January 26, 2023

Step-By-Step Big Rig Wheel Polishing Guide




Have your wheel rims seen better days? Then it’s time to learn how to polish aluminum truck wheels to mirror finish.

As a semi driver, you know the importance of taking care of your rig. That’s why you regularly get an oil change, clean off your windshield and get new tires when the tread is worn. Your wheels deserve the same kind of care.

Polishing your wheels may seem like it’s all about aesthetics, but proper treatment can actually protect them from dirt and rust, thereby extending their use. Rust can be insidious; one speck can quickly become a large problem if not addressed immediately. Polishing your wheels on a regular basis can save you the time and money of removing rust or replacing wheels that are too damaged from corrosion.

Zephyr has been helping truckers make metal mirrors for over 27 years now. From the beginner just starting out on their own rig, to the pro who does it every day as a career. For us here at Zephyr there is nothing more satisfying than seeing all of your metal transformations take shape with our Pro Series Products. We hang our hat on being able to provide you with the highest quality metal finishing products available today. The amount of pride in the trucking industry is second to none. Especially the pride in your rides. There is nothing like a freshly polished big rig pushing down the line. However, polishing the proper way is a multi-step process that requires certain tools.  So, if you don’t find yourself near a polish shop and you don’t want the parking lot polisher touching your ride, we hope you can fall back on these easy steps to achieve a perfect shine every time.

If you’ve never polished your wheels yourself, have no fear — the process is very straightforward. In fact, anyone can learn to do it if they have the right tools. Just remember to work at your own pace and follow each step in order. You’ll want to set aside a good chunk of time for your first polish so you don’t feel rushed and can do your wheels justice. With practice, you’ll be able to get the process down to 10 to 15 minutes per wheel.

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Put Safety First

In the old days, polishing required hours of work and a great deal of stamina, as you had to work in the compound by hand. Today, we have tools that do the hard work for us, cutting down on the time and energy necessary to get that perfect mirror shine. However, these tools do pose a safety risk.

For this particular process we will be using airway buffing wheels which will be moving at high speeds. This means debris can go flying and do some real damage and will require the use of safety flanges. These innovative flanges are molded from high-density composite nylon that are lightweight, yet strong as aluminum. These flanges need to be attached to each side of the buffing wheel and are mandatory when using airway buffing wheels. Next is your personal protective gear, which is just as important as flanges. This includes ear protection, hand protection, eye protection, and most of all respiratory protection. These items are all available at your local Zephyr distributor or at www.zephyrpro40.com  they are definitely a must when machine polishing.

What if you’re pressed for time and don’t have an easy way of obtaining this safety equipment? Unfortunately, you’re going to have to delay polishing to another day.

While it can be frustrating to get bundled up for something as simple as polishing, it’s an essential step that can lead to dire consequences if skipped. For example, the grinder is incredibly loud and may damage your eardrums without adequate protection. That can cause hearing loss, which poses a safety risk while on the road, as you need to be able to hear horns, sirens and other sound while driving. Hand protection can keep you from losing a finger if the grinder accidently slips — a pair of sturdy gloves may save you a trip to the hospital and all of the pain, expense and time that entails. Flying debris is of course a threat to your eyes; safety goggles can keep you from losing your sight. Finally, respiratory gear is something you absolutely can’t forego, as the polishing process can produce airborne particles. These are tiny pieces of compound ground so finely that they can drift in the air. Inhaling these can cause serious problems and potentially put you out of commission. If you’re missing even one piece of safety gear, it’s best to wait until you’re fully prepared.

Gather Your Supplies

Now, on to the “tools of the trade”!! For these wheels we will be using a 3 step process; cut, color, and finish. We will be using some of the most popular products from Zephyr. These products are available at www.iowa80.com.

The supplies you will be using today:

Primary Cutting  – 3200rpm

Now you’re ready to learn how to polish semi wheels. The technique is relatively easy to master, even if you’ve never done it before.  For the first step we will be using the 8” yellow mill treated buffing wheel and tripoli compound. First off, rake the new buffing wheel and fray the edges. This breaks the buffing wheel in and allows it to more easily accept the compound. Remember, the buffer spins counter clockwise. So, be careful when applying the compound. Hold the bar of rouge on the buffing wheel working it from edge to edge for about 3 seconds. First, break the wheel down into sections. Start with the face of the wheel and work your way out to the edge. Left to right, bottom to top with nice even passes. You don’t want to apply too much pressure, let the grinder spin freely. Take your time and make sure you make even passes. Overlapping each previous pass. Move up slowly and push your black line of compound steadily forward.  When you notice the black line starting to fade you will need to take all of the old burnt-on compound off of the pad and then reapply more compound, then repeat. This is the most important step in the polishing process. If this is done correctly, then you will have really laid the groundwork for a beautiful mirror finish. The rest is downhill.

Secondary Cutting  – 3200rpmNow, you should have a very shiny surface with a light haze and what looks like hash marks. This is perfectly normal considering this was just the first step. Now, grab your green buffing wheel and green moss compound. Rake your wheel just like before and apply compound to the wheel. Again, start from the inside and work your way to the edge. The moss green rouge is a higher-end jewelers rouge which will provide you with that high luster, show quality shine. This should leave you with an almost perfect finish. During the coloring stage you will really see this mirror take shape. In between steps grab a microfiber towel and apply some of our Pro 50 Eliminator to the wheels. This will dissolve any leftover compound from around the holes. Leave the Pro 50 film on after the secondary stage, this will allow you to see exactly where your polishing line is as well as cleaning all of the green rouge off before moving on to the finishing step.  

Pro 50 Wipe down                                           Secondary Cut


Final Finish – 1600-1800rpm

Last, grab your white untreated airway or flannel buffing wheel as well as the Blue Moon bar rouge. Again, start from the inside and work out to the edges. This will break down any buffing lines left and blend it all together leaving a flawless finish. If all three steps are done like this, the result should be a metal mirror. It takes a little getting used to, no doubt, but once you have a few wheels under your belt you will be ready to attack bigger jobs like fuel tanks and more! With Zephyr’s easy to use products, the beginner can achieve a professional finish.

Wipe Down AKA “Seal in That Shine”We are not quite finished yet. The last step is arguably the most important, as it’ll ensure your efforts last as long as possible. Now that we have successfully polished the wheel let’s highlight that super shine and seal and protect it. That was a lot of work and gratifying as well, so you want to maximize your shine. Grab a microfiber towel and a bottle of the trucking industries #1 selling metal polish, Zephyr Pro 40. It repels dirt and water, making it the perfect product to seal in your finish.  Fold the towel into quarters, that way your fingers don’t poke through and scratch the surface. Apply about a half-dollar size amount of Pro 40 on the towel and wipe the wheel down. Go with the grain and apply nice and even all over the wheel. Let it dry and use a fresh microfiber towel to remove it. This will repel water and road grime that you may catch along the way. Use the Pro 40 metal polish for maintenance thereafter.

Thanks for checking out Iowa80.com and if you have any more polishing questions ask the friendly folks at Iowa 80 or go to www.zephyrpro40.com  and @zephyrpolishes on Instagram and Facebook. Special thanks to Kevin Clapp, owner of Texas Premier Polishing out of Lubbock, TX, for his input and the pictures of his quality work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Be Safe & Shine On!

16 thoughts on “Step-By-Step Big Rig Wheel Polishing Guide

  1. If I’m trying to polish the grill on a Pete and it needs sanding to try and get the putting out, what would be the sanding down procedures? Thanks!

  2. I appreciate that you mentioned in your post that the wheel’s shine can be maximized by applying metal polish. My son is going to have his first truck show this weekend, and the tips that you shared in this article is really helpful! We’re grateful for the wheel polishing guide tips!

  3. You make a great point that safety comes first, so you need to make sure you have ear, hand, eye, and even respiratory protection. My husband and I have some really nice metal furniture in our yard, but it’s looking pretty old and weathered. I think it would be great if we could get it all polished up and looking nice for this summer. The problem is that we don’t have much protection that I think would be necessary. Maybe it would be best if we called a professional to come and take care of the problem.

  4. I live in NC about 45 southeast of Charlotte and recently bought a polishing kit that had a small bluegreen bar In it and wow I knew I wanted another and went to a place sells polishing stuff and got a green bar but not nearly as good, where can I find the bluegreen bar near me

  5. 1st time using a polishing kit. Working on a badly stained aluminum trailer. Have the Pro polishing kit and want to know if I’m right about the polishing wheels and rouge bars being color matched? Don’t have a stripper. Is there anything else I can use to strip the rouge until I can get one? Need all the help I can get.

  6. Hi I am interested buy a Zephyr kit to remove small scratches, imperfections, and to polish my 16″ Alcoa aluminum wheels. I already have Porter Cable 6″ variable speed polisher but I am not sure of which kit to buy that suits my needs. I know I will need the extender, flange, wheels, and rouge bars. I was thinking about a Iowa80 part #159713. Can you confirm that or possibly give me a part # for a kit that will better suit my needs? Again I am only doing aluminum Alcoa wheels (16″). Thank you

    1. Hi Robert, Thank you for your question. Item 159713 will work, but it does include some heavy cutting items you might not need, depending on how oxidized your wheels are. Take a look at item 324062, the Zephyr Ultra Shine Signature Series Polishing Kit. This kit plus a 2″ extender (item 134006) and wheel rake (item 194522) should do the trick! Send us before & after shots – we’d love to see how it turns out! Find us on Facebook or Instagram.

  7. Hi I have a fuel truck with aluminum tank the tank is fairly new, been washed a few times and have what looks like water marks and it’s a little dull. How can I shine it up?

  8. Is it ok to use a smaller polishing machine than the Makita? Mine is a Toolman that goes to 4200 RPM and has variable speed. It is much easier for me to use since weighs about half of the Makita. Thanking you in advance. I appreciate the help.

    1. Hi Brett – The polisher you have should be fine. What really matters are the RPMs, so make sure to use the correct speed on each polishing step. RPMs are noted on each buffing wheel.

  9. Thanks for explaining that the primary cutting is going to be the most important step in polishing your wheels. My husband bought a truck last week and wants to get it back to like-new condition. I will suggest he look into aluminum restoration polish so he can seal and maintain the finish.

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