Once considered the epitome of automobile fashion and luxury, whitewall tires provide a classic finish to vehicles that is reminiscent of era’s past. And although you can’t get whitewalls as an added accessory from the factory anymore these days, the style has remained a staple in certain car culture circles like hot rods, VW’s and classics.
If you’ve ever owned a car with a set of whitewall tires, you know they’re definitely more work to keep clean than the standard black wall tires used today. Jay’s got a few cars in his collection that sport the whitewall look, and we’re always working to keep them looking their best.
In today’s blog post, we’ll cover some of the basic care tips we use at Jay’s garage, and hopefully they'll help you keep your whitewall tires looking their whitest.
But first, a little history on whitewall tires. What are they and how did they even come to exist?
To start, rubber tires were originally entirely white in color. Rubber in its natural form does not age or wear well. Because of this fact, tire manufacturers began blending specific materials with the natural rubber to achieve different characteristics. One of those materials was zinc oxide. The zinc oxide helped with traction of the finished tire, but it was also a contributing factor that caused the tire to be completely white, tread included. By today’s standards, an all-white tire might look funny, but in their day they were the height of luxury. See the picture below:
Black tires didn’t emerge until manufacturers began blending carbon black into their rubber as a reinforcing filler. The carbon black increased the strength & durability of the rubber, but more importantly, it helped conduct heat away from specific areas of the tire. In an attempt to increase the lifespan as well as limit the amount of thermal damage endured by the tires, manufacturers began blending carbon black into the rubber and using it as the treaded surface of the tire, while leaving the side walls white. In the early 1900’s, you could buy tires with black tread and a white sidewall. This signaled that you had the best set of tires money could buy, and thus the trend was born. By the 1930’s, you could get whitewall tires on just about any car made, and customers flocked to the fashion statement.
The biggest downside to installing a set of whitewalls on your car is simply keeping them clean. They scuff easily, show even the slightest amount of dirt, and god forbid you accidentally run up onto a curb (who remembers curb feelers?). And even if you don’t drive the car, the whitewalls want to turn yellow and brown just from being exposed to the elements. Needless to say, they’re a little high maintenance, especially when compared to their black wall counterparts. Here’s some of the tips & tricks we use to keep Jay’s whitewalls looking their best year-round.
- Start with a quality cleaner designed specifically for whitewalls. Most rubber cleaners are designed to be used on black walls, make sure and choose a cleaner that is specifically formulated for whitewalls, it will give you the best results. You want to steer clear of any harsh household cleaning products, or products that may contain alcohol or chlorine bleach. These may work in the short term, but they will also dry out the surface of the tire and cause premature wear.
- Make sure the tires are cool to the touch, and then give them a pre-rinse with clean water.
- Spray the whitewall with your cleaner. We like to use our Rubber & White Wall Cleaner. It helps break down tough brake dust & road grime, while whitening even the dullest whitewalls. Plus, it’s safe for all wheel finishes (some whitewall cleaning products in the past were made from very harsh chemicals and could quickly damage painted wheel finishes).
- Allow a few moments for the cleaner to dwell and penetrate the dirt & grime. Scrub with a stiff bristled brush if necessary.
- Rinse away with clean water, and allow to dry.
Pro tip: for really stubborn yellow or brown staining, you can also use a scrub pad, or even sand paper to slowly and gently remove the yellowed layer until the white layer below shows through.
Frequent and routine cleaning will help keep your whitewalls looking their best. You can also use a quality tire dressing to help combat the harmful effects of the sun. Our Tire & Trim Care leaves behind a nice satin sheen, while shielding against harmful UV rays. It’s our go-to dressing when caring for Jay’s collection.
Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you're faced with the task of cleaning whitewall tires. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave them in the comments below. If you'd like to see us cover other popular detailing topics, drop us a line at email@example.com.