How Do You Make Aluminum Shine Without Polishing It?

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

When it is clean and given the chance to shine, aluminum can be stunning. There are a ton of retail products out there that claim to be able to polish the surfaces of aluminum items, but there are some caveats.

You can use vinegar or a mixture of baking soda and lemon juice to make aluminum shine without polish. Cream of tartar can remove dirt and stains and make your aluminum shine. You can also make aluminum shine with toothpaste and a dry cloth.

Why Not Just Use a Retail Polish?

You certainly could use a retail polish if you wanted to. There are a couple of reasons that you may not want to do so, however. The first is that they can be quite expensive. Especially if you don’t foresee yourself using the polish that often, it can feel like too large an investment to make.

The second reason why you wouldn’t want to go with a store-bought aluminum polish is that the chemicals can be potentially harmful. They can damage other surfaces in your home and can even be dangerous for your family to inhale. That’s why going with a homemade option can be that much better an option.

4 Ways to Make Aluminum Shine

Method 1: Use Cream of Tartar

The great thing about using cream of tartar is that it not only works to restore the shine of your aluminum materials, but it can also remove excess dirt build-up as well as tough stains. Who knew cream of tartar could be so versatile?

To start, mix two tablespoons of the cream of tartar into a dish of water. Stir it slowly, continuing until you have a thick paste. When the paste is ready to go, rub it onto the aluminum surface that you are polishing; use a fine grain buffing pad to do the rubbing.

After thoroughly applying it over the entirety of the surface, use a soft cloth to wipe down any remaining residue. What you should be left with is a beautiful, vibrant shine like never before.

Method 2: Use Vinegar

If you don’t have vinegar in your home for cleaning purposes, you need to get some right away. Simply put white vinegar is one of the most versatile household cleaning products out there and you will wind up needing it at some point.

Creating a simple solution of water and white vinegar will serve you well when polishing your aluminum surfaces. Not only will it polish the aluminum, but it can also restore that item back to its original shine. Making antique items look new again may have seemed impossible but with vinegar, it is.

Pour your mixture into a spray bottle and apply it directly to the surface that you are looking to clean, wiping it away using a soft cloth. If you want to provide a little bit of an extra shine boost, you can use a steel wool fine-grain buffing pad. You can find those just about everywhere and can make for a worthwhile investment, especially when trying to restore antiques.

Method 3: Use Baking Soda and Lemon Juice

What makes vinegar so potent is the acidity within. That is why lemon juice, mixed with a little baking soda, can make for an effective polish for aluminum surfaces. Even better, these are two things that are in most homes at all times anyway.

Put two tablespoons of baking soda into a dish and stir the lemon juice in slowly until you start to form a thick paste. Much like the solutions above, rub it slowly into the surface of the aluminum that you are trying to polish.

Rub that solution with a soft cloth until all the residue has been removed. You can also use the aforementioned fine-grain buffing pad if the surface has any residue that has built up. Depending on the severity of the build-up, it is even possible that you could return the item’s original shine.

Method 4: Use Toothpaste

Did you know that you can even use toothpaste to polish your old aluminum utensils and fixtures? Just dab a little bit of it onto the surface of whatever you need to shine and rub it in thoroughly using a dry cotton cloth.

Make sure that you use a soft bristle toothbrush to get in those small spots and to scrub those more difficult stains that may be on the aluminum’s surface. When you’re done, rinse away the warm water and then use a dry, soft rag to finish off the polishing to bring out that strong shine.

Why Am I Getting a Haze Effect When Polishing Aluminum?

There may be times where you are polishing an aluminum surface – a piece of cutlery or even some aluminum wheels – and you notice that there is a clouding or hazing on the surface. This is oftentimes seen as the polishing process is happening.

There is an explanation for this. It could be as simple as oxidation. Oxidation can happen at an accelerated rate, making the surface look cloudy or hazy in the process. That is why it can be so beneficial to use a homemade cleaner instead.

Will Coke Clean Aluminum?

It may surprise you just how many things that Coca-Cola can do. There are a variety of cool things that you can use it for and, so long as you do so carefully, cleaning aluminum is one of those things. But do so cautiously.

If you are using Coke to clean chrome or aluminum, make sure that you don’t let it sit for long. Coke can and will eat away at the finish; the longer it sits, the greater the damage that it will do. If you have rusted tools or hardware, you can put them in a bowl or cup of coke overnight to help eat the rust away.

Can You Clear Coat Over Polished Aluminum?

Clearcoat is a great way to provide some additional shine to a surface. Even better, it can be used on aluminum surfaces to help keep the overall maintenance level down. It is important, however, to know that there is one major caveat.

Before you apply the clearcoat, make sure that the entire surface of the aluminum is free of grease, particulate, and oil. When those things get trapped underneath the clearcoat, it can make the finish look particularly bad and will be much more difficult to remedy.

What is Oxidation on Aluminum?

Whenever an aluminum surface is exposed to air or another type of oxidizing agent, it will begin to develop a hard, thin-film known as aluminum oxide. What’s unique about the oxidation process is that it can make aluminum particularly corrosion-resistant. That film is inert chemically speaking.

Oxidation can also create a cloudy appearance that takes away from the overall appearance of the aluminum.

How Do You Remove Oxidation From Aluminum?

The best place to start when trying to remove oxidation from an aluminum surface is to use white vinegar. If you didn’t get just how versatile white vinegar can be, its various uses when cleaning and polishing vinegar should be a clear indication.

Soak a soft cloth in vinegar and then wipe it right across the oxidized surface. When you’ve applied the vinegar thoroughly, use a soft-bristled toothbrush to scrub the area completely. After you are satisfied with the level of scrubbing, wipe away the lifted oxidation and vinegar using a soft, damp cloth.

It is important that you do not use anything abrasive during this process. Things like sandpaper or steel wool can potentially damage the finish of the aluminum and defeat the purpose of removing the oxidation altogether.

What is the Black Residue on Aluminum?

From time to time, you may notice a black film or residue on the surface of the aluminum. These marks are actually a natural byproduct of the oxidation process. You can take steps to prevent and remove the formation of oxidation on your aluminum surfaces.

Still, even with the prevention and removal, it will no doubt occur when it comes to aluminum pans that have not been anodized. The anodizing is meant to prevent the oxidation process from beginning.

Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

More by Ryan Womeldorf