Polishing Metal

Mirror bright metal, step by step.

There are several metals used in the manufacture of automobiles. Knowing what kind of metal is on your car will help you get the best results and prevent a lot of headaches.



Bare aluminum is highly responsive to both the environment and to polish. Because it has no coating, aluminum will oxidize. Oxidation is inevitable, but a good aluminum polish can easily undo the damage. After a good polishing, aluminum can shine as brightly as chrome!


Aluminum polishes can afford to be aggressive because aluminum has no coating. For this reason, you don’t want to use an aluminum polish on coated or painted metals. (See the next section for chrome or stainless steel.)


Depending on the severity of oxidation, polishing aluminum can be two or three steps. If you have severe oxidation and stains, start with an aluminum compound. This is a lot like a paint compound in the fact that it’s meant to remove the worst scratches, stains, and oxidation. Next, you’ll use a less aggressive aluminum polish to restore the metal’s shine. The Wolfgang MetallWerk™ Aluminum Compounding System is a complete, 4-step aluminum restoration system, complete with a metal sealant.

Application Tips:

If you’re polishing with a wool pad, wear eye protection. Wool pads produce lint, which will be covered in black residue from the metal.

If you’re polishing with a polishing ball, wear eye protection just in case of splatter.


Polishing instructions will vary from polish to polish, but generally speed is the key – not hard rubbing. If you’re polishing an aluminum trailer or RV, consider using a polisher such as the Cyclo Orbital Polisher. If you’re polishing wheels or bumpers, try a foam or wool polishing ball. These tools will provide the speed you need to restore a glossy shine.


Keep plenty of towels on hand. Polishing aluminum can be very messy because it does create a black residue. (If no black residue appears, the metal is coated and you should switch to a metal polish recommended for coated metals.)


Work section by section. Buff off the residue to check your work before moving on to the next section.


Seal the aluminum after polishing it. Remember, aluminum readily oxidizes. Use a wheel wax or a metal sealant to keep the metal looking clean longer.


Anodized Aluminum

Anodized aluminum is a whole other animal than bare aluminum. Anodized aluminum is made by a chemical reaction that purposely oxidizes the outermost layer of aluminum, creating an aluminum oxide skin. Anodized aluminum is very porous and is almost always dyed or coated. Therefore, a traditional aluminum polish should not be used. In fact, anodized aluminum may not need polishing at all. Cleaning with a gentle wheel cleaner will usually restore anodized aluminum to a like-new appearance. If needed, you can use a mild abrasive polish, like Flitz Metal Polish, Fiberglass & Paint Restorer.



Chrome is actually metal plated with Chromium. Chromium is very durable and can be polished with more aggressive polishes than typical coated metals (like clear coat, painted, or gold-plated metal). However, you should always use the least aggressive approach that works to avoid over-polishing the chrome. Chrome is highly reflective and a polish with abrasives could actually leave micro-fine scratches on chrome.


Again, the Flitz is a safe and effective choice for chrome. It will not dull the shine and it does a good job of removing rust, tarnish, and bugs on a regular basis. Apply chrome polish by hand or use a polishing tool. Brisk rubbing will yield the best results.


If the chrome is rusted, polishing can be more difficult. Surface rust can be removed with a chrome polish and some elbow grease. Use an applicator with some texture, like a terry cloth pad or a microfiber scrubber pad to give your polish a little more bite. If the rust is flaking, the damage is severe and you should consider re-plating the chrome. This can be an expensive option so take care of your chrome!


Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is a very hard metal often used for exhaust tips and more rugged parts of the vehicle. Because it’s so durable, stainless steel is tough to polish. If there are pits or deep scratches in the steel, you’ll need a polishing tool. You can get good results by hand but why not save yourself a little work? A polishing ball can do the same job in less time and it’s much easier on your hands. Attach the ball to your electric drill and work it at up to 3000 RPM until the steel looks clean and shiny. Wenol in the red tube is among the best polishes you can use on stainless steel.


You’ll be amazed at how finely polished metal impacts the overall appearance of your vehicle! Perfection is all in the details. That’s what auto detailing is all about.