"Every time you hit the brakes, brake dust gets on the wheels," said James Machinist, the owner of an upscale car storage facility. "Every time you hit a rock, it chips the wheel. Every time it rains, the road gunk comes up and gets on the wheel."
Consumer Reports tested five cleaners specially designed for wheels, from names like Armor-All to Black Magic, all promise to get rid of brake dust and grime.
The spray-on, hose-off cleaners cost anywhere from $5 to $7. For the test, Consumer Reports' Bernie Deitrich took before pictures and then went to work. He wiped off some dirt for the record, applied each cleaner as directed and then waited. He rinsed and wiped the tire with a second cloth so he could compare before and after dirt.
"During the test, I didn't use a brush with these products because I wanted to see how well the product itself worked," Deitrich said.
As it turned out, none of the products delivered dazzling results without brushing. To get the wheels really clean does require some scrubbing.
"There are better options than these wheel cleaners," Deitrich said. "If you're going to have to brush to get good results, you might as well start with a less expensive product that gives good results with brushing."
The Zep degreaser he used costs a lot less, about $10 for a gallon, which works out to just pennies per wheel.