Reviews

Best Wheel Cleaners: Give Your Car a Showroom Look

Spritz and rinse your wheels to make them shine with these top wheel cleaners.

With decades of combined experience covering the latest news, reviewing the greatest gear, and advising you on your next car purchase, The Drive is the leading authority on all things automotive.

The Drive on YouTube The Drive on Facebook The Drive on Instagram

The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.

BY Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON September 14, 2021

If you clean your vehicle regularly, you know the importance of washing it from top to bottom. That includes the wheels. Dirty wheels are an eyesore, but clean ones can really make your car pop. Unfortunately, brake dust is a detailer's nemesis. It can build up and create a nasty film on the wheels that's unattractive and corrosive. If you're not sure which wheel cleaner is the best, check out our top picks in the buying guide below.

Best Overall
Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

This eco-friendly wheel cleaner makes short work of brake dust build up. It is safe to use on a wide range of wheel finishes.

Pros
Pros
  • Its pH-balanced, acid-free formula leaves your wheels damage free
  • Cleaner penetrates deep layers of grime and changes color when in contact with dirt and ferrous metals from brake dust
  • Its formula makes it a safe product for powder-coated wheels
Cons
Cons
  • May affect the quality of custom-made wheels
  • Applying it may require extra effort, especially when dealing with caked-on dirt
Best Overall
Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner
Best Value
Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

This cleaner's triple-action formula combats brake dust, grease, and road grime. It has strong foaming properties and cleans tiny nooks and crannies.

Pros
Pros
  • Easy to use and works quickly
  • Cleans both wheels and tires effectively
  • Produces a shiny result
Cons
Cons
  • If you have old, tough stains you will need a brush or towel to scrub off the grime
  • Spray nozzle may be inconsistent
Best Value
Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner
Honorable Mention
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner
LEARN MORE
Summary
Summary

This pH balanced, tough-on-stains formula dissolves the most stubborn wheel gunk. It is specially designed to eliminate heavy brake dust.

Pros
Pros
  • It's a safe product for most wheel finishes, including chrome, alloy, powder coating, clear coating, and factory painting
  • Long straw in the sprayer nozzle helps you get your full money’s worth with each use
  • Formula is concentrated enough to dilute with water
Cons
Cons
  • Strong smell could be irritating to some users 
  • Cleaner is not recommended for anodized aluminum wheels, polished aluminum wheels, and aftermarket metallic wheels
Honorable Mention
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner

Why Trust Us


Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

Learn more

Benefits of a Wheel Cleaner

  • It protects your wheels. Brake dust, dirt, and road grime can adhere to your wheels and cause corrosion over time. It's important to clean your wheels and rims regularly so they stay in good shape.
  • It keeps your wheels looking shiny. As we just noted, grease, grime, and dust can corrode wheels and affect the way they look. If you want a clean and neat-looking car, maintaining the wheels is part of the process.
  • It's an affordable product. Wheel cleaners are not very expensive. Yet, they make a huge difference when it comes to the look of your car.

Types of Wheel Cleaners

Spray and Rinse Vs. Spray and Scrub

All wheel cleaners typically work the same way. They come in a spray bottle and have certain ingredients that lift or remove contaminants like brake dust and road grime from the surface area. Some cleaners can be sprayed on and rinsed clean without the need for any elbow grease. Others require a little agitation from a tool such as a brush, particularly if you're dealing with heavy-duty grease and grime.

Top Brands

Armor All

Polymer chemist Joe Palcher invented Armor All Protectant in the 1960s after discovering a “miracle formula” that protected rubber, plastic, and vinyl from UV radiation and ozone. The company now produces a wide variety of car cleaning products, such as the Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner.

Meguiar’s

Frank Meguiar, Jr. founded his business 120 years ago in his garage. He began by making one bottle of polish at a time. These days, Meguiar's, based in Irvine, Calif., produces a large line of car cleaning products, including the Meguiar's Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner.

Chemical Guys

Based in Los Angeles, Calif., Chemical Guys is known for its line of auto detailing supplies and car wash chemicals. The company's "passion for shine" is what keeps it going. We recommend the Chemical Guys Diablo Spray Wheel & Rim Cleaner.

Griot’s Garage

Griot's Garage has been making liquid car care products in its U.S. manufacturing and distribution center since 1990. It has a range of products, from washes, polishes, and waxes to towels, tools, and garage accessories. We like the Griot's Garage Heavy-Duty Wheel Cleaner.

Sonax

SONAX Car Care is developed and manufactured in Neuburg, Germany. Manfred Hoffman, the great-grandfather of SONAX’s current owner, extracted siliceous earth in 1905 and made a silver polish after the war. These days, the company produces a variety of polishes, compounds, waxes, and wheel and tire products like the Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner.

Wheel Cleaner Pricing

  • $7-$20: Wheel cleaning products can be less than $10 or close to $20, depending on the brand. Some items are less expensive but come in smaller bottles, so they don't last as long and you need  to buy replacements more often. Gearhead brands, such as Griot’s Garage, tend to be on the pricier side. 

Key Features

Wheel Finish

Wheel cleaners are not a one-size-fits all product. While many products are universal in design in that they are safe for use with all wheel finishes, some are specifically formulated for use on certain materials. Check for compatibility before making a purchase to ensure that your wheels won't be damaged by the chemical composition.

Ease of Application

Most wheel cleaners come in a spray bottle that requires very little effort to use. Typically, you must spray the contents onto the wheel, wait a set period of time, and either scrub or simply rinse the formula off of the surface area. However, some products leave behind a residue if you don't rinse them off quickly enough. Some require a bit more elbow grease than others. Some have better nozzles and spray patterns.

Chemical Composition 

Most wheel cleaners are advertised as being pH balanced or pH neutral, which means they are strong enough to remove dirt and grime but aren't too strong or too acidic, which can cause some issues. Some brands are marketed as being acid-free or non-toxic. Still, others may damage a wheel if the formula isn't rinsed properly.

Other Considerations

  • Color Change. One feature that's neat but not necessary when choosing a wheel cleaner is color-changing technology. After you spray the product on the wheel, it changes colors (often turning purple) when it mixes with the brake dust. This can boost confidence in the product's effectiveness, but brands that don't change colors are usually just as good (but maybe not as fun to watch).
  • Scent. Some car care companies create wheel cleaners with a specific scent. It may be bubblegum or another fragrance. You may either like a strong scent or prefer one that's more mild.

Best Wheel Cleaners Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner

The Sonax wheel cleaner does a great job of removing brake dust. This product is safe to use on a variety of different wheel finishes, including chrome, aluminum, steel, clear coat, painted, and powder-coated wheels. It's pH balanced with an acid-free formula, so it won't damage the wheels. One feature that sets this formula apart from others is that it changes color when it makes contact with dirt and ferrous metals generated by brake dust. It starts out fluorescent yellow and turns deep red or purple as it dissolves the dust. It penetrates deeply into the grime, particularly if you scrub it off with a sponge. However, it may adversely affect the quality of certain custom-made wheels. Also, it may require extra scrubbing if you have to clean away caked-on grime. It's also a little pricier than some competing brands.

Best Value
Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner

The Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner is a great low-cost option. It is safe for factory and aftermarket coated wheels and tackles brake dust, grease, and grime caused by day-to-day driving using its triple-action formula. The cleaner features strong foaming agents that stick to your wheels and remove even stubborn stains. It's designed to flow into the tiny spaces and hard-to-reach areas of your wheels and bring back their shine. Users report that it's easy to use, effective, and cleans wheels and rims as it describes. It works quickly, and it also does a good job of cleaning the tires. It requires very little elbow grease to get the job done. However, you may need to use a brush or towel and scrub a bit to get old, tough stains off of your wheels. Also, the spray nozzle may be inconsistent in its application.

Quickest Acting
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner

Adam's Wheel Cleaner is pH balanced and tough on stains. It works well on even the most challenging grime and is specially designed to tackle heavy brake dust. This cleaner is safe for use on a variety of wheel finishes, including chrome, alloy, powder coated, clear coated, and factory painted wheels. It comes with a long sprayer nozzle and changes color as it dissolves the dirt. It works quickly and efficiently, even if your wheels accumulate a lot of brake dust. Users have reported that you can literally see the dirt and grime dripping off your wheels as you spray the cleaner on the surface area. Plus, minimal scrubbing is required. One downside is that the strong fragrance could be irritating to some users. The cleaner is also not recommended for anodized aluminum wheels, polished aluminum wheels, and aftermarket metallic wheels. 

Best for Heavy Brake Dust
Meguiar's Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner

Meguiar's Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner features a powerful cleaning formula and is safe for all wheel finishes. It simultaneously dissolves brake dust while removing road grime, living up to its "ultimate" moniker. It features a deep-cleaning gel formula that turns dust purple and grime brown, visually demonstrating that it's working. It's also acid-free and pH balanced, so it won't damage your wheels or painted brake components. Users report that it does an excellent job of breaking down brake dust, even if it's heavily deposited on the wheels. Simply spray the cleaner on the wheels, wait a few minutes, and rinse off the residue. No scrubbing is required. Unfortunately, if you don't rinse it off quickly enough it can leave a residue behind. Also, you may have to agitate some tough-to-remove brake dust using a brush in order to thoroughly clean some wheels.

Honorable Mention
Eagle One All Wheel & Tire Triple Cleaning Foam Spray

The Eagle One All Wheel & Tire Triple Cleaning Foam Spray features a thick foam that adheres to your wheels and tires and eliminates dust, grease, and grime. Simply spray the formula on the wheels, and then hose them off. It's safe for use on factory-coated, clear-coated, and factory-painted wheels. It removes dirt and grime without requiring any scrubbing. After you use it to clean your tires, they will shine with a factory-black result. Users report that this product is particularly effective on wheels that are tough to keep clean. The whole process takes just a few minutes, and it requires little to no elbow grease. Plus, the formula foams up immediately. And unlike many of the other products on this list, it's designed to clean tires as well. However, there have been several complaints that the spray nozzle doesn't work too well, and you may have to dump the contents into a new spray bottle to clean your wheels.

Honorable Mention
Griot's Garage Heavy-Duty Wheel Cleaner

The Griot's Garage Heavy-Duty Wheel Cleaner is safe to use on a variety of wheels finishes, including anodized, chrome, painted, powder coated, and uncoated aluminum. The manufacturer listened to customer feedback and updated the scent, so it's more pleasing and doesn't linger. Griot's Garage also added more active ingredients, so its cleaner does a better job of removing particularly strong road grime. It turns deep purple, so you know it's working, and is pH balanced, non-acidic, and non-caustic. The cleaner clings to the wheels for better penetration and to break down and loosen brake dust and road debris. Users like that it's effective yet gentle enough so it won't damage a wheel's finish. Simply spray it on your wheels, let it sit for 3-5 minutes, and gently agitate it with a brush or other tool. Unfortunately, this formula requires some scrubbing, while some competing brands do not. Also, if it dries on your wheels, it can leave behind a residue.

Honorable Mention
Chemical Guys Diablo Spray Wheel & Rim Cleaner

The Chemical Guys Diablo Spray Wheel & Rim Cleaner is a little less expensive than some other options on this list, but it also comes in a smaller, 16-ounce bottle. This formula is safe to use on all wheels and removes stubborn brake dust, road grime, and other contaminants using concentrated suspension technology. It includes oxygen-infused cleaners and lubricants that turn wheel grime into a foaming lather. It's 100 percent pH balanced and won't scratch the surface of the wheel even when used with a brush. It's easy to use and does a good job overall of loosening and removing the dirt on your wheels. However, some users have complained that the spray nozzle isn't the best quality. The cleaner may come out in spurts instead of delivering a consistent spray.

Honorable Mention
Jay Leno's Garage Wheel Cleaner

Jay Leno's Garage Wheel Cleaner quickly and easily removes brake dust and road grime off of wheels. The product is safe to use on aluminum, alloy, chrome, painted, powder coated, and clear coated wheel finishes.  It features active cleaning agents and high-tech surfactants that tackle the toughest jobs. The formula is so thick that it clings to the wheels for a penetrating clean. Moments into its application the formula turns purple, which shows it's working to remove metal contaminants. It's safe to use with high-performance brake pads and rotors (carbon and ceramic) but may require a little agitation to clean wheels that are especially dirty. It leaves behind a protective shine, and users report that it does a great job overall. But you must heed the warning on the bottle, which advises against letting the chemical stay on the wheels for more than a few minutes or it could damage the finish.

Tips

  • Always test the product on a small area first. Make sure it is safe to use before you apply it. You can apply it on a small section of the wheel and give it time to settle. 
  • Wheel cleaners give the best results when they are used on cool surfaces. Make sure your wheels are cool to the touch before application. After application, hose down with water and let your wheels dry. 
  • Although some cleaners are eco-friendly, make sure you wear protective gear on your hands, nose, and eyes. This helps you avoid irritation and allergic reactions. 
  • Check whether the wheel cleaner you want is safe to use on your wheels. You may not know it, but some wheel cleaners can damage aftermarket and custom-made wheels. 

FAQs

Q: How do I get rid of the dirt after applying the cleaner?

Rinse them off with a high-pressure water hose and let them dry. You may have to use some elbow grease to loosen up the dirt before you rinse it off. 

Q: Is a wheel cleaner safe for engines?

Some wheel cleaners are safe for engines. However, you need to check the product details to make sure your preferred cleaner won’t harm or damage the engine. 

Q: Does a wheel cleaner remove rust?

Some wheel cleaners can also be used as rust removers. But for the best results use a dedicated rust remover, which may include a stronger formula.

Final Thoughts

Finding a wheel cleaner that works on most wheels can be tough, but the Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner gives a spotless shine. If you want a cleaner that is slightly more affordable, we recommend the reliable Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner.