Best car wheel cleaner 2019

Colour-changing car wheel cleaner sprays are hard-working grime busters

Wheels are one area where a soapy wash mitt is unlikely to be enough after a winter of driving on soaking, gritty roads that cause dirt to build up quickly.

So a good cleaner is essential to lift away the grime without the need for lengthy scrubbing with a brush. And we certainly have a good choice of effective solutions with the arrival of the latest red cleaners.

This new generation attacks the metals in the grime, turning them a deep purple or red as they loosen the dirt. Many clean simply by you spraying the product on, waiting for a few minutes for it to work, then blasting with a pressure washer.

Those using more conventional formulas have also raised their game, and it has been interesting to see how they have matched the new generation in recent tests after a period of red domination.

For some valeters the only way to clean wheels is to remove them from the car. If you don’t have the time or inclination, use a long brush to clean the inner rim.

To find the best cleaner, we tackled a pile of filthy wheel trims. To focus on the cleaner rather than other mitigating factors, such as a pressure washer or stiff brush, we let each work before gently rinsing. The result was taken from multiple tests and factored in prices, any extras and whether the cleaners could be used on all types of wheel.

Verdict

Bilt-Hamber takes the crown, although it was pushed hard by more than one of its competition. 

  1. Bilt-Hamber auto-wheel
  2. Simoniz Ultra Care Alloy Cleaner
  3. Kenotek Wheel Cleaner Ultra

Reviews

Bilt-Hamber auto-wheel

  • Price: Around £13  
  • Size: 1,000ml
  • Rating: 5 stars

Two newcomers made it into our top four, but there’s a familiar name at number one. Essex producer Bilt-Hamber has dominated this test since its debut back in 2012, which also heralded the arrival of the red revolution. Since then there have been changes, including making it work more quickly and improving its smell, but The opposition is closer, but none has topped this package, which also includes a brush.

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Simoniz Ultra Care Alloy Cleaner

  • Price: Around £5
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4.5 stars

A Keen price helps this alloy cleaner, which has been at the upper end of our wheel cleaner tests for some years in its various incarnations. This old-school but acid-free version promises not to corrode alloys while removing the grime. It works well, and got the closest to matching our champion across our series of tests. Add in that cracking price, and it’s easy to recommend.

Kenotek Wheel Cleaner Ultra

  • Price: Around £15
  • Size: 1,000ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

Kenotek makes its test debut here and, like our winner, it turns purple as it works. Its pH-neutral formula is said to be good for ‘most wheels’, not that you’d know from a pack that has no instructions. Despite this, and having to wait a while for it to work, it was effective, if a touch behind our top two. A big pack size helps overcome its relatively high price.

Wynn’s Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £8
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

Another red cleaner completes our top four in its test debut. It’s part of a refresh of the Wynn’s range, which has been around for a few years now. If the rest of Wynn’s newcomers are like this then it bodes well for the US brand. It’s safe for all surfaces, which it usefully lists on the pack. It clings well, too, because it’s much thicker than rivals, which helped it in our test. A good if not particularly cheap option.

The Treatment Wheel Cure

  • Price: Around £8
  • Size: 651ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

This is part of the latest US car-care import from car, boat and caravan specialist Shipshape Norfolk. Wheel Cure isn’t a ‘red’ cleaner, yet it can be used on all sealed surfaces except for chrome. It topped the cleaning tests, but not by a big enough margin to overcome the more cost-effective Bilt-Hamber.

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Polished Pigs

  • Price: Around £11
  • Size: 550ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

One of the key criteria for our wheel-cleaner tests is what surfaces they can tackle without leaving tell-tale dulling. So it’s not ideal to have to go to Polished Pigs’ website to find out that great care must be taken when you’re working with chrome, aluminium or anodised surfaces. For conventional-coated wheels it works a treat, and was topped only by Wheel Cure.

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Alchemy Chemical X

  • Price: Around £12
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

Alchemy’s range has been in development for years because its creators didn’t want something that just worked, but a product that worked the way they wanted it to. They used their “guinea pigs” to refine the range.

Chemical X is designed to work on all surfaces, including glass and paintwork, to remove iron particles. But it doesn’t state whether it can be used with chrome, untreated or other delicate surfaces.

A fine spray is possible using the adjustable trigger. It delivered a thickish gel that worked well using just a gentle rinse with no brushing, and was close to matching our champ on light grime. 

Buy now from Alchemy Car Care

McLaren Red Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £11
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

This was the star on the heavily soiled areas, particularly when agitated with a weighted brush. It had a clear advantage over its rivals here, but oddly it did not carry that edge over to the lighter grime tests, where it was a close third.

There’s no mention of the surfaces on which it is safe to be used. And, just like Alchemy, its price is close to double that of Bilt-Hamber’s, despite the current 20 per cent discount.

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Wonder Wheels Super Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £5
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

Want to be absolutely sure about not damaging your wheels when cleaning? This is the one to go. Even better, you don’t have to go to a website to find out, because the label clearly states that the formula is good for unlacquered, anodised and chrome finishes. It also splits the honours between colour and conventional cleaners, because it turns purple as it works. The others have the edge on cleaning power but this works well – and it’s easy on the pocket.

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Turtle Wax Redline Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £7
  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Size: 500ml

Turtle Wax’s All Wheel Cleaner has previously made our top four; this time it’s the brand’s Redline. But as far as our test is concerned, the formula isn’t much different. It’s still a pH-neutral cleaner good for all surfaces, and it goes on in a thick gel that clings well. The spray is a bit narrow for optimum coverage, but Redline had the edge over our winner. Higher price and lack of a brush knocks it down a star, though. 

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Auto Curators Flawless Cleanser

  • Price: Around £26  
  • Size: 1,000ml  
  • Rating: 4 stars

Flawless Cleaner needs to be just sprayed on and left for only one or two minutes before being rinsed away, or agitated if there’s heavy soiling. It works well, too; it had the edge over the all-conquering Bilt-Hamber across our tests. So why only four stars? You might get a big litre bottle, but this isn’t enough to overcome that hefty £26 price tag. As Auto Curators says, it is “the finest indulgence in car care”.

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E-TECH Pro Class Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £11  
  • Size: 500ml  
  • Rating: 4 stars

Wheel Cleaner is part of the Pro Class launch line-up covering most tasks, from polishing and protecting to cleaning. E-TECH says it uses the “very latest techniques”, so it’s a bit odd that this is an acid-based cleaner when most products in this sector are ‘red’ formulas that react with iron particles to loosen grime.

The acid formula means it’s no good for anodised surfaces or rims with no or damaged lacquer. Wire wheels, chrome finishes and stainless steel are out, too. Still, it’s effective, and matched our winner across the tests. You also only have to leave it to work for around three minutes before rinsing off. However, poor value next to the Bilt-Hamber and those restrictions lose it a star.

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Turtle Wax All Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £8 
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

This new cleaner from Turtle Wax is another of the pH-neutral products that turns red as it works. Like the others here it needs to be left for five minutes to work, but the instructions say it should also be agitated before rinsing with a pressure washer. The spray is on the narrow side but the cleaner relatively thick, and clings well. It was a top performer with both rinsing and the weighted brush, but a higher price counts against it.       

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Black Diamond Iron Out

  • Price: Around £7 
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 4 stars

Black Diamond is one of the latest to produce a pH-neutral cleaner. One of the few drawbacks to this new generation of cleaners is the bad egg smell, but Black Diamond has successfully added a minty edge to make it less offensive on the nose when you’re using it. The Iron Out cleaner works quicker than rivals, too, requiring just two minutes to shift the worst of the grime. It was a step ahead of the rest of the samples.

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Armor All Wheels

  • Price: Around £13
  • Rating: 4 stars

When we last tested these, they faced serial test winner Bilt-Hamber’s auto-wheel and struggled to match its speed – particularly when boosted by a pressure washer. As a waterless solution, this is much more effective so it earns an extra star. The wipes also work well if you are cleaning wheels off the car in a workshop or garage where you don’t want water all over the place. 

Using the wipes couldn’t be easier – just run them over the grime and they lift it off. But they need turning and you need to buff with a microfibre cloth, particularly when it’s new and leaves a thin film of moisture. This gave the edge on the new rim because the towels needed a second wipe to get a gloss finish. On the old rim it had a clear edge; the wipes had more bite when it came to shifting tough grime.

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Autoglym Wheel Cleaning Mousse

  • Price: Around £13
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 3.5 stars

Those familiar with Autoglym will know it sells a ‘red’ cleaner, Magma. This mousse has its Colour Transform Technology, but Autoglym says it’s more than just a foam version and will shift other contaminants.

The mousse works well, expanding rapidly and clinging better than its rival. Trouble is, it’s a step behind in cleaning power. With a rinse it made progress on the grime, but plenty was left and brushing left a clean finish.

This is the price you pay for a cleaner that will work on all wheel types and finishes. And talking of price, this is not a cheap option; you get half the amount you do with the auto-wheel for much the same cost.

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Meguiar’s Waterless Wheel & Tyre

  • Price: Around £17
  • Size: 709ml
  • Rating: 3.5 stars

Meguiar's produces the multiple test-winning Wash & Wax Anywhere, but this is a quite different solvent-based formula. It works in the same way, though; Wheel & Tyre is sprayed on and then wiped off with a microfibre cloth. On our nearly new wheel it had the edge, easily wiping the grime and quite quick to leave a good finish.

However, it struggled more with the rougher laquer and it left a thin sheen of grime on heavily soiled areas. No claims are made for a durable finish but we liked the look. It lifted the sidewall’s appearance and left a clean matt finish. This is not the cheapest solution but we did see it being sold online for around £12.

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Xpert-60 Wheel Cleaner

  • Price: Around £7 
  • Size: 500ml
  • Rating: 3 stars

This wheel cleaner doesn’t follow the current trend for formulas that turn red as they work on metal particles bonded to wheels. It is an orange formula that goes on in a foamy spray and lives up to its claims for good cling properties. Oddly, it needs agitating before being left to work and rinsing. Our test did not suit it but it made progress and was a close match for Iron Remover. 

Buy now from Dr. Colour Chip

Poorboy’s World Iron Remover

  • Price: Around £13 
  • Size: 473ml
  • Rating: 3 stars

It might be unfair putting Iron Remover up against specialist wheel cleaners, because it is designed for pretty much any surface. It made progress in the test, but not as well as the test winner auto-wheel. It needs to be left for 5-10 mins to work. If you want to decontaminate bodywork this is the one to go for but it needs more work as a wheel cleaner. It’s also not the cheapest option. 

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