Cleaning off-road tires is a messy job, but it has numerous performance and aesthetic benefits. But how do you clean off-roading tires?

You can clean off-roading tires using a power washer or sprayer at a do-it-yourself car wash. Rinse the tire, soap it, and scrub it with a brush. Then, apply a degreaser to remove oil and asphalt. Finally, apply protectant or tire shine.

In this article, we’ll cover how to clean filthy off-road tires at home, on the trail, or at a car wash. Additionally, we’ll go over why it’s so important to keep your tires clean once you’re off the trail and back on the pavement.

We sourced the information used in this article from experienced off-roaders and owners of custom off-road vehicles.

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Table of contents


Why Clean Off-Road Tires?

Lots of people love drenching their trucks and Jeeps in mud. It’s fun—and it’s a great way to show off your ability to avoid getting stuck. But there’s one piece of your truck or Jeep that should be kept clean once you’re off the trail and back on the highway. It’s your tires.

Off-road tires have aggressive tread, which is great for gripping cracks, crevices, and debris off-road. They keep you moving and grappling hard on sharp and inconsistent surfaces. They rely on heavy tread and large tread gaps to grip off-road, but the story is different on the pavement.

Traction on Pavement

Off-road tires have less traction on pavement than on dirt, and they underperform compared to highway tires. This is due to the large gaps between the tread, which reduce the surface area of the tire on flat and even ground like asphalt.

Mud, as you know, acts a lot like oil on flat surfaces. It’s slippery and reduces traction, and your tires can get filled with it. When you’re driving on flat ground with mud in your tires, you can create a slippery surface when you drive through water or try to brake.

This causes accidents and can easily be avoided. Additionally, clogged tread can cause you to get stuck off-road, as you’ve essentially created giant drag slicks.

Excessive Tire Wear

 Dirty tires wear out faster. This is because rocks and tiny particles get wedged into the tread and effectively sand it down on the highway. Plus, when it all dries out, the effect compounds as the tires grind out the solidified mud, sand, and rocks.

How to Clean Off-Roading Tires at Home

If you’re at home or at a car wash, it’s easy to clean off-road tires. Start with a hose or power washer and remove the big chunks first. Spray down the whole tire and give special attention to the gaps between the tread, and roll the vehicle forward a touch to get the sliver of tire underneath.

Then, it’s time to soap them up. You can apply special tire soap or regular car soap—it works just as well. Applying soap with a sprayer is a good method, such as at a car wash, but you can also apply it by hand or with a brush.

After soaping, you can use a tire cleaning brush to scrub loose rubber and highway gunk off the sidewalls and tread. This is especially important if you want your tires to shine and not leave black marks on your hands, clothes, or shoes. Rinse thoroughly.

Finally, apply a tire shine like Armor All for that new-tire reflective shine. Some people don’t like tire shine, which is fine—but it’s a protectant that keeps tires in good condition and slows down fading. Matte-finish tire protectants are also available.

How to Clean Tires on the Trail

Cleaning tires on the trail is a lot more difficult, and you won’t achieve a showroom-level finish. But that’s not the point—cleaning off-road tires on the trail is only for when you’re stuck because your tread is clogged.

It takes time to clean mud out of the tread, but it’s worth it to maintain traction. If you’re still driving, just find some clean-is water and run the truck through it a few times.

But if you’re truly stuck, you may need to resort to cleaning the tread manually with a stick or a flathead screwdriver. Be gentle and don’t push too hard, as you don’t want to damage the tire.

A large-bristle brush will also help clean tires on the trail. Brushes remove a lot of material at once and can greatly speed up the process. Use water conservatively, as you only need to knock enough mud loose to regain traction.

Off-Road Tire Cleaning Tips

Here are a few tips for cleaning off-road tires that keep your tires (and your truck) in good shape. First, never use the same brush or rags for your wheels and tires as you use for your vehicle’s body.

Ceramic brake dust, which accumulates on wheels and tires, is (quite literally) the worst possible material to rub on your clear coat or paint. It will sand it down and take the shine away, and it’s on your brushes and rags even if you can’t see it.

Additionally, chemicals like automotive degreaser can make tire cleaning much easier. Once you blast off the dirt and rocks, soak the tires and wheels in degreaser to loosen any oil or asphalt buildup. Spray it off and watch the difference.

Best Places to Clean Off-Road Tires

Cleaning off-road tires is a messy job, and nobody wants to track mud and dirt into their garage. Using your driveway isn’t always the best move, as grease can stain the ground, and mud makes a mess. The same goes for the street and parking lots.

Do-it-yourself car washes are a great location to clean off-road tires. These public wash ports cost just a few dollars and usually provide everything you need. This includes high-pressure water, soap, and a brush which you should never use on your vehicle’s body.

Automatic car washes can do a quick rinse, but they usually don’t clean the majority of grease and gunk off your tires. Be careful where you use automotive degreaser and tire cleaning chemicals, as some car wash ports drain into local lakes and rivers without water treatment.