How to Polish Aluminum Bumpers to a Mirror Like Finish!

This blog post is my process for how to polish aluminum bumpers on my 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The best part of the process was when my two daughters came out to ask if they could help — and they did!

Cars today use plastic bumpers, but not these classy Jeep Grand Wagoneers, their bumpers are made of anodized aluminum and require polishing. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer is covered with shiny parts that make it stand out from the crowd of plastic cars today. The benefit of having metal bumpers is their strength and the fact you can polish them to bring back their original luster.

how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers

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Products Used

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These products made the job much easier. I assume you could do it by hand, but using the power polisher made the job much easier!

Before starting this job, I did a lot of research into multiple techniques. While I cannot promise this is the best way to do it, it is the way I chose to do it, and I am very pleased with the results on a 30-year-old bumper!

Let’s take a look at a few photos of my anodized aluminum Jeep Grand Wagoneer bumpers before polishing them.

JeepGrandWagoneermyjeepandmecom IMG 2724 515 How to Polish Aluminum Bumpers to a Mirror Like Finish!
how to polish aluminum bumpers metal polish

Clearly, these bumpers look tired. Many people may simply look for a replacement bumper thinking these are beyond help. Fortunately, by polishing the bumpers, you can really make them look impressive. Plus, they don’t make them anymore for the Grand Wagoneer.

I have to admit, the process I am recommending in this blog post comes after I tried using bar keepers friend as a first attempt.

I use Bar Keepers Friend on my boat with good success so I thought I would try to use it first on the jeep aluminum bumpers.

Using bar keepers friend did make an improvement, but it did little to the oxidation. After a little elbow grease scrubbing, it looked better, but not great. Here are a few photos of that trial and error process.

polish metal bumpers
Using Bar Keepers Friend on a metal bumper
Using Bar Keepers Friend on a metal bumper
Using Bar Keepers Friend on a metal bumper
Using Bar Keepers Friend on a metal bumper

From these photos it makes Bar Keepers Friend look pretty amazing for how easy it is to apply. It definitely improved the look, and in this last photo, the aluminum bumper looks pretty amazing. Unfortunately, after sitting overnight, the oxidization and streaking started becoming visible again, and I knew I could do more.

This is where my true aluminum bumper cleaning and polishing process really got started.

Advanced Method

From the list of items above, the first thing I did was put a very small amount of paint thinner on a rag and wiped down every part of the exposed metal bumper that I wanted to polish. Remember, it does not take very much. Just enough to wipe it all down with a thin amount of paint thinner.

polish metal bumpers

From here, I recommend wet sanding the bumpers by hand. Mix dish soap and water for your wet sanding. Dip the 1500 sandpaper in the soapy water and then start sanding. I suggest sanding back and forth (i.e. Up/Down or Side/Side, but not circles). Then rinse the bumper.

After this step wet sand with the 3000 grit pad. This time go the opposite direction. If you wend up/down on the 1500 use a side/side motion to go over the prior sanding spots at a different direction to help eat away the prior sanding marks.

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Once you are done sanding be sure to rinse the bumper really well to get any contaminants off of the bumpers.

How to polish metal bumpers on a Jeep Grand Wagoneer

(Look how good the aluminum bumper is looking after being rinsed off!)

After the sanding phase, you will likely start to see an improved shine and you will really be able to feel how smooth the aluminum bumper has become. Some people stop here, and honestly, you probably are feeling pretty good with your results… But you don’t want to stop here.

Like the infomercials say, “BUT WAIT THERE”S MORE!”

The next step, is my favorite, and one where you will see the biggest jump in adding shine to your bumpers.

To polish aluminum bumpers, the next step is the one that will make the biggest impact. You want to get out your DA Polisher, Wool Cutting Pad and Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound.
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As far as I am concerned, this is where the real magic takes place. It is a total transformation from ugly, to WOW! You want to smear the rubbing compound on the bumper and also put some on your wool pad to make sure you are rubbing the compound into the bumper. Work in a slow up/down and then side/side motion. Cover a 2-foot section at one time, then move to the next.

polish metal bumpers
polish metal bumpers

Did I mention it was a family affair with this Jeep?

My two daughters came outside to see if they could help Daddy with the Jeep.

polish aluminum bumpers

We worked really hard to polish the bumpers and the results came out quite nice.

Here is the final wipe down to get all of the remaining compound off before the big reveal…

polish aluminum bumpers

Okay, so here is the moment you have all been waiting for, end result photos.

how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers
how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers
how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers
how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers
how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers

From these photos, you can see where the girls and I missed a few spots down low on the aluminum bumper, but what a transformation (if I do say so myself)! The girls and I were very pleased with how polishing the aluminum bumpers turned out. We spent about 2-3 hours total on the project.

I would love to hear more about your results if you try this process. Please provide your feedback in the comments!

Alternative Method

The advanced method above resulted is a good outcome but it was a ton of work. Now that I am on my 5th Jeep Grand Wagoneer, I have learned a few more tricks that work well but do not require the same level of effort. This said, the results are not always as good… just easier.

I suggest trying this method before going to the advanced method I shared above.

The secret is a bronze wool pad and Woody Wax. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of a before and after, but it really dresses it up.

You can buy the woody wax and bronze wool separately or you can buy it in a kit that also includes a sealant. I don’t find the sealant that great. I would use a wax or better yet a ceramic coating if you have it.

Here’s the kit I bought and used when I did mine if you want to try it out:

Last update on 2024-05-18 / If you click this affiliate link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Read related posts: Power Washing Your Carpet or Spot Clean Your Carpet

FAQ

Do you have to sand aluminum before polishing?

IMG 3762 How to Polish Aluminum Bumpers to a Mirror Like Finish!

Yes, sanding is typically a necessary step before polishing anodized aluminum. Sanding helps to remove any surface scratches and imperfections, creating a smooth surface that will allow for a more effective polish.

What is the fastest way to polish anodized aluminum?

polish metal bumpers

The fastest way to polish anodized aluminum is by using a specialized aluminum polish and a high-speed polishing tool. Always remember to use the polish sparingly and evenly across the surface. Start with a low speed to spread the polish and then increase to a high speed for the actual polishing.

How do you keep aluminum shiny after polishing?

polish aluminum bumpers

To maintain the shine of your polished aluminum, apply a thin layer of a protective coating such as a wax or a specialized aluminum sealant. These protective layers help guard against oxidation and preserve the lustrous finish.

Does WD-40 polish aluminum?

WD-40 is not a polish, but it can be used to clean and provide a short-term shine to aluminum surfaces. For long-term results and a brighter shine, it’s best to use a product specifically designed to polish aluminum.

Does vinegar make aluminum shine?

Using Vinegar to remove rust on Jeep Grand Wagoneer Cargo Floor Metal Strips

Vinegar is a mild acid and can help to clean aluminum surfaces, removing oxidation and discoloration. However, it does not inherently make aluminum shine. For a shiny finish, an actual aluminum polish should be used after the vinegar cleaning.

How do you make aluminum look new again?

how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish metal bumpers

To make aluminum look new again, start by cleaning the surface thoroughly. Then, sand the aluminum to remove scratches and surface imperfections, and finish by polishing with a quality aluminum polish. Finally, apply a protective coating to preserve the new-looking finish.

Why does aluminum turn black when polished?

Aluminum can sometimes turn black when polished due to a reaction known as oxidation. This is usually a result of using a polish that is too abrasive or not using enough polish to adequately protect the surface.

Can I use Bar Keepers Friend on aluminum?

Yes, Bar Keepers Friend can be used to clean and shine aluminum surfaces. However, it is not a polish and won’t provide the same level of shine or protection as a specialized aluminum polish.

What home remedy can I use to polish aluminum?

A simple home remedy for polishing aluminum involves a mixture of vinegar, flour, and salt. Create a paste using equal parts of these ingredients, apply to the aluminum, leave it for about 15 minutes, and then rinse off. Always remember to test a small, unnoticeable area first to ensure it does not damage or discolor your aluminum.

Keywords: how to polish aluminum bumpers, polish aluminum bumpers, polish Jeep Grand Wagoneer bumpers, metal bumpers

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  1. I wanted to pass on some hard won information that might help other Wagoneer owners. My rear bumper got bent due a bout of operator stupidity. I found a nice straight replacement but it was badly scratched near the trailer hitch and very dull. I was able to sand out the scratches with 150 grit paper but this required sanding through the anodized finish. Now I had to remove the anodized finish on the rest of the bumper so it would all match. This was beginning to be a huge job as the factory anodizing was quite hard to remove! After some online research-and some methods that didn’t work at all- I found one that removed the factory finish easily and completely. Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner-the original formula that is “fumey” and contains lye (The new “fume free green formula” did nothing). Just sprayed it on, let it sit for about 30-45 min and then rinsed it off with water and a scotch-bright pad. the anodized finish was gone (a couple of stubborn spots needed two applications)and the bumper was ready to be worked to a high polish with Wet/Dry sandpaper and compound as you described. You can’t even tell where the scratches were and the bumper looks great. This wasn’t a small job and required removing the bumper but the results were great. The scratched up and dull bumper from the junk yard looks better than new.

  2. Jeep one piece bumpers were introduced in 1979 as an aluminum rail that was then chrome plated. Those bumpers lasted 1 yr in production. It was a huge fail on AMC’s part. In 1980 they introduced the ‘anodized’ aluminum bumper which would remain in production til the end. The chrome bumpers cannot be refurbished in the manner described here…this is a caution to those owners. However the rails used from ’80 onwards can be relatively easily restored. The most common method and usually easiest and quickest is to first remove the anodized finish, then survey remaining scratches/damage and elect a repair process, which often only needs a simple polish. Most of the scratches/dulling commonly encountered is at surface (anodized coating) only. Many years at a Jeep dealership has given me this insight. 🙂

    1. Dan,
      This is great information and something I had not thought about. Good info for those with pre-1980 Grand Wagoneers. Thanks for sharing!

      Any tips you like for sealing and protecting the bumpers after the anodized finish is removed?

  3. If you have deeper scratches here and there, do you think this will work? Too bad nobody makes a replacement for such a widely produced classic. I know the bumpers are annodized, I just am not sure how “deep” I can go without making it worse. I need to polish my metal window trim, too.

    1. Duke, deep scratches are a much bigger project. This will make the bumpers shine, but it will not removed deep scratches. I still have some on my bumper too. Fortunately when they are shiny I don’t pay attention to the deeper scratches as much.

    2. Hello Duke, Check out my reply earlier. The scratches I removed were quite deep and ugly. The 150 wet/dry sandpaper was able to readily remove them. You can keep working till they are completely gone or just until they are very faint (this is what I did for the really deep ones-really hard to detect at all after the polishing is done). I did some serious sanding and there is no sign of it now. You will sand through the annodization so it must be removed from the entire bumper as described. The rest of the job is just elbow grease with ever finer sandpaper and finally a polish gel. The shine will far exceed the “simi-shine” look of the annodized finish. Without the annodized finish you will have to keep it waxed to preserve the awesome shine and keep oxidation at bay-mine is holding up fine-still on the first wax coat (but it has only been a couple of months).