THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WHEEL CLEANERS
There’s actually a number of different products you can use to clean your wheels. Some handle brake dust well, while others are cheaper and good for maintenance cleaning. I’m going to explain some of the key differences in wheel cleaners so you know which one to use when it’s time to clean off the road grime.
Handling Brake Dust
Brake dust is a killer on wheels. If left untouched, it can start eating away at the wheel and cause permanent damage like pitting and clear coat failing. Once that happens, the wheels can start to rust and start looking like an old crusty cooking pan. Yuk! Brake dust is extremely common on German cars. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, ect. You don’t want your Porsche looking like it’s riding on 4 cooking pans, do you? So before we can protect the wheels, we have to clean them!
Brake dust contains iron particles from the brakes creating friction against the rotors. Products like CarPro Iron X, Adam’s Wheel Cleaner, and Gtechniq W6 Iron and General Fallout Remover will chemically react to these iron particles and dissolve them. The product is let to sit on the wheels for a certain dwell time between 2-10 minutes. While the chemical reaction takes place, the wheels will start to turn purple. This is the product dissolving the iron particles. You should use a brush to help agitate the dirt and spread the product to help it work.
CarPro Iron X turning purple from starting to chemically react with the iron particles.
PH Balance & Wheel Acids
The PH scale goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Some wheel cleaners are on the acid side of the scale like Meguiars Wheel Brightener. Wheel cleaners that are acid based should not be used on polished aluminum or anodized wheels. They are however safe on clear coated and painted wheels. CarPro Iron X is a neutral wheel cleaner, and Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner (APC) at a 10:1 dilution would fall around 9-11 on the alkaline side of the PH scale. Both acid and alkaline bases can damage wheels, but used at the proper dilution you can ensure you are being safe.
The wheel acids do a better job at eating away the brake dust than alkaline products do, but using them continuously isn’t a good idea. It’s a much better idea to use a neutral PH product for your regular maintenance washes or slightly on the alkaline side. You can use the acid for heavily oxidized wheels that have a lot of water spots on them. The acids will help break down the minerals left behind from the water.
Sonax Full Strength Wheel Cleaner has a unique green formula.
Foaming Agents & Sprayers
Some wheel cleaners are designed with no foaming in mind. Iron X for example barely foams up when you brush it around. It’s a product designed to chemically work it’s magic. The same can be said about Sonax wheel cleaner. It has less foaming action, and more raw power of cleaning agents.
APC on the other hand normally has some cleaning agents in it that foam up. That’s because the product is meant to be used on multiple surfaces and the foam helps lift the dirt. It helps to clean carpets and more porous type of surfaces where the dirt can fall back down and get trapped.
You can force your product to create a foaming action by placing it in a sprayer with a foaming nozzle. This is a special nozzle that puts air into the product as you spray it, causing it to foam up. This can be extremely useful to help the product stick onto vertical surfaces instead of sliding off, making it more effective.
Prices And Buying In Bulk
Let’s not forget a difference that would impact all of us, price. We love keeping our cars clean but using a heavy brake dust cleaner every Sunday afternoon wash is not only unnecessary most of the time, but it can hurt your wallet too. Generally speaking, Iron dissolving cleaners will cost more… Because they work! Plus there are other uses for Iron Removers besides wheels. They are used to decontaminate paint as well before polishing or coating. This extra benefit justifies the cost.
But let’s say you want to save on your maintenance washing. Using an acid based wheel cleaner or an APC will get the job done to maintain your wheels. Since all purpose cleaner can be used on many surfaces and areas of the car, it makes sense to buy it in bulk. This is where the major cost savings come in for all products.
If you really like your Iron X, grab a gallon of it. A normal sized bottle will only last you a few decontamination washes. Buying in bulk will let you save money over the lifetime of maintaining your car and you’ll have to order more product less often. I highly recommend picking up a gallon of Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner. It’s around $20-$30 or so for a full gallon with shipping in the US. This is a concentrate and gets diluted from 4:1 for heavy wheel cleaning or 10:1 for interior cleaning. Extremely versatile.
Let’s Be Honest, Smell…
If you have ever read anything online about Iron X, you probably found one or two people commenting on a horrible smell. Well… they’re right haha. But this is not unique to Iron X. Any wheel cleaner that dissolves iron particles will have that same type of smell. Some do a better job at covering it than others. All purpose cleaners and acid based wheel cleaners normally don’t have this strong odor.
And the Lemon Scent? Not much better than the cherry guys…
Buy in bulk to always have a refill ready, plus it saves money.
Not Too Difficult, Right?
There’s not much else to say about the differences between wheel cleaners themselves. You can choose one designed for brake dust, or maybe an acid based wheel cleaner if you have painted wheels instead to be more cost effective. If you’re just washing up before a show, an APC is all you need most of the time if you know how keep your wheels protected.
(Left) Wheel Whoolie, Solo Horton Brush, Sonax Full Strength Wheel Cleaner