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Product Review: Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect


Wheel cleaning is perhaps one of the least favorite detailing activities by most people…they’re dirty, nasty, and you end up with brake dust residue all of your arms and your clothes by the time you’re done. And when you have to deal with exceptionally dirty wheels or ones that are notorious for producing a tremendous amount of hard-to-remove brake dust (think Audi, BMW, Mercedes…), then the task can become even more daunting. For many, they simply choose not to go through the effort, and the neglected wheels just end up becoming even worse. And over time, this neglect can do permanent damage to the wheels as the corrosive brake dust starts to etch the finish.

While there are a lot of wheel cleaning products on the market, some quite frankly aren’t very effective, or they’re highly acidic and therefore present a level of danger to the finish of the wheels. Used improperly, these acidic cleaners can cause a lot of expensive damage.

When Sonax developed their Full Effect Wheel Cleaner, they did it so that they could bring a product to market that would easily cut through even the most stubborn brake dust, while remaining pH balanced and therefore safe on all wheel surfaces.

What makes Sonax Full Effect different than other wheel cleaning products is that it is designed to chemically react with the sintered iron particles (brake dust) that are on or embedded into the surface of the wheels. By dissolving these corrosive iron particles, Sonax provides a much cleaner surface than traditional wheel cleaners can do.

For my first trials, I waited until I had some neglected wheels to work on to test the effectiveness of the Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner. I had a BMW 3 series that hadn’t been washed all winter long, and the wheels were black inside and out from brake dust! I also had a Dodge Viper (below), and a Mercedes SL550 with plenty of caked-on brake dust. I knew that wheels like these would require a tremendous amount of elbow grease to get them clean, and therefore they would make perfect test vehicles.

I get to test more products than you can imagine, and usually I just find relatively small differences from one to the other. Rarely do I find products that provide serious “wow-factor”. I have to admit that during these tests, the Sonax Full Effect Wheel Cleaner most definitely provided the wow-factor!

Once the Sonax Wheel Cleaner has had a chance to work and break down the iron particles, the residue and grime build-up almost melts away from the surface. Sure you will still need some light agitation (see my wheel cleaning tutorial), but there’s a big difference between light agitation and heavy scrubbing. For me, wheel cleaning is probably my least favorite aspect of detailing, so I’m thrilled to find a product or process that can significantly reduce the amount of time I have to spend doing this task.

For detailers that work on a lot of really bad wheels, I would highly recommend having this product available to cut down on wheel cleaning time. Or for enthusiasts with cars that don’t get cleaned that often, this would be a great wheel cleaner to have in your arsenal.

If your car gets detailed regularly however, and you don’t have many issues with heavy brake dust build-up, then this may be a bit overkill for your needs. When only light cleaning is required, typically your normal car wash soap and water with light agitation will suffice.

How to Use Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect

First, the obligatory cautions: Do not use in the hot sun or apply to warm wheels. Do not allow to dry on the surface.

Start with a dirty wheel!

Spray the Sonax Wheel Cleaner on the surface of the rims, the inner barrels, and on the brake calipers. You will notice that when it comes out of the bottle, it is bright green.

After it has had time to dwell, you will notice that the liquid will start to turn dark red. This indicates that it is dissolving the iron particles. This is what it looks like after a few minutes.

This is after even more time on one of the other wheels on the car

Do some light agitation as necessary, and rinse off!

I purposely did only a very light agitation just to see how much of the caked-on brake dust could be removed. As you can see, with the exception of a few small areas on the brake caliper that still requires some attention, these wheels are extremely clean (including the inner barrels) with very little effort!

A fully detailed car without properly detailed wheels is like wearing a suit with ratty old shoes. With the help of Sonax, this Viper looked fantastic…

If your detailing needs include heavy wheel cleaning, then I can’t recommend the Sonax Wheel Cleaner enough. It’s truly a fantastic product!

Todd Cooperider Esoteric Auto Detail
Todd Cooperider
Esoteric Auto Detail
Columbus, Ohio

28 comments on Product Review: Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect

  1. Brian.E says:

    Great review! I just use it on my last wash and was very impressed, it was my first time using an actual wheel cleaner.

  2. Abi says:

    Todd – Great article. Just curious, Are there any instances where you still prefer P21 wheel gel or Sonax completely replaces P21S?

    • Abi,

      I’m going to do some research with the manufacturer on its compatibility with carbon rotors and refinished wheels. For now, I use P21S exclusively when I’m working around these.

  3. Omar S. says:

    WoOoW… Great review indeed!

    And good question about PS21… I have been using that and thought it does a GREAT job (though it still needs to be wiped down). This SONAX seems to just melt the dirt and grime off of the wheel.

    • While the Sonax still requires a bit of wiping afterwards to get every bit of grime off of the wheels, I think it does just a little better job of breaking down the really heavy stuff.

  4. Great review Todd!

    I just received my 5000ml order of Sonax last week and it worked excellent on some pretty dirty Cayenne wheels. I was surprised at how little of agitation is needed. Definitely a must for those tough wheel jobs. 😉

    No if they could just make it smell better. 🙂

  5. Tom says:

    I’ve been less than impressed with PS21 lately. Bought two bottles of this to try. Am a bit concerned about how strong it may be and any negative effects it may have.

    I’ve been using the PS21 on my wife’s 6 year old Toyota Van which has heavy contamination and after 5-6 applications and heavy scrubbing, they’re getting better but are still a mess. Hope this works better.

    • Tom,

      Since it’s non-acidic, I don’t think you need to worry about negative effects.

      As for your Toyota, I’m sure it will help, but keep in mind that it’s possible for the wheels to get to a point of no return where refinishing is your only option.

  6. Danny R. says:

    Sonax FE is a very good wheel cleaner for literally all types of wheels no matter what metal it is and if they are coated, non coated. Mist on then let it sit for a little then agitate with a boars hair brush for the face of the wheels and to get the barrels with a wheel barrel brush.

    Danny R.

  7. Jordan says:

    Nice article Todd!! I was just wondering, how does this compare to CG Diablo wheel gel?

    • The Sonax works to break down metal particles on the wheels, so it’s really a completely different animal than Diablo or any other products for that matter. But even if you take that out of the equation, I feel that the Sonax does have the edge in all-out cleaning capacity.

  8. Tim says:

    What type of sealer do you recommend after deep cleaning wheels?

    Do you also polish and seal calipers?

    • Tim,

      Especially if I have the opportunity to completely remove the wheels, I find that Optimum Opti-Seal does a great job. Now if you want to kick that up a notch or 2, then go with the new Optimum Opti-Coat v2.0! If I have the wheels off, then I’ll typically seal the calipers as well.

  9. Tom says:

    Update: Tried some of this on my daughters beater hubcaps covered in brake dust. This works *so* much better on heavily contaminated wheels than the PS21 wheel gel. The brake dust literally melted away with virtually no scrubbing. If you have heavy deposits, try this.

  10. Matt says:

    Ironically Todd, for being your least favorite part of detailing, your wheel details have been a guilty pleasure of mine since I started reading your articles. You do an absolutely superb job of them and they truly make the difference between a professional detail and one that is – if I may be so bold – Esoteric.

  11. Mike says:

    Hi Todd,

    I bought the $100 bottle of this stuff and I went through it like nothing! I am a bit trigger happy. Is it possible since it is so strong to dilute this to get more out of it and if so what do you recommend diluting to? Thanks.

    • Mike,
      I haven’t tried diluting it, so you could just do some trial and error to see what works best for you. If you bought this for your personal car(s), then just use it when the wheels are really dirty, and just use soap and water for your maintenance washes when they’re not that bad.

  12. Chris says:

    I just went through my 1st bottle of Sonax. For how much it cost I was expecting something amazing. I wasn’t that satisfied. I keep my wheels clean all the time and I got caught in the rain with my car once and Sonax had issues just getting the brake dust off the stainless lip of my front wheels. I’ll be moving onto a different wheel cleaner to try.

  13. Mr P says:

    I have always wanted to try this product. Especially now that I got my exspensive aftermarket wheels oxidized by spraying on the wrong wheel cleaner. Will this product help bring my wheels back to life? If so I’m ordering a few bottles for future use.

    Thanks Mr P

  14. Lee says:

    what is the difference between this product and IronX?

  15. Nick says:

    Will this do any harm to TUF SHINE tire coating?

  16. serge says:

    great product specially for all the lazy people that dont want to wipe much. only problem is i habe cross drilled and slotted rotors for my big brake kit and they are zinc plated. i noticed that since i started using sonax it leaves streaks on thr rotors and calipers and cnt remove them. do as much as you can to shoot only at the rimnot rotors or calipers.

  17. Al Goss says:

    Will the Sonax cleaner help with weather related pitting/ salt buildup on the inner barrels ?thanks

  18. Ray Scott says:

    I am dealing with very stubborn brake dust residue on the inside wheel of a BMW. I have used sonax full strtength with some of the DI brushes to no avail. Is there a solvent I can use to remove this.

  19. Tom Dashiell says:

    Eikk this work on Honda & Toyota OEM wheels with no harm? How does it compare to other brands sold at local retailers?

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