Polishing Aluminum: Curb Appeal for Your Boat

The type of aluminum on your boat determines how you care for it — and maybe whether you can get your asking price. Photo credit: Tony Carlow

Typically, aluminum on a boat is either anodized, powder-coated, or bare metal. How it looks on the boat you’re selling can have an effect on the price you can get for it. With a bit of elbow grease and know-how, you can perhaps extract a little more value.

Bare aluminum behaves like a stainless steel. For example, when you try to polish it, your polish cloth lifts the oxidation from the aluminum. By removing the oxidation, you bring out the shiny finish it had when new. Luckily, most aluminum used on boats is anodized, which is a hard protective oxide finish on the metal. Just like chrome, the piece is anodized in an electrolytic cell as the cathode is lowered into the electrolyte. When current passes through the cell, ions oxidize the aluminum. The anodizing process protects the metal, especially in the marine environment.

If you’re working with bare aluminum you can use something like Meguiar’s All Metal Polish or Mother’s Mag and Aluminum Polish. Either product removes oxidation and produces an appealing shine. With a rag made of 100 percent cotton and some elbow grease, anyone can get good results.

If your boat has anodized aluminum, and most of them do, it’s important not to damage the finish and to protect it from oxidizing, because pitting permanently damages the metal. When cleaning, avoid bleaches and other chlorides, which tend to leach the metal and can lead to staining. Also, never use abrasive products on anodized aluminum. That means no steel wool or Soft Scrub. Just wash it often with a decent boat soap and keep it waxed with the same wax you use on the hull.  That’s the same care procedure for powder-coated metals, too. Keep them clean and protected with a decent wax.

Aluminum is everywhere on a boat, so when it’s nice and shiny, potential buyers see a boat that looks as though it has been cared for. And for that, they just might be willing to pay your asking price.

Brett Becker