How to Polish Aluminum Wheels at Home

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How to Polish Aluminum Wheels at Home

August 30, 2023

How to Polish Aluminum Wheels at Home

Centuries ago, about 3500 B.C., carts were the first wheeled vehicles to be invented. The purpose was simple — to move them from one place to another. Today, wheels mean more than that. Wheels represent style, elegance and class. Shiny, clean wheels make your vehicle attractive.

Knowing how to keep wheels clean and polished is a big part of car maintenance. Many car owners perceive the process as costly and best left to professionals. However, most of the time, you can buff your aluminum wheels at home all by yourself.

This article offers some vital tips for keeping your wheels clean and long-lasting. But first, let’s take general notes on owning aluminum wheels.

What Do You Have to Know About Aluminum Wheels?

Many car owners use aluminum wheels for their vehicles. Apart from being stylish, the components used in manufacturing aluminum wheels make them a good choice. Here are a few benefits of aluminum wheels:

  • Resistant to corrosion: Compared to other wheel types, aluminum wheels are more resistant to rust. This resistance makes it easier to clean and polish. You can use aluminum wheels in different climate conditions and regions.
  • Lightweight but strong: Aluminum wheels weigh less than steel wheels. They reduce the total weight, affecting the vehicle’s feel and performance. For instance, lighter cars are generally faster and easier to control. Despite the weight of aluminum wheels, they’re resilient, solid and sturdy.
  • Better fuel economy: The car’s weight affects fuel consumption. The lighter the vehicle, the less fuel it’s likely to consume. Aluminum wheels’ lighter weight means you may get more miles per gallon and save money on gas.
  • Saves money: Resistant, lightweight, durable and fuel-efficient wheels translate to one thing — cash savings. Aluminum wheels are economical to buy and manage. Plus, they are long-lasting, so you won’t have to replace them for a while.
  • More variety: Various quality aluminum wheels are available on the market. Aluminum wheels come in different sizes, designs and finishes. You have many options, whether you prefer the wheels polished, chromed or painted.

What Is Oxidation?

Aluminum has tremendous benefits to your vehicle and the environment. Close to 75% of the aluminum produced still remains in use. Aluminum is resistant to corrosion, especially compared with steel wheels. However, in certain situations, aluminum wheels oxidize.

Oxidation is not the same as corrosion. Instead, oxidation occurs when aluminum is exposed to oxygen. The aluminum creates a film of aluminum oxide, which protects the metal from corrosion. Aluminum oxide is often a dark color many people find unappealing. Cleaning and polishing your aluminum wheels regularly can prevent oxidation and corrosion.

How Do You Polish Aluminum Wheels?

Polishing aluminum wheels requires relatively simple steps. The main aim is to get rid of dirt and grime and prevent oxidation and corrosion. You need to clean the wheels, buff them with aluminum polish and seal them with wax. Let’s consider these steps in more detail.

1. How to Clean the Wheels

Cleaning your wheels regularly protects them from corrosion. Moreover, it makes your vehicle sparkle. These simple steps will help you achieve that clean finish.

  • Wash the wheels with water: Begin the process by cleaning the wheels. Wash in and around the wheels with water. It’s better to use a hose with high pressure to clear dirt and soil off the wheels.
  • Apply wheel cleaner: Next, apply a wheel cleaner to the wheels. Several wheel cleaners are available for you to use. Chevrolet’s Universal  Wheel Cleaner is among the best on the market. It’s safe for any wheel finish, including painted, chromed, anodized and aluminum wheels.
  • Scrub the wheels: Scrub the wheel with a wheel brush to get as much dirt off as possible. You may need different brushes to clean the interior and exterior parts of the wheel. For instance, a cone-shaped brush is suitable for the interior, while a broad brush is better for the exterior. Ensure the spoke, the lug holes and nuts, the bolt circle and the center bore are well cleaned.
  • Rinse with water: Finally, rinse off the wheel cleaner with fresh, clear water from the hose.

Soft-bristled brushes may be the most appropriate for wheel cleaning. These brushes make it easier to clean and protect the finishing. For the wheel wells, a stiff brush is suitable. Use a microfiber cloth to get in all the nooks and crannies and finish the cleaning. Microfiber cloths are also useful for drying the wheels after rinsing.

How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

2. How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

How do you polish aluminum wheels at home? The process is simple, with the correct information. Here is the best way to polish aluminum wheels:

  • Check for oxidation: Aluminum has a high oxygen affinity, so you can expect oxidation. Check the wheel’s coating to see if it’s clear. The clear coating on aluminum protects it from corrosion. If you see oxidation, take extra care in those areas to remove it.
  • Rub the polish in gradually: Polish the wheel in small sections so the polish doesn’t dry up. Dried polish may leave streaks on the wheels. Work with the grain rather than in circles to avoid a streaky finish. Focusing on one part at a time helps with a clean finish.
  • Use cloth for small spaces: If you cannot reach the smaller interior parts of the wheel, such as the spokes, you can use a cloth wrapped around a toothbrush or chopstick to polish those areas.
  • Prepare for waxing: Wipe the wheel with a fresh microfiber cloth to prepare it for waxing.

3. How to Wax the Wheels

Wax protects your wheels from dirt, keeping them cleaner for longer. Follow these steps when waxing your wheels: 

  • Apply wax to the wheel: Put a good amount of wax on a clean cloth and apply it to the wheels. 
  • Wait for the wax to dry: Rub the wax over your wheels with the grain, and allow it to dry. Drying usually takes 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Wipe the wheel clean: Finally, wipe the wax off the wheel with a clean cloth.

How Do You Protect Aluminum Wheels From Oxidizing?

Protecting your aluminum wheels from oxidation reduces cleaning, helps your wheels last longer and prevents corrosion. You can choose from several protective coatings:

  • Wax: This is easy to use and protects your wheels from direct oxygen and dirt contact. Wax is easy to apply, and you can do it at home.
  • Anodizing: This involves applying an oxide layer on the wheels to protect them from oxidizing further. The electrolytic process creates thick oxide coatings on the aluminum wheels.
  • Paint: Paints add coatings to wheels for extra protection. You can choose colored paints or clear coats.
  • Powder coats: Power coats help reduce galvanic corrosion and have higher electrical resistance.

Extra Tips for Polishing Aluminum Wheels

Beyond the steps on how to polish your aluminum wheels, there’re other vital things to keep in mind. Consider the following when polishing your aluminum wheels:

  • Use the best products: Your car deserves the best — choose quality products for the wheels. While price matters, the most expensive option may not be the best. Do thorough research before purchasing a product.
  • Sand your wheels properly: Sanding gives your wheels a smooth, shiny touch. Be sure to remove debris and dirt before you start the process. Moving from heavy to light grits is essential to achieve the desired results. Buff the wheels after sanding for a clean finish. Remember, sanding requires patience.
  • Choose clothes for polishing: This tip does not directly affect the wheels. However, it’s advisable to reserve your best clothes for another day. Find an alternative outfit that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Shop Top Flight Automotive Products

Shop Top Flight Automotive Products

Many car owners use aluminum wheels today. They’re common for their aesthetics, durability and variety. Polishing your aluminum wheels at home requires patience, attention to detail and the right supplies.

Top Flight Automotive has a large inventory of renowned brands. We offer quality parts and accessories for Corvettes, Mustangs and Camaros, with various wheels and cleaning products to keep those wheels shining.

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