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How to polish metal

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As with most products, it helps to know how to polish metal. In many cases you can only give a general guide, because even though some products can fall in the same category, they might still need a slightly different way of applying. Metal polish is one of those products.

Why the need to polish metal

Metal is prone to oxidation. The dirt and grime it accumulates over time is often easily washed away, but oxidation can’t be washed away. In some cases, a part of the oxidation can be caused by washing. Certain cleaning chemicals can stain a metal surface, and water can react with certain metal to create a layer of surface oxidation.

Using a chemical metal polish

Chemical metal polishes are different to abrasive polishes. Where as abrasive polishes “grind” away a layer of the surface in a very controller way, a chemical polish uses a chemical process to affect the surface. The end result might look different, but with a chemical process it is sometimes easier to remove all the oxidized particles, whereas an abrasive polish can only remove the surface layer, meaning there is a chance they won’t remove certain oxidized particles that are a bit deeper in the surface.
The general end result is that it helps you to make metal shiny and bright again, when it used to be dull and grey.

certain steps that should always be taken

  • Remove any screw, plastic covers or other non-metal parts
  • Tape off any surrounding non-metal parts/surfaces
  • Clean the area first with some APC to remove most of the dirt
  • If the surface is mostly flat and smooth, claying can help to remove some traffic film and other contaminants
  • Take into account that the black sludge you get while polishing metal, is very difficult to remove from towel and pads

In case of average or light dullness (oxidation)

Using an abrasive metal polish

  • Apply a little bit of metal polish to either a polishing pad or an old (MF) towel
  • Spread the product evenly over the surface
  • Start rubbing the polish by making small circles, some pressure might be needed
  • Go over the entire area, and then go back to the beginning and start again
  • You might notice how the polish turns black, which is quite normal
  • When a shine starts to appear, add a little bit more polish to the pad/(MF) towel
  • The polish should only be visible as smears and streaks, not as lumps of metal polish
  • Keep rubbing the surface with the little bit of extra polish till you don’t see any effect anymore (not more gloss/reflection)
  • Take a clean cloth/(MF) towel and wipe off the polish
  • Spray a bit of IPA or similar, and wipe off the metal
  • If you are not happy with the result, you can try to repeat the polishing steps

Using a chemical metal polish

  • Apply a little bit of metal polish to a polishing pad or an old (MF) towel
  • Spread the product evenly over the surface
  • Start rubbing the polish by making small circles
  • Keep rubbing the area till the products starts to haze
  • If you don’t see any improvements anymore, apply a little bit more polish to the pad or towel
  • Keep in mind that the polish should only be visible as smears and streaks, not as lumps of product
  • The black coloring in the product you might get is normal
  • Keep rubbing the product over the surface, with chemical polishing pressure doesn’t play a big role in the end result
  • If you don’t see any improvements anymore, grab another cloth/(MF) towel and wipe off the polish
  • Spray some IPA or similar on a cloth and wipe off the residue
  • If you are not happy with the result, you can repeat the polishing steps

Machine polishing metal

The process is pretty much the same for both chemical polishes and abrasive polishes.

  • Apply 3 dots (or a small smear) of metal polish metal polish on a polishing pad
  • Spread the product over the surface evenly with the machine turned off
  • Turn the machine to the lowest settings but make sure that the pad turns, and spread the product
  • Slowly turn up the speed and work in the product, the product should start to haze after a while
  • When the product appears to be disappearing, keep polishing the surface for a little longer
  • Wipe off the product with a cloth/(MF) towel
  • Apply IPA (or similar) and wipe off the residue
  • Repeat the polishing steps until you are satisfied

Other possible ways of polishing metal

There are several other forms of polishing, but some of these are either specialist jobs, or require tool that are not very common for a detailer to own. Some of these processes are:

Chemical bath

In this process, the object is submersed into a series of baths with different chemicals. During this process the metal is cleaned, oxidation removed, the working ingredients neutralized and then cleaned again. This process can be very effective, and is part of the preparation for processes such as chromeplating, ionizing, copperplating and more. This is a job for a skilled chemist, and should not be tried at home without proper experience, knowledge and safety equipment.

Abrasive cones/balls

In this process a big virbating bucket is filled with small pyramid shaped cones. These cones can be from different materials with different coatings to achieve different result. The object is then immersed into the bath with cones and because of the vibrating action, the cones will move over the surface of the object, slowly polishing it. This process can be very effective but requires equipment and material that is not very commong for a detailer to have.
This process can also be done will balls instead of cones.

Grinder with cotton disk

A popular tool among professional metal polishers is the cotton disc. Just like a grinding disc, this cotton disc is spinned at very high rpm and then moved over the surface of the object. The cotton disc acts a bit like a polishing pad. If needed, polish can be added to the disc by using a hard substance that is pressed against the cotton disc while spinning.
In the hands of a professional polisher, this can give very good results.

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