Best chrome wheel cleaner

Karl Daum

Never use abrasive cleaning tools to polish your chrome wheels.

Chrome wheel polish

Detailing your car doesn’t stop at the exterior paint. If you want a sparkling finish to show off, you have to shine your wheels too. But unlike alloys, chrome wheels require a little extra care to clean properly. For this special kind of wheel surface, you need the right cleaner so you don’t damage the metal and expose the underlayer to rust. Luckily, this is done easily enough at home with the right products. There’s a variety of chrome cleaners and polishes on the market from reputable brands such as Meguiar’s, Mother’s and 3M specifically made to shine up your spinners without damaging them. 

What are chrome wheels made of?

Unlike polished aluminum or painted rims, chrome wheels are plated. These wheels are composed of successive layers of metals, which often include copper or nickel, with the chrome applied as the outermost layer. That layering is more durable than other kinds of wheel finishes, so long as it doesn’t chip, making your wheel resistant to rust and the elements. Because of this layering, however, chrome wheels are a bit heavier and aren’t best suited for performance driving where weight reduction is king. Chrome wheels can be identified by their brilliant reflective finish and high-gloss shine.  

How to polish chrome wheels

Chrome wheels require regular maintenance or they rapidly become dirty and tarnish. The most common culprits for this are salt, debris and especially brake dust, which can accumulate without routine cleaning and eat away at the plating, causing pitting and peeling. Chrome wheels require a different cleaning method than aluminum alloy, however. Never use a hard-bristled brush, scrubbing pad or wire brush as these can damage the plating and expose the substrate to rust. 

Instead, use a jet of water to remove any debris, then spray one wheel at a time with chrome cleaner. Using a soft-bristled brush, work off the remaining dust and debris. Make sure you get deep inside the wheels and the lug nuts. Most products recommend letting the cleaner sit so that the foam can break down any contaminants. After anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on your product, rinse the wheels well. Afterward, apply chrome polish to protect against future debris and brake dust. This will make cleaning easier down the line as many formulas include antioxidation and debris-resistant formulas so that brake dust doesn’t stick as well. When polishing and buffing, use a scratch-resistant microfiber cloth, working the polish into the surface. Then buff out with a fresh, clean cloth. 

Best chrome wheel cleaners

CAR GUYS Wheel Cleaner: available at Amazon

You can’t go wrong with CAR GUYS for just about any detailing product, and their wheel cleaner is no exception. This one is sold in an 18-ounce spray bottle and is safe for any kind of wheel — alloy, chrome and aluminum included. That makes this product the perfect choice for a whole family fleet with different wheels. So, if you’re cleaning your car, the partner’s car and the kids’ car(s), a gallon of the stuff might be your best bet. 

Meguiar's Hot Rims Chrome Wheel Cleaner: available at Amazon

Renowned car-care brand Meguiar’s specifically formulated this cleaner in their Hot Rims wheel-cleaner product lineup to tackle grime, grit and brake dust. This is accomplished with Meguiar’s Xtreme Cling formula, which foams in order to stick to your wheels and break down any stubborn contaminants. Let this cleaner sit for a maximum of 15 seconds before rinsing, during which time you can use a soft wheel brush for intense buildup. This is the perfect product for heavy-braking drivers or any vehicles that drive off-road and experience excessive wheel dirtying.

Chemical Guys Diablo Gel Wheel Cleaner: available at Amazon

Another all-around cleaner, this one from Chemical Guys uses its own concentrated suspension technology to lift grime and brake dust with a pH-neutral formula so you know your wheels will be safe. Though it’s a gel, you still apply this cleaner with a spray nozzle. You will need a secondary dilution sprayer bottle. Chemical Guys recommends a secondary bucket to mix a solution of one-part cleaner to three-parts water. Make sure you let this product sit and soak for several minutes after application. You can use a soft brush for a deeper clean during this time. 

Mothers Wheel and Tire Cleaner: available at Amazon

Like Meguiar’s, Mothers is a mainstay brand in car detailing. This foaming cleaner can be used on both wheels and tires and comes in a 24-ounce spray bottle. Apply from about a foot away and spray liberally to soak both the wheel and tire, one wheel at a time. Let the product sit for 30 seconds before hosing off. The spot-resistant formula requires no hand-drying, making this one of the easiest products on the list to use with the most coverage. 

Best chrome wheel polish

Mothers California Chrome Polish: available at Amazon

This chrome polish comes in a 12-ounce bottle and can be used on chrome wheels, trim, bumpers and accessories like shift knobs or exterior decorations. Make sure you wash your wheels first. Then apply a small amount to a scratch-free microfiber cloth and rub the polish thoroughly into the surface. 

3M Chrome and Metal Polish: available at Amazon

This heavy-duty polish works great on wheels with slight damage as its formula can even diminish slight spotting and pitting. Apply with a scratch-resistant microfiber cloth and buff afterward to get a brilliant shine. This polish also works on stainless steel, brass, bronze and copper.

Turtle Wax Chrome Polish & Rust Remover: available at Amazon

Turtle Wax’s polish and rust remover is another superb option for heavy-duty polishing on wheels that have seen a little wear in their years. Not only can you polish any chrome surface on your vehicle with this one, but also black rubber and plastic trim. This product leaves an anti-oxidation coating to prevent further oxidation between washes and applications. Apply with a soft cloth or applicator.  

Karl Daum is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.


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