Your car is your baby, and you can’t just use any old cloth to clean her. The wheels take a lot of damage in use, and if you’ve invested in customization or if you upgraded your factory buy, you need the right kind of wheel cleaner to preserve that investment.
If you’re not sure which wheel cleaner is right for you, don’t worry. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite wheel cleaners so that you can make the right decision. First, let’s look at a few questions you may have about how to choose the best wheel cleaner.
Consider a few factors before making your final decision. It isn’t just about getting the job done quickly.
Contrary to what you may think, a gentle formula is a better option. Yes, road and engine contaminants are thick and scary, but if you go at it with acid, you’re going to damage the finish on your wheels. That would be a shame.
Instead, find something that’s acid-free, so you don’t worry about eating through the grime and your finish, too. Acidic cleaners are also murder on your skin and eyes and terrible for the environment. Don’t use them if you’re not a professional.
Instead, something with a balanced pH or a natural acidic property (like citrus) can gently lift dirt and grime away from your wheels so you can rinse or wipe off. The formula should be non-corrosive, so it doesn’t damage the internal working of the wheels.
Gentle formulas also preserve the natural oils of the tires, so they’re less likely to crack. Everyday detergents don’t always protect this layer so over time the life of your tire shortens.
Hosing or Scrubbing
Formulas that require agitation are good for deeper cleans and tires with no special coatings. They’re sometimes quicker and use less water to come clean because you’ve taken off most of the grime with your wheel brush. If you have aftermarket wheels or rims, scrubbing can damage the finish over time.
Hose-off cleaners are gentler on your finish because you’re less likely to ding it using bristles. They’re convenient because you can work on other parts of your car while the formula soaks in and then rinse the grime away.
The downside to hose-off formulas is simple. It may take multiple applications of the product to get everything off, or it can take a long time to get all the residue off from merely hosing. Consider your finish and the types of contaminants you fight every time you wash your car to decide which is better for you.
Dilute Or Not?
Cleaners that you can dilute are easier on your wallet. Many of the cleaners on our list can be diluted in different ratios for different types of jobs. You have more flexibility.
Spray on formulas keep your hands clean and are easier to apply. You won’t have to do any measuring, just spray and go. They can be more expensive than other cleaners though. They usually give you about three or four washings per wheel, which isn’t much. If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned your wheels, they may be a good upfront investment.
Materials With Unique Needs
Many aftermarket wheels have chrome and aluminum parts. These metals require specific cleaners that won’t corrode the surface or cause dings and nicks in the finish. You need a gentle cleanser that can remove grime while restoring the shine and that will leave no small scratches.
Motorcycle tires are also a particular case. Some wheel cleaners will damage the unique innards of a motorcycle tire, so you can’t slap on just any soap. Make sure your cleaner specifically includes motorcycle tires before using it.
The Best Wheel Cleaners 2020
Let’s take a look at a few of our favorite cleaners.
Our first wheel cleaner is particularly useful if you live in a cold climate. Road salts are corrosive to your car’s finish. Cleaning the wheels prolongs their life by preventing rust spots, corrosion, and damage.
Car Guys cleaner is formulated to be less toxic while still giving you results. It’s non-acidic, and pH balanced, so it causes less damage to your skin and the environment overall. It won’t damage the stain on your tire, and it’s safe to use on every tire type. You can use it on a range of rim types, including alloy, plastic, and painted. It’s even safe for motorcycle wheels and casings.
It has minimal run-off, so you can get your wheels cleaner, faster without spending all your time reapplying or preventing drips.
-non-toxic and safe for all wheel and rim types
-safe for motorcycles
-may be too gentle for serious rust or caked on grimeCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Sonax’s cleaner is excellent for those who want a visual update on when the product is working and ready to wipe off. When you first apply it, it’s green. It turns red as it penetrates deeply ingrained dirt and grime.
It’s non-acidic and pH balanced, so you won’t worry about it running into the groundwater system or tearing up the skin on your hands. It’s safe for many different wheel types, including painted, anodized, and clear coated wheels. You can also use it on higher-end rims such as alloy.
-green to red lets you know when it’s ready to wipe off
-safe for a variety of wheels
-may require a lot of agitationCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Mothers foaming cleaner is for use on factory coated, and OEM coated wheels and hubcaps. If you’ve been struggling to find a good cleaner for these types of wheels and rims, this one might be a good choice.
It foams so you don’t have to agitate as much and there’s little run-off. It has a basic spray on and hose-off formula, so you spend less time scrubbing. This helps preserve more delicate coatings and prevent chipping.
It isn’t safe to use for motorcycle wheels, but it will clean a variety of car types including white walls and chrome.
-minimal agitation required
-less likely to damage delicate coatings
-not suitable for motorcyclesCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Chemical Guys citrus-based formula is suitable for custom wheels. If you have a custom job on your car and need a solution that won’t damage your finish, this one might be the right choice. It’s non-corrosive and gentle for a variety of custom finishes.
It cleans chrome, powder coated, and painted wheels among others. It removes brake dust and the dreaded oxidation spots. It can be diluted for other types of cleaning, but it won’t damage your skin or the environment.
It comes with a cap for dilution and a sprayer for using it full strength. For most dirt and grime, you should be able to spray and wipe off, but it can take as much as ten minutes to see any results.
-suitable for custom wheels
-natural orange recipe
-takes a long soak to workCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner is another color changing formulation. It is specifically designed to target heavy brake dust, one of the most difficult things to clean out of all the crevices of a tire. When you spray it on, it slowly turns a bright purple, telling you when it’s ready to wash off.
It is pH balanced and acid-free, so you won’t burn your wheels or your eyes as you apply it. It cleans metallic contaminants well without damaging the finish of most tires (including custom).
It requires agitation after spraying, which may be inconvenient if you want to work on other parts of your car while it works. You can spray it on for a few minutes, however, to let it soak in. It’s a newer, thicker formula than the previous Adam’s, so it stays put longer.
– explicitly formulated for brake dust and metallic contaminants
-newer, thicker formula
-has an odorCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Diablo Gel is a more concentrated wheel cleaner that’s safe for all after-market and OEM coated wheels. You can apply both by spraying and with a brush, and it has a low run-off. You can dilute it with up to six parts water for multiple uses.
It’s safe for many different finishes including chrome, carbon fiber lips, and power-coating. The formula is oxygen rich, which stays put and entraps dirt and grime for easier removal. One bottle can make up to six containers of cleaner, so you’ll spend less and get more.
You can agitate it or rinse it off to prevent damage to finishes. It’s extra slippery, so you won’t leave filmy spots behind.
-can be diluted up to six parts, which extends the life of the cleaner
-gelatin formula is extra slippery but pH neutral
-doesn’t come with a spray topCHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Our final wheel cleaner is all-purpose. It has a thick, spray on formula that doesn’t require scrubbing. It’s a spray off design that keeps you from nicking the coatings on most types of wheels through agitation. It’s also one of the lowest price points on the list if you don’t consider dilution possibilities (you can’t dilute this one).
It foams up to get into even the smallest crevices where you can’t reach with a standard brush alone. It handles brake dust, grease, dirt, and other contaminants well. It can take some time to spray off the product thoroughly. The longer it sits (without drying), the more effective it is but also the longer it takes to hose off.
-ultra-thick formula gets into crevices well
-hoses off without scrubbing
-cannot be diluted.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
You can’t ignore your wheels when you detail your car. Getting in there with elbow grease isn’t always the best factor because it can damage certain finishes. It’s better to have a gentle but effective cleaner that helps lift grime away so you can gently scrub or hose off. Protect your investment whether it’s factory direct or aftermarket with the best wheel cleaner you can find.
Also check out our piece on the best tire shine.