Making Metal Shine – Top Tips for Polishing Metal

Ever struggle to get that perfect shine on bare metal?

We know exactly how you feel.  Luckily we’ve made enough mistakes in the past and tried enough things to gather together some helpful tips and tricks for polishing metals commonly found when working with vehicles.

What type of metal are we working with?
The type of metal you’re trying to polish can influence what products and techniques you might have to use.  Generally on cars we find the most commonly polished metals are Aluminium and stainless steel but we can also find many different coatings including chrome and zinc coating.

Aluminium – The most common metal and found mostly on wheels, intake manifolds, engine mounting brackets etc.

Stainless Steel – Commonly found on exhausts and some alloy wheel lips.

Chrome – also known as Chromium.  It’s a thin layer of Chromium which is electroplated to a base metal.  This can be found on everything from interior trim pieces to bumpers.

Are you ready to polish your metal?
The preparation stage is very important when it comes to metal polishing.  Ensuring you have a clean surface to start will not only make your job easier but will also prolong the life of your polishing equipment.

The first part of the process will be to clean the metal.  Just washing the dirt and grime off the metal will be a very good starting point.  Where possible use a citrus based pre cleaner to remove grease and grime from the part. You might find that that on engine parts and exhaust tips you can find some stubborn carbonised soot which can be partially broken down with a penetrating oil such as WD40.  You can also use a panel wipe or IPA (isopropyl alcohol) to wipe the metal down to remove any residues or oils.  On metal wheel lips you can simply use a general wheel cleaner to ensure you can remove as much dirt and brake dust as possible.

Lets get polishing!!
What do you need to get started?  Well, that’s actually down to how much you think you need or how deep you want to go down the metal polishing ‘rabbit hole’.  The most basic setup for metal polishing is a simple microfibre cloth and a tub of your favourite metal polish.  At the other end of the scale we can go for an industrial polishing machine with 8″ polishing wheels, dust extraction, polish bars etc.  We’ve put together a list of what we would consider a good average metal polishing kit which most people would have access to.  Bear in mind we are describing the process of metal polishing based on starting with metal which requires re polishing or is in a reasonable condition to be worked on.

Your metal polishing kit:
Battery/Cordless drill
Polishing ball or cone
Microfibre cloths (lots of these)
#0000 (fine grade) steel wool
Heavy to medium metal polish
Fine finishing polish
Gloves, goggles, and masks

For heavy oxidisation and carbonised soot steel wool can be used with a heavy or medium metal polish to get the hard work done and then you can move to your second stage and use the heavy or medium polish with a microfibre cloth.

You can also use a Mothers Powercone with Mothers Mag And Aluminium polish to produce a very good result while removing some significant scratches and swirls on metal.  The Powercone is particularly well suited to exhaust tips and wheel lips.  Just remember not to polish a hot exhaust.

Chrome which is pitted can also be a problem.  To remove any light surface rust from chrome, mothers mag and aluminium polish is ideal.  Providing the pitting and rust or not too extreme, a good improvement can be made to chrome surfaces.  In cases where the rust or pitting is slightly heavier, the Mag and Aluminium polish can be used in conjunction with the #0000 steel wool and then polished up as normal after the heavy contaminates have been removed.

The Final Shine!
When all significant swirls have been removed, then we can move on to the finishing polish with the same application process to produce a mirror finish.  Here are some tips to help you get the kind of bling that sets a mirror finish apart from an average piece of polished metal.

  • Make sure you don’t try to do the final polish too early.  The prep work is key.
  • On rolled or extruded metals, follow the grain of the metal to get a better finish.
  • Don’t try to polish a large part in one go.  Test a small area all the way to a finish first.
  • Try to use clean cloths and make sure you have no swarf or grit in your polishing materials.
  • When wiping the metal down use clean cloths and clean hands.
  • Know when enough is enough.  Not all metals will polish perfectly and continuing to polish can create waves or deformations in your metal part.