i have never had polished wheels before and now i have some on my 88 sierra, how do i take care of them so they look good all the time and for years to come?
I’ve been polishing wheels for a while now and have learned a lot through using various methods. I’ve had several people ask me to write a how-to on keeping aluminum wheels looking good. Here is my procedure for polishing aftermarket aluminum wheels. These are wheels with no-clear coat. YOUR FACTORY ZQ8 WHEELS HAVE A CLEARCOAT. DO NOT USE ALUMINUM POLISH ON THESE WHEELS.
I use Griots Products for almost all the detailing on my truck. They can be ordered form here… www.griotsgarage.com
How to Polish Aluminum Wheels
1. I recommend pulling the wheels off the truck in order to properly clean and polish them. After you have the wheel off the truck, the first thing you want to do is to remove anything you can from the wheel. This includes center caps, valve stem covers, etc.
Tip – Removing as may pieces as possible reduces the areas that polish can collect, resulting in a much cleaner finished product.
2. Cleaning. The next step is to wash the wheels. Your objective here is to get most of the loose dirt and brake dust off the wheel. I use regular car soap (Meguire’s) and a lambskin cleaning mitt (Griots #10209). This will remove the dirt and prevent any major scratching of the wheel. After washing it, dry it off with a chamois or micro-fiber towel.
3. Next you’ll want to remove any dirt, tar, or grease that was left over from after washing it. I use wax and grease remover(paint prep) for this job. Put some on a soft rag and wipe down the whole wheel several times. Spend as much time as you need to in order to get the stubborn areas clean. This includes recesses in the backside, the joint where the face meets the hoop, and the lug nut and center cap holes.
Tip – Having a clean wheel is the most important part of the polishing process. Any dirt on the wheel will be mixed in with the polish and will scratch while you are polishing. Cleanliness.
4. Next you’ll want to re-wash the wheel using the same methods you used in #2. This will allow any dirt that became dislodge with the wax and grease remover to be washed away. Dry the wheel off and inspect it. You should have a perfectly clean wheel. If you notice anything that could contaminate the polish, remove it now.
5. Polishing. I classify polishing into two categories:
- The first method(Stage 1) is the more aggressive way to polish. This is to be used on an oxidized wheel. This requires the use of a cloth applicator or a product like the Mothers Powerball. This method will remove the oxidation quickly and will leave you with a nice shine. But if brought into sunlight you’ll notice small micro-scratches on your wheel.
- The second method(Stage 2) of polishing is a less aggressive way. This requires the use of a latex glove as an applicator. This method will not remove oxidation. It is only meant to be used on an already shiny wheel. It will however remove the small micro-scratches that were left over from the first method. Performing this style of polishing will leave you with a perfectly clear and scratch free shine. Some people refer to it as mirrored.
Tip – Only polish on a cool wheel away from the sun. It makes the job much easier and provides superior results.
6. Stage 1 Polishing. I like to use the Mothers Powerball on a drill for my initial polishing. It does an excellent job and is much quicker then doing it by hand, which allows for more time for Stage 2 polishing. I use Mothers Billet Aluminum Polish for all the polishing on my wheels. Apply some polish to wheel and to the Powerball and slowly start spreading the polish around at low speed. After a thin layer of polish is on the wheel you can increase the speed of the drill and use moderate pressure. It is important to keep the drill moving so that you end up with an even shine. Continue running the drill until the polish turns black. You can then remove it with a 100% Cotton Polishing Cloth (Griots #14600). I generally use 2 polish removal cloths. The first one I’ll wipe the majority of the polish off with and the second I’ll use to buff off any excess. This will keep the second cloth cleaner and will speed up the process.
Tip – Never let any of your cloths touch the ground. Any dirt they pick up on the ground will transfer onto your wheel when you’re removing the polish, resulting in scratching. Remember cleanliness
Continue using the Powerball on all surfaces of the wheel. If there are spots that it will not reach, use a 100% Cotton Polishing Cloth or a Micro fiber Cloth to apply the polish in those areas. You’ll have to use some elbow grease in order to achieve the same shine as what the Powerball produces. Continue polishing until you have the shine you desire. The more times or longer you polish, the clearer the shine will be, until you get to the point where their is no oxidation left.
7. Stage 2 Polishing. So now you have a nice shiny looking wheel. Your wheels haven’t looked this great since they were new. You bolt them back on your truck, roll out of the garage, and BAM… the sun hits it and you have micro-scratches. It looks similar to a dark colored car that hasn’t been properly waxed. These were formed from the last polishing.
The way polish works is that there are large particles in there to remove oxidation quickly, but at the same time put very tiny scratches in the soft aluminum. As these particles remove the oxidation they break down into smaller particles whose job is to remove the tiny scratches the big particles put in. The problem lies in the applicator. Using a foam or cloth applicator allows the particles to be soaked up before they are finished doing their job. What you need is an applicator that is soft but does not soak anything up.
For this I use a Latex glove. Simply put one on your hand, dip your finger in polish and start applying the polish in small circles using moderate pressure. You’ll notice the polish turn from a white paste into a gray/black thinner paste into a black liquid. This takes time, don’t rush it. When it is a black liquid, it has broken down as far as it’ll go. Continue to rub the liquid on the wheel for about 30 seconds. Removal of the polish is the same as before. Use two cloths, the second one being your clean polishing cloth. Continue to do the whole wheel like this working small sections at a time. This procedure takes a lot of time and elbow grease, but it will be worth it.
When you think your finished roll the wheel back out in the sun and look for the micro scratches. They should be all gone and the wheel will have a smooth clear shine similar to that of a properly waxed car. If there are any small scratches left a second polishing may be needed.
7. The Details. Walking around car shows, I’ll see some great looking wheels. When I croutch down and take a good look though, I’ll see a lot of mistakes. Take the time to finish removing any excess polish. All the cracks, hard to reach areas, around the valve stem, around the center cap, and the lug nut holes are places I see a lot of left over polish. I like to take a very thin flat head screwdriver, wrap it in my polishing cloth, and run it in all the cracks. BE CAREFULL! You’ll want a thin cloth layer over the tip of the screwdriver so that it can reach further down in the cracks but you don’t want to poke through the cloth and scratch your wheel. Go slow, take your time, and you’ll eventually become comfortable with it.
When applying tire shine, apply it to an applicator and then use the applicator on the tire. Never spray it directly on the wheel. If any silicone gets on the wheel, it’ll smear and eventually ruin your perfect polish job. Another pet-peev of mine is wet-looking tires. Go to any Concours Event and you will lose points for having wet looking tires. Tire dressing should leave a tire an even satin black. For this I use Griots Vinyl & Rubber Dressing(Griots #11169). It contains no silicone, so you won’t get that build up that you do using other products and it leaves you with a black natural looking tire.
When cleaning your wheels after a fresh polish, I like to use a small California Duster. This will lift and remove the dirt and dust keeping the scraching to a minimum. Unfortunately if a wheel isn’t sealed it will start to scratch as soon as you wipe it. Using the duster reduces this but only a Stage 2 Polish will restore the perfectly clear shine you once had.
8. The Finished Product. Step back and admire your work in different lighting. If you followed the steps properly you should have an excellent looking wheel. You took the time and hard work that most others don’t to improve the look of your truck. Congratulations!
If you have any questions, just ask.
I’m going to be testing some sealants to try and increase the durability for everyday drivers. I’ll let you know how that goes.