How to Clean and Polish Aluminum

Aluminum is a lightweight, non-ferrous metal that is one of the most abundant metals on earth. You can see it everywhere and most probably, you own at least one aluminum product at home (it’s hard not to own one!). Aluminum is found in items like cans, pots, pans, utensils, plates, trays, vases, carports, wheels, and more. It’s cheap, easy to work with and resistant to corrosion.

While aluminum is very useful, one problem with it is that it can discolor and look dull gray over time. Perhaps you have an aluminum pot that has been unused for a long time and you wish to use again, but it looks dingy. To remedy that, here’s what you can do to clean out your aluminum pieces and make it shiny again:

1. Clean and scrub lightly

Aluminum is easy to clean. Simply use your dish soap and regular dish sponge and scrub gently like as you wash your dishes. If the piece has been unused for a long time, it’s best to use hot water. If you’re washing a pot or pan, make sure you remove all the grease. Don’t use abrasive scrubbers as it can scratch your aluminum.

2. Break out the acid

That dull gray thing that’s been taking over your aluminum is aluminum oxide and that’s what you want to get rid of to make it look bright and shiny again. This can be applied for unfinished aluminum like pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups.

To get rid of the oxidation on an aluminum pot, all you need to do is to boil something acidic. Fill up your pan or pot with water and add 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar for every quart of water. Add ½ cup of vinegar or lemon juice to the pot. Let this solution boil. Once it has boiled, let it sit for 15 minutes. You can throw in there any aluminum utensils you have. After that, remove the utensils and dump out the pot. This works out well also to remove discoloration, but it might need to be done again to achieve the best results. If what you’re trying to polish isn’t a pot but can fit in one, then you can still do this.

3. Polish outside surfaces

Whether it’s the outside of an aluminum pot or a different piece of aluminum, the method is the same – using acids. Grab a lemon, cut it in half, dip the open side in salt and then use it to rub the surface. Be careful not to rub too hard, as salt may scratch it. If you don’t have a real lemon, you can use lemon juice. Wet a rag or a clean cloth in it, sprinkle with salt and use it to gently scrub the surface.

4. Rinse

After you’re done, rinse off the surfaces really well with warm water. Dry it off very well and put the item away.

Other Tips and Ideas:

1. When cleaning aluminum windows and door frames, soap and water are not enough to bring back its luster. You can use a homemade solution out of acids (of course). Mix 4 cups of water and 1 cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Slice up a lemon, and rub the lemon slices directly to the aluminum surface you want to polish. Rinse the lemon off with the water and vinegar solution.

2. Try using aluminum polish. If you’re too lazy to do homemade polishing solutions, aluminum polish might be the product for you. Use a soft cloth to apply it to the aluminum piece, and wipe it on while doing small circular motions. After application, wipe the residue off using a different clean cloth. Pay attention to tricky spots like etchings, crevices, and handles and make sure you remove all the traces of aluminum polish. Then, buff the item to make it really shiny. Get another soft cloth and buff while doing small circular motions again.

One side note: don’t use aluminum polish on your pots, pans, utensils or any cookware as it is harmful when ingested. Yes, you’ll wash those items but just stick to the acids mentioned earlier to stay safe.

3. Avoid harsh cleaners when cleaning aluminum. Bleach surely clean your aluminum piece, but it can be too harsh. Baking soda and other alkali-based cleaners can cause discoloration on aluminum. Also, avoid abrasive scrubbers for aluminum pots and pans.

4. Ketchup can help remove oxidation in aluminum, too! Yes, it’s an unlikely polisher, but it works. First, cover the object with a thin layer of ketchup and let it sit for 20 minutes. After that, rub it vigorously using a soft cloth. Rinse it off immediately, then dry and polish by gently rubbing a soft, clean cloth.