How to Restore Clear Coated Aluminum Wheels

how to restore clear coated aluminum wheels

Clear Coated Aluminum Wheels

If you’ve had a great paint job on clear coated aluminum wheels, you’re probably sad to see them in rough shape. The coat gives a moderately low upkeep finish that has a subtle shine when it’s spotless, but this shine does wither over time.

The good news is they aren’t hard to restore, and you can do all of these steps at home on your own. Use these directions to learn how to restore clear coated aluminum wheels so you can be proud to take your vehicle out again. Let’s have a look shall we?

You will only need the following materials to make your wheels sparkle again:

  • Wheel cleaner or mild soap

  • Masking/painter’s tape

  • Paint stripper/remover

  • Mineral spirits or Turpentine

  • Primer for steel(preferably spray primer for a more professional look)

  • Sandpaper(Fine and extra fine grits, *see instructions for preferred grits)

  • Clear coat for wheels(preferably spray clear coat)

Rags or any cloth to wipe excess paint and wipe off dust and grime.

Prep the Wheels

You probably love your wheels and rims whether they give you good gas mileage or not. So when they’re in bad shape, you’re desperate to fix them. 

  • Wash them with a wheel cleaner or mild soap with water to help breakdown dust and other particles, and to make sure that they really need refinishing.

  • Have the wheels removed and the tires taken off to prepare for restoring. After the wheels are bare, use a paint stripper to remove the old clear coat. A sprayer can help make this process quick and easy, but you can do it with a paintbrush as well.

Wait until the paint stripper gets bubbly, then wipe it off with a rag. When you’ve removed all the paint, wipe any grime or dirt off the wheels with mineral spirits or turpentine. Then use a masking or painter’s tape to cover any spots that you don’t want to get painted on.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to worry about the prep work if you’re starting with wheels only. If that’s the case, skip right to the turpentine step above to get any gunk off the wheels.

Prime the Wheels

This step is as important as the others. Priming is where we cover scratches and imperfections after cleaning and removing all that grime and dirt from step one.

  • Use a primer and paint specifically to paint the aluminum wheels. These are for use with a paint sprayer, and they’ll work to keep paint from dripping to different areas of the wheel and give a fine and even finish. Using one without the other may yield unprofessional results.

  • Spray one coat of primer onto the wheels as a base and let it dry. Keep it light, not spraying too much paint at once to make it dry quicker. After the primer dries, spray it again with a heavier coat.

Let the primer dry again and apply at least one more coat. Then sand it down with a wet fine grit sandpaper (220-grit is best). Next, sand it again with 320-grit or an extra fine grit sandpaper. Wipe every part with a dry cloth or rag before moving on to the next step, this is to remove leftover dust from sanding and to prevent the next coating of paint to have a grainy texture.

Time to Paint: How to Restore Clear Coated Aluminum Wheels

Now that we have cleaned and primed our wheels, we can finally fully restore our wheels to that smooth and glossy finish.

  • Like applying the primer to our wheels, we should first apply a light coat of paint with the sprayer as the base and let it dry. Then apply a heavier coat after drying the base coat.

  • Let the paint dry again and apply at least one more coat. Then sand it down with wet sandpaper (a fine or 220-grit, followed by an extra fine or a 320-grit).

  • It’s important that we do this step on all the areas of the wheel. Sand with an extra fine or 400 grit sandpaper, and then a 600 grit sandpaper. 

Once the wheels are smooth over the whole surface, wipe them down again with mineral spirits to ensure they’re clean and the sanded remains are all gone.

Applying the Clear Coat

We are almost done with your wheels! We have one last step to do before you get that shine back again.

  • The last step is to add a clear coat to protect the wheels and make them shine. Start with one coat and let it dry. Then, apply a second coat and let it dry.

Each coat should dry completely before you apply the next one. If you think it needs a third coat, go ahead and add it. Then let the wheels dry overnight before installing the tires on them and putting them back on the car.

Road-Worthy at Last

There you have it! Not so difficult, right? All you need is a few things to make your wheels ready to hit the road again.


  • Always remember to clean your wheels often with soap and water to prevent it from collecting grime and dust.

  • Sandpaper grit is important. Especially in the last steps of sanding, when using the wrong or coarse sandpaper instead of an extra fine sandpaper, it might cause your wheels to get scratches while sanding and it may not get a smooth finish at the end.

Wipe off any dust or dirt after sanding and before painting to prevent your wheels from having a grainy texture. When paint is sprayed over dust, it might give the coat a grainy texture.

Now that you know how to restore clear coated aluminum wheels, you’ll be able to maintain them any time they need it. Make sure to clean them regularly for them to last longer. Then you won’t need to refinish them again very soon. Maintenance is always the key to making your car look good and clean.