Bumpers, wheels, grills, exhausts, door handles, mirror covers; as long as they’re not the newer style of “plastic chrome” with a protective coating, or simply covered with a chrome-colored paint, they’ll all eventually oxidize and start rusting.
These parts can of course be re-chromed, but that’s often an expensive proposition – it can cost well over $100 just to re-chrome a hubcap.
As long as the chrome plating isn’t already flaking off, steel wool and a good chrome polish can easily restore just about any chrome part to nearly-new condition.
The Best Chrome Polish
1. Quickway Brands Quick-Glo Chrome Cleaner
If this product sounds vaguely familiar, you may recognize it because Jay Leno uses it on his vehicles. However, Quick-Glo has been around since 1957, and has been a go-to cleaner and rust remover for car and bike enthusiasts, for decades.
Quick-Glo differs from the other polishes on this list because it is non-toxic, environmentally-friendly, doesn’t require the use of gloves for application, and doesn’t release any hazardous fumes since there are no petroleum distillates inside. But unlike many other non-toxic, water-based chrome polishers on the market, this stuff actually works quite well.
The polish is a cream that uses pumice instead of sand or alumina to scrub rust and dirt from chrome parts, and it does a surprisingly quick and impressive job on chrome as well as other metals like stainless steel and brass. It also leaves a thin wax coating over the restored chrome; the company claims the coating will last a year but we think that estimate is a little generous. (Don’t use this or any product containing wax on brake discs, rotors or similar components.)
Quick-Glo doesn’t contain the fillers you find in some pastes, so don’t expect it to repair any microdamage (like pitting and scratches) in your chrome parts. But it’s a great product for regularly polishing chrome while removing and preventing rust, or for minor touchups.
2. Renovator's Supply Metal Polish Simichrome
This is another go-to polish used in many industries – from body shops to antique stores and jewelry repair shops – but it’s not often seen in American hardware stores since it’s a German product. Simichrome is a soft paste, almost a cross between a paste and a cream, and it’s terrific for deep cleaning heavily-tarnished or rusted metals. It can take a while to dry, however, when used on chrome.
As with any paste polish, there’s one more ingredient you’ll need: elbow grease. You’ll have to rub pretty hard with a cloth or clean rag (or use an electric polisher) to get everything off. When you do, Simichrome can restore a section of chrome in 30-60 seconds. It does contain abrasives and toxic materials like ammonia and aluminum oxide, but you’ll find that this polish is less likely to damage a chrome finish than many other pastes that take the chrome right off when you scrub hard enough.
Simichrome will also fill light scratches and pits as you polish chrome parts, and it leaves behind a thin, protective waxy layer. Just wipe the surface clean after it’s fully dry (to remove any residue) and you’ll be amazed at the shine. This product is nearly twice as expensive as Quick-Glo, but if you don’t mind using a toxic cleaner and polish for your car or bike, it’s worth it.
3. Meguiar's All Metal Polish
Here’s a polish which doesn’t require quite as much rubbing in order to remove rust, and it’s less expensive than the Simichrome to boot. It’s also more toxic than the Simichrome, however, with a petroleum distillate base as well as aluminum oxide as an abrasive. So bear that in mind when making a product choice.
Meguiar’s is a well-known name in the detailing world, and their polish is quite effective at removing the rust caused by oxidation, as well as the road schmootz which collects quickly on chrome or metal bike parts. It won’t work as a filler for nicks and pits on the chrome, but does apply a protective polymer blend to keep the shine lasting for quite a while.
The relatively-low price of this polish can be offset by the amount of product needed to do a lot of cleaning and polishing. But it gets the job done quite well.
4. Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish
Car and bike enthusiasts swear by Mothers. The company’s California Gold Chrome Polish justifies that devotion. This viscous cream requires time and effort to fully apply, clean, and shine rusty or sooty exhaust pipes, bumpers or other parts, and really tough jobs may need two applications. But it definitely works wonders.
This polish is not environmentally-friendly, with ingredients that include alcohols and ethers – be sure to wear your gloves and preferably a face mask. The ingredients are powerful, however, and they can figuratively blast away accumulated rust and gunk while leaving chrome shiny and looking nearly-new.
Like most creams, this Mothers product won’t fill in scratches or slight dings on your car and bike parts, but it will shine them up and protect them with a polymer coating so you can wait a while before having to polish them again. Nice price, too.
5. Chemical Guys Heavy Metal Polish Restorer and Protectant
Designed for use on chrome, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass and other metalwork, this cream from Chemical Guys is suitable for cleaning and restoring any of the metals on your vehicle. It won’t do a deep clean, but it’s very good for removing surface rust, dirt and soot from any chrome parts.
Don’t expect the Heavy Metal polish to fill deep scratches on your bumpers, but a little hard work with a buffer cloth (or to make it easier, a polishing tool) will take care of light ones, while restoring their satisfying shine.
There’s a protective sealant in this cream, and one of its great features is that it contains a UV block to fight the effects of sunlight. It’s more expensive than the similar Mothers cream, but Chemical Guys has built a great reputation and has lots of fans who will tell you it’s worth paying a little more for their products. We can see their point.
Factors to Consider in a Chrome Polish
Even before choosing a chrome polish for your car or bike’s chrome parts and accessories, there’s one important inspection to make.
Be sure the parts really are chrome-plated; these days many are either plastic that’s been covered with chrome-colored paint, or a “chromed plastic” that’s actually aluminum with a clear coat of urethane (or similar material) on top. If the top surface is paint or urethane, don’t use a chrome polish. It will damage the finish.
Now that you know which parts can be polished, we can move on.
Chrome vs Metal Polishes
To put it bluntly, it doesn’t really matter whether a polish is specifically formulated for use on chrome. You may get a bit more shine, or a few less streaks, if you use a chrome-specific polish. But you’ll notice that even polishes “made for chrome” mention on their labels that they can also be used on other heavy metals; that’s because the cleaning media used in these products are basically the same no matter, what material they’re “intended” for.
A polish made specifically for chrome is versatile enough to be used on most metals and is never a bad choice for restoring your bike or car – as long as if it’s competitively priced.
These polishes use many different ingredients in order to restore the shine to your chrome parts. The majority contain some sort of abrasive like sand, diatomaceous earth or aluminum oxide (alumina), as well as petroleum distillates which clean the surface by dissolving grease and removing dirt.
The latter two ingredients can be hazardous with regular exposure. But even brief use of polish containing alumina and/or petroleum distillates can cause damage to your hands and nails. They may be able to give your vehicle’s chrome a great shine, but be sure to wear gloves when using them, and avoid breathing their fumes.
You can also find non-toxic polishes with abrasives like pumice instead of alumina, and use water instead of petroleum distillates as a base. Some will clean and polish just as well as the less environmentally-products, but be sure to choose a premium product if you’re going this route. It’s great (and usually preferable, needless to say) to avoid hazardous ingredients, but sometimes removing the “stuff that works” leaves you with a product that doesn’t.
Chrome polishes are produced in four different forms, and the consistency of the polish will have an effect on how a chrome finish looks after the polish is used.
Types of Chrome Polish
The majority of chrome polishes are sold in liquid form. That’s because they’re the easiest to use, whether you rub them on your vehicle’s chrome parts or apply them with the help of a spray bottle. (You can also purchase already-packaged aerosol spray polishes, but they’re not particularly effective because their particles are so fine and the liquid disperses so quickly.)
Liquid polishes are best when used for both cleaning and polishing on a regular basis, rather than for a major restoration job. Liquids usually don’t restore chrome quite as effectively as solid polishes.
Less often seen in stores, wadding polish is sold as a fiber pad that’s been soaked in a liquid chrome polish. All you have to do is cut off a piece and carefully scrub the chrome with it.
You won’t want to do that for an entire car or bike part, not only because it can be a pain, but because the liquid won’t be strong enough to do a full restoration job.
Wadding is best for touch-up work when you first notice rust or a layer of grime developing.
Most cream polishes will do a great job restoring the luster to chrome car and bike parts. They generally contain the abrasives mentioned above, used to remove surface rust and accumulated dirt from the chrome.
Many will also have restorative ingredients that fill in microdamage in the chrome’s surface, as well as wax or another ingredient which will establish a thin protective layer over the chrome.
A really thick paste will do the best job of polishing chrome in the hands of professionals, since it’s able to deal with corrosion and rot better than any other type of polish.
However, it contains the highest proportion of abrasive ingredients so it can easily damage or ruin a finish, if used incorrectly or carelessly. It’s a great choice if you have patience and know what you’re doing, but a cream polish is the better choice for most weekend garage warriors.
It’s best to polish the chrome on your vehicle on a regular basis, rather than wait until you have a mess of dirt and rust to deal with. That will let you spend just a few minutes on polishing, and allow you to use a product with less risk of damaging the chrome (or the plastic that may surround it). Most importantly, it will spare you the expense of having the parts rechromed or replaced.