Step number one: determine what kind of metal it is that you are actually working on. There are many kinds of metals, but for the sake of brevity and sanity we will only discuss the most common metals used today.
You can determine what metal you’re polishing based on 3 factors: color, feel and type of oxidation on the metal.
Aluminum is simple. If the oxidation is a white color and makes your finger black while rubbing on it, then you are working with aluminum.
For Chrome, it is a plating that is usually, but not always, over the top of steel. If there is rust on the surface and a magnet sticks to it, then you know you are working with chrome. Usually Chrome is highly polished and smooth to a mirror finish.
True Stainless Steel (a.k.a. Austenitic) will not be magnetic however there are some cheaper grades of Stainless Steel that will be magnetic, so this doesn’t always apply. Stainless is most commonly found with a brushed finish like what you find with refrigerators and sinks.
For Brass, Copper and Silver it is easy to distinguish these by color. If it is yellow it is Brass. If it is orange and is like the color of a penny then you know it’s Copper. If it is a silver color then, it’s Silver. Remember that Silver will often look black or brownish if it is oxidized or tarnished.
After you figure out what metal you’re polishing the real work begins. Now it’s time to pick the right metal polish and use it with the right process. Remember always follow manufacturers instructions for applying the polish.
Aluminum is a soft metal that responds well to metal polish after an acid pre-clean. An acid pre-clean is highly recommended for projects with heavy oxidation. If your project isn’t oxidized heavily, a soap and water pre-clean does the trick. Once it’s acid washed and cleaned you are ready to apply your polish.
With Chrome you only want to use a metal polish that is non-abrasive. If you don’t, you run the risk of scratching the Chrome. Chrome is a very thin hard plating, once you scratch it, it becomes nearly impossible to remove the scratches.
With Stainless Steel you want to use something that is non abrasive. Most abrasive metal polishes will scratch the surface and it will take a lot of work to get them out. I recommend non abrasive as this will be a lot less work.
Brass and Copper, with the right metal polish is usually very easy to polish. People have used a product for years called Brasso. Brasso is an abrasive polish and takes a lot of effort to make it work. It’s much easier to use a non-abrasive metal polish with either a paper towel or terry cloth rag. If your brass and copper are green then you will need to strip the metal first using an acid pre-cleaner. This will take the heavy corrosion off and prep the surface for polishing. You will want to use a non-abrasive polish like Flitz, from this point to restore the shine back to the metal.
Silver, like Chrome is often plated, this means you wont want to use anything with acids or abrasives. With the right metal polish silver can be very quick and easy to polish.
When using Flitz Metal Polish one of the first key things to remember is to use it sparingly. Flitz is highly concentrated and you don’t need to apply as much as other polish products. The next thing to remember is DO NOT let Flitz dry. The key to insuring that this doesn’t happen is to only polish small sections no more than 2′x2′ at one time. After you apply it rub briskly in a back and forth movement using either a paper towel or a microfiber polishing cloth. Lastly use a microfiber to remove any left over polish residue. With Flitz that’s it! It even leaves a protective coating when you are done.
Depending on the size and shape, some projects are aided by power tools and buffers. For large flat areas the best tool can either be an orbital or a random orbital buffer. For tedious and difficult areas, like Alcoa wheels, I recommend the Flitz Buff Ball. This speeds up the job and keeps you from busting your knuckles. Also the Buff Ball is amazing on projects with rough surfaces like Diamond Plate. If you’re working on a surface with small areas or lots of detail, I recommend the Flitz Super Mini Buff Ball. Some projects, power tools can be overkill. For jobs that need a softer touch, like Silver, I recommend using a microfiber polishing cloth. For jobs that need a little more abrasion, a paper towel always works great.
Remember if you are unsure or afraid to polish something, always start in an inconspicuous area on the item to test it. The bottom line is, if you have the right procedure for the right application you will get the result you are looking for.