clean polish protect dirty black exhaust tips

If you have a sports car or truck like I do, you know how filthy your exhaust tips can be. Especially with any type of aftermarket exhaust, these tips get very hot, are exposed to flames, and can turn a cloudy gray to dark black color pretty quickly. The black soot (hydrocarbons) you may have noticed is substance that results from engine combustion and should be cleaned periodically.

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: Use soap and water to start

You will want to start by cleaning your exhaust tips with soap and water to remove any dirt, brake dust, or other substance that can be removed by soap and water alone.

It’s a good idea to use a bucket dedicated to cleaning wheels that you don’t also use for washing paint. Be sure to grab an old wash mitt or microfiber towel if you have one. Throughout this process, just be careful that you don’t contact your vehicle’s paint with any rag or brush that contains any of this black soot.

This entire process is pretty messy, so you want to be careful not to stain your clothes, driveway, or hands.

Use a degreaser and tire brush if necessary

In the first step, the goal is really to remove as much dirt and grime as possible. You can even use a wheel cleaner or degreaser with a tire brush to clean inside your pipes to start.

After you’ve applied soap and degreaser, simply rinse with water, dry it with a towel, and move on to the next step. Your pipes may look slightly hazy or cloudy due to oxidation, but a light metal polish can help to restore luster.

Step 2: Use automotive steel wool for heavy buildup

A popular way to safely clean chrome or stainless steel exhaust tips is by using a dedicated exhaust cleaner, followed by automotive-grade steel wool and a metal polish you can apply with a clean microfiber towel.

Use steel wool for very dirty exhaust tips

If you have a lot of carbon buildup or scratches, applying light pressure using automotive-grade 000 or 0000 steel wool after you spray your pipes with a degreaser or wheel cleaner is your best bet.

This can help to 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 3: 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 when removing scratches on your pipes (and carbon buildup).

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 matte or black finish.

Metal 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 that has excellent reviews and works great for removing substances water and soap can’t.

This product can be used on cars, motorcycles, boats, or other metal surfaces and will be able to cut through most oxidation to restore your exhaust tips to their original shine. If you have a name brand exhaust like Borla, using their own exhaust tip cleaner is a safe choice.

Another good product that is much more affordable you can use made by Eagle One is called Never Dull. I’ve heard this works pretty well and can also be used on chrome bumpers or any other area you need to brighten up or polish.

Step 4: Protect your exhaust tips

Using a wheel sealant is an optional step that you may want to consider to keep your exhaust tips protected for as long as possible. Polishing them will always be needed from time to time, but adding a layer of protection is never a bad idea.

Blackfire makes a dedicated sealant designed for metals that may help reduce the amount of buildup over time.

One Last Resort

If your exhaust pipes (without tips) that came standard on your truck or car are beyond the point of restoration, they do make 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. These slide right on and can be tightened with a socket wrench.


Since many exhaust tips are made of titanium, when burned they produce a bluish gradient-like color which polishing can remove. If you prefer that look, I would simply use a degreaser and water to remove the carbon buildup, followed by a sealant for protection.

However, in most cases using steel wool and metal polish should give you these results you are looking for.

Keeping your exhaust tips clean is one of those often-forgotten-about aspects of detailing, but with a few products, you can keep them looking nice for years to come.

If you’re looking to up your auto detailing game as a beginner, get your free copy of my eBook, 25 Essential Auto Detailing Products for Beginners for a few basic product ideas to achieve better results when you wash.

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