How to Clean & Polish Chrome or Aluminium Trim on Cars


Chrome Aluminum Trim

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Detailing is all about the details.  And chrome or aluminum trim can easily get water spots and become oxidized over time.  It gives a sort of haze or foggy appearance. It can also be damaged by the sun or acid rain.  Tap water can contain many dissolved elements that, when allowed to dry on your car, can form hard water spots that can be removed using the tips below.  This is how you restore it.

The metal polish that I recommend is Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream.  It can be used on chrome trim and wheels. It doesn’t matter if the chrome is plastic or metal. It’s also very safe on aluminum trim.  Use a microfiber towel to apply and buff off. It’s only downside is that it can stain rubber and plastic trim.

Tips for Polishing Chrome Trim by Hand

If you don’t have a polishing machine or drill attachment, you could try doing it by hand first.

  1. Fully wash and dry your car
  2. Apply metal polish in the shade.
  3. Tape off plastic as polish can stain it.
  4. Use a microfibre applicator sponge or cloth.
  5. Work the product in using circular motions.
  6. Buff off with a soft microfibre cloth.

Product Links
3M Automotive Masking Tape
Chemical Guys Premium Grade Microfiber Applicators, Blue (Pack of 8)
Chemical Guys Happy Ending Ultra Plush Edgeless Microfiber Towel, Purple, (16″ x 16″)

 

Different types of trim

There are a few types of metallic-looking trim on cars.  They are typically found around the windows of many modern cars.  But it can also be found in other areas like grills and bumpers. This is usually brushed aluminium or plastic or metal coated in chrome.  

Aluminium trim can be anodized which is a protective coating placed on the metal by the manufacturer by dipping it in a special bath of chemicals.

Chrome is more mirror-like in appearance while brushed aluminium is less reflective.  

Before you try anything you should wash your car using a regular car shampoo like any of the Meguiars shampoos.  Then fully dry your car using a microfibre towel.

The first thing you could try is some detailer spray like Adam’s Detail Spray and a microfibre towel.  As your car should now be clean you can use a little more elbow grease than you normally would. But not too much.

Cleaning Chrome Wheels

If you are cleaning chrome or aluminum wheels an iron remover spray like CarPro Iron-X should be used first and will dissolve a lot of embedded brake dust.  It wont damage wheels and is very easy to use. Just spray on and allow to dwell for a few minutes, then wash it off. You can use safely use CarPro Iron-X over your entire car including chrome and aluminium trim.

Once you have used an Iron Remover you will then need to get that shine back. Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish Restorer and Protectant combined with Chemical Guys Ball Buster Wheel and Rim Polisher System (Drill Attachment) will take care even of the worst-looking chrome wheels.

Use a clay bar to remove embedded particles.

A clay bar is an optional and easy step.  You can do this if the surface feels rough to the touch after you wash it.  The clar bar is especially effective on chrome or aluminium wheels.

The clay must be used with a detailer spray or with a dedicated clay luber.  The clay will remove any stuck on particles like grit and sand and bits of metal from the surface of the chrome or aluminium.  Using it with a detailer spray will reduce scratching and marring.

The clay bar is helpful because the contaminants it removes could become dislodged when are using the polishing cream.  It will only take a few minutes to perform the claying step.

This Clay Bar and Luber from Checmical Guys is good quality and well priced.

Use a degreaser.

Another option to try is to use a degreaser product like Car Guys Super Cleaner.  It can remove a lot of built up dirt, bugs and even some oxidisation. It does this without damaging your paint or the chrome/aluminum surface.  

Car Guys Super Cleaner is a very useful product to have as it can clean plastic and even leather seats and plastic inside your car. To apply simple use a microfibre towel.

The metal polish that I recommend is Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream.  It can be used on chrome trim and wheels. It doesn’t matter if the chrome is plastic or metal. It’s also very safe on aluminum trim.  Use a microfiber towel to apply and buff off. It’s only downside is that it can stain rubber and plastic trim.

If you get some of the metal polish on your plastic or rubber you can clean it with Car Guys Super Cleaner mentioned above.  It’s very effective.

Another option to protect plastic and rubber is to use some 3M blue detailers tape.

UPDATE : Chemical Guys make two metal polishes. I haven’t tried them but I have heard good things. This link leads to Amazon where you can read the reviews. Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish

Use paint polish or compound to clean trim

Meguiars say that you can treat chrome and aluminum as if it were painted and use normal compound or polish.  So it’s worth trying if you have some. 

Using Metal Polish on Car Trim

Users of Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream have also used it to polish their tail pipes to great effect.  

It can also be used on chrome or aluminium wheels.  But before using it on wheels it’s a good idea to use an iron remover spray like Iron-X or Meguiars Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner.  This will dissolve a huge amount of bonded brake dust which is probably the cause of most of the staining on wheels anyway.  You just spray them on allow them to work for a few minutes before washing off.

Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream can also be used to clean headlights.  It’s non abrasive polishing abilities will remove the cloudiness you might have on older headlights and this will greatly improve your nighttime driving ability and safety.

Flitz Metal Polish is also commonly used in the industry.  You can get a Flitz buffing ball which you can attach to your drill.  Use this for larger chrome or aluminium areas such as bumpers. You will almost certainly get polish on your plastic trim when you use the buffing ball.  So use a degreaser immediately after to wash the area.

Here is whats written on the Flitz polish…

  • Removes tarnish, rust, water stains, chalking, lime deposits, heat discoloration, lead and powder residue and oxidation
  • Also removes tar, oil, fingerprints, tree sap, bird droppings, graffiti, dyes and black streaks

Using Steel Wool to Clean Aluminum.

Very fine steel wool can be used for extremely difficult cases.  This can scratch your paint so using tape like 3M Scotch Blue will be helpful.  

Use very fine steel wool which is grade 00 and is used for polishing metal.  You can get slightly less fine wool for more difficult cases. Many users on auto detailing discussion boards recommend using steel wool, especially on aluminum.

Steel wool might cause shiny chrome to haze up if you use too much pressure so test on a hidden area if you can.

Protecting Chrome and Aluminium Trim.

Water spots are them main cause of staining on chrome and aluminium trim.  So try not to let your car dry naturally after you wash it. Use a microfiber towel to remove any excess water.  

Using dish soap is also said to cause aluminium and chrome to haze and oxidise.  Use good quality car shampoo which is PH balanced and try not to let the suds dry on your car.  It’s always best to wash in the shade.

You can also apply a polymer wax to protect your entire car including paint, plastic and glass as well as metal and chrome.  One of my favorites is meguiars ultimate quik wax. It only takes around 15 minutes to do your car after a wash with this product because you don’t need to buff it like you do with other paste style waxes.

Drying your car with a big plush car drying towel is the best way to prevent water spots forming after a wash.  Read all about it here.

Conclusion

Stains can easily form on chrome or aluminium trim.  But there are a easy few things you can try that will definitely help.  A very effective option is a metal polish like Blue Magic Metal Polish Cream. Which is safe for use on cars.

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