Polish metal to a mirror shine! Here are our top tips and techniques to polish metal, including chrome, aluminum, and stainless steel. We’ve included some of the best metal polish and metal cleaner recommendations, all tested and approved by our staff. There’s nothing like the gleam of just-polished metal and we’ll tell you how to get it.
Aluminum is a relatively soft metal and its one of the easier metals to polish and get a bright shine. Aluminum, usually an aluminum alloy, is used to make wheels, trailers – including the vintage Air Stream trailers, diamond plate, engine components, and so on.
For all its great qualities, aluminum oxidizes very easily. It’s actually a defense mechanism of the metal: a light layer of aluminum oxide protects the underlying metal from corrosion. This aluminum oxide is functional but its not attractive, and that’s why factory-polished aluminum is usually coated. (In this case, you need a metal polish that is safe on coatings, unless you plan to remove the coating. For stripping the coating, consult a professional.)
Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Aluminum Polishes are formulated just for aluminum and other uncoated metals.
If your aluminum is uncoated, you’re ready to get started with an aluminum polish. Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Aluminum Polishes are formulated just for aluminum and other uncoated metals. They are incredibly effective at removing oxidation, tarnish, stains, and water spots. The Wolfgang metal polishes are a complete four-step system but you may not need all four steps, depending on the condition of your aluminum surfaces. The techniques here will work on any bare metals.
First, there’s Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Aluminum Compound. If you have aluminum wheels or a trailer that has never been polished, ever, this is where you need to start. This is an aggressive prepolish that removes the oxidation and cleans the aluminum surface. It leaves a clean and somewhat shiny surface. The follow-up polishes are what really turn up the gloss.
To apply Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Aluminum Compound to a large surface, like a trailer, use a Wolfgang MetallWerk™ 4 Ply 100% Twisted Wool Compounding Pad. The twisted wool strands give the pad the cutting power necessary to eliminate years of oxidation. Wipe the compound onto the surface with an applicator pad first to avoid sling. Work at a speed of 1200-1500 RPM (5-6 on your dual action polisher). Polish until oxidation and stains have disappeared. Wool pads are made to lint so wear proper eye protection and old clothes. Buff the aluminum with a towel. Polishing aluminum is a messy process so have plenty of towels on hand.
The aluminum should have a brilliant shine at this point. This next step is really for perfectionists, collectors, and car show enthusiasts. Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Concours Aluminum Polish is a very fine, gloss-enhancing polish that creates a fantastic, mirror-like shine. This is the icing on the cake. For most daily drivers, this might be considered excessive. But if you have to have the cleanest, brightest, most brilliant shine possible, this is the polish you need. Apply it with a fluffy, Electrified White Sheepskin Final Polishing Pad at a speed of 1000 RPM (4 on a dual action polisher). If using a PowerBall or Polishing Ball, work at 1000 RPM. Excellent results can also be achieved by hand polishing with a soft, clean microfiber cloth.
There’s nothing like the gleam of just-polished metal and we’ll tell you how to get it.
Use a 4 Ply Twisted Compounding Pad with your rotary to work in the compound.
Spread the polish on the surface
before turning on the polisher.
Polish between 1200-1500 RPM
(or 5-6 OPM on a dual action polisher)
Polish until your surface appears to be clean and glossy. It may take several passes to completely remove the oxidation.
Wipe the surface clean. Repeat the process if stains or oxidation are still present.
Anodized Aluminum is a unique material in that it’s meant to be oxidized. Remember when I said aluminum oxidizes as a defense mechanism against deeper corrosion? Anodizing increases the thickness of the aluminum oxide layer to strengthen the underlying aluminum’s natural resistance to corrosion. The resulting finish is very porous and is therefore usually sealed or dyed. That’s why many metal polishes cannot be used on anodized aluminum. Flitz Metal Polish, Fiberglass & Paint Restorer is one of the few that can be used with excellent results.
Chrome is actually a plated metal. Chromium, the metal used in chrome-plating, is highly resistant to tarnish and retains a reflective shine better than any other metal. However, chrome will rust without regular maintenance. The best way to keep small rust spots from becoming a big problem is to remove them ASAP. The sooner you catch the damage and correct it, the better your chances are of saving the chrome.
There are a lot of great products on the market for cleaning and polishing chrome. If the chrome has heavy oxidation, calcium or lime scale, or green tarnish, use Flitz Industrial Strength Aluminum PreClean first. Despite its name, it can safely be used to clean chrome. This product is an intense cleaner that removes the bulk of the oxidation so the metal polish can get to the source of the problem. It saves you elbow grease and gets you results faster. Spray it on, wait 7-10 minutes, use a sturdy nylon brush to gently scrub the metal, and then rinse well. Quick, easy, and effective.
Next, use a metal polish that states on the label that it is safe on chrome. Flitz Metal Polish, Fiberglass & Paint Restorer is a very safe but very effective metal polish. It removes rust, tar, water spots, and bugs on all types of metal, plastic, and painted surfaces. The application will be the same for most metal polishes: wipe it on with a soft cloth, rub briskly (not hard), and buff off with a clean cloth.
Hand polishing can be tedious. If you have an electric drill, you will save yourself a lot of work by using Mothers PowerBall Mini or Flitz Polishing Ball. Both of these tools improve the performance of the metal polish by polishing faster than you can by hand. Wipe the polish onto the chrome with a cloth or applicator. Start your drill at a low speed and gradually increase it to 3000 RPM. Work until the polish starts to disappear. Stains and rust should be gone; if not, try again. Metal polishing isn’t always easy but the rewards are pure bliss to an auto enthusiast.
Flitz Metal Polish, Fiberglass & Paint Restorer leaves a clear, protective film on the chrome that resists fingerprints and oxidation. To touch up chrome between polishing sessions, use Flitz Stainless Steel & Chrome Cleaner. It’s similar to a quick detailer for metal. Just spray and wipe with a Cobra Microfiber Towel to remove fingerprints, smudges, fresh water spots, and bird droppings. This is a great product for last-minute touch-ups before a car show or a special occasion.
Stainless steel is another metal that is highly resistant to corrosion, staining, spotting, and rust. But, like anything else, maintenance is needed to keep it looking sharp.
Stainless steel is a very hard metal and consequently, it can be difficult to get a really spectacular shine like you can get on chrome and aluminum. But, with the right products and a little patience, you can get impressive results on stainless steel.
We recommend Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Fine Aluminum Polish. Though it says aluminum, it is safe and effective on stainless steel. The only noticeable difference is that it will not create a black residue as you polish, like it would on aluminum. If you’re polishing a large surface, you can use a wool pad on your polisher. Work at a speed of 1200-1500 RPM until you achieve the desired shine. If you’re polishing a small surface, like wheels or exhaust tips, a soft cloth will do the trick.
Another excellent metal polish is Wenol Red to polish out oxidation and stains on stainless steel. Use a small amount and rub briskly, not hard, until you see a nice shine appear. Again, Mothers PowerBall Mini or Flitz Polishing Ball comes in handy. Once you’re satisfied with the results, buff the stainless steel clean with a soft Cobra microfiber towel.
After polishing, you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste. Seal in the shine with Wolfang MetallWerk™ Concours Metal Sealant. This is an acrylic polymer sealant for all metals, coated and uncoated. This product is an absolute necessity for daily drivers! The crystal clear coating will block out contaminants and the elements to keep your polished metal surfaces looking like new. Apply it with a foam or microfiber applicator pad and allow it to dry completely. Buff off the residue with a clean, soft Cobra Microfiber Towel. If applying with a polisher, use a finishing pad and polish at a low speed until you've achieved an even coat. Buff to a high gloss.