Whether you’re a Concours enthusiast or just think there’s no point to cruising around on dirty rims, a quality wheel cleaner will help you get a spotless shine.
These solutions are specifically crafted to strip away the dirt, road grime, and brake dust that not only makes your wheels look grungy but can also cause permanent damage to the finish.
Protect your investment. Read more to learn about why wheel cleaners are the inexpensive and effortless solution to this grimy, big-budget problem.
What kinds of dirt can damage the finish on my wheels?
Anything that can damage the fragile finish on your car can also damage your wheels; the issue is that those valuable rims are even closer to the road. Sand and salt are particularly abrasive, but the biggest culprit is the brake dust that’s produced every time you stop your car.
What is brake dust?
If you’ve ever left the car wash only to find that your wheels are still coated with a powdery, dark gray film, you’ve had a problem with brake dust. Brake dust is made up of two different types of metal particles. First is cast iron which is created by the grinding of an iron rotor against the brake pads. Second is steel from the brake pad itself.
Most brake pads are semi-metallic. Bundles of steel fibers are compressed and fused with other material to build pads. Each time you stop, the rotor scrapes a little steel off the pads and deposits it on your wheels along with iron and carbon residue.
Brake dust does not mean there’s a problem with your brakes. It’s a normal process, but if your wheels are never cleaned, it can corrode the clear coat and will eventually eat aluminum alloy surfaces. The difficulty with brake dust is that’s its greasy and isn’t easily removed by soap.
What makes the wheel cleaner better to use?
Wheel cleaners are formulated to specifically clean the contaminants that are most likely to get on your wheels, including brake dust, without harming the finish. Many regular household cleaners come with a warning that they’re not safe for metal surfaces. Also using even the best car wash soap won’t do, as those types of soap are formulated to clean bodywork.
Some wheel cleaners do contain acid. They’re fast-acting and effective but have been controversial for years. A few, like hydrofluoric acid, are exceptionally harsh and not recommended by professional detailers because anything less than exacting use with protective gear can corrode sensitive finishes and your skin! Others, like oxalic acid, found in select scouring powders and even spinach, are gentler and can be potent, but harmless degreasers when used as directed.
The use of acids in wheel cleaners is common, but most manufacturers claim that buffering agents and other ingredients neutralize the pH of the solution and make them safe to use. Other makers have eliminated acids from their formula entirely.
The best way to ensure the product you choose would damage your wheels is to do a spot test. Apply the product to an inconspicuous area and see what happens. If you’re happy with the results, use it without worry. If not, move on to another product without the same active ingredients.
Do wheel cleaners eliminate scrubbing?
Yes and no. So-called scrub-free cleaners claim to remove grime without brushing. Theoretically, that saves you time and avoids potential damage from debris that can get trapped in bristles. Realistically, however, if your wheels haven’t been cleaned in a while, you can expect the first round to require a bit more elbow grease. Once you’ve got them sparkling, regular maintenance is more likely to be truly scrub-free.
How do I choose the best wheel cleaner?
Know what makes up your wheels’ finish and read every word of the solution’s instructions for use. These makers want to sell wheel cleaner, so if it says the product is not compatible with your finish, they mean it.
The next criteria are how much time and effort you’ll need to put into the cleaning process. Spray and go cleaners are the quickest option, but depending on how the product is formulated and how much contact is had with the surface of the wheel before running off or drying out, repeated applications are sometimes necessary.
Multi-use cleaners that can tackle other jobs for you are a plus as long as they’re safe and get results you need. Ultimately, you may need to try a few different products to find the one that keeps your wheels looking like new, but here’s a close-up look at ten top-notch choices to get you started.
Here’s our choices of the Ten Best Wheel Cleaners
The folks at Car Guys aren’t afraid to toot their own horn with this product. They’ve taken advice from professionals and created a cleaner that takes the guesswork out of figuring out which acids are safe for your wheels. It’s acid-free, pH-balanced and safe for every finish on the market.
What makes it even better is the thick gel formula that sticks to the wheel, attacking even the most stubborn grunge while cutting down cleaning time and saving money.
– Non-toxic, environmentally-friendly formula
– Gentle, non-chemical scent
– Comes with an industry-leading 100% money-back guarantee
Sonax Full Effect acid-free and pH balanced for safe use on all wheels, including regular or anodized aluminum and alloys. It won’t harm clear coats and can even be used on painted wheels.
The solution goes on green but turns red as it interacts with brake dust, letting you know it’s working. Spray down your wheels and let it sit for up to ten minutes. Rinse with water under high pressure and grime just disappears.
The sole drawback to this product is that it’s thin and needs to be reapplied if it dries out before it’s done working. Use it on completely cool wheels in the shade for the best results.
– Safe for Plasti Dip and ceramic-coated wheels
– Fresh, clean scent
– Gets excellent results on yellowed white walls
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner is made in the USA and they guarantee it to be the best you’ve ever used or they’ll give you 110% of your money back.
The thick gel formula is loaded with surfactants that tackle both brake dust and greasy residues while being dependably acid-free. Just spray it on and agitate it gently with a finish-friendly brush or sponge, rinse and you’re done. Adams even sells complementary scrubbing products to take the guessing out of getting the process.
– Thick formula clings to wheels
– Safe for all finishes
– Color-changing formula turns purple to lets you know it’s working
Eagle One has been top brand for over a decade with good reason. This acid-free formula is a one-stop product to both clean your wheels and restores tires to a sharp, beautiful black color.
It’s risk-free for any finish and the unique foam consistency sticks to wheels, cleaning without agitation or multiple applications. Use it on wheels and tires as well as a prewash for the lower section of your vehicle. It even works as an engine degreaser!
– Multifunction cleaner saves time and money
– Easy spray and rinse process
– Comes with a convenient hose sprayer for better access and less bending
Chemical Guys’ water-based Diablo Gel is a pH neutral wheel cleaner that’s safe enough to use on OEM, aftermarket, chrome, painted and even decal wrapped wheels.
Their proprietary suspension gel is oxygen-infused, grabbing abrasive particles and keeping them safely suspended away from your wheels’ finish, washing them away without agitation.
It’s not quite a spray and go product — it’s a concentrated cleaner that is mixed with water. Apply it with a spray bottle, brush or sponge and let the thick solution do the work for you.
– Can be mixed in different concentrations to ambush any level of dirt and grime
– Overspray won’t harm your car’s finish
– Concentrated formula lasts longer and takes less space to store
Mothers M-Tech cleaner is a total wheel care system in one simple bottle. It’s safe for paint, clear coated, color coated, alloy, steel, modular, chrome, or factory treated wheels and hubcaps and restores both black- and white-walled tires to their original luster.
Just spray on and hose off. It’s that easy. Unlike other cleaners that recommend hand drying to prevent spots, Mothers non-acidic, clean rinsing formula is spot-free with no back-busting towel drying required.
– Super-fast spray and go cleaning process
– Non-rinse foaming formula
– Thick enough to pull off even baked-on dirt
TriNova’s premium cleaner is acid-free and safe for virtually any finish, but its claim to fame is stain removal. The powerful, concentrated formula penetrates deep into stains and washes them away, making your car look like you just drove it out of the showroom.
What really sets this product apart, however, is TriNova’s insistence on value. Each bottle is equipped with an extra-long spray tube that reaches down into the corner of the container. Tilt the bottle as you spray to get every last drop — no more money down the drain.
– Made in the USA
– 100% money-back guarantee
– Superior stain removal
People who know cars know Meguiar’s makes high-quality car care products and this cleaner doesn’t disappoint.
The acid-free, pH-balanced formula is the perfect blend of powerful, but finish-friendly cleaners. There’s no guesswork here. This product is absolutely safe for all wheels.
No pre-rinsing is needed — the active gel formula clings to wheels and stays wetter longer to clean better than typical foaming wheel cleaners. The deep cleaning formula loosens dirt, grime and brake dust with little or no agitation.
– Turns purple when cleansing brake dust
– Works in under 5 minutes
– Backed by a company with a solid reputation for quality
If you need a budget-friendly wheel cleaner for frequent use, this Mothers foaming cleaner may be for you. It’s a quick spray on, hose-off cleaner that’s safe for painted, clear coated, color coated, steel, modular, and chrome wheels and hubcaps, but should be used on factory-coated wheels only.
This product is not recommended for polished or roughcast aluminum, billet or anodized wheels and shouldn’t be used on motorcycle wheels or other components.
– Effective cleaning with a budget-friendly price
Wash Wax ALL is a great name for this biodegradable degreaser that tackles even the heaviest cleaning jobs. Sure, it’s perfect for all types of wheels and tires, but it can handle aircraft engines, landing gear, boats, RVs and probably even the space shuttle if it were still in use.
It’s easy to do. Spray down your wheels and add a little elbow grease. It removes dirt without scratching and works on all surfaces from wood and glass to leather, vinyl, and plastic. Clean your wheels and then use it to put a shine on sun-faded bumpers and dashboards. Just remember to towel dry after to prevent spots.
– Unconcentrated, ready-to-use heavy-duty degreaser for super-thick grime
– Multipurpose cleaner saves money and storage space
– Great for traveling — can be used with or without water
– Excellent for black stains due to oxidation
If you’ve been neglecting your wheels, start protecting your investment today. It’ll save you money in the long run and your car will be ready for the road or the runway at a moment’s notice. Enjoy the ride!