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Polishing Aluminum Wheels: Four Things to Avoid

Polishing Aluminum Wheels: Four Things to Avoid

Wheel maintenance is a dirty, dirty job. When done properly and regularly, you can keep a set of rims looking shiny and new years after you bought them. And let’s be honest—everyone wants clean, shiny rims. 

Let’s say you have a set of Moto Metal MO985s and just want those bad boys to shine.

It’s not as easy as hosing down your wheels while your car sits in the driveway (even though that would be really, really nice). 

It requires a lot of elbow grease, actual grease, specifically designed cleaning products, and a few handy tools to see your rims gleam. 

Polishing a set of aluminum wheels isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are a few things we think are majorly important to remember while jumping into this process.

Getting Cheap Tools and Materials

This goes for pretty much anything in life: you don’t always want the cheapest possible option. In fact, you almost never want the cheapest possible option. 

This sentiment goes for almost everything, but particularly for things you take pride in. If you’re hand-polishing your wheels, we’re going to assume you’re the type of driver that takes pride in your vehicle.

You Don’t Need the Most Expensive Option

Don’t get us wrong—we’re not saying you should buy the most expensive polishing sanders and polish materials. There are definitely products out there that are expensive just to be expensive. 

As with anything you might use on your car, do your research. Read reviews and take heed of anything with low ratings.

We live in a time when you can learn from others' mistakes, so take advantage of that. 

You’re going to want a heavy, medium, and light option for sandpaper, as well as a hand drill, several various shapes and sizes of polishing drill heads, and a good amount of polishing creams. 

We love the Mothers Polish brand. They have high-quality creams and polishing heads to explore.

Properly Cleaning the Wheels

We’re going to imagine your wheels are in their worst-case scenario. You’ve accidentally rubbed them against the curb a few times. They have some decent dirt and muck rubbed into their cracks and crevices, and they may even have a few rust spots.

All of these are fixable issues if you take the time to remove them. 

Curb Rash

Now and then, you find yourself parallel parking. It’s all going fine and well, then suddenly—oops! You might have gotten your rear wheel a little too close to the curb, and you hear that unforgiving sound of aluminum against the pavement. 

Don’t worry! It happens to the best of us. 

If you plan to polish your aluminum wheels until they look like a brand new mirror, it’s time to own up to your mistakes and take care of the curb rash. 

Luckily, you can fix this fairly easily with just a little sanding. You will want to spend the time to make sure you clear out those spots without overdoing it. 


Rust is a fickle villain to any auto lover. It can attack just about every aspect of your machine. 

On your rims, rust really shouldn’t be too hard to clear up if you catch it early… with some work. 

Because rust is such a pressing repeat offender on exposed metals, it’s important to address it seriously and follow the steps to remove it. 

Here’s a helpful instruction list about removing rust from your aluminum wheels. You should already have just about everything you need if you’ve been shopping to polish your rims.

You might have to buy a Coke-A-Cola, though, but who’s complaining about that? 

Dirt and Muck

Remember how we said you couldn’t polish your rims with just the hose in your driveway?

Well, you can probably finish this part with just the hose in your driveway.

Clearing all the dirt, mud, and whatever else might be hiding in your vehicle’s nooks and crannies is extremely important when polishing. You don’t want to start sanding your wheels and realize you’ve been rubbing dirt into them for half an hour. 

The only real pain here is that you need to remove the wheels from your vehicle to make sure you’re getting under all the lug nuts and center cap if you have one. 

Honestly, you should be taking your wheels off to polish them anyway, so most of that work is already done. Just take your hose and a microfiber towel and really get in there to make sure your rims are as clean as can be before you start. 

Polishing Too Quickly

Have you noticed how time is a key element to all of this? While it shouldn’t take you all weekend to polish your rims, you definitely don’t want to rush anything.

Taking the time to really get into the details and scrub-a-dub-dub your wheels will make the difference between rims that sparkle and rims that… look a little better than they used to. 

Trust us. Polishing your wheels may be a bit of a process, but if you spend the time to really make sure you’re getting the job done right, you’re going to appreciate your wheels more than if you just skip right to polishing.

Clean Inside the Lug Holes

We’ve already mentioned taking the wheels off your car at this point, so don’t look surprised.

Lug holes are where the lug bolts go through the wheels to connect them to the car's connection point, but you knew that. So, we all know that you can’t see the inside of the lug holes when you’re driving around. 

Still, getting inside there and cleaning them out will make sure that gunk isn’t flying around onto your perfectly shiny rim after you spent an afternoon cleaning the rest of it. 

Not to mention, if you were to start noticing rust or other issues while cleaning out the holes, you would much rather notice that sooner than later. 

And if you’re worried about losing track of one of your lug nuts, we’ve got you covered. We have a variety of options for replacement nuts on our website. Even if you didn’t lose them, sometimes buying a new set can bring life to older wheels. 

Take Your Time Sanding

Heavy grit, medium grit, light grit—in that order. Knowing how to properly sand is going to make a huge impact on how your rims turn out. 

You want to be gentle while sanding your rims. You aren’t trying to carve any new shapes into the aluminum. 

You are trying to wash out any scratches and imperfections. The heavy grit does a lot of heavy-duty work, and your wheels will probably look atrocious after using it. 

The medium and light sanding will smooth out any imperfections made with the heavy grit paper. 

Take your sandpaper and attach it to a handle, a block of wood, or even a drill. You don’t want to handle sandpaper in your bare hands, and these tools will save you a lot of effort (and skin).

By taking the time to work through each layer of sanding patiently, your rims will come out with a clean, shiny surface ready to be lathered and buffed with polishing creams. 

Wearing Clothes You Like

This doesn’t exactly affect how your wheels will turn out, but believe us when we say you won’t be ready to go on a date in whatever you were wearing while polishing. 

You’re going to get dirty. Very dirty. 

And with some stuff that might not come out easily in the wash. 

It’s always good to have a few outfits dedicated to auto work. Have you ever noticed that mechanics always wear a jumpsuit? 

You might get rust, oil, polish, dirt, and other automotive fluids on you while polishing your wheels. Be ready to destroy whatever you’re wearing in the process. 


If you’re doing some maintenance and polishing on your rims, the main things to keep in mind are:

  • Buy appropriate materials. 

  • Assess everything you’re going to need to do.

  • Address any issues outside of dirt you may have.

  • Spend the time to make it worth the time.

  • Wear something you don’t care about. 

At Rent A Wheel, we applaud anyone willing to put the time and resources into polishing their aluminum wheels. 

It isn’t something you will find yourself doing all the time. Still, an occasional deep cleaning and polishing (and a frequent maintenance cleaning) will keep your rims looking so reflective you can look at yourself and say, “Dang, that’s a good job right there, buddy.”



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