Like so may areas of detailing, choosing a car wheel cleaner will be a confusing task for most people.
It is yet another area of car care and auto detailing that is filled with much hype from not only the industry itself, but from many misinformed people marching around as experts.
In many ways the auto detailing industry is much like a visit to the "Wizard of Oz". Through the use of hyped-up marketing and advertising, the industry is forever trying to elevate itself to Hollywood celebrity status. And unfortunately, the allure and appeal of this hyped-up statuds is very seductive and appealing.
Like everywhere else in life, not all things are created equal and the world of wheel cleaners is no exception.
Car wheel cleaners have come along way due to chemical engineering; that is the good news.
The bad news is that the subject itself is filled with much hype and controversy regarding between the many types of auto wheel cleaners that exist in the market.
And like so many area of auto detailing, it is an area that doesn't have to be overly complicated if you ask the right questions and ask the right person.
"Darren, I am tired of all the hype! Many people talk of Ph balanced formulations or factory safe products, but I just want something that works without all the complication."
To begin with, I will show you what I use professionally every day to clean and detail virtually every kind of wheel from daily drivers, to wheels on $300K luxury and exotic automobiles.
Acid Based Wheel Cleaner
(Use the link below to get yours now through Amazon)
Non-Acid Based Wheel Cleaner
(Use the link below to get yours now through Amazon)
Darren's Professional Tips:
Before I move on to apply greater understanding to this area of car care and detailing, let me just add my professional tips for use with either of these car wheel cleaners from Meguiar's:
Darren's Professional Tips:
For most of you whether you are a driveway detailer or a beginning professional, I think the Nanoskin wheel cleaner pictured here will be the winning combination for you.
For most of you, the organic acid based wheel cleaner from Nanoskin is all that you will ever need in order to clean and maintain your car wheels (regardless of wheel type or finish). But due to all the misinformation and bad information regarding Ph balanced wheel cleaners and factory safe car wheel cleaners, I thought a comprehensive Q. and A. would be appropriate.
Q. Do I need a Ph balanced wheel cleaner?
A. Simply put, NO! Of course if it makes you feel "better" or "safer"...then go for it! This is mostly advertising hype. As emotional based creatures we humans are subject to advertising that exploits our psychological triggers. Virtually every industry uses advertising hype to sell us consumers more and more products.
Q. But Darren, doesn't it makes sense to use a Ph balanced car wheel cleaner?
A. Sure. If you like being jerked around my marketing and the so-called experts:
Q. But Darren, many of these wheel cleaners have an ingredient that is some form of acid?
A. So noted, and you are correct. But what does this mean in the context of car wheel cleaners? (Your stomach contains a form of acid also...should we have our stomach removed in the name of safety?)
Q. If the wheel cleaning product has some form of acid, then would not common sense tell you it must be damaging to your wheels.
A. No. Unfortunately many areas of auto detailing and car care are over-simplified and this is only one of many ways in which manufacturers can exploit your ignorance. The chemicals contained in this and other quality wheel cleaners react to brake dust, not the clear coating on your wheels. Note that the product itself comes in a plastic container and is completely safe.
Q. So Darren, what exactly is the take away from this learning curve regarding wheel cleaners and acid?
A. Let me clarify and help you apply a broader or deeper understanding.
Q. So if you are telling me that this acid based wheel cleaner is not only safe but effective, then why such the push from so-called experts to use only Ph balanced wheel cleaners?
A. It's called an agenda. Meaning, they have some self-serving agenda they likely are not informing you of, or are less than transparent about. They either want to sell you some of their "stuff", or they simply want to appear like an "expert".
Manufacturers and so-called experts love to take a product and make it "special". The more special they can make a product, the more you are going to want it and the more it is going to rise above the competition. So marketing/advertising use ambiguous, misleading terms and definitions that keep you chasing your tail. By creating an element of doubt or uniqueness, depending on their marketing strategy, their ultimate goal is to separate you from your money. This is done by getting you to buy more and more stuff by exploiting emotions.
"So Darren, with all that said, how do I decide on whether to use an acid based wheel cleaner or the non-acid based wheel cleaner?"
While it may seem like a contradiction, I am going to go even deeper to shine an even brighter light on this subject of detailing and car care that is notoriously full of misleading hype.
Much of advertising and marketing is like magic; the magician gets you to focus over "here", so you don't see what is going on over "there". So it is suggested by slippery marketing tactics that using a Ph balanced wheel cleaner is the logical and smart choice.
But this conclusion is mostly irrelevant.
Finding the "right" car wheel cleaner is only part of the equation when it comes to cleaning and detailing your wheels.
Effective wheel cleaning tools will take your wheel cleaning efforts to professional level status.
Use my list of professional tools listed below to take your efforts to the next level of professionalism.
Despite a wheel cleaner that is very effective chemically for cleaning and breaking down brake dust, some form of agitation will always be required based on how much water pressure you have access to when rinsing, and the amount of brake dust you are dealing with, along with the actual type of wheel you are trying to clean.
Ask any auto mechanic and they will tell you how the right tool can make or break their success. Auto detailing is no exception and I love when I find the perfect tool for the job.
Twenty-five years of experience has taught me that not all tools are created equal and finding "just the right fit" is a tough find. Often like the product choice itself, the right tool will be based on the obvious as well as the subtleties of any given tool...which is another way of labeling a tool as being both effective and having a great user experience.
When it comes to cleaning wheels, I have found professionally that more than one type of wheel brush will be necessary in order to fully clean and detail what I refer to as the (3) areas of a wheel:
Detailing/Cleaning Wheel Barrels
If I had to pick a single wheel brush to clean inside the wheel barrel's I would opt for this one from Speed Master and have been in love with it since I first discovered it years ago!
They are not cheap, but they last a very long time. As a professional, I can get anywhere from 9-12 months out of mine. As a driveway detailer, it could be years of use.
Detailing/Cleaning Wheel Face
You could spend more on endless choices in tire and wheel brushes, but the two brushes below are exactly what I use and know that work!
Detailing/Cleaning Wheel Lug Nuts
When it comes to cleaning car wheels, there is no limit to the many types of wheels you may come across. From basic in design, to highly complex. For this reason I also recommend this smaller detail brush that is ideal for use within the lug nut recesses of any wheel. You can use the brush from above to force the long bristles into the lug openings, but if time really is money, this separate lug brush is the ticket!
Over the course of my professional detailing career, I have tried endless sprayer heads and the one's below are my all-time favorite and I go to them time and time again.
Darren's Caution: When it comes to spray heads there is never any guarantee as to how many sprays you are going to get. I have tried endless heads and I like these the best. But no head is ever a sure thing as I might get 20 sprays out of them, or 2,000 sprays out of them.
When using them for these wheel cleaners, I have found that if you are willing to clean them after each use by spraying water through them, they will last almost indefinitely.
As you can see if you have made it this far down the page, car wheel cleaners and car wheels themselves is an area of car care that many would consider basic and fundamental, but just like so many other areas of the business, there is much ground to cover for full understanding.
So with that said, I am going to add this section to help you gain greater understanding and help you know all the proper techniques in using this wheel cleaner when it comes to the many wheels and the many ways in which wheels are constructed.
Darren's Professional Advice:
The (2) wheels below are the most common type of factory wheel you will find. The car wheel cleaner form Meguiar's is ideally suited for these type of wheels.
Mercedes CL63 AMG
Porsche Carrera S
Once again, the Meguiar's car wheel cleaner and tools mentioned above are ideally suited for these type of wheel finishes.
Custom Momo Wheel
Colored or blacked out wheels have become very popular in the past 5years or so. As a rule, the black surface will always be a non-issue and completely safe, the polished or chrome outer ring is a different story. This is where you will have to test. As a rule, 90% of the time this polished ring will be clear coated. If it is chrome, it obviously will not be an issue as this wheel cleaner is safe on chrome wheels.
If you are unsure, you need to test. Spray a quarter size amount of car wheel cleaner from Meguiar's on a section of the outer silver area and see if the area begins to foam to a whitish appearance. Wipe with a cloth and see if a dull, satin shadow has been created. If so, you now the out ring is bare aluminum and if you used this wheel cleaner, you would need to follow up with some form of mag wheel polish designed for use on aluminum wheels to restore original shine.
Mustang Cobra GT 500
Range Rover Super-charged
Meguiar's car wheel cleaner is once again perfectly safe for these blacked out type of wheels.
Completely safe! Regardless of color or finish, the Meguiar's car wheel cleaner is completely safe. Both wheels below have a slight polished, unpainted contrasting lip that is coated so no chemical reaction takes place.
Mercedes S63 AMG
Strut Custom-Bentley GTC
Just when you think you have covered all bases, the industry keeps coming up with variations to wheels. Despite (2) types of colors or finishes, these wheels are completely clear-coated and completely safe.
Mercedes E63 AMG
Range Rover Sport
Anodized wheels are rare and most often are mis-labeled as such. The anodizing processes is basically irrelevant as any modern day wheel is going to be coated with a factory clear-coat in virtually 99% of all wheel cases and therefore completely safe.
This wheel from a Cadillac is the closest I have come to as to what many people would call an anodized wheel due to its translucent appearance of the black/grey color.
There are not too many all white wheels on the road today. Just like every other area of life, trends come and go. All white wheels are a trend that had its time and now black seems to be he greater trend.
But despite the fact that it is all white, this car wheel cleaner is completely safe of ruse on these wheels that can actually be painted any color and don't have top be truly powder coated.
HRE Custom Wheel
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
Yes, for every rule there always exists the exceptions. And below I lay out the exception to the rule which is not so much an exception as it is simply a warning. And not so much a warning as it is the proper understanding of what we are dealing with when it comes to use of this Meguiar's car wheel cleaner that also has certain off-label uses. (uses that do not fall under traditional uses and therefore not listed on the label itself, or actually warned against using the product in such a manner)
Since we have learned that chemistry is relevant in any industry, understanding chemicals and chemical reactions is important when it comes to car wheel cleaners and cleaning wheels.
If you have stayed the course and read this entire page (you are a tenacious soul if you have), then I need to add a section dealing with mag wheels that are made using aluminum and can be either cast, forged, or billet. These types of bare aluminum wheels are very uncommon these days but still exist.
When I am paid to polish aluminum wheels, I will often pre-clean them by etching them with the acid based wheel brightener from Meguiar's to remove all forms of brake dust before I attempt to polish them.
This is a billet wheel from a truck I was hired to polish. I wanted to start with a clean slate so I used the Meguiar's Wheel Brightener wheel cleaner to completely clean and etch the wheel prior to polishing.
This is what the chemical reaction looks like as I have sprayed the Meguiar's Wheel Brightener. You can see the brake dust running down the face of the wheel and the wheel foaming up due to the chemical reaction. After I have sprayed the wheel with wheel acid, I give the wheel a thorough rinsing and either move onto polishing, or give it another acid bath if some brake dust is still remaining.
A few things to point regarding billet aluminum wheel polishing:
While you will be able to see a difference between the before and after, let me add that in real life, the difference is even more dramatic. And yes, I did this by hand. Professionally, I plan on about 20 minutes per wheel if I am going to undertake this process. And that 20 minutes does not include the cleaning/etching process.
Using Meguiar's Acid Based Wheel Cleaner
Using Meguiar's Non-Acid Wheel Cleaner
Auto Detailing Supplies
Car Wheel Cleaner