rusty chrome wheels
Crumple foil to scrub uneven surfaces

There are at least four easy home methods to remove rust from chrome and two of them might surprise you: rubbing with Aluminum Foil for mild rust, and first treating the rust with a mild acid – (reportedly, Diet Coke works) for more extensive restoration jobs. 

Typically, chrome is used to add a shiny or protective coating to other metals, and the metal underneath the chrome is usually the source of rust. Removing this rust with household objects is surprisingly easy with some elbow grease.

A simple and inexpensive way to remove rust from and polish chrome surfaces by hand is to rub it with aluminum foil dipped in salt water. This process yields two advantages. First, since the aluminum foil is softer than steel, it will not scratch the surface. And second, a by-product of the process produces a fine metal polishing compound that smoothes the chrome surface to a bright shine.

How Does this Work?

Rust is basically oxidized metal. As heat is generated by the friction of rubbing the aluminum foil on the chrome, a portion of the aluminum will also oxidize to produce aluminum oxide. Aluminum has a higher reduction potential (a tendency take on electrons and in the process reduce or break itself down) than the chrome, and will therefore leech oxygen atoms away from any rust on the chrome surface, which changes the chemical properties of the rust and breaks it down.

A common way to clean a rusted chrome surface such as a fender or bumper is to use fine (000) steel wool. However, when you use this method you have to use a lot of elbow grease and you still end up with a slightly dull surface with some amount of scratching – not to mention the messy “dust” left over from the steel wool. That’s because you are physically scraping off the rust. 

When you use the aluminum foil method you are dissolving the rust chemically so you don’t need to rub nearly as hard, and since the aluminum foil is softer than the chrome, you are left with few if any scratches. This method also allows you to get the rust out of some minor pitting without having to dig into the surface.

The aluminum oxide that is created by friction when you rub the surface of the chrome leeches the rust away and when combined with the water you added creates its own polishing compound so you end up with a clean, smooth, shiny surface. 


  1. Cut the aluminum foil into small squares, about 3 inches by 3 inches should do. 
  2. Wipe down or wash the surface to remove any surface dirt. 
  3. Dip a square into some saltwater or sprinkle some water on it and spread it around on the surface of the foil.
  4. Cup the wet square over the surface you want to clean so you get a nice even coverage.
  5. Start rubbing a 6 or 8 inch area and remember you don’t have to rub very hard. As you rub, you’ll feel the surface get smoother and smoother until the foil just glides over it. You will also notice a light brown paste building up. This is the polish that results from the chemical reaction.
  6. When the surface is nice and smooth and you have polished it, take a clean cloth and wipe the polish off.
  7. Once you finish cleaning and polishing the item you need to cover the surface to protect it from the elements. At a minimum you can wipe it down thoroughly with a clean cloth. Since cloth inherently contains some amount of oil, this will give you at least some protection.

The best method would be to use a small amount of chrome polish or maybe something like Turtle Wax or an equivalent kind of wax or polish. Make sure you wipe the surface down with a paper towel first instead of a cloth, because paper doesn’t contain any oil. You will have a clean and dry surface for the wax or polish to stick to.

Some Final Tips

Use a little extra water if you want a super fine finish.  Wad up a larger piece of foil when you work on pitted areas. The edges created will help smooth down the pits.

Don’t rub too long with the first “paste” created. Once the surface feels nice and smooth and you’ve wiped the gunk off, you can use a new piece of foil with some more water to get as much shine as you like.

Don’t waste your time with a severely pitted surface, since the rust has probably eaten down through the chrome to the bare metal. Smooth it down as much as you can with steel wool then use the aluminum foil method to remove as much rust as possible.

To get the best results, remove that fender or other part so you can work on it easily without having nooks and crannies to dig into. If you’re working on severely rusted rims, you might want to use a steel brush to remove the worst rust spots first. This will also remove any caked on road gunk so you have a better surface to work with. 

Finally, the aluminum foil method also works pretty well on steel. It removes the rust well, but don’t expect that super shiny finish like you get with the chrome because it never had that to begin with!

More serious follow-up maintenance may be required if the rust is widespread and much of the chrome has flaked off.

Removing Rust with Mild Acid

The “Coke” method, uses cola, lime juice, or other mild household acids. Any cola or soda that includes phosphoric acid in the ingredients can be used to dissolve rust. Lime juice or vinegar will also work. These mild acids can remove rust without significant risk to the surrounding metal.

Why Diet Coke®? Diet soda does not have sugar in it, so the process will be less sticky.

Avoid strong or concentrated acids, which can etch and weaken the underlying metal, and also produce toxic fumes.

Soak or cover the chrome with the liquid. Ideally, soak the object for 15 minutes to loosen the rust. If you cannot soak the object, then simply pour the mild acid over the surface, then rub with a dish scrubber or rough sponge. If you’re working on a car part (while attached), wash off the residue using a mild, car finish-safe soap, rinse and dry. Don’t use dish detergent – it can strip your car’s paint! Protect with chrome polish or wax.

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