Tips to Polish and Protect Polished Aluminumby Ian Martinez
A Detailed Image Customer wrote to us and asked:
“I use the purple wool pad and a Porter Cable 7424. What buffing pad and or buffer would you recommend for a better easier finish on aluminum wheels”
Polished aluminum looks absolutely amazing when done right. Especially some white BBS RS faces with 3-4 in polished slant lips? Now THOSE are worth polishing. I say this because polishing aluminum is not fun, and very messy. With that said, all the work put into doing it will be ever more aggravating if you use the wrong tools and products. A wool pad is for cutting paint more aggressively. I can see how one could make this connection if they have tons of swirls on their wheels. However, paint and aluminum do not react the same, and thus need to be treated differently.
So, what should you do?
If you want THE BEST polished aluminum finish, detailing products just won’t cut it. From my time working for a bespoke wheel company, I know the floppy wheels (pictured below) and a high-speed rotary machine, like an angle grinder are truly the best.
To get this:
However, that process doesn’t really fit within the retailing space as well as wheels are often not as in bad of condition to require this for a really good finish. But we can learn from this process on how to best adapt to a process that works for detailers. The main thing is HEAT. Those wheels get the aluminum very hot to really bring out all the oxidation and provide a mirror finish.
So, how do we apply that thinking?
You can polish by hand, if the finish is just a little cloudy and needs some touching up. If it is more major, you can do it by hand too … if you hate yourself. Either way a good metal polish like Poorboys Metal Polish and an applicator pad will do a good job.
Polishing with a machine will be much more ideal. You “can” use something like a Porter Cable/Rupes/ etc, but wheels are more intricate that paint and a horizontally mounted pad is much better suited for the job. I really like the Mother’s Wheel Polishing Cone, yeah, the one you can buy at Walmart. Pair it with a decently powered drill, corded if possible, and you can generate some pretty good heat in various intricacies of the wheel.
When removing the metal polish, use special towels, as they will get ruined as the oxidation that comes off the wheels is hard to get off the towels. Something like The Rag Company Metal Polishing Towel works really well.
Lastly, there is a lot of misinformation on what you can do to seal you painstakingly polished aluminum. You can seal it just like paint, personally, if I went to the trouble of polishing them, especially wheel lips, I would ceramic coat them. Gtechniq C1 works great, lasts long and is virtually unnoticeable.
You could even have them clear coated as well, and while I normally prefer powder coating for wheels, for the best finish, you want to use liquid paint. Since powder has to cure in the oven, it opens the pores up again and when it comes out it has a ton more swirls and marks than you would have from liquid. Not to say it can’t be done, it’s just easier with liquid.
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What is a good dressing for the running boards.
Great write up, thank you!
I have a new trailer that has polished aluminum siding. What is the best way to keep it clean and shiny?
A great product to maintain polished wheels is “White Diamond” polish/sealant. Its comes as a white runny liquid and can be found at a lot of parts stores. Not only is it one of the most effective polishing compounds i’ve tried, but the added sealant works very well. I have polished aluminum lips on my daily driver and find myself only polishing once a month now or so as maintenance/restoring the sealants properties. Highly recommend