Unless you’re going for a full detailing, automotive interior cleaning is pretty simple: Vacuum the seats and floors, clean the glass, and wipe down surfaces like the dashboard, doors, center console, shift knob, parking brake and steering wheel. Some use a soft microfiber cloth for that. Some use a rag or cloth with anything from a household cleaner to Armor-All sprayed on it.
But here’s the thing: Only one of those surfaces is likely to come in contact with your bare skin on a constant basis—the steering wheel (and if there are others, we really don’t want details). Hands are on the wheel all the time. And that means dirt, grime, flaking skin, skin oils and bacteria. We don’t need a quick wipe-down here so much as a thorough cleaning. We’ve identified five highly-rated steering wheel cleaners that, between them, can cover the various types of steering wheels (wood, vinyl, plastic, Alcantara, leather) found in all vehicles.
One thing these five products have in common is complaints of bottles that leaked during shipping. In some cases, customers reported missing up to half the bottle. This may be a product worth picking up in person at your local store.
CarGuys Super Cleaner is an all-purpose interior cleaner that you can use for your steering wheel regardless of whether it’s plastic, wood or leather. The bonus is that it’s also a solid all-around interior cleaner, which saves money and shelf space. Users say it cleans deep stains and dirt and praise its easy use.
Chemical Guys SPI-22016 is another all-purpose interior cleaner with happy customers. They like the low price and that it doesn’t leave an artificial sheen on interior surfaces. There are, however, several reports of discoloration of surfaces after use.
Leather steering wheels need special care, so a product specifically formulated for leather is the right way to go. Adam’s Leather Care Kit includes not just a leather cleaner, but a leather conditioner that keeps the wheel soft and supple and help prevent cracks and tears. The conditioner also includes UV protection, which is important since the steering wheel gets direct sunlight through the windshield and driver’s door window. Users also say the smell is pleasant, like quality leather itself.
The Carfidant Ultimate Leather Cleaner is water-based, non-toxic and biodegradable. Users say it removes deep dirt and stains and is virtually odorless. It comes with a microfiber cloth. What it doesn’t come with is leather conditioner and buying that separately puts it at a price disadvantage to the Adam’s Leather Care Kit.
Alcantara is an artificial suede-like fabric. Because it’s artificial, some think any cleaner will do, but the Sonax Upholstery and Alcantara cleaner is best for this premium material. It’s formulated to not just clean but restore the original suede-like texture, which can become matted with time and use. Users praise its lack of residue.
In order to determine the best steering wheel cleaners we considered the products most accessible to the widest swath of consumers in the U.S., which also includes performance, price and value. We also considered a broad range of end-user ratings and evaluations by multiple testers.