Yes, I start washing from the wheels. There are some people who wash the wheels last. I used to do that before I started buying wheel cleaners. I would use the left over car shampoo for washing the car and some dirty microfiber cloth to wash the wheels. But after some time, I realized that some tough dirt would not come off. It was then I started using dedicated wheel cleaners. That is when I started to wash the wheels first. You see, wheel cleaners are stronger than car shampoo and some car shampoo claimed to have some sort of protection on the car paint (we will go into that in future posts). So it make sense for me to wash the wheels first, rinse off, then shampoo the car. There is no right or wrong for this and it is up to personal preferences.
When I started using wheel cleaners, I did not know the damages some wheel cleaners can to alloy rims and brake calipers. But after following some gurus like Larry Kosilla from AMMO NYC, I began to understand the effects of harsh chemicals on car wheels. So I started to be cautious when buying wheel cleaners. Only buy from reputable makes.
So without further a due, I will check the pH of a few of my favorite wheel cleaners. Before creating this blog, I did not check them but trusted the manufacturer claims and lets see what we have below.
From right to left: Autoglym Clean Wheels, 3M Wheel & Tire Cleaner, Autoglym Custom Wheel Cleaner, and Turtlewax F21 Wheel Cleaner.
Autoglym Clean Wheels description from manufacturer
"Clean Wheels is the perfect cleaner for regular alloy wheels.
The fast acting formula removes dirt and brake dust from your wheels quickly, effectively and safely.
Clean Wheels is suitable for lacquered alloy, painted and plastic finishes. If your wheels are a different finish, use Custom Wheel Cleaner instead."
3M Wheel & Tire Cleaner description from manufacturer
"Safely cleans wheels and tires in one easy step
Safe for use on clear coated wheels
Rinse away contaminants to reveal clean wheels and tires
Cleans soil and scuffs from tire side walls and leaves wheels with a brilliant shine."
Autoglym Custom Wheel Cleaner description from manufacturer
"Certain wheel types are manufactured from chemically sensitive metals. Traditional wheel cleaners cannot be used and an acid free cleaner is required.
Custom Wheel Cleaner is suitable for all wheel types including alloy, lacquered alloy, steel, chrome, painted, anodised and plastic finishes."
Turtlewax F21 Wheel Cleaner description from manufacturer
"Quickly penetrates and removes tough brake dust and road grime from all wheel surfaces
Acid free formula will not damage sensitive wheel surfaces and is completely biodegradable and phosphate free
Safe for all wheels including mag, chrome and aluminum
Advanced nanotechnology formula quickly penetrates and removes tough brake dust and road grime from all wheel surfaces"
So let's take a look at all the results.
Well, this seems pretty acidic to me. In fact it is way too acidic. So how can this be safe to your wheels? I am shock to see this. Look like I will stop using this.
Well, this one is alkaline. Say in pH9. Regular soap tends to be alkali. I think this would be safer on the wheels and your hands.
It seems that Autoglym wheel cleaners stand in two extreme end of the spectrum. One is way too acidic and another is all the wax up to pH14. I guess I won't be using Autoglym wheel cleaners in future. I believe that strong alkali is no good to the wheels and tires.
I would say this is in pH9, It's almost the same like 3M and for the price, this will most likely be my go-to wheel cleaner.
And to sum up, all the wheels cleaners tested have the same cleaning ability. I do not see one edging out after another. I am not sure if I can find a pH neutral (7) wheel cleaner but for me, I will definitely go to a wheel cleaner closest to neutral.
Update - 8th July 2016: I found a good pH neutral wheel cleaner here.