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Best Wheel Cleaners

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 25 Models Considered
  • 6 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 285 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best wheel cleaners

    Last Updated December 2018

    In a curious way, wheels are like the teeth of your car. A brighter smile can make you seem younger, healthier, and friendlier. Having shiny, clean wheels on your car has the same effect. Your vehicle looks more impressive and cared for. A real head-turner. The right wheel cleaner can do all that and more. Plus, it's much more affordable than a whitening session with your dentist!

    However, you don't want to use the wrong cleaner and risk ruining the finish or damaging the wheels. And if you're environmentally conscious, you don't want to use a caustic product that isn’t eco-friendly. How to choose?

    BestReviews can help. The following shopping guide explains why you want clean wheels, provides an in-depth look at wheel cleaners, and addresses your concerns. It even includes some tips on how to get your wheels showroom clean and keep them that way.

    Even if the grime buildup is exceptionally bad, do not use a hard bristle brush, steel wool, or anything abrasive when cleaning wheels. You could scratch the finish, which will invite corrosion. It’s best to spray, agitate, rinse, and repeat.

    Why clean your wheels?

    You might be thinking, "They're just wheels. What happens if they’re dirty?" Quite a bit, actually. Here are four arguments for keeping your wheels clean.

    Clean wheels enhance your vehicle's appearance. Modern rims are designed to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your vehicle. If you let brake dust, grease, and street grime build up, you’re negating that effect. Keeping your car's wheels clean is one of the most impactful tasks you can do to keep your vehicle looking like new.

    Clean wheels help prevent damage. Brake dust is the result of using your brakes – the grayish-black particles that collect on your wheels. Left there long enough, it will begin to corrode the clear coat that protects your rims. Eventually, it will eat into the aluminum alloy surface of your wheels. Additionally, corrosion around the bead of a tire can cause it to develop a slow leak.

    Clean wheels can increase your vehicle's performance. Believe it or not, one episode of MythBusters dealt with the relationship between fuel efficiency and dirty cars. The guys determined that randomly distributed dirt particles created drag and could potentially cut your fuel economy by as much as 10%.

    Dirty wheels have a negative psychological effect. The “broken window” theory proposes that something left in a state of disrepair, like a broken window (or filthy wheels) increases the likelihood of the problem escalating. It's the same thinking that makes that first scratch or dent so much more traumatic than all the other minor incidents that follow. In other words, the dirty wheels make it easier to tolerate and ignore greater and greater problems with your vehicle.

    The gold standard in wheel cleaners

    Car Guys Wheel and Tire Cleaner is an environmentally friendly, acid-free, nontoxic, pH-balanced cleaner. Beyond that, it’s highly effective and safe for every type of finish currently available. It even works on motorcycle and white-wall tires. We love that it comes with a money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied.

    Cleaning different wheel finishes

    Rather than steel wheels covered with a hub cap, aluminum alloy wheels come standard on most cars. An alloy simply means additional metals were added to the aluminum to increase its strength and durability. Aluminum alloy wheels are lighter than steel wheels and can be cast into any design imaginable. Although alloy wheels don’t rust, they will pit and corrode if neglected.

    There are five types of alloy wheel finishes: chrome, polished, machine-finished, powder-coated, and painted. Knowing the type of finish dictates which products you can use to clean your wheels.

    Chrome: These alloy wheels are plated in several layers of metals – topped by chrome – to give the wheels a mirrored appearance.

    • Cleaning concerns: A mild soap/water wash followed by some chrome polish is the best way to care for these wheels. Alternatively, use a wheel cleaner formulated to be safe on chrome wheels. Anything abrasive, such as a hard bristle brush or steel wool, could cause scratching. Do not let brake dust accumulate. If de-icer gets on the chrome, wash your wheels at the first chance you get to avoid corrosion.
       

    Polished: Rather than plating, polished wheels are sanded smooth and then polished with a compound to give the wheels a distinctive luster. The polish can be protected by applying a high-gloss clear finish.

    • Cleaning concerns: Brake dust will damage these wheels, so clean them regularly with a quality wheel wash to keep polished wheels from pitting and corroding. Follow up with a polishing compound.
       

    Machine-finished: This finish is achieved by removing a thin metal layer from the face of the wheel, which creates a look not unlike that of a CD. A clear sealant is applied to protect the wheels from corrosion. A clear-coat finish could be applied for added protection.

    • Cleaning concerns: A mild/soap mixture or a quality water-based wheel cleaner works best for this type of wheel. Clean regularly to remove damaging brake dust. Do not use acidic wheel cleaner or metal polish on machine-finished wheels.
       

    Powder-coated: This type of finish uses paint that is baked onto the wheel to create a durable finish impervious to rust, chips, and scratches.

    • Cleaning concerns: Do not use acidic wheel cleaners, tarnish- or rust-removal products, or bleach on these wheels. Use mild soap and water or a quality water-based wheel cleaner.
       

    Painted: This is the traditional method of coating the wheel in wet paint and applying a clear topcoat for protection.

    • Cleaning concerns: Begin the initial cleaning with mild soap and water, agitating the grime with a microfiber cloth. Follow up with a quality wheel cleaner. If brake dust is allowed to accumulate, it will damage the finish.
    EXPERT TIP

    Wheels should not be cleaned while they’re still hot, nor should you spray them down with cold water. Cold water applied to hot wheels can cause them to crack. Wait until your wheels are cool to the touch before cleaning.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    Only clean one wheel at a time. Doing more than that increases your chances of making a mistake. Leaving the cleaner on too long or allowing the soap or water to prematurely dry, for instance, could stain the wheel or dull the finish.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    The directions on wheel cleaner often instruct you to allow the cleaner a specified amount of time to sit on the wheels so it can do its job. It is very important not to exceed the recommended time because cleaner that dries on a wheel can damage it.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Other factors to consider

    Read up on any cleaner you’re considering to be sure it offers exactly what you want and need.

    Safety

    The wrong cleaner can permanently damage the finish on your wheels. Always check the label to see if the product is safe on your type of wheels.

    Spray on, hose off

    As a selling point, many wheel cleaners claim you can simply spray the product on, agitate it a little with a wheel brush, then hose it off. This might be true with a quick maintenance clean, but most of the time – especially if there is grimy buildup – you will need to put a little elbow grease into the procedure.

    Liquid or gel

    The benefit of using a gel is it tends to cling to vertical surfaces longer, offering more cleaning power.

    Concentrate

    Some wheel cleaners come only as a premixed spray. Others are available in a concentrate that you must dilute before using. Do not mistake one for the other because applying undiluted product – such as an acid-based cleaner – could permanently damage your wheels. Also consider the fact that while a concentrate might seem expensive, it will often last much longer.

    Container size

    Sometimes purchasing larger quantities is the better deal. Figure out something comparable, like the cost per ounce, to see if going large offers greater value.

    Refill options

    Some companies offer a refill that is slightly less expensive than buying a new spray bottle every time you run out of cleaner.

    Quantity

    Unfortunately, you won’t know until you use the product how much cleaner it takes to get the grime off your wheels. Purchasing a less-expensive cleaner is only cost effective if it doesn't take an entire bottle to clean a single wheel.

    Odor

    This can be a big concern for many users because some wheel cleaners have a pungent sulfur smell that lasts for a day or two after cleaning. If smells bother you or trigger any sort of undesirable respiratory response, avoid cleaners with strong odors.

    Gentle on skin

    Some cleaners are extremely caustic. Others are formulated to be much gentler on your skin and eyes. If you have sensitive skin, or you just like to stay as safe as possible, opt for the gentler cleaner.

    Guarantee

    Some companies offer a 100% money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.

    Environmentally friendly

    If it’s important to you to use an EPA-approved, eco-friendly cleaner, that is definitely an option. And unlike other environmentally friendly products, wheel cleaners are not as costly as you might think.

    Melts away grime to make your wheels shine

    TriNova Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner works on brake dust, oil residue, street grime, and salt. The acid-free formula is designed to be safe for all types of wheels and tires. The oversize container gives you more bang for your buck, all backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

    Wheel cleaner prices

    The price of wheel cleaners ranges from about $4 to $17 per bottle or from $0.25 to $1 per ounce.

    Most consumers and reviewers agree that the higher-end products tend to offer better results. Additionally, these products tend to be more universal (safe for all types of wheels).

    Always read the label to be sure the cleaner you’re considering meets all of your criteria before purchasing.

    In winter, your wheels are exposed to more extreme road conditions. Salt, de-icer, and excessive street grime will require you to clean your wheels more frequently than during other seasons.

    FAQ

    Q. What is an acid-based wheel cleaner?

    A. The kind of acid that is used in most wheel cleaners reacts to brake dust, which is what makes it so effective. What you have to be very careful about is the fact that the product will also react to any bare metal. An acid-based cleaner will damage uncoated wheels. An acid-based cleaner has warnings on the label advising you of this. Always read the product details to see if the cleaner is safe to use on your wheel finish.

    Q. What is Plasti Dip?

    A. Plasti Dip is a rubberized coating originally applied to tool handles. You can use it to coat and protect your wheels, along with many other parts of your car. It is durable, but it can easily be peeled off. In general, clean a Plasti Dip wheel as you would a painted wheel, using mild soap and water followed by a quality wheel cleaner.

    Q. What does "pH balanced" mean?

    A. Alkalinity is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. The middle (7) is considered neutral. When a product is pH balanced, it contains ingredients to maintain a level of alkalinity that is acceptable for the product's intended use. On a wheel cleaner, this is what lets you know that the spray is safe for all finishes. However, always read the fine print to be sure!

    The team that worked on this review
    • Allen
      Allen
      Writer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Debbie
      Debbie
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Jacob
      Jacob
      Editorial Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer

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