How to Clean, Polish, & Protect Dirty Exhaust Tips [5 Steps]

Have a truck or maybe a higher-performance car?  Then you know how filthy your exhaust tips can be.

As exhaust tips are repeatedly exposed to flames and heat, they can turn a cloudy gray to dark black color pretty quickly. The good news: most of the time you can make them shine again.

If you’re noticing black soot (hydrocarbons) that won’t come off, it’s a good idea to clean your exhaust tips.

In this blog post, I’ll break down how to clean, polish, and protect dirty exhaust tips using a handful of products you can find in many stores or online.

What you will need

  • Hose and running water
  • Cylindrical wheel cleaning brush
  • Car soap and several old microfiber towels
  • Automotive metal polish
  • 0000-grade automotive steel wool (optional)
  • Degreaser or all-purpose cleaner
  • Blackfire all-metal sealant (optional)
  • Gloves

Step 1: Wash and rinse with soap and water

Before you start, grab a pair of gloves, a couple of old microfiber towels, and an old bucket.

Quick tip: Use a separate bucket for cleaning wheels, separate from the one used for paint. This prevents contaminating your main bucket. Use an old bucket any time you use tire brushes or old wash mitts/towels.

Start with a quick rinse, and apply soapy water to your microfiber towel or wash mitt to remove dirt, brake dust, or substances that can be removed with soap and water alone.

This entire process can get pretty messy, so be careful not to sling dirty water on your vehicle or clothes. If you have an unblemished driveway, you may want to pull off in the grass for this job. 

Step 2: Use a degreaser and tire brush

For the next step, follow up with a wheel cleaner or degreaser to clean in and around your exhaust tips. use an old rag and soft bristled brush if you have one.

After you’ve applied soap and degreaser, simply rinse with water, dry it with an old towel, and move on to the next step.

Step 3: Use an exhaust cleaner with steel wool

Next comes the buffing and polishing process. Your pipes may still look slightly hazy or cloudy due to oxidation, but a light metal polish or dedicated exhaust cleaner can help to restore luster.

Apply light pressure using automotive-grade 000 or 0000 steel wool in combination with a polish. This process can help remove any excess carbon buildup or scratches.

Since steel wool is more abrasive than polish, it can help remove scratches that metal polish alone may not be able to remove.

Most polishes contain mild abrasives which can help remove light scratches or buildup, but if you’ve never polished your tips before and they are very dirty, starting with steel wool is a good idea.

Step 4: Apply metal polish to restore luster and shine

Anytime you use something more aggressive like steel wool, you should follow up with a metal polish to remove any faint scratches that the more abrasive steel wool may have left.

If you have black or painted exhaust tips, you shouldn’t use abrasives or metal polish intended for chrome or stainless steel. Instead, just use soap, water, and a degreaser and avoid using brushes or anything that could scratch a black finish.

Exhaust cleaner and polishes to consider

For chrome or titanium pipes and tips, Borla makes a dedicated exhaust cleaner and polish you can find here on Amazon that has excellent reviews. If you keep your vehicle relatively clean, you probably don’t need steel wool anyway, and can just use something like this.

Another good product that is much more affordable you can use made by Eagle One is called Never Dull.

I haven’t tried this one, but it’s pretty popular and can be used on chrome bumpers or other areas you need to brighten up or polish.

Step 5: Add a layer of protection to keep exhaust tips clean

A regular sealant or aluminum sealant product can help keep exhaust tips protected for as long as possible.

You’ll need to polish them from time to time, but adding a layer of protection can help keep everything shiny for longer.

Blackfire makes a dedicated metal sealant you can purchase here. It’s a little pricey, but ideal if you have more real estate to polish. A little goes a long way!

What to do if your exhaust pipes can’t be restored

If your exhaust pipes (without tips) are beyond the point of restoration, you can normally aftermarket exhaust tips that you can pick up on eBay or Amazon.

I recently picked up some aftermarket tips for my truck for around $40 and was a pretty easy process to install. Just be sure to purchase exhaust tips that fit the diameter of your tailpipe.

Most tips slide right on and can be tightened with a socket wrench.


Some exhaust tips (like titanium ones) may produce a bluish gradient-like color that polishing can remove. If you prefer this look, I would simply use a degreaser and water to remove the carbon buildup, followed by a sealant for protection.

For most exhaust tips, regular cleaning metal polish should give you the results you are looking for.

Exhaust tips can be easily neglected, but with a few products, you can keep them looking nice for years to come.

Looking to up your detailing game? Get your free copy of my eBook, 25 Essential Auto Detailing Products for Beginners for a breakdown of a few products you need in your detailing arsenal. Hope it helps!

Leave a Comment