Best alloy wheel cleaners 2020 - how to clean and protect your car wheels

Nothing sets a car off as well as a set of spotless alloy wheels, but how do you get them clean and keep them that way?

Cleaning your car’s wheels can be a tricky and laborious task, so a good grime-busting formula is vital. Here we explore some of the key questions around wheel cleaning and choosing the best wheel cleaning and protection products. We’ve even tested some of the best alloy wheel cleaners on the market to give you a head start.

Dirt, grease and brake dust all make friends with the surface of your wheels the second you start moving, so cleaning them in the right way with the right products is crucial to maintaining the perfect finish on your car.

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Why do wheels get so filthy?

Because they pick up grime, tar and other contaminants from the road, plus tiny particulates of iron from the brake discs and shavings from the brake pads. The heat from the brakes then bakes all of this onto the surface of the wheel.

What sort of cleaner should I use?

There are several different types on the market – acid wheel cleaners, pH-balanced cleaners, iron contaminant removers – and each type can be effective if you follow the product instructions.

Are acid-based cleaners safe to use?

Yes, with some provisos. Acid wheel cleaners can be very effective but need to be used with caution. Some wheel finishes – particularly ones with anodised or chromed coatings or those that are diamond cut – should not be treated with acid cleaners. It’s also advisable to stick to the higher end of the market if using an acid cleaner and even then don’t leave it on the wheel for too long.

What are iron contaminant removers?

For extremely dirty wheels an iron contaminant remover is useful for cleaning away brake dust and iron filings (from the brake discs) that have become welded to the wheel. Unlike acid cleaners, contaminant removers are left on the wheel a little longer to work their magic, during which time they often change colour to show they’re working. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use, though.

What’s the best wheel cleaning process?

For the best results removing the wheels will pay dividends. It might seem like a lot of faff, but this will allow you to get into all the nooks and crannies and will also make cleaning the rear of the wheel much easier. Whether you remove the wheels or not, they must be cool before you work on them, otherwise the cleaning agents will evaporate, leaving deposits on the alloys.

Start by removing general muck and dirt with a hose or pressure washer and then apply your cleaning agent of choice. The type of cleaner will dictate how long you leave it in contact with the wheel, but some detailing brushes will help to agitate the cleaning solution. For really tough deposits, repeated applications may be necessary.

What’s next?

Rinse off with clean water, preferably from a pressure washer, and if there are any tar spots these can now be shifted with some tar remover.

Now they’re clean, how do I keep my wheels looking good?

Applying wheel protectant will help stop brake dust and dirt from clinging to them and should make the next clean a far less time-consuming process. Be sure to use a protectant designed for wheels, as a normal wax or polish isn’t suitable for the temperatures to which wheels are exposed from the car’s brakes.

The best wheel cleaning products on the market

Wheel cleaning products help to break down the baked-on grime, making endless scrubbing a thing of the past. A quick pass with a pressure washer and final detail with a cloth should have your wheels looking as good as new in minutes.

To help you choose the right product for your wheels, we tested a range of products to determine which is best. Each product was allowed to work as long as the instructions required on a long-neglected wheel trim before gentle rinsing. We then used a lightly weighted brush and assessed progress.

1. Bilt Hamber auto-wheel

Price: Around £17

Size: 1000ml

Rating: 5 stars

‘Bilt Hamber auto-wheel’ once again takes the top spot with a 5-star rating. The Essex-based company was at the forefront of the ‘red revolution’, being one of the first products to use a formula that changes colour as it reacts with grime on your wheels. Although rivals have developed their own versions of the same technology, it remains at the top with a refreshed formula and a free brush included in the package.

Buy now from Amazon

2. Simoniz Ultra Care Alloy Cleaner

Price: Around £6

Size: 500ml

Rating: 4.5 stars

Simoniz has produced great cleaning products for some time, with its Ultra Care wheel cleaner also coming in at a good price. Though it lacks the colour-changing properties of its rivals, the acid-free formula removes grime without the risk of corrosion, getting closest to matching the Bilt Hamber product in our tests. 

Buy now from Amazon

3. Kenotek Wheel Cleaner Ultra

Price: Around £15

Size: 1000ml

Rating: 4 stars

In third place is Kenotek with its own colour-changing wheel cleaner. Turning purple as it eats away at the grime, its formula is said to be pH-neutral to all but eliminate the risk of surface damage. The lack of instruction isn’t ideal, but its performance was just a touch behind the top contenders, its vice being the time it takes to work its magic. Price is a little high too, but a 1-litre pack helps to justify it.

Buy now from Amazon

4. Wynn’s Wheel Cleaner

Price: Around £8

Size: 500ml

Rating: 4 stars

Yet another red formula takes fourth place, with Wynn’s new wheel cleaner offering serious cleaning power for your alloy wheels. Said to be safe for all surfaces, the spray is much thicker than its rivals, making it easier to get a good coverage. At around £8 for half the volume of most of its rivals, it’s not cheap, but it does the job nonetheless.

Buy now from Amazon

5. The Treatment Wheel Cure

Price: Around £8

Size: 651ml

Rating: 4 stars

Wheel Cure isn’t a colour changing cleaner, but it can be used on almost all surfaces except for chrome, making it a very handy addition to any cleaning set. Its grime-busting ability is up there with the best, but it can’t quite match them for value.

Buy now from Amazon

6. Polished Pigs

Price: Around £11

Size: 550ml

Rating: 4 stars

A sticking point with some wheel cleaning products is unwanted dulling. Polished Pigs assures that its wheel cleaning product can be used on chrome, raw aluminium or anodised surfaces.

Buy now from Amazon

7. Alchemy Chemical X

Price: Around £12

Size: 500ml

Rating: 4 stars

Alchemy has developed its wheel cleaner over a vast period of time, confirming that its wheel cleaning is safe to use on all surfaces, glass and paintwork included – chrome and delicate untreated surfaces aren’t noted, however. Its adjustable fine spray delivers a thick gel and removes grime without agitation, but isn’t as effective as the best in this list. 

Buy now from Amazon

8. McLaren Red Wheel Cleaner

Price: Around £11

Size: 500ml

Rating: 4 stars

McLaren’s wheel cleaning product is another colour-changing formula, and is the best of the bunch when it comes to heavily-soiled areas. When agitated with a brush it has a clear advantage over its rivals, but the same can’t be said for its performance on lighter grime, where it came third. There’s no mention of the surfaces on which it’s safe to be used, and given its 500ml size, value for money is poor.

Buy now from Halfords

9. Wonder Wheels Super Wheel Cleaner

Price: Around £11

Size: 1000ml

Rating: 4 stars

Previous versions of this product could only be used on certain surfaces, but the introduction of this Colour Active version allows it to work on all wheel types. It changes colour as it works, has to be left a few minutes, working best when it’s brushed. At just over £10 for a litre, it also offers excellent value for money. 

Buy now from Amazon

10. Turtle Wax Redline Wheel Cleaner

Price: Around £15

Size: 2 x 750ml

Rating: 4

Turtle Wax’s Redline Wheel Cleaner is a pH-neutral offering good for all surfaces. Now with an updated spray nozzle, it goes on in a thick gel that clings well to the wheel surface. It might not come with a complimentary brush, but with 1.5-litres of product now priced at around £15, it offers great value for money. 

Buy now from Amazon

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