How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

by chris sanders on 23rd April 2012

Aluminum wheels make a car look good. That’s why so many people have them. They’re shiny. They make people look twice as you drive by–providing the aluminum isn’t dulled by oxidation, road salt, or other factors. When that happens, the wheels won’t make heads turn–except when someone makes a snide remark about how you don’t take care of your vehicle. Fortunately there are some things you can do to make your wheels look like new again. Following are a few tips on how to polish aluminum wheels.

Remove the Wheels

Polishing your aluminum wheels will be easier if you take them off the vehicle. It will help you make sure you’re able to reach all of the cracks and crevices during the cleaning process. Instead of having to bend over or get down on your hands and knees, you could put the wheels on a sturdy table while you’re working.

Eliminate Built-Up Dirt

In order to get your aluminum wheels to shine like new, you’ll need to eliminate the dirt that has built up on them. Rinse the wheels thoroughly with water. Use a hose with a nozzle attached so you can get into all the nooks and crannies of the wheel. You may want to use a cloth to remove stubborn grime from the grooves. Then rinse again to make sure you got all the dirt.

Scrub the Wheels

The next step is to scrub the wheels. You can use an oven cleaner, such as ‘Easy Off’ to expedite the process. Spray the oven cleaner on the wheels while they’re still damp and let it set for about 20 minutes. After it has had a chance to loosen the dirt and grime, you should use a kitchen pot scrubber–but make sure it’s Teflon-safe so it won’t damage the wheel–to scrub the dirt off the wheels. If it still doesn’t look clean, you can repeat the process until it does. Once you’re satisfied that the wheel is clean, rinse it carefully to remove any leftover oven cleaner. You can also use a grease or oil remover instead of oven cleaner. Ask a salesperson at an auto parts store to recommend a product that will do the job without damaging the aluminum.

Use Sandpaper for Smoothness

If your wheels are pitted, you will have to smooth them out using sandpaper. This is the only tried and true method of removing pitting from aluminum. Be careful not to rub too much on any one area because you could create a noticeable groove. You should use a 400 grit sandpaper for this process. Check your progress often during the sanding process so you don’t take too much metal off the wheel. If the wheel is still not as smooth as you’d like it to be, you could sand it again using a 600 grit sandpaper. Avoid using power tools, if possible, because they are harder to control and you could gouge the metal. Repeat the process until you’re satisfied with the smoothness, then rinse the wheel thoroughly and wipe it dry immediately with a clean cloth.

Make It Shine

After your wheel is clean and the pitting is removed, it’s time to make it shine like new. Ask a salesperson at an auto parts store to recommend a product that will make your aluminum wheels shine. They will more than likely suggest something like ‘Aluminum Bright.’ It is a product that has proven to be good at shining up aluminum that has been dulled by the weather or adverse road conditions, and is available at most auto parts stores. No matter what product you’re advised to use, you’ll have to apply a little elbow grease to make the wheel shine. The buffing process is simply a matter of using the recommended cleaner on a clean cloth and rubbing it into the aluminum. The more you rub, the more it shines.

Apply Polish

The buffing process could take quite a while, depending on how much time you’re willing to spend on it. Once you’re happy with how the wheel looks, the next step is to apply polish to it. Ask a salesperson at an auto parts store to recommend a good polish, and then follow the directions on the label. The polish will help prevent oxygen from reaching the surface of the aluminum and dulling it all over again. Putting on a second coat of polish will help make sure you won’t have to repeat the process for awhile.

Guest post from Bailey Harris. Bailey writes about insurance quotes for

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