How to Polish Aluminum the Right Way

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Polishing aluminum is an easy but critical component of maintaining its look and longevity. By polishing and protecting aluminum pieces around the home, you can avoid the rusting and corrosion that can affect their safe and effective use.

No matter what aluminum surface you plan to polish, the process is fairly similar for every context. This article will walk you through the simple but effective method for polishing aluminum. By following this guide, you can ensure that your aluminum pieces will be shining bright for years to come.

How to Polish Aluminum

1. Clean the Aluminum

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Using a mixture of mild soap or detergent in water, thoroughly clean your aluminum with a sponge or washcloth. When working with small aluminum items, regular dish soap is sufficient for a complete clean. However, larger pieces may require a special metal pre-clean solution available online.

Simple Green 73434010 14010 Industrial Cleaner & Degreaser, Concentrated, Lemon, 1 gal Bottle

Sunnyside Paint Thinner, Cleaner and Degreaser, Quart, 70132

MR.SIGA Microfiber Cleaning Cloth,Pack of 12,Size:12.6" x 12.6"

Make sure to clear all of the grime, debris and oils off of the surface. If there is significant buildup of oil, you may need a degreaser or paint thinner to cut through and remove it. After cleaning, rinse the entire surface, removing any leftover dirt and cleaning solution. Carefully dry the aluminum with a fresh, soft microfiber cloth.

2. Apply Cream of Tartar (for small aluminum pieces)

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Cream of tartar offers extra power to loosen stuck-on grime, dirt and debris. Cream of tartar is a kitchen staple, useful in a variety of cooking and cleaning applications. This powdery substance can be mixed with water to create a cleaning paste for aluminum. 

Using a clean rag or washcloth, coat your small aluminum items in the paste and let it lift away the dirt. Rinse with warm water until all of the paste is removed and dry it with a clean microfiber cloth.

3. Sand the Aluminum Surface (for larger aluminum pieces)

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Large aluminum pieces can be handled most efficiently with sanding. Use sandpaper or a palm sander, also called an orbital sander, to work the surface of the aluminum. 

Start with a coarser medium-grit sandpaper to fix large imperfections and finish with a finer high-grit sandpaper for a smooth surface. Try to stay above 300 grit for the project, though you can go coarser for deep gouges. In general, you should not have to use anything coarser than a 180-grit sandpaper.

4. Polish

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Work with water-based aluminum polish. For any aluminum polishing, be sure to steer clear of abrasive metallic polishes, as these can create lasting damage.

Small aluminum items can be polished with a few clean microfiber cloths and your aluminum polish. Apply a small amount of polish to the cloth and gentle work it into the aluminum with small, circular motions. When it is completely polished, use another cloth to wipe away the polish with the same gentle motions. Use one last cloth to clear off any remaining residue.

Also read: How to Blacken Aluminum

Larger surfaces may require a buffing ball for your drill to save time and effort. Likewise, if you have an angle grinder, you can use a buffing wheel attachment.

You can use the same aluminum polish or a buffing compound bar for heavy-duty polishing. Follow the same process of buffing, replacing clothes, and rebuffing to add and remove the polish. 

It is crucial to remember that aluminum polish can be potentially dangerous for maintaining food prep surfaces. Instead, you can try using the same DIY cream of tartar compound as a polishing agent.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use to polish aluminum?

Aluminum polish is ideal for most surfaces but there are plenty of homemade solutions that work in a pinch. Along with cream of tartar, you could try a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. Mix these in a spray bottle for an easy application and buff as normal.

Also read: How to Blacken Steel with Beeswax

Lemon juice and baking soda are also effective. The active acidic agents in lemon are similar to cream of tartar, making it useful for cleaning and polishing. Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with lemon, slowly adding more juice until you create a thick but workable paste. Rub the paste all over your surface and buff it several times to polish the aluminum and remove the residue.

Can aluminum be polished to mirror finish?

Buffing to a mirror finish is possible with high-quality sanding discs and advanced polishing techniques. With a palm sander, use several grit varieties, moving from coarse to fine, to remove imperfections and smooth the surface. The higher the grit, the finer the sandpaper, and, ultimately, the smoother the surface.

Use the aforementioned polishing wheel and compound bar to get the best possible finish. When using several compounds, be sure to use a fresh wheel with each different compound. 

Using your angle grinder, buff the surfaces from bottom to top. Be sure to follow the residue line to remove any remains. Stay moving as you buff the entire surface. This maintains a consistent look and avoids any rubbed-in defects.

How do you keep polished aluminum shiny?

Exposure to oxygen causes oxidation, which leads to a worn look and rusting. Steer clear of overly abrasive applications, as this can penetrate the protective coating and expose the underlying aluminum. Use a clear coat or powder coat finish to ensure a long-lasting shine.

With a high-quality polish, aluminum may only require simple maintenance for several months before you need to polish it again. By following these easy DIY steps, you will ensure that your aluminum stays attractive and effective for the long term. For more information on how to polish aluminum, follow our blog or contact our team today.

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