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How to Polish an Aluminum Boat? – 2 Effective Methods

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to polish an aluminum boat

Cleaning a boat is an important part of maintenance, and polishing is what gives it that sleek and shiny look. However, the polishing process can be different depending on what you have. It is essential to know how to polish an aluminum boat.

There are three main steps involved, but the polishing step can be a two-stage process depending on what method you’re using. Let’s look at two ways to restore the shine of your aluminum boat.

What You’ll Need


  • Aluminum boat cleaner
  • Cleaning pad
  • Rotary polisher
  • Buffing wheels
  • Aluminum boat polish or compound
  • Wax
  • Sandpaper
  • Safety flange (for rotary polisher)
  • Mask with respirator
  • Goggles
  • Safety gloves

Primary Method: DIY Aluminum Polishing with Rotary Buffer


Before you start: Preparation

Prepare the boat and all your cleaning items before beginning the process.

  • It’s a good idea to wash the entire surface and the aluminum parts, so remove attachments, electronics, and anything else that may be damaged by water.

You are free to use any product you’d like. However, a good result takes time to finish, so be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true.

Soap or even homemade aluminum boat cleaner will do for washing.

  • For safety equipment, be sure to have a respirator mask, goggles, and work gloves, as bits of metal will come off.
  • It’s also a good idea to wear appropriate work clothes as polishing aluminum can get dirty, whether it’s a liquid compound or any other type.

Step 1: Clean the aluminum boat

The first step is to wash the entire surface thoroughly with a cleaner; the goal is to remove dirt and grime, so anything that works for you is fine.

Some people use vinegar as well to help remove dirt. Look out for patches of buildup and consider utilizing a degreaser if there is heavy concentration.

You can use a cleaning cloth or sponge if you want, but some products don’t need this. Dry the cleaned surface, and let’s move on to the next step.

Step 2: Sanding

This is an important part of polishing any boat, regardless of what material your hull is made of. It’s not required, but you will see better results, and since you’ll be putting in work anyway, it’s a good idea to bring out the big guns right off the bat.

  • Start with lower-grit sandpaper at around 180, then work your way up to 400 or even 600 if necessary.
  • The objective is to flatten the surface, so be thorough. Use higher grit if you’re not satisfied with the smoothness. Tougher jobs may need up to 1500 grit for good results.

Step 3: Cutting polish

There are two phases for polishing aluminum:

Phase 1 is for bringing out the shine from the dull surface, the cutting phase. This involves stripping off the top surface of the aluminum to bring out its shine.

Apply the compound to the edge of the pad while it is in motion then start polishing; bring the rotating pad to the surface and work on the entire area. There is no specific motion needed but side-to-side is a common way.

One of the best polishing tips is not to rush. Take your time to polish thoroughly. Some people make multiple passes but one is usually enough if you go slow enough to make the polishing thorough.

You will need to reapply the compound to your pad from time to time, but you will also need to clear out chunks of compound and aluminum particles on the pad’s edge. Use a buffing rake for this; just bring the rake in contact with the pad edge as it is in motion.

Step 4: Color polish

The second polishing phase is the color polish that brings the boat to mirror finish. While the first polish is already quite shiny, this step will make the shine bright and pristine. This involves the same method, but you will need a different compound and pad.

Polish the entire aluminum surface just as you did for the cutting polish, and it’s done. You can also apply wax for additional protection.

Alternative Method – Polishing By Hand

Bringing back the shine of your boat using a cleaner and polish by hand is a tried and tested method. However, be prepared for how much time and effort you will need; you will need more if the condition of the aluminum surface is worse.

Doing this involves the same preparation and needs the first two steps in the rotary polishing method above; cleaning the boat and sanding. The only real difference is how we do the polishing.

There are many different types of polish available, and the 3M aluminum polish is a good example of one product that can be used for the entire polishing process.

Detailed Steps: Polishing by hand

  • Take a cloth or pad and apply the polish to it. A small amount will do; bring it to the boat hull surface and start scrubbing in a circular motion.
  • You will notice the polished surface will start to turn blackish; continue rubbing some more, and it will begin to become shinier.

It will take a lot of scrubbing to get it shiny but how bad the dulling and oxidation got are also factors. This method can remove light oxidation as well. Still, more severe oxidation may need much more work, and a dual-action polisher may be necessary.

  • Rub the entire boat as well as other aluminum parts, such as boat rails until you get satisfactory results.
  • Don’t forget to reapply polish to your cloth or pad after scrubbing for a while. Some products also have wax, so a separate waxing may not be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions


What’s the best way to polish aluminum boats?

The best and most effective way is by rotary polishing. This method is capable of restoring not only faded luster but even surfaces with heavy oxidation and pitting.

It is also recommended to use sanding and polishing aluminum boat together. This will allow the surface to be even and for the polish to be applied properly. If there is pitting or oxidation, sanding is needed to address the problem and keep it from getting worse.

Should you polish an aluminum boat?

Polishing is necessary to restore the aluminum boat to its appearance when it is new but cleaning and polishing will be more difficult if the vessel was left unattended for a long time, especially if there is heavy oxidation.

How do you polish a painted aluminum boat?

The way to polish painted aluminum boats is the same as most polish can be used for both painted and non-painted aluminum. Inspecting your chosen product for directions regarding this is still a good idea.


Now you know all about how to polish an aluminum boat. After working on it, you will feel accomplished after seeing the result of your work. The best thing about this kind of project is that the polished aluminum boat reflects your effort.

Have you tried polishing a boat on your own? What was the most challenging thing about it? Tell us about your experience with it in the comments section below.

Remember to boat safely.

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