How to Polish Aluminum Wheels

Aluminum wheels are an attractive accessory on a car, but maintaining them can be time-consuming. The wheels must be removed from the car, thoroughly cleaned, checked for scrapes, scratches and erosion, then polished and remounted. Once cleaned and polished, aluminum wheels have a mirror-like shine.


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    Gather plenty of terrycloth towels or rags for cleaning the aluminum wheels after every stage of the polishing process. You should also wash your hands after each stage.
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    Take the wheels off the vehicle. This allows you to reach all parts of the wheels more easily. Also take off the center caps, wheel weights, valve stem covers, stickers, or anything else that might obstruct you when preparing and polishing your aluminum wheels.
  3. Image titled Polish Aluminum Wheels Step 3
    Clean grime and dirt from the wheels with water, a soap designed for use on vehicles, and a sponge.
    • Rinse thoroughly with water to be sure all the soap and grime is gone. If you don't get it all off, you could rub grime into the aluminum surface during subsequent step.
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    Apply an oven cleaner spray to the aluminum wheels if they are still dirty. Let the oven cleaner penetrate for approximately 20 minutes. If you have a clear coat, skip this step. The oven cleaner can damage the clear coat.
    • Scrub the wheels with a dish scrubber that can be used on Teflon.
    • Rinse the rims thoroughly with water. If necessary, you might need to clean the wheels again with the oven cleaner.
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    Check the aluminum rims for "curb rash." Curb rash is a scrape on a wheel caused by rubbing against the curb during parking. Eliminate it by carefully filing with a flat file.
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    Eliminate any pitting on the wheels. and a 600 – 400 grit wet and dry paper, or a foam painter's pad.[1] If there is any pitting in your wheels, you will need to us the abrasive pad to sand it smooth. If you use a grit higher than 180, you risk damaging the wheel.[2] Test an inconspicuous spot first to make sure you can remove the pitting without leaving marks on the wheels.
    • If your wheels have a clear coat, do not use anything abrasive to clean them.
    • Start with a 600 grit paper and if you need something a little rougher to buff out deeper scratches, move up to the 400 grit, and so on. You must be very careful not to scratch or unbalance the wheel.[3]
    • All your strokes with the paper should be even and in the same direction.[4]
    • If you use the 400 grit paper, you'll need to follow it with the finer 600 grit to get out all the scratches.[5]
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    Rinse the wheels with water and dry with a towel.
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    Apply an aluminum brightening cleaner to the wheels. This will help restore the aluminum and remove oxidation. Wipe the wheels with a cloth.
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    Apply the polish, which can come in liquid or paste form.
    • Rub the polish into the rims. Use smooth strokes going in the same direction when shining aluminum wheels.
    • Use a toothbrush to polish hard-to-reach spots on your wheels. Place a soft cloth around the toothbrush so the bristles don't mar the finish.
    • Concentrate on polishing small areas of the wheel at one time before moving on. This gives the most uniform results without leaving portions of the rim looking cloudy.
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    Apply a finishing polish to the rims.
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    Polish your aluminum wheels until you can wipe each rim with a cotton cloth without soiling the cloth. The more you rub, the shinier the wheels will become.
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  • Always take the labels off of polishing cloths before polishing aluminum wheels. This avoids scratches.
  • Make sure you clean them well.


  • Never use polishes or pastes containing acids, ammonia, or anhydrous chemicals on the wheels. These will age and tarnish your aluminum rims, and possibly even damage them. Many polishes on the market contain these harmful ingredients. Read the label before buying an aluminum polish to be sure these chemicals aren't included.

Things You'll Need

  • Terrycloth towels or rags
  • Soap for washing vehicles
  • Heavy-duty scouring pads
  • Oven cleaner spray
  • Dish scrubber
  • Flat file
  • sandpaper
  • Flexible foam sanding pad
  • Aluminum brightening cleaner
  • Aluminum polish
  • Toothbrush
  • Finishing polish
  • Cotton cloth

Article Info

Categories: Auto Exterior and Interior Accessories | Cleaning Cars