Sometimes we forget a skateboard is not an all-terrain vehicle and skate through some pretty questionable stuff. It’s all part of the fun, cruising down the sandy beach boardwalk, bombing crusty hills in downtown and skating your favorite dusty skatepark. However, somewhere down the line you’ll notice your wheels could use a clean up. You caught some gum, grease, gunk, or worse, someone didn’t pick up after their dog. Maybe you got a little too excited and skated through a patch of mud, either way, with skateboards being highly sensitive to water and their natural exposure to the grime of the streets, the task of cleaning your wheels is trickier than you imagine.
That’s because our wheels have literally seen it all. From oil blotches, wet paint, wax, dirt, gravel, to whatever the city streets and dusty skatepark can conjure. Our wheels keep on, keeping us on our boards and having fun. So it’s only right we show them some love. With porous surfaces and their close proximity to water sensitive bearings, we can’t just throw our wheels into the dishwasher so to speak, (although we'll be using dish washing soap). We’ll need some attention to detail and a little elbow grease.
Obviously, we want to avoid those things that leave our wheels filthy when we can, but skaters are going to skate first and ask questions later. First things first, you’ll need a bucket of water and or access to a sink. Second things second, if you’re doing it right, be prepared to get wet. No matter what you’ve skated through, you can clean your skateboard wheels in 6 easy steps. We’ve covered everything you’ll need to get started and even some tips on keeping your wheels fresh as you go forward.
Let’s keep the party rolling, shall we?
What You’ll Need to get Started:
- A Flat Surface (table, floor, or counter)
- Sink / Bucket of water
- Skate tool or wrench for taking off wheels
- Cleaning rag
- Your skateboard
- Dish washing soap
- A towel for keeping the area clean (optional)
- Separate container for wheels (optional)
- Separate container for bearings (optional)
- Paper towels (always a good idea)
When Should You Clean Your Wheels?
There’s some pretty obvious indicators and some not so obvious clues when it’s time to clean your wheels. In most instances, you’ll hop on your board and start cruising when all of a sudden you’ll notice something is wrong. Maybe you’ve got a patch of gum causing your ride to wobble and thud, or maybe your wheels feel soft and oily causing you to lose your grip on the skatepark cement. No matter how they got dirty, you’ll pretty much know when they’ll need a cleaning because your ride won’t be smooth. Otherwise, maybe you just really enjoy the look off fresh wheels. Either way, here are some proven tips skateboarders have been doing for years to help keep your wheels clean before they get to the point of mandatory cleaning.
- Brick is your best friend: drag your skateboard wheels diagonal and criss-cross against brick to scrape off gunk and waxy debris.
- Bomb a hill: when you skate fast your wheels heat up and help shed any gunk. Try and find a gravelly hill that’s not too steep for a sandpaper like effect. Be safe!
- Avoid the grime: See a puddle? Sand pit or oil grease? Jump off your board and save your wheels some trouble.
- Make sure it’s not flat spots you’re feeling. If that’s the case, you’ll generally need new wheels to avoid the bumpy ride.
- Rotate your wheels! Just like cars, your board can benefit from switching things up.
Now that you’ve learned a few tricks of the trade and have everything you’ll need to get started, you’re ready to learn how to clean your skateboard wheels.
Step 1: Secure Your Work Space
Cleaning anything means getting dirty, but for something like a skateboard that spends most of its time on dirty cement, it’s especially true. Secure your workspace in the proper area, so you don’t make an unnecessary mess. This generally means a flat surface with plenty of room to move things around. We’ll be removing the wheels and bearings entirely, so you’ll need a place to put them where they won't get lost. There’s also everything included on the list above, coupled with either a sink for water access or a bucket of water. All in all, yourself and the surrounding area will most likely get pretty wet. Lay a towel down to keep the area clean or work outdoors or over the sink for minimum mess. Keep in mind also, we want to avoid the wooden deck of your board and your bearings from getting wet at all costs. Proper preparation makes all the difference.
Step 2: Remove the Wheels and Bearings
Here comes the engineering part of cleaning your wheels. Grab your skateboard, skate tool or socket wrench and proceed to take off your wheels. You do this by taking off each bolt on your truck’s axle. Once your bolt is off on a particular wheel, position the axle of your truck inside the mouth of the bearing at a 45 degree angle to create a crowbar like effect to pry the bearings out. Remember there’s two bearings for each wheel and to put them in a secure space. You might want to clean your bearings at this point as well (highly recommended). Either way, proceed to take off each wheel and their bearings so your four-wheels are ready to be cleaned. Remember to place your bearings in a secure space or container to avoid getting them wet at all costs.
Step 2B: Clean Bearings (Optional)
Sorry for the sneaky 2B, but we wanted to give you every option possible to clean your wheels and enjoy a faster, smoother ride. We included the option of cleaning your bearings here as cleaning your wheels calls for you to take them out anyway. At the very least, when you take your bearings out, place them into a cup of isopropyl alcohol while you clean your wheels. Even doing this will dramatically improve your bearings for a faster and smoother ride. For a complete guide to cleaning your skateboard bearings, you can check out our quick and easy how to guide here. No pressure either way.
Step 3: Soak Your Wheels in Soapy Water
Hopefully you have a bucket or a sink to make things easier. Worst comes to worst you could run them under a hose or a faucet without one but keep in mind it will get pretty messy. Soaking your wheels in a bucket or clogged sink with some dawn dishwashing soap while you take each one off and remove the bearings, will help get things rolling while you work. Make sure the bearings are out of the wheels so the soap can start dissolving the gunk laying in the bearing beds. While we knew there was a ton of gunk on the wheel track that touches the ground, the most damaging dirt and debris actually hides inside the wheels. Make sure after they soak to use a cloth, rag or paper towel to clean them thoroughly. Once we have the inside clean we’re ready to get to the wheel track and the sides of the wheel. Your skateboard wheels should soak to the point where we can scrape the gunk off the wheel track fairly easily. Which brings us to our next, most crucial, step.
Step 4: Wire Brush Away the Gunk
A wire brush isn’t the easiest thing to find, but usually a local hardware store or even most dollar stores have some type of wire brushes. We’ve gone ahead and linked this wire brush from Amazon.com as well, but if you wanna go the extra skate rat route, use an old toothbrush or left over scrap of grip tape. This crucial step is as simple as it sounds with a little attention to detail. Run your wheels under hot water to help loosen up the gunk on the wheel track and proceed to use the brush to scrape off any embedded debris. If you kept your wheels soaking for a while, the gunk should come off a little easier. That being said, you’ll probably have to keep adding dawn dish soap to particular spots but make sure after we get our wheels squeaky clean, it’s imperative you do your best to wash away any soapy residue. We want nothing on our wheels but especially soap, which can leave dubius chemicals or stickiness. Once you’re satisfied with how clean your wheels look, it’s time for a crucial step 5.
Step 5: Drying Your Skateboard Wheels
Drying your wheels is a very important part of the cleaning process. Wheels are porous and when wet not only attract far more dirt and grime but can actually negatively affect the smoothness of your ride. It also should be stressed to make sure your wheels are completely dry before putting in your bearings and attaching the wheels to the board prematurely (step 6). Water will destroy your bearings with rust and water log your deck with sogginess. If anything, this is precisely why we came up with this How To guide. Skaters without proper knowledge can actually ruin their boards trying to clean their wheels. It’s best to use a rag or series of paper towels to dry off your wheels separately and then leave them out in the sun for several hours. If you put them on prematurely, your wheels will feel heavier than normal and appear to move slower and stickier (in a bad way) on the ground.
Step 6: Reassemble Your Wheels & Board
Congratulations! You’ve nearly completed cleaning your skateboard wheels but we’re not out of the skatepark yet. Reassembling your board presents a unique opportunity to rotate your wheels. Some skaters who skate a ton of fakie or switch stance will notice their leading wheels have begun to slant or curve. If your wheels are especially old and weathered in this respect, you may have no choice but to leave them that way to avoid a crooked alignment. Otherwise, just like a vehicle, rotating your wheels can extend their life and smoothness. Hopefully you also followed our bearings guide, so you’ll be ready to put back in your clean bearings into their beds. From there, assemble your board back together by reversing Step 2. Once your board is all set, marvel at the cleanliness of your skateboard wheels. After all your hard work, you deserve some fun. Call up your skate buddies and hit your favorite skatepark or downhill run and enjoy your freshly clean wheels!