, this will make it much easier to work on
  • Pour water over the tire, and spray APC liberally over the tire to just loosen up the biggest buildup of dirt
  • Use the brush to agitate the APC
  • Use the running water to rinse away the loosened dirt
  • Spray the heavy degreaser over the wet tire
  • Leave it for 30 or 60 seconds
  • Agitate with a brush
  • Rinse away the loosened dirt
  • Repeat the previous 4 steps until the suds are snowwhite (this can take between 3 of 10 times)
  • Rinse off the tire thoroughly, and use the brush to help rub all the residue off
  • When using a heavy degreaser you are very likely to still get black marks on your MF towel
  • Dry off the tire and leave it to dry for about an hour before you apply any type of product
  • If you are using a dressing, you might wanna apply 3 coats with 4 to 5 hours in between for best results, if you are using a sealant just follow the directions on the bottle

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