The best wheel cleaners get rid of that stubborn brake dust

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When it comes to factory wheels, most automakers have pretty boring designs, which is why the aftermarket wheel industry does so well. But that isn’t the case with Porsche, as the German automaker is one of the few in my opinion that has some stellar OE wheel designs. Sure, they aren’t as attractive as a nice set of three-piece wheels, but many Porsche owners are content with their factory rollers. In order to make those wheels attractive however, some of Porsche’s wheel designs are pretty intricate, which means they can be a real pain to clean. Combined with the fact that Porsches are notorious for excessive brake dust and you’re going to want a proper wheel cleaner.

Even if you’re running ceramic brake pads on your car to reduce the amount of brake dust, cleaning your wheels can take a lot of elbow grease. If you’re one of those car owners who dread having to go through your wheels inch by inch to get them looking like new, you’ve come to the right place. And really, even if you’re one of those people who love cleaning their wheels by hand, a wheel cleaner ensures every last bit is taken care of without having to use a toothbrush. There was a time when wheel cleaners were scary to use, because they could potentially damage the finish on your wheels. Nowadays, most reputable manufacturers have solutions that are safe to use on the majority of wheel finishes and you shouldn’t have to worry about them getting tarnished unless you have custom wheels. As always, we recommend testing the wheel cleaner on a very small area of your wheel before spraying it all over.

Below, you’ll find our top picks for the best wheel cleaners, four of which we’ve tested ourselves. Our final recommendation is based on user reviews and its popularity among the automotive community. We ranked them according to a mix of price and performance, because some wheel cleaners required more than one application for good results. Your results will vary depending on dirty your wheels are, but any of these recommendations will do a solid job at making your wheels clean again.

1. Top pick: Adam’s Wheel Cleaner

adam's wheel cleaner

I’d say it’s in the last 10 years or so that I started using wheel cleaners on a regular basis. Maybe I’m feeling too old to sit there and clean my wheels by hand or I’m just lazy now, but wheel cleaners have proven to be effective and a real timesaver, and I’ve been most happy with this wheel cleaner from Adam’s Polishes. It almost always gets the job done with a single application and its acid-free and pH neutral formula gives me the peace of mind that it won’t ruin my wheels. Most of the time, I spray it on my wheels, let it sit for about a couple minutes and rinse it off with a pressure washer. If the wheels are especially dirty, then I’ll use a wheel brush to get into some areas.

It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t use this wheel cleaner if you have anodized raw aluminum, polished aluminum, or aftermarket bare metallic wheels as it could damage the finish. If you’re unsure, contact Adam’s Polishes before using it, or you can check out the company’s milder Eco Wheel Cleaner. Adam’s does say that it’s safe to use on factory clear coated, factory powdercoated, factory painted wheels, and high performance brakes.

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2. Runner-up: Griot’s Garage Heavy Duty Wheel Cleaner

griot's garage heavy duty wheel cleaner

For decades, Griot’s Garage has been the go-to brand for many professional car detailers. In fact, it was in 2011 that we put Griot’s Garage Heavy Duty Wheel Cleaner to a hands-on test and review. Even back then we came away impressed with the results and it was easily recommended, and not much has changed since. I would have no gripes having to use this wheel cleaner myself.

As expected, it’s pH balanced, non-acidic, and non-caustic, making it safe to use on nearly all wheel finishes. I personally say nearly, despite the manufacturer’s claim that it’s safe for all wheel finishes, because there’s always the chance that a chemical reaction can cause something to tarnish. If you read our review of the product, you’ll know this wheel cleaner will change color as it cleans, so you know when it’s working.

If you want something milder and don’t need a heavy duty cleaner, Griot’s Garage also has a standard wheel cleaner you can buy that has actually been approved by BBS, Dayton Wire Wheels, and The Tire Rack.

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3. For experienced detailers: Chemical Guys Signature Series Wheel Cleaner

chemical guys signature series wheel cleaner

This concentrated formula from Chemical Guys can work really well, but I only would recommend it if you have some experience with concentrated solutions and know what you need to clean your wheels. Straight from the bottle, I found it to be pretty potent and have had mixed results without diluting it. In other words, I wouldn’t consider this a product you can use straight out of the box if you want the best results. I’d also add that if you don’t have a pressure washer, don’t be surprised if some residue is left behind depending on how diluted the wheel cleaner is.

Nonetheless this citrus-based wheel cleaner will do a great job at getting rid of that brake dust and dirt on your wheels. It’s safe to use on chrome, painted, polished, and powercoated wheels. I just have to reiterate that you’ll likely want to dilute the solution prior to using it, and it’s recommended to use a pressure washer to get it all off.

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4. Also consider: Meguiar’s Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner

meguiar's ultimate all wheel cleaner

If there was ever a car detailing brand that you could trust to do the job well at an affordable price, it’s Meguiar’s. While it’s not always my top recommended product in certain categories, I almost always do keep a bottle of Meguiar’s version of a product lying around because it’s just that dependable. The same goes for its Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner, which like Griot’s Garage’s wheel cleaner, will turn colors as it works. It’s an acid free and pH balanced solution and should be safe on nearly all wheel finishes and brake components. Again, I say nearly despite the manufacturer’s claim that it’s safe for all wheel finishes, because you just never know.

If you’ve used Meguiar’s products in the past and have been happy with the results, I have no reason to recommend anything else to you. You’ll get the same dependable and reliable performance you’ve come to expect from Meguiar’s with this wheel cleaner.

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5. Honorable mention: CAR GUYS Wheel Cleaner

car guys wheel cleaner

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I haven’t personally tested this wheel cleaner but it’s on my schedule, so I will eventually update this article with some feedback after trying it out. But based on my research scouring user reviews and forum discussions, I’m confident that it’s a solid recommendation if for some reason you aren’t comfortable purchasing any of our other picks. According to CAR GUYS, it’s a pH neutral formula that’s safe on all rims and tires, but again, I always recommend testing it on a small area before spraying your entire wheel with it. It’s a highly concentrated cleaning gel that can be diluted, similar to Chemical Guys’ wheel cleaner.

One of the biggest complaints I found from users is that the spray bottle isn’t great quality. Like other concentrated formulas, some users complain about leftover residue when they didn’t dilute the solution. I’ll be sure to update this post as soon as I get a chance to test the CAR GUYS wheel cleaner myself.

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the best wheel cleaners

Testing out Adam’s wheel and tire cleaner. Photo credit: Jason Siu / FlatSixes

Why do I need wheel cleaner?

You don’t necessarily need wheel cleaner, but you probably want it. For starters, cleaning your wheels can be a dirty job and it’s generally not fun. The finished result is always pleasing to our eyes as car enthusiasts, but anything that makes it easier is always welcomed. Wheel cleaners are specially designed formulas to wash away all that dirt, grime, and brake dust off your wheels, so you’re left with some light scrubbing to get the rest of it off. If you wash your car weekly, you might be able to get away with just spraying wheel cleaner on and rinsing it off, especially if you have a pressure washer.

Can I use wax on my wheels?

You can! Some car owners do use wax or a type of sealant or coating to protect their wheels. More importantly, doing so will make cleaning your wheels a lot easier since the brake dust and dirt will have a harder time sticking to the wheel with that thin layer of protection applied.

Do I really have to clean my wheels?

You don’t really have to clean your car if you don’t want to, but we imagine if you own a Porsche, you’re going to want to. Neglecting your wheels can cause permanent damage to the finish, ruining the clear coat if your wheels have one. The longer you go without cleaning your wheels, the more difficult it will be to get all that dirt and brake dust off. Do yourself a favor and use a wheel cleaner every wash.

Can I reduce brake dust?

Swapping out your brake pads for ceramic pads can help reduce the amount of brake dust. Typically, ceramic brake pads are high performance units offered by the aftermarket that will improve braking performance. But since ceramic is a harder material (hence, less dust) it could cause your brake rotors to wear down quicker. Typically it’s recommended to get high performance rotors to go with the ceramic brake pads.

What can make cleaning my wheels easier?

We always recommend getting a wheel brush to help clean your wheels. They’re one of the dirtiest parts of your car and while you could just use your wash mitt, you don’t want to get it full of dirt and grime. After all, that wash mitt is being used to clean the exterior of your car. Wheel brushes are affordable and are designed to make it easier to scrub all that nasty brake dust off your wheels.

Tips for cleaning your wheels

Along with getting yourself a quality wheel brush, here are some general tips for cleaning your wheels:

  • If you can, clean your wheels in the shade after the surface has cooled down
  • When using wheel cleaner, spray it from the bottom of the wheel and work your way upwards so concentrated solution isn’t running down the face of the wheel
  • Make sure you scrub and spray off the wheels in a timely fashion, you do not want the wheel cleaner to dry — do one wheel at a time!

Recent updates:

Updated (12:08 p.m. EST, 1/20/2023): Added original photography from testing Adam’s wheel & tire cleaner. Added a couple more FAQs and shopping options for our recommendations.

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