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Chrome vs. polished wheel cleaners

Which wheel cleaner is best?

Chrome and polished aluminum wheels are popular car modifications that can be buffed to a mirror finish. But to properly show off your rims, you'll need to put in a little elbow grease with some good cleaner. Not only will it keep your wheels sparkling, but it will also help protect them from corrosive contaminants on the road.

Chrome and aluminum require specially tailored formulas, which can make choosing the proper cleaner complicated — it's the difference between restoring your wheels' luster and destroying their finish. With the right formula, tools and know-how, you can get your wheels back to their factory finish. 

Why it's important to clean your wheels regularly

The roads are covered in corrosive particles and debris that slowly eat away at your wheels, and it's not just salt, dirt and rocks that can erode your wheels' finish. The dust produced by your brake pads is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to tarnishing chrome and aluminum.

Over time, these contaminants ruin your wheels' appearance and resale value while also degrading their structural integrity. Regularly washing, polishing and waxing your wheels every one to two weeks is the only way to keep them shining and protected from environmental damage. 

Chrome wheel cleaner

Chrome wheels are made by electroplating multiple layers of metals — usually nickel and copper — with a final layer of chrome. The resulting wheel has a durable composition that stands up to weather and rough road conditions. Cleaner formulated for chrome is designed to restore this final layer and bring out its classic sheen. 

Chrome wheel cleaners come in premixed solutions that use a spray bottle or concentrated gel formulas that you mix in water. Like other wheel cleaners, they typically cost $6-$20.

Chrome wheel cleaner pros

  • A specially formulated cleaner for chrome won't risk harming its finish.
  • This cleaner foams to lift dust and debris so you don't end up grinding dirt back into the surface with a cloth or brush — all you have to do is rinse.
  • Chrome wheel cleaner performs better than multipurpose wheel cleaners on this specific metal.

Chrome wheel cleaner cons

  • Chrome wheel cleaner doesn't often work in the opposite direction of multi-surface application and can end up damaging polished aluminum wheels.
  • Not all chrome wheel cleaners also work on tires.

Best chrome wheel cleaners

Meguiar's Hot Rims Chrome Wheel Cleaner

Made just for chrome, this cleaner sprays on and foams up to lift dirt and debris so you don't have to scrub. You can't use this cleaner on aluminum. 

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Mothers Pro-Strength Chrome Wheel Cleaner

Mothers is a trusted brand in car detailing, and their streak-free formula for chrome is one of the toughest you can get. Just spray it on, let it foam up and rinse. Use a soft wheel brush to get at any crevices. 

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Chemical Guys Wicked Strong Diablo Gel Wheel Cleaner

This pH-neutral cleaner is safe to use on chrome and other coated wheels. It comes in a gel bottle, so you mix it with water and spray or brush it onto the wheel. Because it's so versatile, this is a great option for multi-car families or companies, as one bucket of solution can go a long way. 

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Polished aluminum wheel cleaner

Polished aluminum wheel cleaners are the least abrasive cleaner formula. Finding the right one for the job depends on whether or not your polished wheels are clear coated. 

Most cars on the road today have aluminum alloy wheels. These are made from composite metal that's fabricated as a single block of metal. They're then sealed off with a layer of clear coat. 

Polished aluminum rims are raw-metal wheels that are buffed by hand or machine. They don't have that protective layer of clear paint. For these aftermarket wheels, you need a non-caustic formula that fights oxidization on uncoated surfaces. 

Like most wheel cleaners, solutions for polished-aluminum usually cost $6-$20. 

Polished aluminum wheel cleaner pros

  • Aluminum cleaner is the gentlest and can be used on many wheel types.
  • It won't harm clear coated brake calipers and suspension components in the case of over-spray.
  • These cleaners are pH-balanced so they won't cause spotting or tarnishing.

Polished aluminum wheel cleaner cons

  • When used on chrome, aluminum cleaner isn't as thorough as chrome-specific cleaner.
  • It can be harder to find the right cleaner for uncoated aluminum rims, as many formulas are advertised for aluminum but are actually referring to clear coated, mass market aluminum wheels. 

Best polished aluminum wheel cleaners

Meguiar's Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner

If you have uncoated aluminum rims, this is the cleaner to get. It's designed to remove oxidization, grit and grime without damaging the metal. Because it's so gentle, you'll need a soft scrubbing tool like a microfiber towel or brush. 

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Carfidant Ultimate Wheel Cleaner

This multipurpose wheel cleaner works on just about every wheel type you can imagine. Its pH-neutral formula works especially well on polished aluminum, as it doesn't discolor. You can even use it on the aluminum trim of tool boxes, appliances and more. 

Sold by Amazon

Flitz Multipurpose Polish and Cleaner Liquid

Car geeks swear by Flitz. Its non-abrasive, chemical formula is great at restoring your uncoated metal's shine. This is a two-in-one cleaner that removes oxidization and then polishes. If your wheels are particularly grimy, you might want to pair this with a stronger cleaner that can remove any grit first. 

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Should you get chrome or polished aluminum wheel cleaner?

Both kinds of cleaners do their jobs well — it all depends on what type of wheels you have. While multipurpose cleaners that tackle a variety of wheel types are convenient, they're often not as strong as dedicated formulas. You're also taking a risk, as manufacturers can't always guarantee their claims.

If you're cleaning chrome wheels, get a chrome-specific cleaner, and if you're cleaning uncoated aluminum, get an aluminum cleaner. Meguiar's makes two great products for each of these metals. 


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Karl Daum writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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