Get That Showroom Finish With These Wheel Cleaners

Your wheels and tires deserve a respite from all that road grime.

byNoelle Talmon| UPDATED May 18, 2022 10:32 AM
Get That Showroom Finish With These Wheel Cleaners

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Best Overall

Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner

Summary
This eco-friendly wheel cleaner makes short work of brake dust buildup. It is safe to use on a wide range of wheel finishes.
Pros
  • pH-balanced, acid-free formula
  • Penetrates deep layers of grime
  • Safe product for powder-coated wheels
Cons
  • Not for custom-made wheels
  • Applying it may require extra effort
Best Value

Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner

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
  • Easy to use
  • Works quickly
  • Produces a shine
Cons
  • Old, tough stains will need scrubbing
  • Spray nozzle inconsistent
Honorable Mention

Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner

Summary
This tough-on-stains formula dissolves the most stubborn wheel gunk. It is specially designed to eliminate heavy brake dust.
Pros
  • Safe for most wheel finishes
  • Long straw in the sprayer nozzle
  • Concentrated formula
Cons
  • Strong smell
  • Not recommended for all wheels

Our Methodology

I took several factors into consideration to select the best wheel cleaners. I chose products from well-known companies with a reputation for producing high-quality car care equipment. Since I didn't have the opportunity to hand test every item, I examined user feedback to see how these products operate in real-world conditions. I also chose wheel cleaners in a range of prices in order to suit a variety of budgets. I avoided multipurpose cleaners and focused on products that are specifically designed to clean different wheel surfaces. The aim was to pick products that perform the best, are the easiest to use, and provide the longest-lasting shine. 

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.

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Best Wheel Cleaner Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Brand: Sonax
  • Size: 16.9 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for all wheelss

Pros

  • Effectively removes brake dust
  • Works on chrome, aluminum, steel, and other finishes
  • Acid free
  • Changes color when it dissolves grime

Cons

  • Not the best option for some custom-made wheels
  • Caked-on grime can require more elbow grease
  • Pricer than some rival brands

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. It may require extra scrubbing if you have to clean away caked-on grime. It's also a little pricier than some competing brands.

Specs

  • Brand: Armor All
  • Size: 24 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for factory and aftermarket coated wheels

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Triple-action formula
  • Effectively removes grime
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Old, tough stains may require scrubbing
  • Spray nozzle may operate inconsistently

Specs

  • Brand: Chemical Guys
  • Size: 16 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for use on chrome, alloy, powder-coated, clear-coated, and factory-painted wheels

Pros

  • pH-balanced
  • Tackles stubborn grime
  • Quick and effective results
  • Minimal scrubbing required

Cons

  • Some users don’t like the strong scent
  • Not for use on certain wheels

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. Also, the cleaner is also not recommended for anodized aluminum wheels, polished aluminum wheels, and aftermarket metallic wheels.

Specs

  • Brand: Meguiar’s
  • Size: 24 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for all wheel finishes

Pros

  • Dissolves brake dust and removes grime
  • pH-balanced and acid-free
  • Easy to use
  • Changes color to show it’s working

Cons

  • Requires immediate rinsing
  • Some scrubbing required

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.

Specs

  • Brand: Adam’s Polishes
  • Size: 16 to 64 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for all wheel finishes

Pros

  • Mild citrus scent
  • Easy to apply and rinse off
  • Effective on brake dust and road grime
  • Better for the environment compared to other options

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t clean tires as well as some other brands

If you're looking for a powerful, eco-friendly option, consider this product from Adam's Polishes. It features direct release to the environment (DRE) technology, so you can worry less when runoff flows down your driveway or into your yard. It features a citrus scent, which disappears rather quickly. While this formula doesn't have the ingredient that specifically tackles iron brake dust like its other wheel cleaner does, it is powerful enough to clean wheels without the risk of harming any delicate finishes. It can be used on a variety of finishes, including chrome, polished aluminum, matte-black, vinyl-wrapped, and plasti-dipped wheels. It's pH neutral and not acidic, so it's safe to apply on wheels as well as brake components, including the calipers and rotors. While it will clean tires, it's not as strong as some rival products that are designed specifically for that application. It's also a little expensive considering the size of the bottle.

Specs

  • Brand: Eagle One
  • Size: 23 ounces
  • Wheel compatibility: Safe for factory-coated, clear-coated, and factory-painted wheels

Pros

  • Thick, quick-acting foam
  • Easy to use
  • No scrubbing required
  • Can be used on tires too

Cons

  • Spray nozzle may malfunction
  • May require more than one application

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.

Our Verdict

My pick for the best overall wheel cleaner is the Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner. It does a great job of removing wheel dust, and it changes color as it dissolves contaminants, demonstrating its effectiveness. It's also compatible with a variety of different finishes. For a more budget-friendly option, consider the Armor All Extreme Wheel and Tire Cleaner.

What to Consider When Buying Wheel Cleaners

Not all wheel cleaners are created equally, so it's important to look at several factors before making a final purchasing decision. First, you must decide whether you want a formula that does the work for you without any scrubbing or one that requires a little work with a sponge or rage. The latter may require more work, but it may also produce more effective results, particularly on extra-dirty wheels. You must also consider how easy it is to apply the cleanser as well as its chemical composition, so you know exactly what you're putting on your wheels to spiff them up.

Types of Wheel Cleaners

All wheel cleaners usually 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.

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, meaning 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.

Pricing

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. 

FAQs

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

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

A: Rinse it off with a high-pressure water hose and let the wheels 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?

A: Some wheel cleaners are safe for engines. However, check the product details to make sure your preferred cleaner won’t harm or damage any components.

Q: Does a wheel cleaner remove rust?

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

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