How to Polish Aluminum and Mag Wheels

Aluminun wheel polishing can make cast factory-machine-polished wheels look like new! You’ll even be able to get a custom look by painting or powder-coating accent areas prior to a final protectant coating. Using Eastwood’s Wheel Smoothing and Buffing Kit, we were able to take an old BMW 325i “bottle cap” wheel from dull to better than new condition. This works with just about any aluminum wheel you choose to polish and buff.


Before starting the stripping process or buffing, be sure to read and adhere to Eastwood’s Safety Precautions found in the instruction booklet included with the product; paint strippers are toxic. Also, buffing wheels operate at over 2000 rpm, and could potentially throw off bits of cloth and compound.

It’s a good idea to put down a plastic drop cloth and wear chemical-resistant clothing while using the stripper. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and suitable eye protection. You’ll also need a plastic paint scraper (a putty knife will do, as will plastic filler spreaders), non-woven abrasive pads, a natural bristle brush, and plenty of clean water.


Remove tire from wheel to obtain best results – This way your wheel can be thoroughly inspected, cleaned, buffed or painted around the entire bead area.NOTE: If tire cannot be removed, tape and protect it if chemical strippers are to be used to remove old finishes.

Completely clean wheel – Use a soap and water solution to remove road tar and contaminants. Eastwood’s PRE (#10041Z) is ideal for removing stubborn road tar.

Fully inspect wheels – Inspect entire wheel for cracks, especially around bead and lug nut areas. If found, seek out a professional to have repairs done or replace wheel.

Remove the old finish – Use Paint Stripper to remove paint, powder coating or clear coats. Brush stripper on in one direction only. Follow instructions on container. Remove coating using either a plastic scraper or a Scuff pad. Reapply stripper to any remaining areas, let sit per instructions, then scrub area with pad to remove coating. Flush wheel with plenty of cold water to remove paint stripper.

Removing minor imperfections – Once your wheels are thoroughly cleaned and inspected, remove minor scratches, nicks or bead damage using files and sandpaper. Blend in with the surrounding area to a 320 grit finish. Do not remove any significant amounts of metal, especially from weld areas on two piece wheels.


  1. 1. Strip any paint, powder coating, or clear coat, following instructions above.
  2. 2. Mount a 4” spiral buff (#13035) on an electric/pneumatic drill or flex shaft (2500 rpm minimum). Apply 80 grit greaseless compound (#13129) to buff then let buff sit until compound hardens (10-15 minutes). To improve flexibility, strike coated surface with a screwdriver handle. Buff wheel in one direction, cleaning buff as required using a buff rake and reapplying compound as needed. Buff your mag wheel 90° or as close as possible from first pass (see figures 1 & 2). Continue until all rough areas or machine marks are removed.
  3. 3. Clean mag wheel with hot soapy water to remove 80 grit compound residue. Proceed with the 220 grit compound (#13131) and a new 4” buff (#13035). Buff wheel 90° from last pass (see figure 1 & 2) around contour of the wheel. Clean buff as necessary using a buff rake and reapply compound (allowing 10-15 min. hardening time ). Continue smoothing until all 80 grit marks are removed, alternating 90° from previous pass as described above and cleaning buff as required.
  4. 4. Clean wheel with hot soapy water solution to remove previous residue. Finish smoothing with the 320 grit compound (#13132) and a new 4” buff until a smooth leveled surface is achieved. If fine scratches remain go back to step 3 and repeat the process to remove.
  5. 5. Thoroughly clean mag wheel with hot soapy water to remove all greaseless residue, then use PRE (#10041Z) or acetone before finishing.
  6. 6. At this point the wheel has a satin finish (320 grit) which can be clear coated with our Diamond Clear (#10200Z, aerosol), or primed with Self Etching Primer and painted. If a mirror shine is desired use our Buffing Kit (#13105) and follow the directions below.


TIPS: Work small areas of the wheel at a time and inspect your work frequently. Let the compound do the work, use light consistent pressure instead of bearing down on the buff. Continue until the entire wheel has been buffed to a shine. Cleaning the buff frequently and reapplying compound to avoid fine scratches from material buildup on the buff. Do not use more than one compound on each buff. Store buff with the appropriate compound in a zip lock plastic bag.

  1. 1. Using an electric/pneumatic drill or flex shaft (2500 rpm min.), install 4” spiral buff (#13035) on arbor (#13064) and apply tripoli compound (#13135). Buff all areas of wheel, clean buff as necessary using the buff rake (#13120) and reapply compound. Alternate buffing angle 90° from previous pass
  2. 2. Install a new Tapered Goblet buff (#13045), on buff taper (#13053) and apply tripoli compound. Buff all edges and contours spiral buff cannot reach. Eastwood also carries a complete line of smaller buffs and felt bobs for tighter radius areas.
  3. 3. Clean mag wheel with PRE (#10041Z) or hot soapy water to remove all residual compound. (Residual Tripoli compound can compromise results.)
  4. 4. Install new 4” loose section wheel (#13042) and apply white rouge compound (#13001). Buff wheel 90° from first pass, (or as close to 90° as shape of the wheel allows). Continue until desired finish is achieved, stopping to inspect work frequently. Move buff with direction of buff wheel rotation to remove fine scratches.
  5. 5. Install new mag wheel buff (#13045) and apply white rouge compound. Buff all areas not reached by loose section buff until desired finish is achieved.
  6. 6. Thoroughly clean wheel with PRE (#10041Z) or hot soapy water, to make sure all compound has been removed from wheel.


Since our wheel was originally painted in the deeper nooks and crannies, we want to create the same contrast or drama against the new chrome-like shine of the main surface, fins and rim. We determined we would paint these areas with Eastwood’s Silver Argent Rally Wheel Paint. We began masking-off the rim area by applying masking tape over the clean, freshly polished metal. An X-Acto knife was used to trim the tape by simply running around the inner edge of the wheel and peeling away the excess. We covered our main surface area with masking tape as well, trimming away the excess tape with the X-Acto knife.

We were now ready to begin the final finish coating stage. We painted a light but even coat of Eastwood’s Self-Etch Primer on the recessed surfaces to assure the paint would bond with the bare metal. After the primer had about 15 minutes to dry, we sprayed the open areas with the Silver Argent wheel paint. The end result was a beautiful chrome-like shine on all of our higher surfaces, offset by the satiny silver rough case areas of the insets.


To keep that mirror shine apply a protective coating of wax, Eastwood’s Diamond Clear for Bare Metal, or better still, powder coat with the Hot Coat Powder Coating System. If a painted finish is desired, prime wheel with Eastwood’s Self Etching Primer and then top coat with desired color. If you wish to clear coat a painted wheel for added protection and enhanced looks, we recommend Eastwood’s Diamond Clear for Painted Surfaces.

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