How to Polish Aluminum Wheels to a Buff Shine

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine bought a Toyota Impala in mint condition. Although the body was looking great, the rims weren’t. The person he bought the car from told him that it was in good shape, but it was really heavy corroded.

Well, his idea of good shape and my idea of good shape are really far apart. Because they were really in bad shape. That’s why I thought why not share my experience of polishing aluminum wheels and how to get them to a buff shine.

I like to make my aluminum wheels shine like a mirror, and you too can make the same by following these easy steps.

Keep in mind that there are different ways you can achieve this and it really comes down to what works for you best. I’ll be showing you how I polish my wheels.

The process is very simple. Rinse > Wash > Dry > Wax > Buff. This is the most common way to do it. But the cleaning kit I will be using will be different. Again, there are different products out there which will do the job.

But, I personally love products from Flitz Metal Polishes. So, I’ll be going with that. If this method doesn’t work for you, check out other procedures. Because there is no one single surefire way of polishing wheels.

Before I get to the cleaning part, let’s talk about Aluminum. I would like to get the basics out of the way first so that my readers can get most out my article.

Aluminum Wheels

It’s a highly versatile material which is used widely in various day to day products that we use. From electronic gadgets to kitchen products, you will see aluminum parts all over the place.

The most popular use of this material is in the making of wheels. However, as good as it may sound, it tends to oxidize over time.

The surface accumulates a grey cast, and if neglected, it can rot the upper layer. And, that’s why you need to clean aluminum wheels frequently.

Wheels and rims made out of aluminum are a great choice for car owners because it gives the vehicle a smooth ride. However, you need to take proper care of alloy wheels because if not polished, you could be setting the stage for grey dust or corrosion.

The worst enemy of alloy wheels is brake dust. And the second worst enemy is road debris. If not maintained properly, your rims would be at a high risk.

Brake dust means a type of adhesive and tiny metal shavings that come out of the rotor.

And also, the small wear and tears of carbon fibers, when combined with the intense heat and friction of the brake pad, it can turn out to be highly corrosive.

Brake dust is inevitable. You drive every day. More and more dust will accumulate, and the only way to keep your wheels free from rust and corrosion is frequent cleaning.

There is a difference between cleaning bare aluminum wheels and coated aluminum wheels. I will discuss each of them in the following section.

How to Clean Aluminum Wheels

Aluminum is a soft metal, and when cleaned and polished it will shine like chrome. However, the cleaning method will vary on the wheels condition. OEM wheels will have a protective coating to prevent oxidation.

In this case, you’ll want to use polishers and cleaners that will be safe on the coatings and not damage the surface. On the other hand, you can use strong cleaners on bare aluminum wheels.

Here is the step by step process to clean aluminum wheels in general. Make sure you clean the wheels before you wash your car.

1. First of all, get all the necessary tools in check. That include safety glass, mask, gloves, sanding equipment, and any cordless or corded drills.

2. Rinse the aluminum wheels thoroughly and make sure to remove all loose dirt and debris. It’s a good idea to clean wheels first before you clean your car because it will prevent brake dust from splashing onto a washed car.

3. Take a nozzle and splash the wheels with a strong stream of water. Rinse behind the wheels, the wells, brake calipers and between the spokes. Remember to double check for brake dust, these are creepy little dust and will get into every little crevice it can find.

4. Clean one wheel at a time. Use an aluminum cleaner like SONAX, Flitz, P21S Gel, and Detailer’s Pro Series. These are safe on the wheels and won’t leave any spot on the surface.

5. It’s better to take out the lug nuts because there is a high possibility of brake dust being there. Clean around the lug nuts using a lug nut brush. Don’t forget to clean the nut holes.

6. Don’t dry out the wheels, instead, keep it wet. The wheel cleaner and water will loosen any grime left on the lug nut and also work as a lubricant. Never let a wheel cleaner get dry on wheels without rinsing them because it can leave a spot on the wheel. 

7. Don’t use an aggressive bush to agitate the wheel instead use a soft bristled brush. There is a high chance of stiff bristles scratching the surface of the aluminum. If you accidentally put a scratch on the wheel, you will have to work harder to polish them off.

8. Remember, use a soft brush for the wheels and hard brush for the wheel wells. The most dirt and mud accumulates in the fender wells aka wheel wells. As the tire rolls, mud is kicked up there, and you need something strong to wash it.

9. Use an all-purpose cleaner and spray the wheel wells generously. The detailers pro all-purpose cleaner work best in this kind of situations. To agitate the fender wells, use a long-handled brush with a sturdy bristle.

10. Water spots are ugly wherever they appear. Make sure to dry wheels after every wash. Use an all-purpose micro-fiber cloth to give it a gentle wipe.

That’s the end of the cleaning part. Next comes polishing.

How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

Before polishing, you need to check whether your alloy wheels are coated or not. You need to pick the wheel polish depending on what’s on the surface. For example, metal alloy wheels with clear coat will need coat-safe polish.

Here is how you’ll polish coated wheels:

1. There are products out there that are specifically made for polishing coated wheels. They are less aggressive than the ones that are made for bare aluminum wheels. Pick your choice of polishers and continue.

2. Use a polishing tool to apply wheel polishes. Apply polishers to one wheel at a time. Don’t use the same applicant or tools that you used on the auto body. You don’t want to mix brake dust with the paint.

3. Place a buffing wheel onto a corded or cordless drill. Torque doesn’t matter, but it’s better to have a very high rpm. By using a buffing wheel, kind of takes out all the elbow grease and does the job fast.

4. Slowly spread the polish all over the wheel. Increase the speed as you apply the polish. Keep it running until the polish starts to dry out.

5. Finally, use an all-purpose microfiber cloth to wipe the wheel clean.

The only difference between cleaning a bare non-coated wheel and a coated wheel is the choice of polishers. The procedure is the same for both.

Most people would stop right here but if you want to go the extra mile and add a second layer of protection, be my guest. To put out a mirror shine on your cleaned and polished wheels, use a product called Wolfgang Metallwerk Polish.

This ultra-fine polish puts a mirror shine on wheels. It’s easy to apply. Just use a microfiber cloth or a foam and gently wipe the aluminum.

Don’t stop yet. Because, every time you use a microfiber cloth to remove polish residue, some of the stuff gets stuck on the cloth. And, that’s why you should always want to buff off a new polish with a new applicator.  

Waxing Wheels to a Buff Shine

Once you are finished, use a metal sealant to protect the aluminum. It will also prevent oxidation. If you want to be more specific, use sealant specifically made for coated or non-coated aluminum wheels.

If you want to use chemical-free sealant, use the beeswax that comes with Flitz cleaning and polishing kit. It’s a car wax for wheels which will protect your aluminum for up to 3 months on salt and winter and 5 – 6 months on summer days.

It will also make your wheels look cleaner for a long period of time. Make sure you apply the wax with an applicator and finish it by buffing the wheels.

Final Touch

You can take the polishing game even further by choosing your tire dressing carefully. Use a reputed water-based tire gel to give the finishing touch.

Hopefully, this lengthy article will be of use if you want to polish and make your aluminum wheels shine like chrome.

Erick R. Jackson
 

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