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Best wheel cleaners

Do any of these spray-on products make it easy to keep your rims looking their best?

Consumer Reports magazine: November 2012

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Eagle One A2Z All Wheel & Tire Cleaner was among the most effective tested products.

Alloy wheels have become a chic and elegant fashion statement on today’s cars. They’re light, strong, and stylish. But their open-spoke design, which exposes the brakes behind them, can allow brake dust and road grime to accumulate quickly. That’s more than ugly, particularly if you drive in wintry conditions; road salt can cause corrosion, pitting, and permanent damage to those expensive wheels.

A number of spray-on, hose-off wheel cleaners are sold with claims that they make it easy to maintain your rims. Some claims even say that no scrubbing is required, so you won’t have to get your hands dirty. But our tests of five such cleaners found that none was very effective without applying some elbow grease and that all required the use of a soft brush to get the best results.

The products usually come in a pump bottle or aerosol can, but they don’t come cheap. We paid $4 to $7 for 23- or 24-ounce bottles of Armor All Extreme Wheel & Tire Cleaner, Eagle One A2Z All Wheel & Tire Cleaner, Meguiars Hot Rims All Wheel & Tire Cleaner, and Mothers Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner and $7 for a 16-ounce can of Black Magic Foaming All Wheel Cleaner. These wheel cleaners will typically provide three to four washings for all four wheels.

We also found that when we used a brush, none of the tested wheel cleaners did a better job than a less-expensive all-purpose cleaner. The one we tried, Zep Industrial Purple Cleaner & Degreaser Concentrate, is available at home centers for about $10 a gallon. (Dilute this cleaner before use.)

Putting them to the test

Meguiars Hot Rims All Wheel & Tire Clean

We used a number of employee vehicles with dirty wheels to assess the effectiveness of the cleaners. We first applied each one according to directions but without brushing to see which worked well when simply sprayed on and hosed off. Before and after each cleaning we collected dirt samples on clean cloths and measured the soil level using a colorimeter. Next, we tried each cleaner with a brush.

When used without brushing, none resulted in clean wheels, but we found the Eagle One, Meguiars, and Mothers cleaners to be the most effective. (Performance from these three products was similar.) The Armor All product was less effective, and the Black Magic was the least effective.

Keep in mind that some labels recommend eye and hand protection when using the product and advise against breathing its fumes. Since you need to scrub and come in close contact with the cleaners, you really should heed the warnings.

All of the products are labeled as all-purpose wheel cleaners, which are safe for use on any type of rim. That’s important, since some cleaners are formulated for a specific type of wheel and can damage the finish on others. Consult your car’s owner’s manual for specifics.

Mothers Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner

What we tested (in performance order)

Product

Size

Price

Eagle One A2Z All Wheel & Tire Cleaner

23 oz.

$6.99

Meguiars Hot Rims All Wheel & Tire Cleaner

24 oz.

5.00

Mothers Foaming Wheel & Tire Cleaner

24 oz.

6.97

Armor All Extreme Wheel & Tire Cleaner

24 oz.

4.33

Black Magic Foaming All Wheel Cleaner

16 oz.

6.99

   

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