When it comes to cleaning wheels, one of the biggest questions is if it’s safe to use acid wheel cleaners. First off, let’s discuss what an acid wheel cleaner is. These are cleaners that are between pH 1-5, with alkaline cleaners being in the range of pH 9-13 and those in the middle (such as car shampoo) being classed as pH neutral.
Generally speaking, acid wheel cleaners are more aggressive than alkaline and pH neutral cleaners. Due to this, they are able to clean wheels extremely quickly. However, that doesn’t mean that they should be used.
Do you really need to use an acid wheel cleaner?
For those that are getting into car detailing, the allure is always to go for the cheaper priced products. Acid wheel cleaners fall into this category. They’re extremely cost effective to make, and therefore this gets passed onto the consumer.
Acid wheel cleaners, in my opinion, should only ever be used as a last resort if there is heavy stains on the alloy wheels that you can not remove by other means. They are so aggressive that using them on well maintained wheels is not something that is recommended, nor required.
It should also be pointed out that great care must be taken when used on alloys that have been kerbed. I found out the hard way that after using an acid wheel cleaner on a kerbed wheel that it actually managed to get under the paint layer and caused bubbling of it. This cause a significant degree of damage to the wheel and it had to be refurbished after that.
If you ever found yourself to be in this situation, then the best course of action would be to rinse it thoroughly and also counteract the low pH by using a pH neutral shampoo on the wheel. This should raise the pH of the area, thereby limit the damage caused.
What are the alternatives to acid wheels cleaners?
Thankfully, it is possible to refrain from using these cleaners. My first recommendation would be to use an alkaline wheel cleaner, such as Custom Wheel Cleaner in conjunction with Autoglym Magma if the wheels are really dirty and haven’t been cleaned for months. If they’re not terribly dirty, then I would recommend Magma on it’s on. The benefit of this is that it is a pH neutral iron fallout remover that doubles up as a great wheel cleaner. Since the wheels will be most prone to iron contamination from the brakes, Magma will make quick work of the iron fallout and dirt build up.
I would then highly recommend that the wheels are protected by using a high quality wax. I’ve previously had great success with Collinite 476S Wax on my alloys. The benefit of this is that after applying this, it can last for up to three months. In addition to this, subsequent wheel cleaning can be carried out by using normal car shampoo. This is due to the wax repelling a large amount of dirt and contaminants. More information on this process can be found at the alloy wheel cleaning page.
I did feel it was necessary though to use this page to point out that acid wheel cleaners can be extremely dangerous and often not necessary. It’s also important to note that cheap detailing products aren’t always bad, but please refrain from using acid wheel cleaners.