Our Top Choices For Best Wheel Cleaners In 2021
For normal car guys, wheel cleaners are most often considered as an afterthought. True enough, you can use ordinary dish soap to clean both steel and alloy wheels, and you can use a spray gun to clean the wheels using ordinary car shampoo. But this only holds true when removing dirt and grime.
And when it comes to cleaning wheels, dirt is not the primary concern. Brake dust and other metallic contaminants can literally bake on your expensive wheels. If you see a lot of black specs on your alloys, you’re most likely dealing with brake dust. And while removing deep-seated contaminants is not exactly a walk in the park, using the best wheel cleaners will make the job easier.
Here are our top choices for the best wheel cleaners.
5 Best Wheel Cleaners For Cars, Trucks, And SUVs Reviewed
**Below, you'll find our more detailed reviews, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
Although it costs more than other wheel cleaners, Sonax Acid-Free Wheel Cleaner is one of our top choices for best wheel cleaners. For starters, the acid-free and pH balanced formula is safe to use on all wheel finishes including chrome, plastic wheel covers, aluminum, steel, clear coat, painted, or magnesium wheels. It doesn’t matter if you have an expensive German car or cheap econobox. Sonax Wheel Cleaner is safe to use without harming your wheels!
A large majority of wheel cleaners have a unique feature that you’ll surely like, and Sonax has it, too. The fluorescent yellow solution turns to deep red and purple upon contacting brake dust, dirt, and grime. This tells you the product is working. The advanced chemistry immediately dissolves brake dust upon contact.
All that’s left is to lightly agitate to remove standing dirt and rinse off using clean water. The dirty work is done for you in less than 2 minutes each wheel.
For a bit less money you can also have Adam’s Wheel Cleaner, which is undoubtedly one of the most popular wheel cleaners out there. Like the Sonax Wheel Cleaner, Adam’s Wheel Cleaner is also safe to use on all types of wheels. The acid-free and pH balanced cleaning solution also changes color as it contacts dirty wheels. And once the formula turns to deep purple, you can safely agitate the solution and rinse off using pressurized water.
The powerful yet gentle cleaning formula immediately dissolves stubborn metallic contaminants while maintaining the smooth and clean finish of alloy wheels. This product is proudly made in the USA. It’s also great for removing brake dust or metallic particles from car paint.
Sure, both Sonax and Adam’s can also clean the tires, but Car Guys Wheel and Tire Cleaner is dedicated to cleaning both wheels and tires! Proudly made in the USA, this wheel cleaning product is acid-free, non-toxic, and pH neutral.
It’s powerful enough to remove brake dust, salt, and road grime from both wheels and tires, yet is gentle enough to preserve the finish of painted, chromed, clear-coated, plasti-dipped, anodized, and aluminum wheels.
But there’s a problem. Car Guys Wheel and Tire Cleaner costs more than both the Sonax and Adam’s Wheel Cleaner. Also, it’s the most expensive wheel cleaner in this list followed by Sonax Wheel Cleaner.
We’re a huge fan of Meguiar’s and we particularly like the Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner. For starters, it costs less than all the best wheel cleaners in this list. Next, unlike other wheel cleaners with a watery consistency, this product is thicker and has a gel-like consistency.
This means the product is able to dwell on dirty and contaminated surfaces longer than liquid or water-based wheel cleaners. And despite the thicker consistency, Meguiar’s Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner is safe to use on painted, powder-coated, anodized, or plastic-covered wheels.
After spraying the product, it turns from clear to deep purplish-red. The solution quickly dissolves grime and metallic particles without harming the wheel finish. For a product that costs less than $10, Meguiar’s Ultimate Wheel Cleaner is one of the best, if not the most practical.
Trinova has created a premium wheel cleaner without the premium price tag. This product costs less than both similar offerings from Car Guys and Sonax and is in the middle of the price range. But it performs just as well in cleaning dirty alloy wheels. Proudly made in the USA, Trinova Premium Wheel Cleaner is safe to use on all types of wheels. It even works on plasti-dipped wheels and painted surfaces.
Apart from minor gripes with the fiddly spray bottle, Trinova Premium Wheel Cleaner remains one of the best we ever tested.
How To Clean Auto Wheels
Are you still using a stiff-bristled brush to clean your wheels and tires? Stop doing that and get yourself a proper wheel and tire cleaner. Of course, you can still use dish soap or ordinary soap to clean your wheels, but it won’t be enough to remove deep-seated contaminants like brake dust and iron fillings.
Here are the easy steps on how to clean the wheels in your car, truck, or SUV with minimal effort.
If you’re using a wheel cleaner, remember to start working when the wheels are cool to the touch, preferably around two hours after driving the vehicle. Never apply wheel cleaner when the wheels are hot.
While the directions might say otherwise, we prefer rinsing the wheels with pressurized water before coating the entire surface with a wheel cleaner. If the wheels are excessively dirty with thick mud, snow, or road salt, use an old microfiber towel or wheel brush to get rid of standing dirt.
After rinsing the wheel, grab the wheel cleaner and spray all over the wheel surface. The idea is to allow the cleaning solution to soak and dwell for around three to five minutes before rinsing off. You’ll see the product change color as the active ingredients are dissolving brake dust and grime.
This next step is optional. After letting the wheel cleaner soak for a while, it’s best to grab a wheel cleaning brush and lightly agitate each surface. In some cases, deep-seated and baked-on brake dust won’t simply remove by applying wheel cleaner alone. You’ll need to lightly scrub the surface using a quality wheel brush. The same deal applies when cleaning tires.
Avoid using abrasive brushes or sponges to prevent scratching, marring, or damaging the surface. If you don’t have a wheel brush, you can use a clean paintbrush to achieve similar results.
Rinse off the excess using a garden hose or pressurized water.
Grab a small microfiber towel and wipe the wheels dry. Turn the towel over and lightly wipe the tires as well.
The final step is to apply tire dressing. More than just an aesthetic touch, tire dressing prevents tire blooming while helping to preserve the rubber against oxidation and harmful UV rays.
All the wheel cleaners in this list are the best we tested in 2020. It all boils down to preference and budget. If you want the most affordable solution, the Meguiar’s Ultimate Wheel Cleaner is right for you. However, if you have a vehicle with anodized wheels or brake components, it’s better to choose the Car Guys Wheel and Tire Cleaner or Trinova Premium Wheel Cleaner.
But for the winner, we really like Adam’s Wheel Cleaner. We found out it cleans better than other wheel cleaners without harming the surrounding finishes. It’s also more economical as a little of the product goes a long way.
But it’s not all about the product alone. How you use the product is more important. Make sure to rinse the wheels prior to cleaning, which also serves to cool down the wheels if you’re cleaning immediately after a long drive. Also, it’s better to use a wheel cleaning brush to remove dirt and grime from those tight corners or spokes.