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Published Sep. 22, 2021

Your car’s wheels are usually one of the dirtiest parts on your ride. Tires and rims are magnets for mud, slush, road salt, dirt, debris, brake dust, tar, and so much more. To get them really clean takes effort, and some specialized cleaning products, to remove the tough, stuck-on grime off your wheels without damaging them in the process. If you’re in the market for a great wheel cleaner, we’ve got what you’re looking for as our list of the best wheel cleaners, and our thorough buying guide, will have you hooked up in no time with the shiniest wheels around.

Best Wheel Cleaners For Cars Reviews & Recommendations

The TriNova Wheel Cleaner/Rim Cleaner Spray deserves high praise for being a tough, effective, and efficient wheel cleaner that removes built-up debris and grime quickly and relatively easily. Its formula works to dissolve stubborn gunk, like brake dust, oil residue, tar, and more, and has been specially designed to penetrate deep into stains so that you can wash them away, revealing clean and pristine rims. This formula is also suitable for all wheel and tire types.

The acid-free formula won’t lead to any long-term damage either, making it a safe and effective cleaner for your after-market wheels, antique rims, or even factory wheels on your high-end sports car. This wheel cleaner also helps to create a protective barrier that works to prevent further buildup of brake dust. Because this formula is strong, be sure to keep it out of the reach of children as it can definitely cause skin and eye irritation.

Specs
  • Brand Trinova
  • Model 6255396
  • Weight 1.15 pounds
PROS

Formulated to restore shine to older wheels

Works on snow and salt stains

Acid-free formula

CONS

May still require scrubbing on tough stains

Kind of pricey

Spray bottle tends to leak and waste some of the product

Turtle Wax is a trusted manufacturer of automotive detailing products and the Turtle Wax 50814 Wheel and Tire Cleaner is a great example of why. You get an acid-free formula suitable for use on all types of wheels and tires and the powerful foam formula penetrates and removes even the most demanding and most stubborn dirt and brake dust.

This formula is also safe for factory-painted calipers and powder coating, thanks to its synthetic active grease-cutting ingredients. It’s also phosphate-free and fully biodegradable, making it a more environmentally friendly choice than some other options. Be advised, though, that it’s not recommended to let this clinging cleaner stick to your wheels longer than 30 seconds. It also requires brushing, which could leave swirls behind on your rims.

Specs
  • Brand Turtle Wax
  • Model 50814
  • Weight 1.8 pounds
PROS

Acid-free formula for use on multiple surfaces

Removes tire browning and brake dust

Power foam clings tightly to wheels until washed away

CONS

Not suitable for all rims and tires

If left on too long, it can lead to damage to your rims

Requires a lot of product to work effectively

The Car Guys Premium Series Wheel Cleaner is a top choice of professional car detailers for a reason. It’s a versatile wheel cleaner that’s safe for use on all wheel finishes and tires, including chrome, aluminum, anodized, and alloy wheels. This pH-neutral formula is also backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, so feel free to try it risk-free. This tough cleaner will also work to clean up your brake calipers, old tire dressings, exhaust tips, and more.

This is a highly concentrated gel formula that you can use straight out of the bottle for really stubborn grime. You can also water it down for less aggressive jobs if you want to extend the life of the product. We also like that all of the Car Guys products are mixed and bottled in the USA. That said, this product is occasionally known to leave behind a hazy residue, so it may take some elbow grease to fully remove it from your rims. It’s also one of the priciest products on our list.

Specs
  • Brand Car Guys
  • Model WCG-18OZ
  • Weight 1.13 pounds
PROS

A highly effective, clingy foam that dissolves stubborn debris

pH neutral formula won’t damage anodized wheels

Safe for use on all types of wheels and tires

CONS

Pricey

Requires a lot of product if stains are stubborn or old

May leave behind a hazy film that needs to be washed off separately

The Mothers 05924 Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner creates a lasting, non-acidic foam that works quickly to dissolve all kinds of dirt, debris, and stains on your car’s wheels and tires. And given we all don’t have pinpoint aim, this product is specially formulated to be safe to use on a range of surfaces, including clear-coating, painted, color-coated, chrome, steel, and more. It’s also offered at a very affordable price point, making it an even more attractive buy.

This formula works so that you don’t have to scrub and risk leaving behind unsightly swirls on your precious rims, but if there are any really stubborn spots, you may need to invest in a little elbow grease. It should be noted that this formula is really only suitable for factory or OEM coated wheels and rims, so we don’t recommend you using it on your polished or roughcast aluminum, anodized, or billet wheels. It’s also not meant for motorcycle wheels or components.

Specs
  • Brand Mother’s
  • Model 05924
  • Weight 1.8 pounds
PROS

Powerful no-scrub foaming formula

Affordable price point

Non-acidic

CONS

Not suitable for motorcycle wheels or components

Only meant for use on factory/OEM wheels and rims

May not remove very stubborn debris without scrubbing

If you’re looking for a truly top-quality shine that’s gentle on your car’s painted calipers and components, check out Meguiar’s G180132 Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner. This active gel formula clings tightly to wheels and rims to dissolve and break up any tough brake dust, tar, grime, and dirt. It stays wetter for longer than traditional foaming wheel cleaners thanks to its advanced gel chemistry. Not only is it acid-free, but this formula is also pH balanced, so while it’s super tough, it’s also very gentle on more delicate parts.

Use this cleaner confidently on painted, anodized, polished, powder-coated, and chromed rims. The drawback to this clingy gel formula, however, is that it can be very difficult to wash off. You might expend more elbow grease trying to remove the cleaner than any brake dust or debris. Another thing we aren’t big fans of is the price point. It’s the most expensive option on our list, so if you’re looking for a budget-friendly choice, keep searching.

Specs
  • Brand Meguiar’s
  • Model G180132SP
  • Weight 2.46 pounds
PROS

Super clinging gel formula makes short work of tough grime

Safe for painted and more delicate components

Acid-free, pH-balanced

CONS

Expensive

Can be difficult to rinse off

May not remove some very stubborn dirt or grime without scrubbing

How We Selected The Products 

When it comes to wheel cleaners that promise to deliver the most pristine and easy clean, the choices are virtually endless. We selected only those products that were manufactured by top-notch, well-known companies with a solid track record of delivering on its promises. We also wanted to stick with one-step products, versus kits that require two or more products. Lastly, we researched products that were under $25. Who wants to spend more than that on wheel cleaner?

Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.

Buying Guide/What to Look For 

There are several factors to consider when buying the right wheel cleaner for your car. Not all cleaners do the same thing. Some are specialized to be used only on certain types of wheels, while others are more universal. There are also different types to choose from, and some require more physical labor to be effective than others. The following buying guide will walk you through all the ins and outs of selecting the perfect wheel cleaner. 

What to Consider When Buying Wheel Cleaners for Cars

Types of Cleaners

Color Change 

A couple of the products on this list are formulated to change color as they react with dirt and metal containment. This can help provide helpful visual clues that the product is both working and also when your wheels are completely clean.

PH Neutral

All of the products on this list are either PH neutral or otherwise stated to be safe to use on a variety of surfaces such as paint and alloys. Naturally, make sure that you double-check the labeling before you start spraying it everywhere, but generally speaking, PH Neutral products are not going to cause any damage. 

Rinse Action

Some cleaners, including a couple on this list, claim to work with water rinsing — you just spray on and wipe away. That is, of course, going to help to make this task faster and easier to complete however that may not be the case with very dirty wheels or ones that need a little extra care and attention.

Top Brands

Meguiar’s

Founded way back in 1901 by Frank Meguiar, Jr., the company has a long track record of producing reliable, top-quality products. A far cry from the first bottle of furniture polish, the company now offers a full line of automotive cleaning and detailing products. 

TriNova

TriNova is a subsidiary of Gold Eagle, which was founded in Chicago in 1932 by Armin Hirsch. The company offers a wide variety of cleaning and preservation products for automotive, marine, household, and recreation equipment. 

CarGuys

CarGuys is a relatively new player in the automotive detailing products arena. The company was founded by professional detailers who were fed up with substandard products that didn’t perform as well as promised. 

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and wheel cleaners for cars. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Never apply wheel cleaner to warm or hot rims and tires. This can damage more delicate components. Wash your wheels when they’ve cooled down.
  • Pre-rinse your rims with a power washer prior to applying wheel cleaner in order to remove surface debris and less stubborn dirt and grime.
  • Read the directions on the bottle thoroughly prior to applying any wheel cleaner. Different types of cleaners require different steps in order to be the most effective.
  • Make sure your chosen wheel cleaner is actually safe for your type of wheel prior to applying. Some wheels, like anodized, painted, powder-coated, and others can only be cleaned with certain cleaners that are specifically formulated not to damage delicate finishes.

FAQs

Q: How often should I clean my car’s wheels?

Wash your wheels with basic soap and water and a dedicated wash mitt every single time you wash your car, so every one to two weeks. This will greatly cut down on how often you have to use a stronger wheel cleaner.

Q: Can wheel cleaner damage brakes?

Leaving harsh wheel cleaners on your wheels too long can definitely lead to damage to paint and brake calipers. Stick to the manufacturer’s directions regarding how long to leave your wheel cleaner on so that you avoid this.

Q: Can I use Dawn dish soap to clean my rims?

While you can use Dawn to wash your rims, it’s not a great idea to use it regularly. Dish soap will strip your car of its protective wax coating, leaving it unprotected. If you do use dish soap to clean parts of your car, make sure it’s free of any abrasive particles, like scrubbing agents, that might damage your paint

Final Thoughts

When it comes to our favorite overall wheel cleaner for cars, it’s hard to beat TriNova Wheel Cleaner/Rim Cleaner Spray. It’s a tough, effective, and efficient premium spray that removes built-up debris and grime quickly and relatively easily by working to dissolve stubborn gunk, like brake dust, oil residue, tar, and more.

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