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How to Polish an Aluminum Boat? – 2 Easy Methods

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

how to polish an aluminum boat

Keeping your vessel in pristine condition is easy if you know how to polish an aluminum boat. You can restore its showroom quality, making your watercraft the talk of the town at the marina.

Although sanding can remove oxidation, applying a marine-grade polish can make an aluminum boat shine like new.

Do not fret if you are clueless about polishing an aluminum boat. We have two methods that will have you marvel at your vessel’s before and after images, asking why you did not try to learn this technique before.

Let us start.

Ways to Polish an Aluminum Boat


What to prepare


We listed several items to execute aluminum boat polishing.

You can restore aluminum boat units with two proven methods – using a rotary buffer machine and hand-polishing. We will describe the steps for each technique to make it easier for you to determine the most convenient approach.

Method #1: Rotary buffer

Step 1. Prepare for the activity.

Polishing an aluminum boat starts with careful preparation. You will want everything to be within arm’s reach to make your work efficient.

  • Go over your aluminum boat and remove electronics, fixtures, and other elements you do not want water to damage. This activity requires you to wash and clean the vessel before polishing.
  • Prepare the cleaning solution. You can create a homemade cleaner using equal parts of distilled white vinegar and clean water. Alternatively, an aluminum boat cleaner will be okay.
  • Gather all supplies next to the aluminum boat, including work gloves, respirator mask, and goggles.
  • Wear something comfortable, preferably clothing you no longer use. Cleaning and polishing an aluminum boat can be a messy affair.

Step 2. Clean the vessel thoroughly.


Washing your watercraft is the first step to achieving a well polished aluminum boat.

  • Spray the boat to partially dislodge debris and any contaminants stuck on the surface. You should wear gloves and glasses as well as boots to minimize water splashes from getting onto your skin.
  • What to use if you do not have a power washer? Take a garden hose and connect it to a faucet. Spray the boat’s surface while scrubbing it with a sponge or towel.
  • Put on your goggles and work gloves and spray your vinegar solution or commercially available cleaner.
  • Scrub the surface using long, back-and-forth, and uniform strokes, ensuring full coverage.
  • Rinse the aluminum boat with clean water and allow it to air dry for at least half an hour.

Step 3. Sand the aluminum boat’s surface.


Some online resources skip this step because it is optional. However, we assure you it is one of the best aluminum polishing tips you should never miss.

Sanding removes and flattens irregular bumps, ensuring a reflective and smooth surface. A rough surface at the microscopic level diffuses light, making the aluminum boat look dull. You will have a shining aluminum boat worthy of envy after sanding and polishing.

  • Get 180-grit sandpaper and sand the aluminum boat’s surface, ensuring complete coverage.
  • Continue sanding the aluminum boat’s surface, replacing the sandpaper with 400 or 600 grit. You might want to work your way up to 1500-grit sandpaper for optimum results.

Step 4. Apply compound to strip the aluminum boat’s surface layer.


Removing the aluminum boat’s topmost layer is crucial for bringing out its original shine. You can polish painted aluminum boat units or unpainted versions with the following steps.

  • Get the rotary polisher and attach an appropriate buffing wheel. Turn on the device.
  • Apply the correct marine-grade aluminum boat polish to the rotating buffing wheel.
  • Buff aluminum boat with the compound, moving the rotary buffer side-to-side. You can also devise motions that will make you more efficient.
  • Be methodical and deliberately slow in your polishing motions.
  • Remove aluminum particles and compound bits as necessary using a buffing rake.
  • Ensure to reapply the polish to the buffing pad every couple of minutes.

Step 5. Apply color polish and wax to the surface.


If Step 4 brings out your aluminum boat’s natural shine, Step 5 readies it for a mirror finish. The steps are similar to those described in Step 4. They only vary in the compound used – a color polish.

You will also need marine-grade wax to protect and seal an aluminum boat. These products help preserve your aluminum vessel, ensuring it looks pristine. Marine waxes also safeguard boat paint jobs, graphics, and hull decals.

Read more: What is the difference between boat polish and wax?

Method #2: Hand-polishing method

If you are the type of boater who wants a more “personalized” touch to boat care, you can always polish aluminum by hand. However, be prepared to set aside several hours to do the task.

Step 1. Follow Steps 1 to 3 under the “Rotary Buffer Method.”


The initial steps for hand-polishing an aluminum boat are similar to the rotary polishing technique. Preparing the materials beforehand is necessary to make your work more efficient and less taxing.

Personal protective gear (i.e., goggles, work gloves, and respirator mask) is also necessary because you are still at risk for chemical and debris exposure during hand-polishing.

Washing and cleaning your aluminum boat is a must. So is sanding the surface to allow it to shine.

You can use the same aluminum boat cleaner and polish in rotary polishing. However, most experts recommend 3M’s Marine Aluminum Restorer and Polish for maximum results.

Step 2. Polish the aluminum boat by hand.


Polishing your aluminum boat by hand should not be that different from using a machine. After all, the only difference is the absence of the device.

  • Apply a small amount of polish onto a dry, clean cloth and rub the compound in circular motions. Ensure each stroke overlaps the other.
  • Fold the cloth if it becomes dirty and apply polish onto a clean section. This action prevents oxidation substances from getting back onto the aluminum boat’s hull.
  • Leave the aluminum boat polish to dry and turn hazy, usually five to twenty minutes.
  • Now it’s time to buff the polish. Work slowly until the surface looks shiny.
  • Apply wax to the aluminum boat’s newly-polished surface to protect it and give it a more stunning look.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the easiest way to polish an aluminum boat?

The easiest and best way to shine and polish an aluminum boat is by using a rotary polisher. This device makes it straightforward to restore an aluminum boat’s natural beauty with minimal effort.

How to make aluminum shine without polishing?

Many DIY aluminum polishing resources recommend several methods for making aluminum shine without polishing.

  • Pour a little water into two tablespoons of cream of tartar. Mix the ingredients until you get a thick pasty consistency. Rub the mixture onto the aluminum.
  • Fill a spray bottle with distilled white vinegar to shine the aluminum.
  • You may also mix lemon juice and baking soda together. Use small amounts of both to make adjustment easier. Rub this agent onto an aluminum surface once you’ve created a paste.
  • Rub toothpaste on aluminum surfaces to make them shiny without polishing.

How can I protect aluminum after polishing?

Several options are available to protect aluminum surfaces after polishing.

  • Apply a fresh coat of paint on the aluminum surface.
  • Use a clear coat to safeguard the aluminum boat’s original finished look.
  • Apply wax.
  • Keep your aluminum boat clean and away from moisture while storing.


Learning how to polish an aluminum boat is not different from polishing and waxing a vehicle. The procedure is essentially similar, only differing in the vessel receiving the treatment.

Although polishing an aluminum vessel by hand is an essential activity, it can be time-consuming and very taxing. And if you have a large boat, you could spend days completing the project.

Meanwhile, the only downside to rotary polishing is the cost, especially if you do not have this machine at home. Of course, you could rent or borrow from a friend. Convenience and efficiency make this option worth it.

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