Top 10 Best Metal Polishes Banish Tarnish and Rust, Save Elbow Grease
You already know that you can’t clean your car with the same thing you use to clean your dishes. The right product in the right place gives you amazing results, but the wrong one in the wrong place can ruin all your hard work. Well, when it comes time to clean that shiny chrome or aluminum trim on your car, or those billet wheels on your truck, or if you’ve got a really big truck those once-shiny diesel tanks, the carnauba wax you use for your paint isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, you need something made for polishing metal, not paint. Paint is soft, thin, and delicate. Metal is hard, thick (especially compared with paint), and the surface of it can actually change what it is made of thanks to corrosion, oxidation, and impacts with road debris. What you need is a metal polish, one designed to bring back the finish of your tired chrome or other shiny metals.
These are our picks for the best metal polishes to get your shiny bits as bright as your paintwork. For more information, refer to our table of contents.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish
- 2. Flitz Multi-Purpose Polish
- 3. Brasso Multi-Purpose Metal Polish
- 4. 3M Chrome and Metal Polish
- 5. Adam's Metal Polish #1 and #2
- 6. Nevr-Dull Never Dull Polish
- 7. Meguiar's Hot Rims Metal Polish
- 8. Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish
- 9. Quick-Glo Original Chrome Cleaner & Rust Remover
- 10. Red Devil Steel Wool
- How to Choose a Metal Polish
- How to Polish Metal
1. Editor's Pick: Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish
Mothers do it best, right? This polish is designed for all automotive metals, and while it works on those wheels that just need a bit of a freshening, it also can bring those ignored bumpers back to life. Easy to apply with a clean cloth, and remove with the same. The company also offers a kit that lets you apply it using a hand drill to save your arms. Available in 10-ounce containers for normal garage use or by the gallon if you've got a fleet of aluminum wheels to take care of.
Easy to apply, shines and protects
Not as effective on severe tarnish and rust, not for clear coat wheels
2. Flitz Multi-Purpose Polish
If you don't want to keep a different product for every part of your car, this multi-purpose formula can help you handle just about everything. From metals like brass and copper, to chrome, and anodized aluminum. It can even polish fiberglass gel coats and do headlight restoration. It's non-toxic, and the company says you can even use it in the kitchen. Developed in Germany and made in Wisconsin, this is a family-owned company that's been polishing for decades.
Non-toxic, works on just about anything
It's expensive per ounce, especially if you use it on everything
3. Brasso Multi-Purpose Metal Polish
Look under your grandparent's sink and you'll probably find Brasso. This metal polish has been on the market for more than 100 years, and has long been looked at as one of the best at what it does. This polish was designed, like the name suggests, for brass, but it's also great for metals like copper, stainless steel, chrome, and bronze. Shake, soak a cloth, and rub into surfaces and you're ready to polish anything from your sports car's wire wheels to your faded-looking bronze door handle.
Easy to use, great on bare metals
Not for painted or lacquered surfaces
4. 3M Chrome and Metal Polish
3M makes just about everything these days, and that includes some high-end automotive finishing products. On top of compounds for paint, 3M makes a chrome and metal polish designed to clean and polish chrome, stainless steel, and other metals. This one's aggressive and that means it can even help remove pitting from metals, depending on the severity. It can be applied by hand or with a polishing tool to bring back a like-new shine.
Removes pitting and spotting
Price slightly higher than some others
5. Adam's Metal Polish #1 and #2
It's tough to make a polish aggressive enough to remove the damage of neglected metal, while being fine enough to bring out a mirror finish when you're done. So Adam's doesn't try, instead selling a one-two punch to take care of your precious metal. Polish 1 uses stronger abrasives to help remove water spots, dull finishes, and other damage, while Polish 2 adds luster to give you a mirror finish.
Two-pack to handle tough and easy jobs
Need to polish twice
6. Nevr-Dull Never Dull Polish
Nevr-Dull comes with its own applicator. That is, the polish is embedded in what the company calls magic wadding. It removes tarnish and dirt from automotive metal trim without having to worry about the product spilling. Just tear off a piece of wadding and rub. The polish cleans metal, but won't scratch and leaves no residue behind.
Polish comes in its own applicator
You can only use it with that wadding
7. Meguiar's Hot Rims Metal Polish
Designed specifically for uncoated metal wheels. Think aluminum, chrome, and stainless steel, but make sure your wheels aren't clear coated before you get this one. Like many of these metal polishes, the combination isn't a good one: It can remove the clear coat from your wheels, but it won't happen uniformly. Hot Rims is designed to work with hand polishing or a special Meguiar's wheel polishing tool that attaches to your drill.
Works with the available power drill tool
Not as aggressive as some other polishes
8. Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish
This polish is designed for metalwork that's got lots of oxidation and some light staining from rust and other contaminants. Special cleaners work to remove those tough contaminants and stains from metals, and it includes protective polymers that work to protect the metal you've worked so hard to restore. Use it for chrome and stainless, and the makers recommend it for diamond plate aluminum.
Removes and prevents tarnish
Could be too abrasive for some applications
9. Quick-Glo Original Chrome Cleaner & Rust Remover
Another non-toxic polish, which if you've spent much time polishing and getting your hands, arms, and face covered, you'll appreciate. It uses pumice, which the company says breaks down into smaller and smaller sizes as you work. Removing heavy tarnish, oxidation, and even rust with no fumes. While it will work on chrome and stainless, it also works to remove stubborn contaminants from glass and even clean your whitewall tires. As a polish and wax, it can protect from new oxidation for up to a year.
Cleans metal, glass, and rubber
Can turn to liquid if stored at extreme temps
10. Red Devil Steel Wool
You might not think of steel wool as much of a polish, but this isn't the steel wool under the sink you're thinking of. 000 Extra Fine steel wool is thinner, and that lets it remove some of the most stubborn rust and pitting from your chrome and shiny metal parts. You'll probably need to polish again afterwards with another recommendation on this list to get that mirror shine, but to get the worst stuff off, mechanical steel wool scrubbing beats chemicals every time.
Can remove severe rust and pitting
Won't leave a mirror shine, meaning more work
How to Choose a Metal Polish
The place to start is by finding out what type of metal it is you're trying to polish. It could be simple chrome, which most polishes work well on, but it could be aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, or one of many other metals. More importantly, it could be clear coat finished, in which case a metal polish could ruin the surface instead of restoring it.
Check the label of the polish you're looking at to make sure it'll work with the metal you're working with.
Corrosion and oxidation can make your metal parts look like they've been underwater for a decade, or they may just have some light water spots you want to remove. Look for an aggressive polish to handle the former, and one that's less aggressive for the latter. If you use an overly aggressive polish on your lightly tarnished chrome, you may need to do the job over to remove the fine scratches that appear.
If you've got kids or pets around, a non-toxic polish may be more important to you. If you're the only one around, and you're prepared to use gloves in a well-ventilated area, that might not be a concern for you.
Some polishes also contain wax, which helps preserve your hard work. If you're planning to use a specialty wax anyway, you'd be best served with a polish that doesn't contain a wax than one that has both.
How to Polish Metal
Always read the instructions before starting, and polishing hot metal in direct sun is not likely to go well for you. Apply the polish as directed to the metal you want to shine. Most polishes don't need to dry after application like a wax, so immediately begin polishing, in a circular motion, using moderate pressure and either the included applicator, a microfibre towel, or a foam polishing pad.
Clean the surface frequently, and when you notice that it's beginning to shine, buff with a clean cloth to reveal the mirror finish you've been working for. Now it's time to apply the wax if you have one.
Instead of a towel or cloth, applying with a special pad designed to work with a drill can take out much of the work. Apply the polish to the pad and dab onto the metal surface. Then use the polishing pad per the included instructions. Wipe with a clean cloth when done, and use wax for the last step.
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Photo credit: JULIE LUCHT / Shutterstock.com
Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.
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