Best Wheel Cleaners: Give Your Car a Showroom Look
Spritz and rinse your wheels to make them shine with these top wheel cleaners.
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 April 28, 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 best, check out our top picks in the buying guide below.
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.
- 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
- May affect the quality of custom-made wheels
- Applying it may require extra effort, especially when dealing with caked-on dirt
This cleaner's triple-action formula combats brake dust, grease, and road grime. It has strong foaming properties and cleans tiny nooks and crannies.
- Easy to use and works quickly
- Cleans both wheels and tires effectively
- Produces a shiny result
- If you have old, tough stains you will need a brush or towel to scrub off the grime
- Spray nozzle may be inconsistent
This pH balanced, tough-on-stains formula dissolves the most stubborn wheel gunk. It is specially designed to eliminate heavy brake dust.
- 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
- Strong smell could be irritating to some users
- Cleaner is not recommended for anodized aluminum wheels, polished aluminum wheels, and aftermarket metallic wheels
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.