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.
If you are here looking for Grand Wagoneer articles, be sure to bookmark these other popular articles: Fix Your Jeep Grand Wagoneer Tailgate, Cleaning Your Car Carpet With A Power Washer, What Does It Cost To Restore A Jeep Grand Wagoneer?, New Carpet Installation, How to Fix a Jeep Grand Wagoneer Window Regulator, How To Restore Vintage Jeep Speaker Grill Covers, and Wagoneer Armrest Quick Fix
- Paint Thinner (any brand will work, but it’s much cheaper to buy it at the local hardware store)
- Nitrile Protective Gloves
- Micro fiber cloths or cotton rags (micro fiber works better IMO)
- 1500 Grit Wet/Dry Sand Paper
- 3000 Grit Wet/Dry Finishing Pad
- Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound (cheap and works great!)
- Shurhold Random Orbital Polisher
- Wool or Heavy Cutting Foam Pad
- Collinite Fleetwax or Ultima Paint Guard Plus
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once you are done sanding be sure to rinse the bumper really well to get any contaminants off of the bumpers.
(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.
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.
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.
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…
Okay, so here is the moment you have all been waiting for, end result photos.
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!
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 2023-12-02 / If you click this affiliate link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Do you have to sand aluminum before polishing?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.