Cleaning (Photo: @vedrana2701 via Twenty20)

How to Polish an Aftermarket Header

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Cleaning (Photo: @vedrana2701 via Twenty20)
There are many parts of your car that could benefit from a good polishing job. One part of your vehicle that may not immediately come to mind (but could definitely use some love) is your aftermarket header.
Your vehicle’s exhaust manifold directs the exhaust created by the combustion process away from the cylinder head. Sometimes problems arise with the exhaust manifold when the total exhaust from the engine passes through the same structure, creating back pressure and inhibiting its flow.
Primarily an aftermarket part, an exhaust header helps to reduce back pressure by connecting to each individual cylinder in the engine, making it easier for the engine to push the exhaust gases out.
Problem solved, right?
The answer is yes … as long as you maintain your aftermarket header.
Exhaust headers are consistently exposed to the conditions and heat of your engine compartment, which makes them rust-prone. That means, if you’ve invested in an aftermarket header, you should also invest time and effort in maintaining it. Here’s how to polish your aftermarket header.

How to polish a mild-steel or stainless-steel header

The materials you need to polish your exhaust header depend on the material its pipes are made from. Most are made of cast iron, mild steel, or stainless steel. To clean headers made of these materials, you‘ll need the following items.
Materials needed:
  • Metal or stainless polish
  • 800- and 1,000-grit sandpaper
  • Dish soap and water
  • Clean cloths
  • Old newspaper
  • Paper towels
  • Brake cleaner
  • Latex gloves
Once you have everything you need, follow these simple steps:
  1. Clean the header: To clean the header, use a soapy water solution and a clean cloth to wipe down the header. This is to remove any surface dirt and grime. You should also use a toothbrush to get into any hard-to-reach areas. Next, rinse the header with water and dry it using a paper towel.
  2. Remove any rust: If the header has any rust on it, apply a rust cleaner with a clean cloth, using the toothbrush to get into any areas where you can’t reach. Clean the header with soap and water to remove the rust cleaner. Rinse and dry.
  3. Sand the header: Lay down some newspaper and put on your gloves before sanding the header with 800-grit sandpaper. Try to remove any remaining rust. Follow this by sanding the header with 1,000-grit sandpaper and some metal polish. Don’t over apply the polish and remember to wipe away any dirty polish before applying more.
  4. Clean the header again: Clean the header using soap and water again. Wipe down the header using a clean cloth and rinse it with water. If needed, use the sandpaper to remove any remaining rust. Clean and rinse the header once you’re done.
  5. Apply the polish: Apply the metal polish again, this time using a clean cloth to apply the polish. Work on the header until the metal is polished to your satisfaction. Keep in mind, the polished metal won’t be shiny like chrome.
  6. Apply brake cleaner: Remove any excess polish using a paper towel. Then wipe the header down with brake fluid. This is the best way to keep the oils on your hands from heating up the finish and ruining it as you put it back on your engine.

How to polish a coated header

Some headers have a chrome or metallic coating, which require more care when cleaning and polishing. Unlike a mild steel or stainless-steel header, a coated header is more prone to damage, so you should avoid using any abrasive materials. To polish a coated header, you need the following items.
Materials needed:
  • Dish detergent
  • Water
  • Aluminum wheel cleaner
  • Chrome polish
  • Microfiber towels
  • Toothbrush
  • Newspaper or tarp
  • Brake cleaner
  • Toothbrush
  • Latex gloves
Once you have everything you need, follow these simple steps:
  1. Clean the header: Start by cleaning the coated header with soap and water, using a clean cloth. Use a toothbrush to get into any hard-to-reach areas. This is to remove any grease, dirt, or grime on the header.
  2. Allow the header to dry: Once you have cleaned the header, rinse it off with water, and dry it off using a clean cloth.
  3. Apply brake cleaner: Lay out some newspaper to rest the header on and put on some latex gloves. Apply brake cleaner to a small area and rub it into the surface using a firm, circular motion. Continue until you have treated the entire surface of the header.
  4. Apply polish: Apply the chrome polish to the surface of the header, working in small areas using a clean cloth until the whole header has been polished. Rinse off any excess polish from the header using a hose.
  5. Wash and dry again: Wash the header using soapy water again before rinsing it with water. Allow the header to air dry completely before replacing it. If needed, use brake fluid once the header is reinstalled to remove any oils you might have inadvertently left behind with your hands.