Best Brake Dust Cleaners: Keep Your Brakes Sparking Clean With These Top Picks
Spiff up your wheels with our top picks for the best brake dust removers
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PUBLISHED ON March 24, 2019
Did you know that dirty wheels can actually be a safety hazard? In fact, the brake dust and road debris that collects on your rims can actually eat away at the metal over time. If you’re concerned about your wheels, check out this guide on the best brake dust removers, complete with product suggestions, tips, and advice aplenty.
- Best ValueCarGuys Premium Wheel CleanerSummarySummaryMade in America, this is the best spray-on wheel cleaner from CarGuys. It’s pH-balanced, non-toxic, and safe for any and all types of wheels and tires.ProsProsCarGuys takes the guessing out of choosing the right cleaner for your wheels’ metal type. Eco-friendly, this product is acid-free and pH-balanced so you can use it almost anywhere.ConsConsBuilt-up brake dust will require a stronger formula to remove. Agitation may still be required with this product, so it’s not necessarily an easy spray-on, wash-off process.
- Best ValueSonax Acid-Free Wheel CleanerSummarySummaryOne of many products that changes color as it works, the acid-free Sonax wheel cleaner can be used in your driveway or at the car wash without fear of contamination.ProsProsKnow exactly when to rinse off your wheels with this color-changing formula that goes on green and turns red as it works. The pH-balanced and acid-free formula can be used on a variety of wheel types.ConsConsStubborn brake dust will require a few applications, along with repeated agitation. Wheels should be wiped clean afterward to prevent streaking and/or staining the wheels.
- Honorable MentionProSol Bugs N’ All Multiuse Vehicle CleanerSummarySummaryThis all-purpose cleaner can be used on nearly every surface of your vehicle (not to mention your home). The non-abrasive and biodegradable formula makes it a popular alternative.ProsProsWhether you want to wash the outside of your car or detail the entire thing, invest in a single cleaning product with this multi-purpose formula.ConsConsBecause this product is designed for multiple uses, it may not address certain tasks as well as other specifically-formulated products. It will not remove old, baked-on brake dust.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Why Buy Brake Dust Cleaner:
- Invest in keeping your car clean—on a budget. Cleaning your car on a consistent basis is a great way to protect your investment. Whether you pay for a drive-thru car wash every month or turn the driveway into your own auto spa, addressing the brake build-up on your wheels should be a part of your washing routine.
- Clean off any brake contaminants. Since your wheels are one of the first parts of your car to come in contact with any road debris, they’ll likely get dirtier faster than the rest of your vehicle. If you’re someone who likes to do your own automotive repair and maintenance, cleaning your brake components during the replacement process could help them last a bit longer.
- Give a gift to a close friend/family member. Brake dust remover might seem like an odd gift, but it’s not for the automotive enthusiast in your life. Trust us, this gift won’t mean “your wheels need cleaning” either. Just make sure to pay close attention to which cleaners work best for the type of metal they’re rolling on.
- Shine up the brakes for the next owner. Though it certainly won’t get you thousands of dollars more for your used car, a brake cleaner can help improve the overall look of your vehicle. A clean set of wheels shows you care—even if the rest of the car doesn’t tell the same tale.
Types of Brake Dust Cleaners
Like many cleaning products out there, wheel cleaners can often be color-changing. Most spray from the bottle one color and change to another once the activation process begins. While color-change wheel cleaners are fun to use, they’re not necessarily better than the rest. The best brake parts cleaners simply turn grit and grime to shiny metal.
There’s a huge difference between hot, soapy water and bleach when it comes down to toxicity. Though metal is better at standing up to harsh chemicals, it’s not a good idea to hose your wheels down with a toxic substance. Choose a non-toxic formula to protect your skin, the wheel metal, and any other components you might spray—and end up damaging—with a harsher product.
Similar to non-toxic formulas, pH-neutral brake dust removers won’t eat away at anything they touch. These cleaners are non-acidic and won’t have a harsh odor. Though pH-neutral brake dust removers aren’t able to remove built-up contaminants, they’re a good product if you want to keep up on your already-clean rims.
Much like color-changing brake dust removers, foaming products typically spray on and then foam as part of the activation and cleaning process. Foaming brake dust removers will still require agitation if the brake dust is stuck onto the wheel’s surface. However, there isn’t anything that sets foaming brake dust cleaners apart from the rest. It’s just a matter of application.
Most, if not all, brake dust removers are spray-on products using aerosol cans. While most retail products already come packaged in a spray can or bottle, some commercial and industrial brands encase their wheel cleaners in buckets and bottles. These are typically products you can easily dilute as you prefer.
Founded in 1901, this well-known company is headquartered in California. If you’re a die-hard Meguiar’s fan, try their Meguiar’s Hot Rims Wheel & Tire Cleaner 2-Pack with Microfiber.
After flourishing in the automotive business for over 30 years, Mother’s has developed a lineup of products any car-loving gear head will enjoy. Try Mother’s M-Tech Wheel + Tire Cleaner if you aren’t sure about our top picks above. Mother’s is headquartered in Huntington Beach, California.
Named after the founder himself, Adam’s is still quite new to the automotive detailing game. Headquartered in Colorado, the company has a New Eco Wheel Cleaner you should try out.
Another California-based company, the crew at Chemical Guys is on their way to becoming an industry standard. You can pick up their Diablo Gel Wheel and Rim Cleaner to see what they’re all about.
The guys at Griot’s Garage truly put a lot of thought into their products. In the business since 1990, they call Tacoma, Washington their home base. Sample some of their products with the Griot’s Garage Heavy-Duty Wheel Cleaner if you’re having trouble getting your rims to shine up.
- $10-$12: Brake dust removers at this price point are entry-level and not the best choice if you’re looking to restore your wheels to mint condition. However, if you’ve already gotten your wheels clean and just want to keep them shiny, brake dust removers in this range should suffice.
- $13-$17: Most of the mid-range brake dust removers are likely non-toxic and acid-free and may not have fancy features like foaming application, color-changing formulas, or intense scrubbing action. Products at this price point are a good choice for general upkeep once your wheels are initially cleaned.
- $18-$22: Paying a little more per bottle—or ounce—likely won’t get you much more in terms of cleaning action. However, you may be able to pick up a pair of bottles on sale for this price range. Because they are specially-formulated, you will also find all-natural products at this price point as well.
- $23-$30: We consider this price range to be the bulk range of popular wheel cleaning brands. Buying in bulk brings the cost-per-bottle price down, and it’s possible you won’t need to buy wheel cleaner for quite some time since you’ll be stocked up. If you prefer one certain brand, consider spending more for bulk amounts.
The best brake dust cleaner comes in a spray bottle equipped with a multi-function nozzle which allows for spray pattern adjustment. This is one of the easiest ways to apply brake dust remover because it allows the product to penetrate deep into cracks and crevices of the brake system you likely won’t be able to reach by hand like the disc brakes.
Multi-Setting Spray Nozzle
Having a multi-setting nozzle is handy because you can use a wide spray pattern to cover the entirety of your wheels and tires, while the narrower pattern allows for directed application into small, hard-to-reach areas. Having the option to completely close the nozzle aids in storing the brake dust remover properly as well.
While detail shops and dealerships might employ wheel acid to clean the toughest of brake dust build-up, it’s not something you want to mess around with. That’s why it’s better to get a non-toxic, low-VOC formula that won’t eat away at nearly anything it touches. In the event you feel wheel acid is the best solution, seek out a detail shop for a consultation. Let the professionals handle the initial cleaning to get some clean brakes.
Variety of Uses
It’s very important to pay attention to the formulation of each brake dust remover product. For example, some are specially made to clean chrome, aluminum, or alloy wheels. You risk damaging your wheels if you don’t choose the right product, so if you’re worried about possible damage, seek out an all-purpose cleaner fit for any kind of wheel. Arguably, they’ll work just as good as the formulated products.
Sturdy, Ergonomic Bottle Design
Unless this is the first time you’re cleaning your wheels, and they’re in dire need of a good scrubbing, you likely won’t use an entire bottle in one session. That means you’ll be storing the product for up to a month or two, or until its next use. You’ll want to find a product that comes in a sturdy bottle that won’t break down. An ergonomic design aids during use as well.
- Frequency of Use: A single bottle of brake part cleaner/wheel cleaner can certainly go a long way, depending on how dirty your wheels are. If you’re someone who off-roads a lot, and your wheels get dirtier more often, you’ll want to invest in a stronger product and perhaps even multiple bottles of said product. Otherwise, a single bottle should suffice for a handful of uses.
- Multiple Applications: Like many cleaning products, brake dust remover can be used in a variety of other situations. If your tools get dirty after wrenching on your car for a few hours, soak them in the leftover brake dust remover you’ve got. Brake dust remover can also be used to clean used parts you may have picked up from the junkyard or from another mechanic like old drum brakes.
- Cleaning Power Required: Take a look at your wheels and decide: Are you going to need a strong or chlorinated/premium non-chlorinated product to break apart the built-up brake dust or a weaker formula to scrub off a week’s worth of road debris? This is something to consider when buying brake dust remover because you’ll be paying different amounts for each type. More acidic brake dust removers often cost more than simple wheel cleaners.
Best Brake Dust Cleaners Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: CarGuys Premium Wheel Cleaner
We chose CarGuys’ USA-made remover as the best brake cleaner for the entire package it presents. From the slim, ergonomic bottle design to the non-toxic formula, this high-power brake cleaner makes cleaning your braking system as easy as spray on, wash off. In fact, it even offers a 100% satisfaction, money-back guarantee and is incredibly responsive when it comes to feedback on products.
This top-rated wheel cleaner is safe to use on all types of wheels and tires, from steel and aluminum to motorcycle and whitewall. The bottle itself is easy to grip and the trigger is long for better-squeezing action. Slim and thin, CarGuys’ wheel cleaner can easily be stowed behind the front seats or inside your trunk until its next use. With an acid-free, non-toxic, and pH-balanced formula, you’ll feel secure using this wheel cleaner on any ride. Best of all, there’s no harsh chemical smell to endure during use.
Admittedly, the best wheel cleaner from CarGuys isn’t the toughest product on the market when it comes to releasing built-up and hardened brake dust. For those jobs, you’ll need more acidic products. However, with a variety of applications and a gentle formula, this wheel cleaner is ideal for auto enthusiasts and your average Joe alike. Just spray on, allow the product to work, and rinse off.
Best Value: Sonax Acid-Free Wheel Cleaner
If you’re looking to keep your new set of wheels looking pretty, consider our pick for the best value. Sonax is a German company whose wheel cleaner goes on green and turns red as it works. Hey, who doesn’t like seeing results right before their eyes?
Sonax’s acid-free wheel cleaner won our vote for best value because of the formula, first and foremost. The pH-balanced wheel cleaner is safe to use on most types of wheels, from clear-coated and anodized to painted alloys and motorcycle types. Simply spray the Sonax cleaner onto your wheels and watch as the product goes from green to red as it picks up the road debris contaminating your wheels. After about 10 minutes, wash the remaining cleaner away to reveal cleaner wheels.
Though we do appreciate the cool color-changing features of this brake dust remover, it’s certainly not going to remove the worst brake dust build-up without agitation. Considering the bottle design, we’d prefer something that feels better in the hand and has multiple spray settings. All the same, young and old will enjoy this color-changing wheel cleaner from Sonax because it’s easy to use and remove.
Honorable Mention: ProSol Bugs N’ All Multiuse Vehicle Cleaner
Our pick for the honorable wheel cleaner mention isn’t technically a wheel cleaner per se, but it will sure clean nearly every surface in and around your vehicle—and in your home, your RV, your boat—really, it’s an all-purpose cleaner you could use for just about any application.
ProSol has formulated its vehicle cleaning product to be non-toxic, biodegradable, non-flammable, and non-abrasive. You won’t be gasping for air from strong odors either. The concentrated formula allows you to dilute this product at your leisure, so you can mix it for those tough carpet-cleaning jobs but go with a light touch when it comes to instrument panels and dashboards. ProSol offers a 100% risk-free guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
Though a jack-of-all-cleaning-trades, this multi-purpose cleaner won’t stand up against tough brake dust build-up. Because it’s non-abrasive, certain applications might require a stronger product or a bit of elbow grease and a scrub brush. Still, if there’s one product you buy to clean your entire car, ProSol offers quite a good deal in this small package. You won’t have to worry about tracking down specialty products or paying too much to have a clean ride.
- Wear chemical-resistant gloves to protect your skin from drying out. Even non-toxic brake dust removers can dry out surfaces they touch. Make sure to wear old clothing you don’t care about damaging as well. If the brake dust remover doesn’t stain it, the brake dust itself just might.
- Cleaning your wheels and tires should be one of the last steps in your car-washing routine. You should always work from top to bottom when cleaning your car, whether it’s the interior or exterior. Before you dry your paint completely, address your wheels and tires. You can even rinse the entire car again after you finish cleaning the wheels.
- Consider purchasing a bristled brush. There are many abrasive materials you can buy to remove the built-up brake dust on your wheels, but a bristled brush will protect most finishes while still scouring away road contaminants. Such brushes will also allow you to reach around the lug nuts and in small pockets in the wheel design.
Q: Will brake dust remover damage my brakes if I spray it on them directly?
A: We don’t recommend you spray brake dust remover on your brake pads or rotors as it can damage the components. However, you can spray brake dust remover on a rag and then use it to clean built-up debris on certain components of your brake assembly. Most products will list where and where not to apply the brake dust remover.
Q: How often should I wash my wheels?
A: As a general rule of thumb, you should wash your wheels—and your car—every time you get gas. That’s not always possible, however, so at least once a month is good practice, too. Those who off-road a lot should wash their wheels more often if you’re worried about keeping your wheels in top condition. Otherwise, the choice is up to you.
Q: Will washing my wheels often help my brakes stay newer?
A: There’s no hard-and-fast answer for this question but think of it this way: Your brakes work by slowing down the rotation of the wheels via brake pads. If those brake pads have a clean surface to grip, the braking power is greater. If there are contaminants preventing a solid grip, there’s going to be a difference, big or small. Brake assembly wear, when it comes down to it, depends on the driver.
Q: What’s the best wheel cleaner for black rims?
A: Black rims are similar to alloy wheels but require a bit more attention than your standard silver set of spokes. With black wheels, it’s not about what cleaner you use but how you go about cleaning the wheels themselves. Like black paint, contaminants will show up better on black rims. The best way to get black wheels looking brand-new is to clean them and then spray on a sealant to add that shine.
Q: Can I spray brake dust remover in my wheel wells to clean them?
A: Yes. In fact, brake dust remover will help clean away contaminants that might drop down from your wheel wells onto your brake components. You can apply the brake dust remover to your wheel wells before or after you apply it to your wheels and tires. We don’t recommend you scrub your wheel wells, but you can certainly direct a pressure washer into the well to rinse away most of the contaminants.
We chose CarGuys’ Premium Wheel Cleaner as our top pick for the best wheel cleaner. Easy to use in a variety of situations, it’s a solid choice no matter what you drive.
The Sonax Acid-Free Wheel Cleaner earns our best value pick for its innovative color-changing formula.