As a vehicle travels through the car wash, the longer bristles reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter bristles clean the wheel surface.

The wave-like brush is designed as a “set-it-and-forget-it” system.

This brush resembles a well-manicured poodle.

As car, SUV, and truck owners increasingly customize their vehicles with wheels that are larger and more intricate than ever before, there is less tolerance for dirty rims and tires that do not match the quality of the overall wash. Yet brake dust, road debris, and off-road driving often make wheels the dirtiest parts of a vehicle.

As a result, an increasing number of automated car wash owners are turning to innovative wheel-brush designs that more effectively deep clean today’s larger wheels and do so at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.


A few decades ago, hand cleaning of tire whitewalls, steel wheels, and hubcaps 14 to 15 inches in diameter were typical. Today, however, whitewalls are virtually non-existent, and hand-washing techniques have been abandoned due to high labor costs and inconsistent results.

As an alternative, some auto wash owners utilize high-pressure sprayers with heated water and cleaning solution. But the rising cost of water, cleaning solution, heating and pressurizing water, and maintaining the pump have made this option less attractive.
It also is not effective when physical agitation is often needed to break the bond between dirt and the rim and tire surface.

To improve the efficiency and consistency of wheel cleaning, many automated washes have installed rotating, pencil-type wheel brushes. Unfortunately, these too have fallen short as wheels continued to get larger and more complicated, making them harder to reach and deep clean.

“Typical brushes may be too small to adequately cover today’s bigger wheels, and many cannot reach into their nooks and crannies,” says Earl Weiss, who owns four car wash locations with a partner in Chicago, IL. “With the complicated dips and curves in wheels, most brushes simply ride along the outside edge.”

This has spurred innovations from specialized car wash brush manufacturers with expertise in design that have responded with new automated wheel brush size and shape configurations. These brushes are characterized by filaments that are gradually varied in length between four to seven inches to create a wave-like pattern or resemble a well-manicured poodle.


As a vehicle travels through the automated car wash, the longer bristles reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter bristles clean the wheel surface.

“The wave-like brush reaches higher on bigger vehicle wheels and rims and is the best I found at cleaning wheel nooks, crannies, and contours,” adds Weiss.

According to Weiss, the wave-like brush design has been essentially a “set-and-forget system” that is much easier to use and less expensive than his previous high-pressure sprayer system.

In the past, Freddie Seniw, owner of Easy Clean Car Wash with seven locations in the greater Chicago area, used manual labor, then high-pressure sprayers to clean vehicle wheels, but was not satisfied with the results.

“Hand cleaning vehicle rims and tires added about a third more time to each wash, besides adding much more costly labor,” says Seniw. “Automated high-pressure sprayers added cost, but weren’t getting the job done. Without scrubbing the wheels, rims, and tires, they weren’t consistently coming clean.”


Seniw turned to poodle-style brushes at his automated car washes. In doing so, he was able to achieve ROI in only a few months by eliminating the need for an employee to scrub the vehicles’ wheels and rims.

“We’re saving about $36,000 per wash location annually in manual labor, and we’re doing a consistently better job,” says Seniw. “The automated wheel brushes are used on the smallest cars to the largest vehicles without adjustment, and have been gentle on all types of surfaces, whether painted steel, aluminum, or mag wheels.”

According to David Smith, owner of two locations of Smith Brother’s Car Wash in Nashville, TN, wheel cleaning has been a missing piece of the puzzle to getting the entire vehicle clean until recently.

“Getting a car wash that leaves dirty wheels is like getting dressed up in a new suit with dirty shoes,” says Smith. “People notice the dirty wheels, just as they would the dirty shoes, and it ruins the whole effect. If the wheels aren’t clean, you get a lot of complaints.”

In the past, Smith found typical tire brushes, high-pressure hand sprayers, and automatic sprayers unsatisfactory. “Typical tire brushes cleaned the tire but did nothing for the wheels,” says Smith. “High-pressure hand sprayers were labor intensive and often sprayed everywhere but where you wanted, and automatic sprayers using low-pH chemicals were a hazard to handle that we wanted to get away from.”

When Smith turned to the wave-like automated brush, he found that it cleaned vehicles’ larger diameter wheels better with its varied length bristles.

“Its wavy design contacts the wheel at different levels for a better clean than brushes with the same diameter all the way down,” concludes Smith. “The brush lasts for hundreds of thousands of vehicles, with a solid core that prevents bending or denting, so it needs very little maintenance.”

Dan Pecora is the owner of Erie Brush, a Chicago, IL-based manufacturer of car wash brushes and detailing supplies for more than 65 years. You can visit the company on the web at