Cleaner for chrome wheels

The world is filled with corrosive particles that eat away at your wheels. And chances are, if you’ve sprung on some chrome rims, you want to keep them fresh. With the right tools and information, you can restore their finish, so they’re as shiny as when you bought them. 

Unlike alloy and steel wheels, chrome requires special attention. If you choose the wrong product, you could end up damaging them beyond repair. So this means using the right cleaner and tools.

Chrome vs. alloy and steel

Alloy aluminum and steel

The most common types of wheels on the market today are alloy aluminum. And some still use steel. Whether you bought your car new or used, it likely came with wheels made from either of these materials. For this reason, the majority of cleaning products are geared toward these finishes.

Chrome

If you’ve chosen to go with chrome, it’s important to note the differences between this kind of finish versus alloy aluminum. Alloys are fabricated as a single composite-metal wheel that is then polished. Chrome wheels, however, are made by electroplating multiple layers of metal such as nickel and copper, with a final chrome finish applied on top. Over time, that finish can chip, crack and rust without proper care.

Pros and cons of chrome

The plated composition of chrome makes it a durable design for wheels. But they also show their age more with pockmarks and chips. They’ll last longer and stand up to potholes better than alloys — but that’s where they lose their competitive edge. Chrome is also much heavier than aluminum, so if you’re after performance, alloys are a no-brainer.

Why you should clean your wheels

Detailing is an essential and often overlooked aspect of vehicle maintenance. Taking the time to clean and polish your car, truck or SUV can restore its off-the-lot luster. This regular practice also reinforces the factory protective coatings that prevent rust and deterioration.

When it comes to wheels, the biggest culprits of wheel decay are brake dust, dirt and road salt. Regularly cleaning them when you wash your car removes these corrosive particles. Polish and wax afterward to help fight future build-up.

How to care for chrome

Tools

Common car detailing tools can damage your chrome wheels. You’ll want to avoid abrasive brushes and cloths that can scratch the plating under hard scrubbing. This includes wool and metal brushes. Instead, use a soft synthetic brush. You will also want a bucket and a grit guard to prevent coarse particulates from contaminating the soapy water you use to wash your wheels.

Clean

These days, many alloy-aluminum cleaning compounds are safe to use on chrome. It’s just a matter of verifying compatibility on the label. When in doubt, use a cleaner specifically designated for chrome wheels. These are formulated to restore chrome’s mirror-like finish without tarnishing or damaging the plating.

Polish

Polish can get a little trickier. While chrome is stronger than the clear coat sprayed onto aluminum wheels, the natural grit of polish can still harm your finish. Make sure your polish is approved for use on chrome. When paired with a soft-foam detailing ball, you can get a consistent finish that easily wipes away with a soft microfiber towel once dried. 

Wax and seal

The last step is preventative. Waxing and sealing your wheels adds another protective barrier between the chrome and the outside world. Use an applicator pad (often supplied with the wax) and start buffing with a fresh microfiber towel. Do this every one to two weeks to restore the barrier.

Best chrome wheel cleaner

Best cleaner

Meguiar's Hot Rims Chrome Wheel Cleaner

Meguiar’s Hot Rims Chrome Wheel Cleaner

While many detailing brands use a one-cleaner-fits-all approach to wheels, Meguiar’s specifically formulates theirs for chrome. This cleaner sprays on and foams up to lift and suspend clingy particulates. All you have to do is rinse after, eliminating the need for a scrub brush or rag and any risk of scratching your wheels with the dirt.   

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Mothers Pro-Strength Chrome Wheel Cleaner

Mothers Pro-Strength Chrome Wheel Cleaner

From another trusted company in car care, this chrome cleaner is lauded for the fact that it doesn’t streak. Its foaming properties pull dust off your wheels and dissolve it, requiring a simple rinse afterward. Don’t use this on aluminum wheels as it will damage them.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Chemical Guys Diablo Wheel Gel Concentrated Wheel Cleaner

Chemical Guys Diablo Wheel Gel Concentrated Wheel Cleaner

Chemical Guys uses a pH-neutral formula that won’t tarnish your chrome. The gel cleaner comes in a squeeze bottle, so you’ll need to mix it with three-parts water and pour it into a separate spray bottle. This is a great option for multi-vehicle use despite the extra steps, as the cleaner works on all wheel types. One bucket of the solution can tackle the family or company fleet.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best polish

Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish Restorer and Protectant

Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish Restorer and Protectant

This is a great polish for vintage-car owners looking to restore the subtle metal detailing around their vehicle. From headlight housings and door trim to bumpers and exhaust tips, the polish doesn’t just work on chrome but also steel, copper, aluminum and brass. The formula has cleaner in it that can get the deeply embedded stains left on your wheels after you clean and rinse.  

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

3M Chrome and Metal Polish

3M Chrome and Metal Polish

Known for their industrial applications, 3M also makes a great polish for the wheels and trim on cars. This polish combats pitting, which can be helpful for those who drive on backroads and have to contend with lots of dust or kicked-up rocks. The formula is pretty tough, so use this polish as a restoration tool for particularly rusted chrome. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best wax

Chemical Guys Wheel Guard Rim and Wheel Sealant

Chemical Guys Wheel Guard Rim and Wheel Sealant

Getting that mirror finish takes a little tender love and care, but adding this third step to your process can deliver brilliant results. The wax and sealant not only restores your chrome wheels’ glossy shine but also protects them by actively repelling brake dust, road salt and other debris.  

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Detailer 365 Rim Job Wheel Wax

Detailer 365 Rim Job Wheel Wax 

From chrome to aluminum, this wheel wax provides a reverse-polarity reflective barrier that deflects dust. Though it’s for wheels, the wax also works on other metal trims, making this a great bang-for-your-buck tool for appliances and detailing around the house. You also get a microfiber cloth and two applicator pads.  

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Karl Daum writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.