Aluminium oxidation occurs when aluminium reacts with oxygen present in the air. You can treat aluminium so it has a protective coating and oxygen cannot come into contact with the metal. However bare aluminium will react and produce a black colour. To get your aluminium metal looking like new it is possible to polish off the aluminum oxide.
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Using acids for polishing oxidised aluminium is mainly for heavily oxidised aluminium. These acids strip the heavy tarnish or corrosion on heavily oxidised metals. Be aware that polishing with acids has health issues, as the acid products available are toxic. Always test the acid on a small spot first and follow the directions supplied by the manufacturer. You will need to use protective clothing, gloves, eye protection and in some cases breathing apparatus.
Using several different grit sandpapers and water, wet sand the oxidised aluminium. Start with the coarsest sandpaper and work your way down to the finest grain. Keep the sandpaper wet at all times. Use an alum polish for more shine. This method of aluminium polishing is time consuming and tiring. If you are polishing an aluminium wheel you have to do it by hand because of the different surfaces and grooves.
The Swift method was developed by the Swift Museum Foundation for polishing aluminium panels on vintage aircraft. First clean the aluminium of any dust and debris and rinse it with water. Use trisodium phosphate to remove any wax, silicone or oils on the surface. Start by using the polish designed for rough surfaces and scratches and work your way through the different polishes until you use the micron-level finishing product. This is like using sandpaper, going from a rough grit to a fine grit. Apply the polish with a wool compounding pad, at 2,000rpm. After polishing, clean the aluminium with a detergent. Let the surface dry and do a final polish with a fleece-like cloth. This method produces a mirror-like finish and eliminates any milky areas.
People have used oven cleaner to clean aluminium canoes and it can also remove oxidation from other aluminium surfaces. Spray the oven cleaner onto the oxidised aluminium surface. Leave the cleaner on for about 10 minutes as it works its way through the oxidised surface. You will see bubbles beginning to form. Scrub the oxidised aluminium with a wire scrub brush until all the oxidation is removed and then wash away the cleaner with water. Apply a thin coat of polish or wax to achieve a shine.
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