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The Simple Man's Guide to Refinishing Chrome or Stainless Brightwork and Trim.

Updated on January 17, 2012
A nightmare! 1958 Fleetwood Sixty Special.
A nightmare! 1958 Fleetwood Sixty Special.

How to make automotive trim really pop.

This is my 1st in a series of automotive related how-to's. I will try to keep this short, sweet and to the point, as it really isn't that complicated. If you follow these steps, and forget EVERYTHING you've ever learned about shining stainless and chrome, your car will thank you! It's simpler than most commercials make it out to be.

As a collector of cars, one of the biggest tasks for me when I get a solid daily-driver car, is to refinish all the chrome. That being said, there are a couple different ways to go about this, but we will only delve into the chrome "starter kit," method. If you would like to know more- simply comment at the bottom.

Here are your necessary supplies, all available at your local automotive supply or hardware store:

  • Nevr Dull/Brasso Wadding Polish
  • 0000, and 000 Steel Wool Pads
  • Soft Microfiber Towels
  • Cheap 2" Masking Tape

The first thing we are going to do is tape off the chrome that sits along ANY painted surface of the car. Any old masking tape will do, NEVER Duct Tape! For this job, the cheaper the better. Most older cars, especially old Fords and the upper echelon of the General Motors line, have narrow strips of stainless steel that run the length of the whole automobile. Don't make the mistake and think you can do it without the tape! It'll ruin a great paint job.

After you have carefully ran the tape along the edge of the chrome, you'll want to crack open a can of Brasso or Nevr Dull wadding polish. It is sold at MOST, I wont say all, auto parts stores in the wax and cleaning aisle. If you can't find it there, any boating store is sure to have it in stock. Grab a small handful (about the size of a balled up napkin) and rub it pretty hard onto the surface of the stainless or chrome trim. The wadding is the first step in the breakdown of any and all materials that may be lying dormant on your trim. If it is really dirty, you will start to see the wadding turn black. (If you want a better showing of black, try it on brass or copper and you'll really see what this stuff can do.) This stuff will dry to a haze if you let it, but you are immediately going to follow the application of the Nevr Dull/Brasso with Step 2.

After you have completely covered your surface area with the wadding polish, which should be just about a quarter panel at a time, you are going to start the intrusive attack on your corrosion. Pay close attention here- if it is chrome trim, SKIP THIS STEP. If you know it to be stainless trim- follow along. You are going to start rubbing the trim with the 000 steel wool pad. Make sure your fingers are making good contact with the whole surface of the trim so as not to leave any part looking untouched. The perfect method here, dependant on the area, is to rub vigorously back and forth about 5-6 inches at a time, making sure to overlap as you progress down the side of the car so you get a consistently shined surface when the job is done. If you are doing bumpers, or any sort of large area (i.e., any sort of 50s Cadillac front end chrome) you'll want to perform this step in a circular motion about 3-4 inches in diameter at a time. You'll want to change pads as often as you can, or as soon as the fiber starts really coming apart on the pad itself. You'll know what I mean when you start.

When you get your whole surface Nevr Dull'd and steel wool'd, you are going to take a microfiber towel, and rub hard into the surface til you get back down to the steel or chrome. This is the easiest step as the wadding polish will still be loose on the surface. You can repeat this process as many times as you think you need to. No worries, the stainless steel WILL. NOT. be hurt by rubbing it with the steel wool. Every Time it gets rubbed down, it loses another layer of corrosion and filth built up over 40-50-60 years.

Caution: When you are done with 1 steel wool pad, throw it away. You do not want to confuse the 000, and 0000. You are compromising the aesthetics of your whole car if you make a small mistake!

As I mentioned above, if your trim is chrome, you do not want to rub the 000 (TRIPLE ZERO) on the finish. It will leave the tiniest little scratches on the surface. The best way to tell the difference between stainless and chrome is to go grab a butter knife out of the kitchen. Your chrome will have less flaws and scratches, and after 50 or so years your stainless will likely look like a used butter knife (by the way- tape off half a butter knife and practice all these steps if you are unsure about going straight to the car with the steel wool, you'll see the difference!) If you are sure it is chrome, you will use the 0000 (QUADRUPLE ZERO) to buff the imperfections out after applying your Nevr Dull. Again, the steel wool Will not hurt the trim! If your chrome looks good to begin with, belay this whole step, it just wont make much of a difference. But I do recommend you do it at least once a year for the life of the car just as preventive maintenance. Just as above, wipe off the residue with a clean microfiber towel.

So, after your stainless and chrome have been through the Nevr Dull and steel wool phase, there is one last step to the making the trim look brilliant. You are going to take the 0000 steel wool, by itself, and gently buff the surface of your trim. You don't really need to press all that hard, the hard part is over you are just applying the finishing touches. After you see that all the corrosion is off, make one more pass with a towel just to make sure that no little fibers from the pads are staying behind. You are sure to be pleased with your work!

Remember that this is a labor of love. If you rush it, you are going to get OK results, but take your time and it'll really show. The hardest part of the whole job is the prep work! Masking off those awkward edges and those difficult to get to badges is what will test you, not the buffing itself. Happy Motoring!

1964 Galaxie 500.
1964 Galaxie 500.
1965 Galaxie 500.
1965 Galaxie 500.

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