How to Clean Polish or Shine Aluminum Truck Tool Box

So your toolbox isn’t quite shining in the sun like it was when you bought it? If you’ve got an aluminum diamondplate toolbox on the back of your truck like I do, you may have noticed that over time it doesn’t look quite as good.

Mine usually turns a milky white color, which I found out the result of oxidation over time. Stainless steel won’t rust, but can dull over time which is important you take the time to clean (and polish it) from time to time if you want that factory showroom finish.

In this post, I’ll cover step by step how to clean an aluminum toolbox from home, or as a detailer.

What You Will Need

There are a few things that are important to have on hand whenever tackling a project like this, including a couple of hours of your time for starters. This tutorial will assume you do not have access to a polisher, but below is a complete list of items it’s nice to have on-hand.

 ImageYou Will NeedQuantity Needed
work clothesOld work clothes1 set
work glovesLatex Gloves1 pair
aluminum brightenerAluminum brightener or wheel cleaner1
microfiber towelsMicrofiber towels5-6
woll buffing wheel adapterCotton or wool buffing wheel with adapter1
mothers aluminum polishAluminum polish or rouge compound1
Choose one of the following:
wool carpet squarewool carpet square (optional)1
woll buffing wheel adapterDrill with polishing adapter (optional)1
dual action polisherDual Action polisher (optional)1
rotary polisherRotary polisher tool (for extreme cases)1

What to Know Before Getting Started

Most tool boxes are made of aluminum, although some are stainless steel. If you have a stainless steel box, just be sure to work with the grain, and use a stainless polish. With that said, cleaning and polishing are really two separate steps. Polishing can take a while depending on how thorough you want to be, but the polishing phase it really what will cause that mirror-like finish to aluminum.

Step 1: Remove and Wash Your Tool Box

To get started, it’s a good idea to put on gloves and old work clothes, as this can get messier than you may think. .

If you are able to, it’s best to remove your tool box completely from your truck before doing anything. This will just make your life a lot easier, since it can take a bit of work to scrub these clean. This also gives you an opportunity to clean out the inside, and dump out the water when you are finished. After you have it removed it, just wash it like you normally would with soap and water, removing any loose dirt and debris.

Step 2: Apply an Acid-Based Wheel Cleaner

One trick I’ve heard about from Dallas Paint Correction and Auto Detailing is to use a more acidic chemical (like a wheel cleaner) to break up stuck-on dirt and grime first, followed by a more basic chemical like an all-purpose cleaner. This will restore your aluminum to an unpolished state when treated back to back with these two cleaners. This swing in the pH scale from acidic to more basic helps prep the aluminum for the polishing phase.

you may also want to pick up an aluminum brightener for phase one, which is pretty acidic and really designed to eat away at the dirt and grime on exactly this type of application.

Keep in mind that cleaning aluminum will not restore luster or shine until the polishing process begins. After you apply your cleaners, simply wipe everything down with a microfiber towel and proceed to step 3.

Step 3: Apply Polish With a Buffing Wheel

For this step you can either apply polish by hand with a strip of wool carpet (which will obviously take longer) but I would recommend using a polisher or sander with a wool or cotton buffing wheel. Wool is probably my favorite personally, and have found they polish cloudy headlights a lot better than the foam or microfiber pads do. Especially when working with metal, microfiber pads tend to break apart rather quickly.

Keep in mind that dual action polishers are much safer around cars than orbital sanders which can do damage when used on higher settings.

For most people, a simple drill attachment works just fine. I recently picked up a wool polishing kit with a drill attachment on eBay for around 15 bucks.

Use an Aluminum Polish or Cutting Compound

Once you have your wool pad and device, you will want to turn the pad sideways to really clean in the grooves of the diamond plate when polishing. You can use find aluminum polish like the Flitts brand here on Amazon that you can apply directly to the surface with a paintbrush.

Another alternative that really does a good job if you have a polisher is a rouge polishing (or cutting) block. This is used to polish jewelry and works well on aluminum.

Step 4: Wipe Down and Spray Multipurpose Cleaner

You will probably find there is quite a bit of black or gray smudgy substance on the outside of your tool box after polishing it, which is perfectly normal. Just hit with multipurpose cleaner or soap and water and a microfiber towel. This is can be a dirty process when polishing, so just be sure to protect your clothes and be aware of your surroundings.

Conclusion

Overall, this entire process shouldn’ t take more than about 45 minutes to an hour if you are using the proper tools. Polishing or cleaning aluminum can really stand out and is a simple upsell that you can offer customers if you are a detailer.

I hope this post is helpful, and let me know if you have any other tips and tricks for polishing or protecting your tool box. Let me know how your project goes!