Cleaning our cars today is an almost automated thing – you go to a car wash, wait for 15-30 minutes and continue your day after that. But even after the car wash, you may not be satisfied with how your car looks. Sure, it’s clean, but it doesn’t look as shiny as some other cars you see on the road.
This is exaggerated on the wheels and tires of your car. When you think about it, they are closer to the road than the car’s body and take much more of the dirt on the road, but also brake dust, which is especially true for open, alloy wheels. When you bring your car at the car wash, most of the dirt will come off, but for really shiny “like-new” wheels, you’ll need to take care of them yourself – like all car guys (or car girls) do.
The best thing is, this doesn’t require some special cleaning techniques – all you need is a water hose, a brush, a best wheel and tire cleaner and a little bit of your extra time. There are numerous wheel and tire cleaning products, and in this article, we will try to find the best one for your car type or your type of rim. You can find these cleaners in almost every car shop, a gas station or even online if you want the best prices.
Top 10 Best Wheel and Tire Cleaners
CarGuys Wheel and Tire Cleaner - Best cleaner for any type of wheel and tire
If you want the best cleaning regardless of the car you have or the type of wheels and tires, CarGuys Wheel and Tire Cleaner is the best bet. It works on any type of material, be it aluminum, painted, polished, clear coated and plasti-dipped wheels, or black tires and tires with white walls.
The CarGuys product is very good at cleaning all of the contaminants and dirt on your car’s wheels, leaving them shiny and protected. It will also remove salt and grime for those who drive their cars in snowy conditions, protecting them from corrosion even after the treatment.
It’s also very easy to use – all you need is to rinse the wheels with water first, spray the solution on your tires and rims and use a brush to remove the dirt, and then rinse them again it with a lot of water. After the treatment, you’ll most likely have clean and shiny wheels and tires.
The CarGuys Wheel and Tire Cleaner gets extra points because it is safe for the environment, so you can use it outside and not worry that there is no drainage around.
That said, it is a little on the expensive side, but we think it’s worth it.
Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect – Best alloy wheel cleaner
Made in Germany products always seem to be expensive, and the Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect is no exception for that rule. Despite that, we think it’s the best product if you want the cleanest possible alloy wheels. It will clean them from everyday dirt and oil, but it will also clean them from stubborn contaminants like brake dust and rubber residue. It also comes with a set of brushes in the package for cleaning and detailing the tight places on your wheel, so every inch will look shiny afterwards.
The Sonax solution is pH balanced, which makes it very gentle to the alloys used for wheel manufacturing. This is very important for areas where your wheels are damaged or scratched, as the protective layer that wheel manufacturers put to fight corrosion usually is very thin and gets easily destroyed. With the Sonax, you can be sure that you’ll not damage your wheels any further.
We also like that the Sonax Wheel Cleaner is very easy to use and that it changes color from fluorescent green to red as it fights the dirt on the wheels and tires. On top of that, it’s very easy to use – just spray it on an already rinsed wheels and tires and use a soft brush to remove all the contaminants. Rinse with water again and your alloy wheels will look like new again!
TriNova Wheel Cleaner – Best chrome wheel cleaner
TriNova’s cleaner is one of the best on the market for cleaning any type of wheel, but it’s especially good for chromed wheels. It fights dirt and contaminants on the wheels, and in some situations, it can even remove stains, restoring the mirror finish on your chrome wheels. This product is also very good at restoring white-wall tires to their original glory, which makes it probably the best cleaner for old-timers that have them in combination with chromed wheels.
And even though the TriNova’s cleaner is very aggressive in removing any dirt on your wheel and tire, it will not leave any stains or damage them in any way. It’s also safe for the environment, which is always a plus for cleaning your car outside.
The TriNova wheel cleaner comes in a spray bottle that makes it very easy to use – just spray the solution over an already rinsed wheels, brush and then rinse again. Be sure to use a softer brush – you don’t want to damage the mirror finish on your chrome wheels by using a hard brush.
Meguiar’s G14324 Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner – Best aluminum wheel cleaner
The Meguiar’s G14324 cleaner is a specialty product – it should only be used on aluminum wheels and other sensitive materials. Thanks to that, it is the best for cleaning aluminum wheels, because it has a formula that can fight very persistent contaminants, such as brake dust and road grime, but it will not damage the wheels.
You probably know, but aluminum is not the most resilient metal, and using strong and corrosive substances on it can easily make stains on it, that cannot be removed later. The Meguiar’s Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner is very gentle to the aluminum – even if your wheel is damaged or scratches, the solution will not be corrosive to the metal.
This product gets extra points for being cheap and for the reason it comes in a bigger spray bottle than its competitors. It can be used very easily – rinse with water first, spray from the cleaner, wait 15 seconds and rinse again. Additionally, you can use a brush or a microfiber mitt for even better results.
McKee’s 37 Foaming Wheel Cleaner Gel – Best wheel cleaner for brake dust
If you have wheels that are full of brake dust, you can use a clay bar for detailing, but we think it’s much easier to use the McKee’s 37 foaming wheel cleaner gel, as it can remove it almost as successfully. This product has a water-based formula that can easily dissolve the particles and adhesive from the brake dust, without damaging your rim.
We especially like the McKee’s product because it is very safe to use on any type of rim and tire, and because it changes color from blue to red on the places it fights the brake dust most vigorously. It’s also safe to use as a detailer on your car’s paint job to clean brake dust, bugs, tar, and sap. Being completely safe for the environment, the McKee’s 37 Foaming cleaner can be used everywhere, even in your backyard.
The only downside to this product is the high asking price, for a bottle that is smaller than what competitors offer. Nevertheless, if you want to remove the tough brake dust, there is no better choice.
Aero Cosmetics Wet or Waterless Cleaner Degreaser – Best no scrub wheel cleaner
If you are a lazy person (we really don’t judge), the Aero Cosmetics wheel cleaner may be the best solution. With this cleaner you won’t need to scrub your wheels – just spray it on and leave it to work its magic. Because it is water-based, the Aero Cosmetics cleaner also doesn’t need any additional water to work, not even for rinsing afterward. Just use a microfiber towel to wipe it away and you’ll be good to go.
Even without scrubbing, this wheel cleaner is very good at removing any contaminant you can find on your wheel on a tire. For that reason, it even meets Boeing specifications. It is also safe to use on any kind of material, be it a car, a motorcycle or an RV. It’s also very good at removing dirt and grime for your exhaust or other metallic surfaces on your car. The best part is, it’s cheap for the quantity of cleaner you get.
Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner – Best for powder coated wheels
Adam’s cleaner is one of the best on the market for any type of wheel, but it is especially good for powder coated wheels. It is very good at removing brake dust and other persistent contaminants and dirt from the tire and wheel. It’s also pH neutral and acid-free, which makes it very gentle to the powder coated wheels. Using aggressive solutions on this type of wheels can damage them easily and the Adam’s Deep Wheel Cleaner is the opposite of that.
We also like that Adam’s solution changes color when you apply it to the surface, showing that it’s working in removing all the dirt from the wheels and tires. On top of that, it’s thicker than usual, so it can stay longer on a vertical surface, which helps to remove dirt even better. The Adam’s cleaner is not on the cheap side, but it’s not very expensive either. And for the best care of your powder coated wheels, we think it’s worth it.
Duragloss 701 Whitewall Tire Cleaner – Best white wall tire cleaner
If your car has white wall tires, there is really no better solution than a special one. The Duragloss 701 Whitewall Tire Cleaner is very good at removing dirt from a tire white wall, restoring the natural color and giving them a fresh look. It can also work on the rest of the tire and clean it from dirt and contaminants, so it’s really a “2 in 1” solution. In addition to that, it is great for cleaning mats and even engines.
What we really like is that the Duragloss 701 Whitewall Tire Cleaner is not very expensive and that you really get a lot of it in the spray bottle. On the other hand, we don’t like that it’s on the aggressive side – it shouldn’t be used with highly polished aluminum wheels, alloy wheels or painted wheels, as it can easily damage them if you’re not careful enough. Anyway, there are not a lot of aluminum wheels with whitewall tires, so this is not a big downside.
Mag N' Wire Wheel Cleaner – Best wire wheel cleaner
If you have those old wheels with a lot of spokes in them, you’ll need a more aggressive solution for cleaning, as they accumulate a lot more dirt between those tight spaces. We find the Mag N’ Wire wheel cleaner to be the best at removing stubborn dirt and even oxidized metal. It’s very cheap as well, as it must be diluted with water (5 to 1, or even 4 to 1 for older, untreated wheels), so you can use it for over a year.
On the downside, being very aggressive and acidic, this product should be used with a lot of care. First, if you leave it on your wheels for too long, it can damage them, and secondly, the fumes from the cleaner can be toxic. Be sure to use it in an open area and surely with a drainage nearby. In addition to that, use a higher-quality spray bottle, as the acidic solution can easily damage cheaper ones.
Mothers 05924 Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner – Best for those on a budget
The cheapest wheel and tire cleaner solution on our list can really punch above its weight considering how much it costs. Sure, with other, more expensive product you may get better results at removing persistent dirt, but for most buyers, we think the Mothers product will be sufficient. It even comes in a big spray bottle and can be used for months of cleaning your car’s wheels and tires.
The results are good enough in our opinion – this product can definitely restore the shine on your wheels and tires, removing almost every contaminant. However, it’s not as safe to use on alloy or aluminum wheels, as it is only good for factory coated ones. If your wheel is damaged or scratched, you may want to pay a little extra and go for a special product, like the Sonax and Meguiar’s on our list. For stainless steel, painted and chrome wheels though, the Mothers cleaner is more than adequate.
Things to consider and how to choose the best wheel cleaner for your vehicle
Before buying a tire and wheel cleaner and using it, there are some things to consider, or dare we say, rules. If you don’t do that, you not only risk to not get the best dirt cleaning possible but also damage your wheels in the process. And we are sure nobody wants to damage his/her expensive wheels by negligence.
Buy a pH neutral or a gentle solution
If you want the best care for your wheels, you first need to be sure that the product you are buying is non-acidic, even though acidic cleaners tend to work even better at removing dirt. Acidic solution can easily damage the coatings on your wheels and you’ll never be able to retrieve the natural look again. Sure, in the Top 10 list we have listed one acidic product, but that one is for a very special purpose and if you use it, you must do it with extreme caution.
The gentlest products are advertised as pH neutral and if you are new to the wheel cleaning process, we recommend starting with them. Other than pH neutral, some product may be advertised as “gentle” and safe to use on any type of wheels and in our tests, so those will work just as well.
Choose the right cleaner for your type of wheel
Most of the vehicle owners know what kind of wheels they have on their cars, but not all of them. Today there are a lot of wheel materials and finishes, which makes it harder to tell them apart – aluminum, alloy, painted, powder coated, chrome wheels etc.
If you don’t know what type of wheel your vehicle has, be sure to check first, be it online or by asking some car mechanic in your area. After you enriched yourself with that knowledge, buy a wheel cleaner that is specific for your wheels for the best possible treatment. If you are still not sure, buy a product that can work on any surface and not damage it. We are happy to report that most wheel and tire cleaners today are safe to use on most surfaces, but nevertheless, read the instructions on the bottle first.
Cleaners that change color are easier to use
Most of the wheel and tire cleaners today change color when they come into contact with dirt. This isn’t the manufacturer showing off – it can help you when cleaning. How? Well, you can easily double-check that your wheels and tires are clean by spraying the solution for the second time. If it changes color again, there is still dirt on your wheels. If it doesn’t change its color anymore, that means that your wheel is as clean as possible.
Always read the instructions first
You may feel that you know how to use a wheel and tire cleaner after reading this article, as it is very simple – just rinse the wheel and tire, apply the solution, use a brush for better cleaning and then rinse again. However, we cannot stress enough that you should always read the instructions first – this will not just help you to choose the right product for your type of wheel, but on how to use it. Most of the wheel and tire cleaners are concentrated and need to be diluted with water – all the more reason to read the instructions for the right water to cleaner ratio.
Have a water hose and soft brush ready
As with a regular car wash, you’ll need water and a brush to clean your wheels and tires, except for products that state it’s not necessary. For best results, use a water hose with a nozzle at the end, as it can help to remove the looser dirt and grime, and a soft brush, because a hard one can damage the surface of the wheels.
A microfiber cloth is the best solution for finishing, as it will not leave water spots and help your tires look as shiny as possible. You can use traditional towels for this, but they will not give you the best results.
Use smaller brushes for the lug nuts and between the spokes
If you want to be meticulous, you may want to dedicate extra care to the tighter spaces. For them, use smaller brushes, like those used for painting. For the lug nuts, just make a swirling motion with the brush to clean the dirt away or use the tip of the brush for tighter spaces, like between the spokes or the corners. This may take some time, but it will definitely make your wheel look much better. Needless to say, these brushes should also be very soft.
Wax your wheels to protect them in the long run
Cleaning your rims is not a long process but doing that every week may become tiring. That’s why we suggest waxing (or use a wheel glaze) after treating them with a wheel and tire cleaner. The wax will help to keep them in good condition for longer, as the contaminants such as brake dust will have a hard time to cling onto the wax. When the wheel is waxed, a simple car wash can restore the shine of the wheels.
Use wheel cleaners only for your wheels and tires
Even though some wheel and tire cleaners may be safe to use on the paint job, we suggest against doing that. Most of the cleaners are more aggressive than a car-wash shampoo and in some cases can discolor or stain the paint. If you want to remove tough contaminants from the paint job of your vehicle, like brake dust or tar, use a clay bar instead – it is much safer and very good at restoring the paint to its older glory.
A car-wash shampoo will not remove all of the dirt
There is a reason there are a lot of wheel and tire cleaners on the market – they are much better at cleaning your wheels than just a regular shampoo. The shampoo is good for cleaning your car frequently, but it will do nothing to remove persistent contaminants, like the brake dust for example. That’s why, even after cleaning with a car-wash shampoo, your wheels will not look shiny. A wheel and tire cleaner are much better at removing that type of dirt.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is the wheel and tire cleaner safe?
Almost all new wheel and tire cleaners are safe to use on most kinds on wheels and tires. However, some of them are acidic, which makes them more aggressive to surfaces. We recommend always buying pH neutral solutions, as they are a safe bet – you can never damage your rim or tire with one of them. If they are not stated to be pH neutral, at least try to find a product that states that it’s gentle to the surface you are using it on.
Apart from being safe to the surface, we recommend a product that is safe for you and the environment as well. The acidic solutions tend to make breathing harder – be sure that you use them in a well-ventilated area. They are also bad for the environment, so use them with a drainage nearby. On the other hand, some newer products state that they are non-toxic, which makes them very safe to use in any environment.
Can I use a wheel and tire cleaner on a plasti-dip?
As long as the manufacturer states that it’s safe to use on a plasti-dip, you can use it. Nevertheless, always a small amount of the product on an area that is not visible from the outside, to be sure that it will not damage it or leave any stains. We would advise against using the wheel and tire cleaners that don’t state they can be used for plasti-dip wheels, as they can make stains and even damage them.
Can I use a wheel cleaner on tires?
Almost all wheel and tire cleaners are safe to use on tires. As always, we recommend you to be cautious and read the instructions first to see if the product you are buying is safe for rubber materials, but chances are, it will be good for your tires.
Can I use a wheel cleaner on paint?
You should use a wheel and tire cleaner on painted wheels, only if the manufacturer states that the solution is safe for the kind of coating you have. Some of the wheel cleaners are safe to use on the vehicle’s body paint, but most of them aren’t. And really, these products are wheel cleaners and not body cleaners. For cleaning and detailing the body of your vehicle, we recommend using a clay bar or some detergents that are specially intended for that use. You should also be careful not to spray from the wheel cleaner on the body when using it, especially if it’s a more aggressive acidic solution, as it can damage the paint and leave stains.
Can I use a degreaser instead of wheel cleaner?
A degreaser can also be used on wheels for cleaning, but it will not yield the same results as a standard wheel cleaner. The degreaser is great at removing oils and grease from the wheel, or in situations when the axles on the car go bad and these substances start to leak to the wheels. For big amounts of oil and grease, using a degreaser is a must – you will use much more of the wheel cleaner to clean the same amount of grease.
On the other hand, the wheel and tire cleaners are much better at cleaning brake dust and other small metallic particles, so we recommend using them to finish the wheels after cleaning them with a degreaser, or for newer wheels that don’t have a lot of oil and grease of them. For regular cleaning, we recommend using only wheel cleaners – a degreaser is really not needed if your wheels are not in a very bad shape.
We are pretty sure that after reading this article you are convinced that a wheel and tire cleaner is a necessary part of the arsenal intended for cleaning your car. The wheels and even tires are an integral part of the design of a car, and shiny and clean ones can make your vehicle stand out from the crowd. In addition to that, wheel cleaners today are safe and very easy to use – you just need a little bit of water and some soft brush.
Use the list above for guidance when buying the best wheel and tire cleaner for your car, as we believe they are the best in their respective categories. In doing this, you’ll make the most out of the cleaning and be sure that it will fit the material and finish of your wheel. You can also try different cleaners if they fit your budget better or if you can find them in your area, but always be advised to ask the seller or read the instructions for your wheel type.
If you don’t have time at your disposal, a lot of professional car wash services provide cleaning and detailing for your wheels at an extra cost. Just be sure to do it at least once a month (not necessary for every car wash) to keep your wheels in great shape.
We think we covered everything there is to know about wheel and tire cleaners – now it’s time to purchase your wheel cleaner and get your hands dirty. Happy cleaning!