Wheels are notoriously troublesome to clean. They get bombarded by all the dirt and grime that’s on the road surface. If you allow dirt to build up you could be presented with challenging buildups, and sometimes, irreversible damage.
There is a lot more science in today's wheel cleaners; long gone are the days of extreme pH levels. Sure, they’d get the job done, but frequent use would strip the wheel of its protective coatings, and eventually cause serious damage to the wheels. Today's cleaners can be used on pretty much all surfaces, including more sensitive materials like chrome.
The Best Wheel Cleaners
1. Meguiar's Hot Rims Wheel Cleaner
First on the list is the Hot Rims Wheel Cleaner from Meguiar’s. This premium wheel cleaner is effective on factory-painted wheels, as well as tires. However, it should be noted that you must avoid uncoated surfaces due to its strength.
The patented Xtreme Cling foam will cling to all surfaces, and can even dissolve brake dust. Brake dust is known for being difficult to remove and is present behind the wheel. As you can imagine, if you never take your wheel off to clean it, there will be a large build up.
Learn More: The Difference Between Rims and Wheels
Although Meguiar’s state that no agitation is needed, it’s advisable to still do so. Not long after you coat the wheel in cleaner you will start to see it work. The foam will change color within minutes and will leave your wheel looking as good as it did in the showroom.
2. TriNova Wheel Cleaner
This spray cleaner from TriNova melts away dirt, grime and salt build ups that accumulate over the lifetime of your vehicle, returning your wheels to their original shine. It can tackle prominent stains that end up occurring from repeated exposure to the elements.
Suitable for all types of wheels, TriNova’s wheel cleaner has been designed to be used on the least robust wheel materials, so that there will never be a situation where the product damages the rims. Regardless of it being aluminum or chrome, this product will produce a deep clean without any adverse effects.
What we love about this formula is that it is acid-free, meaning that whatever surface you use this on, it should be protected.
It’s worth noting though that, due the bottle size, you will likely go through this faster than some of the other options. However, because of how good this cleaner is, you will likely have to use less in the long run.
3. Aero Cosmetics Tire Cleaner
Wash ALL from Aero Cosmetics really does live up to its name. It has been designed to be able to be used on plastic, vinyl, carpet, leather, paint, fabric, rubber, and metal. It is water-based and is free from ammonia and alcohol. There is the option to use this product either with water or without.
Being safe on all surfaces is a nice feature, because after you clean your wheels and tires, you can use the same bottle to do the interior of your vehicle too; It can be used to clean up engines too.
Although a bit of a niche quality, Wash ALL meets the specifications needed to be used on Airbus and Boeing aircraft. This goes to show how high-quality the formulation is, as anything aircraft related will have the highest specifications possible.
What we love about Wash ALL is that it is biodegradable. Too many cleaning products will pollute the adjacent ground when they are used, so the fact that this is biodegradable is a real plus.
This product is fantastic for removing streaks, but for stubborn stains, you may require something a little stronger.
4. Griot's Garage Wheel Cleaner
Griot’s Garage Wheel Cleaner is safe for all wheel materials and finishes, such as aluminum, steel, powdered coating, polished finish, and chrome. It is comprised of high-quality ingredients which help to displace grime and dirt with ease. What’s important to note is that this product is approved by Dayton Wire Wheels, Tire Rack and BBS; this implies that this is a solid cleaning product, and should be perfect for home use.
As we spoke of previously, brake dust can be a real nuisance to remove, especially if it has been building up for a while. Grime and dirt from the road is usually not too challenging to remove though.
To get your wheels looking sparkling, all you need to do is put the cleaner directly on the wheel, agitate it with a brush after it has settled for a short while, and simply rinse.
While there are better products out there, the amount of cleaner you get makes this one of the best bang for buck products out there. As long as you don’t have colossal dirt build-ups, this cleaner can perform just as good as some of the more expensive ones.
5. Mothers Wheel & Tire Cleaner
Last on the list is Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner from Mothers. This is one of the best budget wheel cleaners available on the market; perfect for people who want something a little stronger than regular soap and water, but still want a product that will not damage their wheels or leave marks.
This non-acidic spray will foam readily which will displace grime and dirt without much effort. Due to it being non-acidic, it’s perfectly safe for painted, clear/color coated, steel, and chrome finishes. However, it’s recommended that you avoid using it on roughcast aluminum, anodized wheels, and motorcycle components.
It’s worth noting that to get the best results, you’ll likely need a strong stream of water. However, that’s a small inconvenience to pay when going for a budget cleaning product.
What to Look for in a Wheel Cleaner
When choosing which wheel cleaner to purchase, there are a few specifications that you need to consider. These will vary depending on what level of cleaning you require, but all points should be at least considered. Doing so will increase your chances of getting the perfect product for your needs, as well as ensuring that you don’t damage your wheels.
To ensure that your wheels receive the best care, you need to check the pH levels of the cleaners you’d like to use. Non-acidic will be the best for your wheels, but acidic cleaners will generally clean better.
Acidic solutions will damage your wheels coating to an irreversible level if misused. The acid will take advantage of any cracks, regardless of size, and will cause even more damage. We recommend choosing a non-acidic product that can be used on most wheel-types if you are a novice.
Choose an Appropriate Cleaner
Most vehicle owners are unlikely to know the specifics of their wheels, unless they are a vehicle hobbyist. To the untrained eye, most wheels may look the same. However, they can come in many different materials and finishes, which sometimes makes telling them apart challenging. The most common are alloy, color painted, aluminum, powder coated, and chrome.
If you don’t know what material your wheels are made from, try looking online, or ask the establishment that you purchased them from. After you are confident you know what the material is, it’s then time to look at the material specific cleaners. A lot of cleaning products are perfectly fine on all wheel materials, but some may be a little too strong for some of the weaker metals and finishes.
If you are not able to find out the material, or simply don’t want to, choose a wheel cleaner that can be used on all materials - usually marketed as biodegradable - to stay 100% safe.
A lot of wheel cleaners change color when they come in contact with grime and dirt. This helps to ensure that your wheels are fully clean, as you can spray your wheels a second time to check whether or not you have removed particulates.
Color-changing cleaners may be necessary for some but are helpful for those with expensive wheels that may be made from some of the softer metals.
Water and Brushing
A lot of cleaners will state that no brushing or water is required. While they aren’t lying for basic cleaning, there is absolutely no harm in using water as well as brushing. As you can imagine, using a brush and hosing down with water will produce a fuller clean than not.
Some products actually require it though, so it’s good practice to use brushes, microfiber cloth, and water for all cleaning if possible.
Obviously, the main purpose of using a wheel cleaner is to clean your wheels, but you should also consider products that reduce the amount of cleaning that is required each time. For instance, using a tire shine will help to reduce dirt buildup and ultimately, reduce the amount of cleaning that is needed each time you go to wash your vehicle’s wheels.
Use Wheel Cleaning Products on Wheels Only
A lot of wheel cleaning products will specify that they can be used on a multitude of surfaces, but we recommend that you don’t. There a lot of cleaners that are specifically designed to be used on vehicle paintwork that will produce a better finish every single time. Car wash shampoo products will clean your vehicle better than wheel cleaner, and will usually help to protect it with the added wax that a lot of them have in them.