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How to Remove Oxidation From Aluminum: Step-by-Step Instructions

Posted by Schaumburg Specialties on Aug 13, 2021

How to Remove Oxidation From Aluminum

In nearly every industry imaginable, aluminum has a purpose. This highly versatile material can make cooking pans, bikes, wheels, machinery, and so much more. Over time, aluminum has a tendency to oxidize, resulting in a layer of grey, chalky cast.

As soon as you notice the aluminum oxidation beginning to form, there are certain methods to remove it from the surface.

What Is Aluminum Oxidation?

The oxidation of aluminum metal is a natural process that results from the wear and tear of the metal. It is common for people to interchange the terms rust and corrosion, however, they have different meanings.

Rust is a type of corrosion that occurs mainly in iron and steel, particularly when these materials come into contact with moisture. On the other hand, corrosion refers to the process of metals wearing away due to a chemical reaction.

Aluminum doesn’t contain iron or steel, therefore it doesn’t accumulate rust. When oxidation occurs, it happens specifically to aluminum materials.

Aluminum corrosion results in aluminum oxide, a white powdery and chalky coating that develops on aluminum’s surface to protect it from additional corrosion. It is at this point that the metal is anodized.

How to Clean Cast Aluminum Oxidation

How to Clean Cast Aluminum Oxidation

Looking around your kitchen, you may find cast aluminum in some types of cookware or even in some types of furniture. The best way to clean cast aluminum consists of the following materials:

  • Dry cloths for cleaning
  • Cream of tartar
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush or a gentle cleaning pad
  • Lemon juice
  • Rubber gloves
  • A bucket and/or spray bottle

Step #1: Clean Away Dirt or Debris

Make sure to remove dirt, debris, or any other built-up material that has accumulated on your aluminum. In the case that you are cleaning a cast iron skillet, simply fill the pan with water and boil it for a few minutes to loosen the food.

Then, use some sort of wooden spatula to gently wipe away the excess food in the pan. Depending on how bad the food debris is, you may need to repeat this process with the addition of acid in the boiling water.

Step #2: Try Again with Vinegar or Acid

Some aluminum cast iron pans may give you a difficult time if you haven’t cleaned them before. Some food particles may be sticking in difficult places.

The fix is quite simple; all you’ll need is to add some sort of acid in with the boiling pan water. You can use white vinegar, cream of tartar, lemon juice, lime juice, tomato, or even chopped apples. Add one of the above ingredients to the water for ~15 minutes and then attempt to remove the food again.

Step #3: Opt for Fine-Grade Steel Wool

Did the above attempts result in minimal progress? Don’t get discouraged, as cleaning cast aluminum oxidation can be difficult. Using fine-grade steel wool to remove the food is best completed with gentle strokes that move with the grain.

If you use too much force during this approach, it could result in scratches, so be careful not to press too hard.

Step #4: Use a Soft Pad

Once you have the large food particles removed, it’s time to move onto the next step. Use a soft, non-abrasive pad to clean your cast iron aluminum. You’ll want to start step number four by pouring 4 cups of water into the pan combined with 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar.

Bring this mixture to a boil and allow it to stay boiling for 10-15 minutes.

Step #5: Pour Out & Allow to Cool

Once the mixture is done boiling, empty the solution of water and cream of tartar until you can comfortably touch the pan. Next, take some sort of cloth or non-abrasive pad (a toothbrush will also work) and scrub the pan in gentle, circular motions.

Step #6: Add Lemon Juice

When the pan looks clean, you can move onto the final step. Create a mixture of half cup of lemon juice combined with 1-½ cups water. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, you can also substitute white vinegar.

Using your clean rag or cloth, dip it into the mixture and gently wipe it over the surface of the pan, removing the tartar solution. Another helpful method is using an empty spray bottle you have around the house and using it to spray the lemon and water mixture directly onto the pan.

Finally, using a dry, clean cloth, wipe out any liquid that remains in your pan.

How to Get Oxidation Off Brushed Aluminum

How to Get Oxidation Off Brushed Aluminum

The oxidation of aluminum metal also applies to brushed aluminum. Items made with brushed aluminum typically include stoves, refrigerators, fixtures found in the kitchen or bathroom, or even on car hubcaps.

To efficiently clean this type of aluminum, compile the following:

  • 3 dry clothes
  • A non-abrasive cleaning pad
  • A bucket
  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Commercial glass cleaner
  • Rubber gloves to keep hands protected
  • A small bowl
  • Lemon juice
  • Baking soda
  • Cream of tartar

Step #1: Wipe the Surface

The first step you’ll want to take is taking your cleaning clothes and wiping them along the aluminum to get rid of any dust or debris. This provides a clean surface and provides you with better access to the oxidation level of the item.

If the cloth alone isn’t working well, you can switch to a non-abrasive cleaning pad to remove built-up dirt or grime.

Step #2: Use Water and Dishwashing Soap

There may still be dirt and debris on the aluminum that is difficult to remove. If this is the case, take the small bucket and fill it with hot water. Add 2-3 drops of dishwashing soap into the water and soak your cloth in it.

Take the soaked non-abrasive pad and gently begin to scrub the aluminum surface. You can move the pad in a circular motion, especially focusing on areas that are particularly discolored.

Step #3: Make a Paste

Some discolored areas may be giving you a tough time even after using the dishwashing soap solution. If this is the case, don’t give up! There are more simple routes to try.

Take a tablespoon of cream of tartar and combine it with half a tablespoon of water. The paste shouldn’t be too runny, and it should hold a formable paste.

If you don’t have the cream of tartar around your home, you can swap it for another option, such as baking soda mixed with lemon juice. This mixture should be roughly ⅓ baking soda and ⅔ lemon juice.

Layer this paste on top of the difficult-to-clean areas of the aluminum and allow it to sit for up to 10 minutes. Using your clean, wet cloth, gently wipe away the paste to reveal the cleaned surface.

Step #4: Use Glass Cleaner

As soon as the discolored spots are removed from the item, use your glass cleaner for a final wipe-down on the aluminum. Finally, use a dry cloth to remove any excess window cleaner, leaving behind a smooth surface.

Step #5: Bring Out the Shine

If you want to improve the appearance of your aluminum, you can invest in a commercial metal polish from any home improvement store. To apply the polish, simply take a dry cloth and dip it in the polish. Work the product in using small, circular motions to bring out the shine.

Coat your work with a clear sealant to help preserve the aluminum’s shine for months to come.

How Do You Remove Oxidation From Hammered Aluminum?

How Do You Remove Oxidation From Hammered Aluminum

Hammered aluminum is often associated with antiques or older items. Before you get started with the cleaning process, make sure to compile the following items:

  • Dry, clean cloths
  • Cream of tartar
  • A non-abrasive cleaning pad
  • Rubber gloves to keep your hands protected
  • Mild dishwashing soap
  • One large cooking pot

Step #1: Fill the Pot

Once you have your cooking pot, add 2 cups of water, 4 tablespoons of cream of tartar, and 1 cup of something acidic such as white vinegar or lemon juice.

Bring this mixture to a boil on your stove. Depending on the size of the item that you’re cleaning, you may want to double this recipe in a larger pot.

Step #2: Find an Open Sink, Plug the Drain

The next step in getting oxidation off of hammered aluminum is finding an open sink or tub in your home that you can use for soaking. Plug either the sink or the tub and pour the boiled water mixture in.

Place the hammered aluminum item into the sink, tub, or bucket and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. In the case that your aluminum item is heavily blackened, you should let it soak even longer for maximum effect. 

Step #3: Drain the Water

As soon as the item has soaked for a sufficient amount of time, you can drain the water mixture. You’ll want to replace this liquid with hot water (not boiling) and mix in one teaspoon of mild dishwashing soap.

Allow this mixture to continue soaking for a few more minutes for the full cleaning effect.

Step #4: Gently Scrub

After a minimum of 5 minutes, take the soaking aluminum item out of the water and use a non-abrasive scrubbing pad. Rub the item gently to remove the darkened portions that remain.

As soon as the black portions have been removed, rinse the item so there is no soapy residue left behind. Use a dry cloth to completely wipe down the item and remove excess moisture.

Step #5: Polish the Metal

For a lasting shine on your hammered metal, use a commercial metal polish to keep your item in great condition.

How to Clean Oxidation From Tarnished Aluminum

How to Clean Oxidation From Tarnished Aluminum

Tarnished aluminum refers to dark, dull areas that often form on utensils, pots, pans, and more. While this can be frustrating and unappealing, removing heavy oxidation from aluminum isn’t as difficult as you may think.

You can start by following the same steps used to clean cast aluminum. If this isn’t working, consider making a solution with Borax, a natural cleaning agent.

To start, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Borax (check the laundry detergent section of any home improvement store)
  • One small bucket
  • One toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush for cleaning
  • Multiple clean, dry cloths

Step #1: Make a Paste

To start, use ¼ cup of Borax and mix it with a small amount of water. It’s recommended to add the water slowly so you can achieve the ideal consistency.

You’ll want it to be a paste; not too wet that it slides off but not too dry that it is powdery.

Step #2: Apply the Paste to the Aluminum

Once you have the right consistency, use your brush to carefully apply the mixture to the areas of the aluminum that have tarnished. Let this mixture sit on the aluminum item for at least 10 minutes. More intense stains may need as long as an hour of soaking before coming off.

Step #3: Rub In the Paste

Use the toothbrush to work the Borax mixture into the stains on the aluminum item. As you do so, you’ll see the tarnish begin to lift. Use a damp cloth to remove any excess paste that has been left behind.

Finish the process by thoroughly drying the item with a dry cloth.

How to Remove Heavy Oxidation From Aluminum

How to Remove Heavy Oxidation From Aluminum

The oxidation of aluminum metal happens over time, resulting in a dull appearance. The aluminum item may also appear to have a white, chalky layer in some areas.

To remove these imperfections from the aluminum, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Dry cleaning cloths
  • Non-abrasive cleaning pads (or a gentle cleaning brush)
  • Mild dishwashing soap
  • Aluminum polish
  • One bucket
  • Rubber gloves for hand protection
  • Clean microfiber cloth
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Lemon
  • Salt
  • Aluminum oxidation remover

Step #1: Remove Debris

Remove any large pieces of dirt or debris that have accumulated using either the brush or a cloth.

Step #2: Create Cleaning Mixture

Next, you’ll want to combine one tablespoon of dishwashing soap with roughly one gallon of warm water.

Take the pad, brush, or cloth and dip it into this mixture to start the cleaning process. Using too much force can cause damage, so it’s best to use light pressure.

Step #3: Rinse

Once the surface has been sufficiently cleaned, rinse the brush or cloth to remove any soap mixture.

DIY Ways of Cleaning

Homemade cleaning solutions for aluminum are easy to make, and they’re an effective way of cleaning your aluminum items.

  1. Simply combine 1 tablespoon white vinegar with 2 cups of warm water. You can scale this solution if you need a larger volume of cleaning solution.
  2. Use a cloth and dip it into the mixture to gently clean your aluminum surface.
  3. Be sure to remove excess residue when you’re finished.
  4. Allow the aluminum to dry on its own.

Conclusion

In applications specific to Schaumburg Specialties, aluminum corrosion is typically the result of aluminum raw materials being stored outside or having gotten wet between pieces stacked or bundled together. This corrosion happens very quickly (in months or weeks) and can significantly affect the surface appearance. This corrosion is sometimes referred to as a water stain, appearing as a white chalky substance. The difference is that this type of corrosion is incredibly difficult to remove.

For example, we recently had some tubing come in from a vendor that was seriously corroded. We tried to remove this by using an acid-type aluminum brightener which is a strong chemical and the results were minimal. The only real way to deal with corrosion of this type is mechanically grinding or sanding to remove the outer surface contaminated by this corrosion.

In our experience, you do not usually see this type of corrosion on a single part like an aluminum pan rack with surfaces that do not touch. On pan racks, you will only see a slight dulling of the surface. We easily clean pan racks by using an aluminum brightener.

With a bit of research and persistence, you can restore your aluminum items to their natural sheen. Knowing how to keep oxidation to a minimum is a great life skill as aluminum is present in an abundance of items in our homes and daily lives.

Schaumburg Specialties is happy to help you with aluminum products that you can enjoy for years to come. Contact us today to see how we can help!

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