Cleaning and Protecting Chrome

By Rick Prevette

The shine and beauty of chrome can add considerably to the look of your ride. While it is not as prevalent today, not that long ago it was often found on many parts of our cars. Today we most often
see chrome on the interior as a decorative accent or externally on the wheels, in the engine compartment or exhaust tips as it is very heat resistant.

Chrome (Chromium) is a soft metal that is a very thin layer applied onto plastic or metal, typically within a thickness range of 0.002 to 0.02 mils. The application of chrome is applied through the process of electroplating. Not all chrome is equal in quality or hardness. The amount of Chromium that is electroplated to the area will determine its thickness and the quality is often determined by the process used to clean the part before it was chromed as well as the makeup of the foundation that the chrome was applied to.

While chrome can look great and last for years, if neglected it can quickly become dirty, dull and even show rust pitting. The key to keeping your chrome looking like it should for many years is to not allow the chrome to become damaged by neglect in the first place. Once chrome is damaged and becomes pitted, or worse, begins to peel, there is really not much you can do except replace or re-chrome, neither of which will be an inexpensive option. However, other than for peeling, for chrome that looks dull, dirty and beyond help, it can usually be brought back to life with the proper polish, applicator(s) and technique.

As soon as your chrome looks dull, be sure to wash it with a high quality car soap and a soft mitt or brush. Drying the chrome should also be done with a soft cotton or microfiber towel. During the winter months, be especially mindful of keeping any chrome clean as salt is especially tough on it. If your chrome needs brightening up, the first thing that you should do is find out if a clear coat of paint has been applied over the chrome. This is a very common practice on today’s cars, especially if it is an OEM part. This is often not easy to determine and you may have to contact the manufacturer to inquire if indeed a clear coat has been applied. If the chrome has been clear coated, then you will simply want to approach any clean up and protection of the chrome in the same
manner that you would the other painted surfaces on your ride.

If you determine that there is no clear coating that has been applied to the chrome, then proceed to use a high quality chrome polish with an appropriate applicator. The applicator that you choose will depend upon how dull and/or rust pitted the area has become. Remember, while chrome may appear to be a very hard metal, it is actually quite soft and can be scratched. Always be sure to test polish a small area before you begin to polish a larger area. By testing an inconspicuous area first, you want to be sure that you are not scratching the chrome as you clean and polish it.

For a more aggressive polishing, as in areas that are rust pitted, use a 0000 steel wool with plenty of polish acting as not only a cleaner but also as a lubricant to avoid scratches. Often a better choice for general cleaning and polishing is a polyester scuff pad. These pads are available in a variety of levels of aggressiveness. It is the safest practice to begin polishing with a milder scuff pad and moving up to a more aggressive pad, if needed.

After you have cleaned and polished the chrome, apply a quality wax or sealant to really bring out the shine and to protect it and keep it looking great for a long time. For chrome wheels, apply a
sealant rather than a wax for the best longevity and protection.

Now enjoy your ride and take it out for a spin to gaze at the sparkling beauty of that freshly cleaned chrome . . .

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