How To Polish Weathered Aluminum

Aluminum is such a versatile metal used for making everything from boat sidings, car parts, and home appliances to cookware. It is an inexpensive, light weight, bluish white metal that is very easy to maintain. Sounds perfect, right? Well, not exactly. Aluminum is indeed highly resistant to rusting; however, it does have its own form of corrosion. When exposed to the elements for too long, aluminum tends to look dull or scarred. Bringing badly weathered aluminum back to its original shine is easy, albeit hard on the arms. Here are some tips to keep in mind when polishing weathered and worn out aluminum.

  • Wash the aluminum surface properly with water and liquid detergent. Get a bucket and fill it with warm water. Add a few tablespoons of liquid soap and use this to wash off dust and dirt from the surface of the aluminum component. Make sure that you use a sponge or clean rag. Watch out for sharp debris that can scratch the aluminum surface further. Rinse the entire surface with clean water.
  • Scrub off the cloudy residue on the aluminum by sanding the surface. Once all the crud has been removed, wet sand the entire surface using fine sandpaper. 200 grit sandpaper works best for this task. Dip the sandpaper in water repeatedly to keep the debris from building up. Sand and dirt on the sandpaper can actually gouge your aluminum. Rinse the surface thoroughly. Repeat the smoothing steps four times using sandpaper with 400, 600, 800 and 1000 grit. Make sure to sand the entire surface using sandpaper progressing from fine to super fine grade. To prevent making streaks on the surface, sand subsequent evolutions in perpendicular directions. Do not apply excessive pressure. When you finish sanding the aluminum with 1000 grit sandpaper, you will notice that the surface no longer shows any scratches. Rinse the surface one last time before drying it thoroughly with a clean cloth.
  • Apply a thin coating of polish specifically made for aluminum. Go to the nearest boating supplies or automotive shop and ask for a polish that works for aluminum. If this is not available, inquire about polishes that work for all types of metals. Cars and motorcycle buffs suggest using Mothers 5101 Polish or Mequiar’s All Metal polish. Take out the rotary wheel and put in the buffing attachment. You can also use a buffing wheel attached to a drill motor. Apply the polish and buff the surface with the attachments, making sure to check that the aluminum does not overheat. If you do not have a drill or rotary wheel, you can also apply the polish using a fine, non-abrasive steel wool.
  • Remove the polish residue with a small amount of window cleaner. Pour some window cleaner on a soft towel or rag. Use this to wipe all over the aluminum surface. Flip the rag and buff the surface until it gleams.

Protect the restored aluminum component by putting on a thin coat of clear lacquer or wax. Remember to always wash off salt and mud from the surface using water. You don’t need to use soap too often. Make sure that you wipe it dry afterwards using an absorbent towel or cloth to prevent water spots from forming.


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