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wheel cleaner comparison: sonax, griots, P21S, wolfgang, mothers, eagle1, CG, APC+


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#1 extrabolts

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 04:05 PM

Time to give wheel cleaners a shot - my car has polished wheels and makes epic brake dust. I tried a few different all purpose cleaners (Zep, Adams, and Megs APC+), and found Megs APC+ to be the best. Spray on and it all brushes right off. Some of the other all purpose cleaners required a second pass or more aggressive brushing. Unfortunately it still takes me longer to wash my wheels than my entire car due to required agitation.

I also tried a few different wheel waxes. Putting those on takes a while; they disappear after a wash or two when cleaning with APC, and if I just soap clean the wheels I’m still spending way too long.
I tried a couple of spray on products too: Armor All wheel protectant works great. I was skeptical but it actually works well at keeping dust to a minimum. Easy to spray on with no mess, most of the dust does actually wash off just with a hose but some APC+ and light agitation still required. Meguiars brake dust barrier did not work at minimizing dust, and worse, if you have any water all on your wheels when you spray them it will create a white etched crust that seriously hardens onto wheels. I used APC, alcohol, clay, all sorts of stuff trying to restore my wheels. As you will see in some of the pictures, some of the etching remains.

I’d like to find something that will be a true spray on, spray off solution. I’m hoping that by coating the wheels with Armor All wheel protectant at each wash, I can find a brushless solution.
All cleaners will be used according to their instructions. No wheel protectant is on the wheels. No pressure washer, just a firehose nozzle on a normal hose.

Just completed a 20+ hour drive through salty roads, up and over mountains, tail of the dragon, etc. Here is what we are working with, after hosing down all the wheels:

http://im1.shutterfl...0/rx=550/ry=400

Pre-tournament rankings (based on various google searches):
1. Sonax ($17, online)
2. Griots heavy duty wheel cleaner ($18 online or advanced auto)
3. P21S wheel cleaner ($18, online)
4. Eagle 1 wheel cleaner ($4, walmart)
5. Wolfgang tire & wheel cleaner ($20, online)
6. Mothers wheel cleaner ($5, walmart)
7. Chemical Guys Diablo gel wheel cleaner ($18, online)
8. Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner + ($15 / gallon, online)

Round 1: Four wheels, each wheel split in half so 8 total products. All products sprayed on and set for 4-5 minutes. Summary: Griots, Sonax, Mothers, and Wolfgang advance

P21S v. Eagle 1 (heavily dusted wheels)
During treatment:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=720/ry=480/

Eagle 1 goes on as a foam. Both products have decent sprayers, but neither product works. Eagle 1 leaves the wheels looking essentially the same after applying, P21S fairs only slightly better. Summary: neither product works any better than Megs APC+ (and probably do not even work as well).

After soaking, hosing off, looking basically the same:
http://im1.shutterfl...0/rx=550/ry=400

Griot’s Heavy Duty v. Mothers (moderately dusted rear wheels)
Mother’s also goes on as a foam. Griot’s turns the brake dust to various colors and streaks off. Both products perform surprisingly well on these moderately dusted wheels and come close to being a spray on, spray off solution in that situation. I spent some time trying to pick between which was better and determined it was a tie.
During treatment:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

After:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

Megs APC+ at 4:1 v. Wolfgang:
Megs APC has been my solution for a while now and is the benchmark. Wolfgang does fair better though and advances, leaving the wheel not as clean as Griot’s or Mother’s, but still better than Eagle 1, Megs APC+, and P21S.
During treatment:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/
After: If you look close, you can see in the wheel where APC+ leaves it dusty (left side) and Wolfgang (right side) has done a halfway job of getting it clean. Definitely not touchless but better than APC+.
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

CG Diablo v. Sonax
Sonax smells bad but works good. Starts green and turns various colors. CG Diablo works slightly better than Eagle 1 and P21S, but not as good as the rest, and would not be worth buying over a generic APC like Megs APC+.
During treatment:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

After:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

Round 1 summary: None were touchless, but Griot’s and Mother’s came close on moderately dusted wheels.

Round 2: Decided to do a second touchless pass on the front wheels. Here is what one of the front wheels that received P21S and Eagle 1 looked like AFTER the first round of treatment, getting ready for the second round.
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/
No after picture. Griot’s continued to clean the wheel but was not touchless. Mother’s did not touch that baked on dust that Eagle 1 left behind, the wheel improved only slightly. Mother’s seemed to handle the moderate dusting on the rear wheels well, but once faced with heavy dusting it did nothing.
Wolfgang v. Sonax:
http://im1.shutterfl.../rx=550/ry=400/

No after picture. Sonax was re-applied to the same portion of the same wheel it had originally treated. Wolfgang continued to clean some but not much. Sonax did better after the second pass, but the wheel was still dirty in many spots.

Final rankings:
1. Griot’s HD wheel cleaner
2. Sonax
3. Wolfgang
4. Mother’s
5. Meg’s APC+
6. CG Diablo
7. P21S
8. Eagle 1

Conclusion:
For heavily dusted wheels, I see no point in anything other than Meg’s APC+ at 4:1. The reason is that even after two rounds of spray on, spray off, I still had to go back over all of the wheels with a brush as I normally would. If I’m going to have to do that, I may as well just use the cheapest thing that works well, which is Meg’s APC+. The pictures do not show all of the brake dust that remains on the wheels after treatment, but it is very noticeable and collects at various points.

However, for lightly dusted wheels I think Griot’s HD, Sonax, and possibly Mother’s could actually be a spray on, spray off solution. I’ll try that on my wife’s car in a few weeks and update… I also think that heavily dusting wheels can be protected with Armor All protectant at each wash, and something like Griot's would get them very close to touchless clean with just spray on and spray off. I'll try that one too

Long term update September 2013
I have now used up most of the products that I purchased for this test, and also purchased Brown Royal. My original conclusions basically remain without change. Griot's is the way to go if you are looking for a nice smelling, effective, strong cleaner that will change the color as it works. Meg's APC+ remains the way to go if you are looking for something cheap, nice smelling, and effective. Neither are truly spray on-spray off solutions, but they do work well.

As for Brown Royal, I do not care for the product. It smells pretty bad, and it is obviously brown. The color makes it more difficult to tell when a wheel is coming clean as you brush or whether caked on brake dust remains because you are smearing brown solution all over the wheel. It seems very slightly stronger than Meg's APC+, although mixing at different dilutions would address this. I tried Brown Royal at 3:1 and 4:1. Overall Meg's APC+ smells better, works just as good, and has a clear / light orange color that makes it easier to see when the wheel has come clean. It also has more versatility for other general purpose use.

Edited by extrabolts, 16 September 2013 - 07:54 AM.


#2 Dan

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 04:33 PM

Nice writeup, I actually use APC+ quite frequently as a wheel cleaner.

#3 shortspark

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 06:31 PM

I agree, you made a very nice write up for your comparisons. I have a Griot's wheel cleaner but I do not believe it is says "Heavy Duty" (maybe they make two?). I like CG Diabolo too (diluted 4:1) but my best luck has been with Mother's foam. Being able to get it at Walmart for around $6 any time I need it is a major advantage. The only disadvantage is that I go through quite a bit of it (it is good but not very efficient). I may end up getting the gallon size which, as far as I know, can only be ordered over the internet.

#4 Guitarist302008

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 06:57 PM

Why would you even both to compare an Eagle one or mother's brand vs Sonax or one you didn't list... brown royal? I thought it was universally known that pretty much all OTC wheel cleaners are a joke.

#5 extrabolts

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 03:27 PM

Why would you even both to compare an Eagle one or mother's brand vs Sonax or one you didn't list... brown royal? I thought it was universally known that pretty much all OTC wheel cleaners are a joke.


eagle one came recommended from a friend and online. Mothers actually did quite well, not sure if you had a chance to look at the review or replies. Both were under 5 dollars at walmart, some people like to get things local rather than online. The one I thought did best -griots - is OTC at advanced auto too

#6 Swanicyouth

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 04:12 PM

One thing to keep in mind. Since you came to the conclusion none are really "touch less" and are looking at price as a factor, I think Diablo is a great deal since you can dilute it 4-5:1. It works very well for me and foams up well (sticks to wheel when agitated), but my brakes are very low dust pads. I also like CG Sticky Wheel Cleaner.

#7 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:46 AM

I have used eagle one, mother's, meguiars, etc wheel cleaners and none of them worked as well as brown royal.. for me anyway. It's not expensive, the shipping is. A gallon is about 35.00 total, and if you compare that on an oz per oz basis, it's not much more than other OTC cleaners. I realize people like to buy stuff OTC, but that is because they are either in a pinch or don't want to spend the extra money. Sonax is a very good product, but people see the green that changes colors and for some reason that makes them feel somehow more important, but again... oz per oz it's not worth it.

#8 Accumulator

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:10 AM

extrabolts- Interesting, and well-done comparison! Especially interesting about how the water caused such issues with the Meguiar's dust guard..it can be almost impossible to get *all* the water when the wheels are mounted on the vehicle.

Here are some sorta-random thoughts:

-Gee, those "moderately dirty" wheels weren't even *close* to as dirty as mine get between washes, yet with either OptiCoat or FK1000P on my wheels they clean up very quick/easy with just some sorta-strong shampoo mix that doesn't strip the protection. BUT....

-The "but" is that I always do employ some degree of mechanical agitation, namely Boar's Hair Brushes and/or swabs. Yeah, I know..this is all about being touchless. But with the right tools (the BHBs) it's very easy and doesn't take long. I'd want to do that on your wheels anyhow to avoid any build-up in the recesses around the lugs and valve stems (and the nooks and crannies of your calipers too).

-Don't you have to scrub the tires anyhow? Getting my tires clean is maybe more challenging than cleaning the wheels!

Again, I realize that you were testing for "touchless" and that you'll use a brush when you need to; gotta do stuff like that to get the back of the spokes/the barrels anyhow. I just wonder how you'd like using a different approach (with maybe a different brush and shampoo instead of Wheel Cleaner) when doing that, like...maybe it'd be so much easier that you'd be OK forgoing the touchless approach :think:

Yeah, Wheel Cleaners and APCs strip wheel LSPs pretty fast. I've done OK with *diluted* Griot's Wheel Cleaner (their regular one) on OptiCoated wheels, but I stick with potent shampoo mix most of the time.

Again, good comparison! And I'ms sure glad you mentioned the water issues with that Meg's stuff!

Oh, and be careful running the Tail...I'm thinking "trucks" :nervous:
The most interesting man in all of Autopia Land. (<--I didn't enter that!)

#9 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:18 AM

extrabolts- Interesting, and well-done comparison! Especially interesting about how the water caused such issues with the Meguiar's dust guard..it can be almost impossible to get *all* the water when the wheels are mounted on the vehicle.

Here are some sorta-random thoughts:

-Gee, those "moderately dirty" wheels weren't even *close* to as dirty as mine get between washes, yet with either OptiCoat or FK1000P on my wheels they clean up very quick/easy with just some sorta-strong shampoo mix that doesn't strip the protection. BUT....

-The "but" is that I always do employ some degree of mechanical agitation, namely Boar's Hair Brushes and/or swabs. Yeah, I know..this is all about being touchless. But with the right tools (the BHBs) it's very easy and doesn't take long. I'd want to do that on your wheels anyhow to avoid any build-up in the recesses around the lugs and valve stems (and the nooks and crannies of your calipers too).

-Don't you have to scrub the tires anyhow? Getting my tires clean is maybe more challenging than cleaning the wheels!

Again, I realize that you were testing for "touchless" and that you'll use a brush when you need to; gotta do stuff like that to get the back of the spokes/the barrels anyhow. I just wonder how you'd like using a different approach (with maybe a different brush and shampoo instead of Wheel Cleaner) when doing that, like...maybe it'd be so much easier that you'd be OK forgoing the touchless approach :think:

Yeah, Wheel Cleaners and APCs strip wheel LSPs pretty fast. I've done OK with *diluted* Griot's Wheel Cleaner (their regular one) on OptiCoated wheels, but I stick with potent shampoo mix most of the time.

Again, good comparison! And I'ms sure glad you mentioned the water issues with that Meg's stuff!

Oh, and be careful running the Tail...I'm thinking "trucks" :nervous:


for me, megs completely sucked

#10 Alfisti

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:15 AM

I thought it was universally known that pretty much all OTC wheel cleaners are a joke.

I'm not sure in which universe it is "universally known".

In my experience, Eagle 1 A2Z was hard to beat, even by the boutique offerings, and at a fraction of the price. More recently, I've tried the Mothers Wheel Cleaner and have found it to be the second-best I have ever tried. Very impressive. You guys are fortunate that you can buy it so cheaply. It's really expensive down under!
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#11 Dan

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:28 AM

I'm not sure in which universe it is "universally known".

In my experience, Eagle 1 A2Z was hard to beat, even by the boutique offerings, and at a fraction of the price. More recently, I've tried the Mothers Wheel Cleaner and have found it to be the second-best I have ever tried. Very impressive. You guys are fortunate that you can buy it so cheaply. It's really expensive down under!


Must be the AG universe or something. I like the EO stuff as well. It is also a great tire cleaner.

#12 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:48 AM

I'm not sure in which universe it is "universally known".

In my experience, Eagle 1 A2Z was hard to beat, even by the boutique offerings, and at a fraction of the price. More recently, I've tried the Mothers Wheel Cleaner and have found it to be the second-best I have ever tried. Very impressive. You guys are fortunate that you can buy it so cheaply. It's really expensive down under!


I'll be glad to go buy you a whole box of it and send it to you if you pay the shipping lol, walmart is right up the road.

#13 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:51 AM

My question is, what are you all basing this one? I can use just plain car shampoo and get my wheels clean with the proper tools to do the job. Are you speaking of which wheel cleaners will simply get the little bit of dust off of a wheel or the stuff that has been sitting there for months and months (that likely NONE of us let happen to our cars)?

#14 RobD

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 09:53 AM

I've used E1-A2Z for years. While it won't remove embedded brake dust, it is a very competent wheel and tire cleaner. For those that regularly clean their wheels, A2Z is all that's needed.

I recently got Meguiar's Wheel Brightener for tougher brake dust. Wow, is it strong...its cleaning power and its fumes..lol. The reviews were not exaggerated. I'll be using WB only when needed. When my OTC supply is gone, I may make a very weak WB mix to use in its place.
Rob

#15 extrabolts

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:47 AM

Yeah I was looking (dreaming) about a brushless solution. I've done the wheel waxing, shampoo off thing for a while, and then the no waxing but a stronger cleaner. I tried a number of wheel waxes (FK1000, 476, 425, armor all protectant, megs barrier, prima wheel guard (something like that), and a couple of other wheel specific waxes I can't even remember now). Armor all was the easiest to use by far.

Still takes a while to do both sides of the spokes, lugs, barrel, tire - I'm using a stiff tire brush, a long handle brush for wheel wells, a dayton speed brush as a first pass on spokes and miscellaneous, swissvax detail brush on spokes and lugs, raceglaze brush in the barrel. The various products all work OK to loosen brake dust, but still require the myriad of brushes and time.

Still hopeful though, maybe if I do the Armor all protectant + griots / sonax then I'll get there. May try lower dusting pads too.

The wheels have been worse before, but I went through a rain storm at the end of the trip - so what you see left on there is the stuff that was baked on coming through the mountains. Volume gets much worse when I let it go more than a week..

#16 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 10:59 AM

Yeah I was looking (dreaming) about a brushless solution. I've done the wheel waxing, shampoo off thing for a while, and then the no waxing but a stronger cleaner. I tried a number of wheel waxes (FK1000, 476, 425, armor all protectant, megs barrier, prima wheel guard (something like that), and a couple of other wheel specific waxes I can't even remember now). Armor all was the easiest to use by far.

Still takes a while to do both sides of the spokes, lugs, barrel, tire - I'm using a stiff tire brush, a long handle brush for wheel wells, a dayton speed brush as a first pass on spokes and miscellaneous, swissvax detail brush on spokes and lugs, raceglaze brush in the barrel. The various products all work OK to loosen brake dust, but still require the myriad of brushes and time.

Still hopeful though, maybe if I do the Armor all protectant + griots / sonax then I'll get there. May try lower dusting pads too.

The wheels have been worse before, but I went through a rain storm at the end of the trip - so what you see left on there is the stuff that was baked on coming through the mountains. Volume gets much worse when I let it go more than a week..


Well I want to make it clear that i'm not attempting in any way to down your review... it's great for the community and I and all of us appreciate it. I am asking because it looks like that's a CTS-V correct? I had a CTS-V (2006 I believe it was) that I did for a customer a while back. Keep in mind that this guy goes regularly to tracks in NY, VA, ... all over the place, so he has very aggressive pads on his car. Now he didn't have the polished or chrome that you have there, these were the old just standard silver wheels. He is a HUGE Griots fan and of course keeps his car spotless all the time. I told him about the brown royal after he said he had tried everything. He did say the Griots did an ok job for him, but he still had to scrub quite a bit to get the dust off of them. He went ahead and ordered the BR that I had suggested and even mixed it down 1:1 to save on it a bit and said the difference was night and day when it came to how easy the wheels were to get clean. He said he did have to agitate a bit, but hardly at all and with a pressure washer he really didn't need that either. Of course we are talking about a CTS-V with even bigger brakes that comes on the car, very aggressive pads and track time which means that dust that's sticking to those wheels is HOT, so this is not a particularly normal case either. This is why I asked in terms of real cleaning power some of the OTC brands were being compared to a sonax or whatever. I know that BR wasn't in your write-up either, so it might have done better or even worse for you. I'm strictly going by my own experiences and this one which is a pretty extreme case.

#17 extrabolts

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 01:11 PM

OK I have a gallon of Brown Royal on the way. Their website was ghetto. Have you had any issues with it harming polished finishes? I've seen some things about some of the stronger "professional" cleaners causing damage if left on the wheel for any duration of time. Should I let it sit for a couple of minutes? Dilute it?

This is like when I did the wax test, and the detail spray test. I've still got gallons of detail spray around and a few lifetimes worth of waxes. Probably have a stockpile of 2 years worth of wheel cleaners now, so I'm calling it quits at Brown's. OK, I'll try wheel brite too.

#18 tom p.

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 04:46 PM

OK I have a gallon of Brown Royal on the way.


Extra, good job on your write-up comparo. I've used probably 3/4 of the products you outline here and then some. Most of the OTC products I've sampled worked OK but I've never purchased any of them a 2nd time unless you consider the Griot's OTC. Since you are in a sampling state-of-mind, I think you may have missed the best: http://www.autopia.o...el-cleaner.html The Autoglym is simply outstanding and has great cleaning power, tires and wheels.

Many seek a product that is going to be a spray-on/rinse off resulting in a perfectly clean wheel. I don't know that such a product exists. Mechanical action seems mandatory when it comes to this task. (Do you break out the pressure washer everytime you do your car?)

I purchased the Royal Brown last year. It's a good cleaner, but like the APC products, I find it tends to dull the wheel with repeated use. You may not notice this on chromed wheels, though. I stopped using it on the cars and found it makes and excellent de-greaser and a great pad cleaner. Nothing goes to waste!

I gave up on the wheel waxing thing long ago. The mildest wheel cleaners strip the wax quickly, IME. I like the Armor All repellant. That works quite well. You also mention lo-dusting pads. That's more of a permanent solution, of course, and may come with some reduced braking power which will really annoy some.

Both Griot's and P21S offer super-duty wheel cleaners. The P21S is referred to as the gel and the Griot's is a new, HeavyDuty version. (I believe there's also a red version of the P21S not sold in the USA.)

Please read the Meguiar's Wheel Brightener MSDS. It has some very specific health risks associated with it. Great cleaner, but I'd never consider it for weekly work.

Your wheels really don't look that dirty in your fotos. Do they get much worse than what you are showing us?

A clean car starts with perfect wheels so I'm a bit of a wheel cleaner maven and insist on products that not only leave the wheel totally clean, but must add a glossy finish. Not many of the wheel cleaners contain optical brighteners.

#19 PiPUK

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 04:59 PM

A couple of thoughts:

1) You should break down the type of cleaner each one is. Is it pH neutral? Is it designed to react and change colour with brake dust? Is it alkaline? If so, is it a hydroxide based or otherwise product? Is it an acid? Which acid? Depending which one it is, one would expect it to be anything from a very mild cleaner through to something that would be quite capable of stripping paint off your garden fence - not fair to compare these two!

2) How are you removing the product after they work? In the UK we seem to use high pressure washer much more routinely - was this what you were using? Without a pressurised jet, it is extremely hard to get a touchless clean without the use of dangerously strong products.

#20 Guitarist302008

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 05:43 PM

OK I have a gallon of Brown Royal on the way. Their website was ghetto. Have you had any issues with it harming polished finishes? I've seen some things about some of the stronger "professional" cleaners causing damage if left on the wheel for any duration of time. Should I let it sit for a couple of minutes? Dilute it?

This is like when I did the wax test, and the detail spray test. I've still got gallons of detail spray around and a few lifetimes worth of waxes. Probably have a stockpile of 2 years worth of wheel cleaners now, so I'm calling it quits at Brown's. OK, I'll try wheel brite too.


I would dilute it 1:1 and try it like that first. I also would let a good bit of dust build up if you can stand it. I guess if you want to be fair you could try it straight first though... I don't think it's needed though.




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