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How to polish or clean up factory aluminum wheels?

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I cleaned up a couple sets last year and they came out really good. I used A/C COIL cleaner. Spray it on, wait a while and hose off, repeat as necessary. Available at plumbing supply houses. BECAREFUL as this is a ACID!!



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They WERE clearcoated. Once the clearcoat gets compromised, it traps moisture underneath and promotes oxidation. When that happens, the only approach is to strip the clearcoat, polish, and then decide if you want to try spray-on clearcoat in a can, or accept that you'll need to polish periodically.


I use Aircraft Stripper (that's a brand name) from Auto Zone. Like the one mentioned above, I believe it's acidic and should not be left on too long. I do it at a coin-op car wash on a day when they're slow. Put the wheels on the floor near the drain, paint of the stripper with a cheap chip brush from Lowe's or Home Depot, let it work for a minute or two, then fire up the car wash and wash it off. If it doesn't get completely stripped, I repeat as necessary. A pressure washer at home would do the same thing, but (a) I don't have a pressure washer, and (B) I'm on a well, which is near my driveway and garage, and I don't feel like dumping a bunch of somewhat nasty chemicals into my water supply.


I don't recoat. I might try one wheel as an experiment, but once they're stripped it isn't too hard to polish them occasionally.

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there are many ways to clean them up. it all depends on your plans for them. if you just want them clean and have no intent to re-coat them, oven cleaner works well.


the acid works great but does dull or remove any finish there is. if it doesn't remove the finish, you'll get a clean look but the finish will have a slight white haze on it.


if you do want to re-finish the, there are several excellent options. aircraft stripper will remove the paint/clearcoat that is already on them. this chemical is very strong and needs to be monitored, then hosed off when you feel they are done. it may take a couple treatments to get the finished product. when you're done with that step, you'll want to lightly ruff up the surface, then wipe it down with some acetone or alcohol. then paint as you like.


if i'm painting wheels (even re-coating aluminum wheels), i prefer to blast them. you can bead blast or soda blast them at a low pressure so it doesn't dig in too far. then wipe them down with acetone or alcohol. then spray them as you like.


if the finish is not in too bad a shape, just clean it well with a scotchbrite pad and re-coat them.


if they are not coated, polishing them with a premium aluminum polish and a small pad on a drill, or alot of elbow grease, will clean them up nice and make them shine.


if you want fast and easy, clean them with your choice of cleaners, scotchbrite the surface and spray paint it what ever color you want. keep an extra can or two around in case you need to cover scratches later.

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we cleaned up my intake manifold with soda. Go to sam's and get a 10lb bag of baking soda, and get a hopper gun for the air compressor. Works great.


However, it will get everywhere. It was cold when I did it. I was wearing about 4 layers and some coveralls and still ended up with it on my skin.

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