How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

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Your car isn’t truly clean unless your aluminum rims are shining. But, as you know, aluminum doesn’t polish itself. Getting your wheels in great shape takes a little elbow grease and finesse.
Before you begin, make sure you know the material of your rims. For instance, alloy wheels have different maintenance requirements. Once you’ve confirmed your wheels are aluminum, you’re ready to follow this step-by-step guide to getting them back to looking their best.

Cleaning the wheels

Before you get down to polishing, it’s important to remove any dirt, grime, brake dust, and debris to ensure that you get the best shine. For this process, you’ll need the following materials.
Materials needed:
  • Water hose
  • Pressure washer (optional)
  • Aluminum wheel cleaner
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Clean lint-free cloth
Once you have all the materials you need, follow these simple steps:
  1. Rinse: Start by rinsing the rim with water. Make sure to get in between the spokes and around the lug nuts. This should help to loosen any grime and dirt. If you have a pressure washer, you can use that for more effective cleaning.
  2. Spray the rim with aluminum cleaner: Next, spray on some aluminum cleaner, taking care to apply it to the spokes and in between the lug nuts. You can find aluminum cleaner at an auto supply or retail store. Remember, only look for non-acidic cleaners. Alternative cleaners include a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda or detergent and water followed by a sprinkling of baking soda.
  3. Scrub the wheel: Next, scrub the wheel, getting in the spokes and between the lug nuts. Don’t allow the wheel to dry while scrubbing (as this will make you more likely to scratch the finish). You may need to use a specific brush, called a lug nut brush, to get around the lug nuts.
  4. Scrub the wheel wells: Scrub the wheel wells or the areas in between the spokes of the wheel, with a stiff-bristled, long-handled brush and an all-purpose cleaner. This should remove the caked-on dirt, grease or grime.
  5. Rinse and dry the wheel: Finish by rinsing off the wheel one last time, making sure to direct water into the spokes, wheel wells, and lug nut areas of the rim. Allow the wheel to dry for a few minutes before wiping it down with a dry, lint-free cloth.

Polish and wax the wheel

Once the wheel surface is clean, it’s time to polish and wax it. The polish will help remove any oxidation and give your wheels their signature shine back, while waxing will seal the finish and act as a protective layer. For the polishing and waxing process, you’ll need the following items.
Materials needed:
  • Clean, lint-free cloth
  • Aluminum polish
  • Toothbrush
  • Wheel wax or sealant
Once you have all the materials you need, follow these simple steps:
  1. Apply polish: Start by applying the wheel polish using a clean, lint-free cloth. Work in the direction of the grain and avoid rubbing in circles to prevent streaks. Any polish designed for bare aluminum will work. You can find polishes at an auto part or retail store or online.
  2. Work section by section: Working section by section, make sure to rub in the polish before it dries before moving on to the next section. This will help you apply the polish evenly. Polish the lug nuts last.
  3. Getting into hard-to-reach areas: To get into hard-to-reach areas, such as in the lug nut holes, use a toothbrush wrapped in a clean, lint-free cloth. The cloth will prevent the bristles of the toothbrush from marring the finish.
  4. Wipe the wheel clean: Once the polish has been applied to the wheel, use a clean, lint-free cloth to remove any excess polish. Make sure to rub in the direction of the grain of the metal when doing so, working your way deliberately around the wheel.
  5. Seal the wheel: Finally, seal the finish on the wheel by using a wheel wax or sealant. Rub the wax or sealant over the entire surface of the rim and allow it to dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Once the wax feels dry, rub it off using a clean, lint-free towel.

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