HOW-TO: Polish Those Stainless Steel Exhaust Tips To a Super Shine

Ever wanted to spruce up your car by taking your factory stainless exhaust pipes and polishing them out so that they shine like the stars? Our project car here is a 1998 BMW M Roadster in Imola Red, and the factory exhaust tips have certainly seen better days. We cleaned them up to better-than-new using the process below. 

Tips for those considering this project: 

  • Be sure your exhaust tips are fully stainless steel and not stamped chrome or something similar (this will damage them).
  • Have a Dremel handy – higher end models are better because they handle constant load / heat dissipation better than some of the budget ones.
  • Recommended Accessories: (2x Silicon Carbide Grinding Stone, 2x Dremel flap wheel sanding attachments (80 and 120 grit), 2in flap wheel sanding attachment for a drill (150grit & 240grit), 3m body repair sandpaper – 300 to 2500 grit, 4 Dremel felt polishing wheels, 1 Mothers Mag & Aluminum polish.

Step 1) Thoroughly clean the inside and outside of your exhaust tips with Simple Green or another non-corrosive cleaner. Even use a brillo pad or steel wool if they are caked with exhaust residue (scratches will be removed later).

Step 2) Grab your Dremel / Die Grinder and use a Silicon Carbide Grinding Stone to grind down any bumps or intentions inside the pipes that came from the factory (the inside of the exhaust will look scraped and ruined after this step, don’t panic). Make sure that there are no visible indentions after this step, or you will find yourself going back and starting the process over again.

After cleaning and some scuffing, you should see something like this.

Step 3) Sand down the grinding from step 1 with a flap wheel sanding attachment on your Dremel or Grinder – 80 or 120 grit will work but it is best to start with 80 then work to 120. This is especially good for flattening out smaller crevices. Run this at full speed and apply moderate to heavy pressure to get any remaining rough areas smoothed out.

Step 4) After the Dremel work is done, continue to sand with a 2inch flap wheel sanding attachment mounted on a drill (corded drill is recommended as this will take a while). Start with a 150grit flap wheel, then go to a 240grit flap wheel. 

Step 5) Use two packs of 3M assorted  (one pack 320/400/600/800 grit and one pack 1000/1500/2000/2500 grit). Start by hand with a spray bottle containing a soapy watery mix, and wet sand the heck out of it, starting with 320 and moving up to the next sheet once you feel ample progress has been made. This part requires patience, keep working it in succession and take breaks if needed.

Step 6) After finishing with 2500 grit, the pipes should be looking pretty smooth at this point (a light scuffed haze). Go back to the Dremel and use the felt polishing wheels with Mothers Mag & Aluminum polish. Use light coats of polish and hit it with the Dremel. Vary speed and pressure depending on the results you are seeing. Plan on going through 3-4 of these polishing wheels as you complete the work.

Step 7) Gaze in awe at your amazing, shiny exhaust tips.

Shines so pretty!

Other closing remarks: If using a Dremel, it will get HOT at times, take care to be sure that you are not putting too much pressure on it or overheating the motor. Periodically set it down for a few minutes to cool off (and unplug it as it will dissipate heat faster). It is also best to accomplish this entire project over a weekend so your hands and tools have some down time in between.

Good luck and be sure to tag us when you show off your super shiny exhaust tips!

Jayson
Jayson
Jayson is a Certified Automotive Detailer by the International Detailing Association, a lifelong automotive enthusiast, and possibly the youngest Car and Driver and Road & Track subscriber as a kid. Jayson co-founded HQ with Scott to create a place for like-minded individuals to celebrate their love of cars and collaborate in caring for them properly.

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