How to Clean Aluminum and Restore Its Shine

Updated June 24, 2020
dirty and shiny clean aluminum pan

Aluminum is one of the most abundant metals on Earth and can be found throughout most households in items such as pots, pans, appliances and tables. Cleaning aluminum to make it shine like new is easy if you know the right steps and the best aluminum cleaning products.

How to Clean Aluminum

The first step in cleaning aluminum items in your home is to determine if the aluminum is unfinished. An aluminum object covered in lacquer, paint or another coating should be cleaned according to the requirements of the coating rather than the metal. If the aluminum is not coated, proceed to follow the instructions for the type of item or aluminum you will be cleaning.

Using Acid-Based Solutions for Cleaning Aluminum

To thoroughly clean the item, you will need an acid-based solution. An acid is necessary to remove the oxidized coating that naturally develops on aluminum surfaces.

  • You can buy commercially prepared acidic cleaners designed for the product you are cleaning.
  • You can make DIY aluminum cleaning options at home using items such as tomatoes, lemons or even apples.
  • While you can use acids such as bleach or hydrofluoric acid, they have many negative side effects and do not do a better job than the acids found in natural ingredients in your home.

How to Clean Brushed Aluminum

polish aluminum car wheel cover

Brushed aluminum items are typically found on household appliances like stoves and refrigerators and kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Brushed aluminum can also be found on your car hubcaps. To clean this type of aluminum, you will need the following ingredients:

Steps for Cleaning Brushed Aluminum

  1. Take one of the cloths and wipe the surface of the aluminum thoroughly to remove any debris or dust.
  2. If you find that the cloth isn't enough, you can use a non-abrasive cleaning pad to remove any crusted or dried-on dirt.
  3. If you still are finding that there is debris and dirt that you cannot remove, fill the bucket with hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid soap.
  4. Take a cloth or the non-abrasive pad and soaked it in the water and soap solution and then use it to work off the debris from the aluminum. Use either a gentle circular motion with the pad or if there is a clear "grain" to the piece, follow the direction of the grain with the pad.
  5. Prepare a solution of 50% white vinegar and 50% water in a bucket. Use one of the cloths and immerse it in the bucket, soaking up some solution.
  6. Take the wet cloth and rub it on the aluminum, using a circular motion and concentrating especially on discolored areas.
  7. If you cannot remove the more heavily discolored areas, make a paste using a tablespoon of cream of tartar and about a half tablespoon of water (use enough water to make a paste-like texture that isn't too wet).
  8. Take the paste and coat the hard-to-clean spots and wait at least five to 10 minutes. Then take the wet cloth and rub the paste away.
  9. You can also use readily available items in your kitchen like baking soda or lemon juice instead of cream of tartar. The paste will be made at a ratio of 33% baking soda and 66% lemon juice.
  10. Once you have all the discolored spots removed, take your glass cleaner and spray the aluminum all over. Take the remaining clean, dry cloth and remove the glass cleaner using a gentle, circular motion.
  11. Once your aluminum item is dry, you can make it really shine by using a commercial metal polish. Use one of the dry cloths to rub gently a small amount of the polish on the aluminum to bring out the shine.
  12. Take a clean, dry cloth and use it to get rid of any residue from the polish remaining on the surface.
  13. For a final step, if you are cleaning brushed aluminum hubcaps, you can coat the hubcaps with a clear sealant to make the shine last longer.

How to Clean Cast Aluminum

cast aluminum pots pans

Cast aluminum is often found with kitchen cookware and some types of furniture. To clean cast aluminum items you will need:

  • 3 clean dry cloths
  • A non-abrasive cleaning pad or a soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Cream of tartar
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Lemon juice
  • Fresh tomatoes, apples or rhubarb (optional)
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands
  • A bucket or spray bottle

Steps for Cleaning Cast Aluminum

  1. As with other types of aluminum, you will want to clean any dirt or debris on the aluminum first. You can do this with the same steps for brushed aluminum.
  2. If the cast aluminum item you are cleaning is a cooking pot or pan and it has food that has been burned on the bottom or sides, you can remove it with cooking. Add water to the pan and set the water to boil for a few minutes. Then take a wooden or plastic spatula and use it to remove the softened burnt food from the pan.
  3. If your first attempt to remove burnt food is not completely successful, repeat the process but add an acid into the boiling water.
    • Some possible choices are white vinegar, cream of tartar, lemon or lime juice, chopped rhubarb or tomato or even chopped apples.
    • Allow the water to boil for 10 to 15 minutes and then use the spatula to remove the food.
    • Repeat the process if necessary until all the burnt food is removed.
  4. If after all of these attempts there is still food remaining, you can try a very fine grade steel wool. Be sure to use it gently and move with the grain. Keep in mind that steel wool can scratch your pots and pans so you want to be careful with this step.
  5. If your pot or pan is mildly dirty and you can remove all the debris with a cloth or pad, then you can proceed with the next step in cleaning. Add four cups of water to the pan and three tablespoons of cream of tartar and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. You can empty the water and cream of tartar solution from the pot and allow it to cool until you're able to handle it. Take a cloth, non-abrasive pad or a toothbrush and gently scrub the pan using a circular motion.
  7. Once you feel you have scrubbed the pot or pan clean, make a mixture at a ratio of a half cup of lemon juice to 1-1/2 cups water, or substitute vinegar for the lemon juice.
  8. Dip a cloth in the mixture and then use it to rinse the pan clear of the tartar solution. You may find it easier to take an empty spray bottle and pour the mixture into it and then use that to spray the mixture on the aluminum surface and then use a cloth to wipe it off.
  9. Finally, take a dry clean cloth and wipe the pot or pan clean.

How to Clean Hammered Aluminum

polish hammered aluminum silverware handle

Hammered aluminum is often found on older items and antiques. To clean hammered aluminum items you will need:

  • Clean dry cloths
  • A non-abrasive cleaning pad
  • Cream of tartar
  • White vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • Mild dishwashing liquid soap
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands
  • A large cooking pot

Steps for Cleaning Hammered Aluminum

  1. Take the cooking pot and fill it with:
    • 2 cups of water
    • 4 tablespoons of cream of tartar
    • 1 cup of your acid of choice (white vinegar or lemon juice)
  2. Set the pot on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil. If you are cleaning a larger piece, you may want to double this recipe.
  3. You can either do this next step in your sink, a large bucket or plastic tub, or your bathtub. If you are using the sink or bathtub, plug the drain to keep water from escaping.
  4. Pour the boiled mixture into the sink, tub or bucket and then place your aluminum item in the water and allow it to soak for at least ten minutes. For heavily blackened hammered aluminum items, you may want to allow it to soak longer.
  5. You can now drain out the water mixture. Fill your soaking area with hot, but not boiling, water and then add in about a teaspoon of mild liquid dishwashing soap. Continue allowing the aluminum items to soak in this new mixture for at least five minutes.
  6. Take one of the cloths or the non-abrasive scrubbing pad and gently rub the items to clean them.
  7. When all the black has been removed, take the item out of the water and rinse it so that all the soap residue is removed. Dry it thoroughly with a clean dry cloth.
  8. For extra shine, you can use a commercial metal polish such as Hagerty 100 All Metal Polish on the clean and dried piece.

How to Clean Oxidized Aluminum

polish oxidized aluminum

Oxidation is a process that happens to aluminum over time and results in a dull appearance to your aluminum items. It may also appear to be "stained" with a chalky, white substance. You can find oxidation on almost any aluminum item, from pots and pans to appliances to even the siding on RVs and trucks. To clean aluminum items that have been oxidized, you will need:

  • Clean dry cloths
  • A non-abrasive cleaning pad or a soft-bristled cleaning brush
  • Fine grade steel wool (optional)
  • Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish
  • Mild dishwashing liquid soap
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • A bucket
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth (optional)
  • Denatured alcohol (optional)
  • Aluminum oxidation remover (optional)
  • A lemon (optional)
  • Salt (optional)

Steps for Cleaning Oxidized Aluminum

  1. Start by cleaning off any dirt or debris on the aluminum with a cloth or the cleaning brush.
  2. Take the bucket and add about a tablespoon of the liquid dishwashing soap and a gallon of warm water.
  3. Wet the brush, pad or cloth in the water and soap mixture and gently clean the aluminum. Be careful not to press too hard as you don't want to damage the surface.
  4. After you've cleaned the entire surface, rinse out the cloth, pad or brush and then use it to remove any soap residue.
  5. Allow the aluminum to dry on its own.
  6. If the oxidation was not thoroughly cleaned, you can take the aluminum cleaner, such as Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish, and apply it very gently to the surface using the fine steel wool.
  7. Rinse the polish off using a wet sponge or cloth and make sure it's completely removed.

Using a DIY Solution to Clean Oxidized Aluminum

If you prefer to use a homemade solution, try vinegar.

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar with 2 cups of warm water in a bucket or use this ratio to make a larger amount, depending on what you are cleaning.
  2. Wet a cloth or non-abrasive pad in the vinegar-water mixture and then use it to clean the aluminum surface gently.
  3. When you're done take a clean, wet cloth to remove any excess residue from the mixture on the aluminum.
  4. Allow the aluminum to dry on its own.

Tackling Difficult Stains on Oxidized Aluminum

If you still see any dirt remaining on the aluminum after you have tried the above methods, such as fingerprints, you can take some additional steps to work on these stubborn stains.

  1. Take a microfiber cloth and use it to remove them by gently wiping them with the cloth. You may want to spray a tiny bit of denatured alcohol on the spots and fingerprints to help remove them with the cloth.
  2. You can also use a commercially prepared product, such as Meguiar's Oxidation Remover, for tough-to-remove spots. It can be applied with the microfiber cloths or a cotton terry towel and replied off with the microfiber cloths when you are done cleaning.
  3. A third option for hard-to-remove oxidation spots involves using lemon and salt. Take a whole lemon and cut it in half. Pour some salt onto a dish and then press the lemon, cut side down, onto the salt so that the crystals stick to the lemon. Then use the lemon, cut and salt side down, to rub the oxidized areas on the aluminum. Use a wet cloth to remove the residue when you're done.
  4. If you're cleaning a large surface, you can also use lemon juice squirted onto a cloth, brush or cleaning pad.

How to Clean Tarnished Aluminum

stack of tarnished cake pans

Tarnished aluminum refers to the appearance or dark or dull areas on aluminum items such as the bottoms of pots and frying pans, utensils and more. Cleaning tarnished aluminum is very similar to other types of aluminum cleaning methods and you should start with the steps to clean cast aluminum. If that method still does not remove the tarnish, an additional option is to either use a commercially prepared tarnish cleaner such as Brasso Metal Polish or you can use Borax, which contains sodium tetraborate, a natural cleaning agent.


Cleaning Tarnished Aluminum With Borax

  1. Make a Borax paste by mixing 1/4 quarter cup of Borax with a few drops of water in a small bucket. Add a few drops at a time until you get the right consistency. You want to create a paste that you can apply to the aluminum so it should be wet but not so wet that it falls apart when you apply it or drips off.
  2. Take the brush or toothbrush and gently daub some Borax paste onto the tarnished areas of the aluminum. Allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes. For deep-set stains, you can let it sit as long as an hour if need be.
  3. Take the brush or toothbrush and gently rub the paste into the stain. You should see the tarnish coming off as you do this.
  4. Take a damp clean cloth and remove any trace of the Borax paste residue.
  5. If tarnish stains remain, repeat the process.
  6. When you're done, take a clean, dry cloth and dry the area thoroughly.

Best Way to Clean Aluminum

Aluminum is present in so many items in our homes, but unfortunately, it does succumb to wear and tear and environmental factors. This leads to unsightly oxidation and tarnish which can make an item appear to be "ruined." However, if you use the correct method for the type of aluminum, you can restore items to look as good as, or nearly, brand new. It just takes a bit of know how and some elbow grease to work out the stains and bring back the shine! Next, get tips on cleaning galvanized metal.

How to Clean Aluminum and Restore Its Shine