How To Clean and Restore Dirty Exhaust Tips On Your Car?

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In this post, I’ll show you the exact steps I take when I clean dirty exhaust tips on my car, but I’ll also show you how you can polish them and make them look new again. I’ll also show you what I use to protect exhaust tips so they’re easier to clean next time.

Step-By-Step Guide on Cleaning Dirty Exhaust Tips

dirty exhaust tips on a car

Before we dive into the exact steps, I just want to tell you at which stage of washing the car I like to clean exhaust tips, and it’s just after I finish washing wheels. That way, you won’t need wheel brushes afterward since they’ll become pretty dirty.

Cleaning Exhaust Tips

cleaning car exhaust tips, illustration

Let’s get rid of that mud, rust, dust, and grime first. Prepare a wheel cleaner, a few brushes, microfiber cloths, and a bucket of soapy water.

Here are the steps you should follow in order to clean car exhaust tips and pipes:

  • Apply wheel cleaner. Begin by spraying a wheel cleaner onto the exhaust tips (both inside and outside). This will help break down the stubborn carbon deposits. Allow the cleaner to sit for a couple of minutes until you notice it changing color, indicating the breakdown of dirt.
  • Agitate the inside. Dip a long, stiff wheel brush into the bucket of soapy water and scrub the inside of the exhaust tips, which is often the most soiled area. Feel free to reapply the wheel cleaner and frequently rinse the brush in soapy water for added cleaning efficacy.
  • Agitate the outside. Use a detailing brush to agitate the outside of exhaust tips, including pipes. After the brush, use a microfiber cloth to finish cleaning. Again, dip cleaning tools in soapy water for added lubrication.
  • Rinse and dry. Use a high-pressure washer or a garden hose to rinse off the loosened dirt from the exhaust tips. After rinsing, take a clean microfiber towel and wipe dry exhausts.

Polishing Exhaust Tips

polishing exhaust tips with metal polish, illustration

Now that the exhaust tips are clean, they still won’t look shiny, and we have to polish them out to bring that shine back.

Steps for polishing exhaust tips:

  • Apply metal polish. Pour a small amount of Menzerna Metal Polish onto a microfiber applicator pad. Using circular motions, which are ideal for hand polishing, work the polish into the exterior of the exhaust tips. Reapply polish as necessary to achieve a glossy, factory-like finish. If your car boasts chrome exhaust tips, consider using specialized chrome polish products.
  • Polishing the interior (optional). If you decide to polish the inside of the exhaust tips, a foam polishing cone attached to a drill can expedite the process. Apply some metal polish to the cone and polish the interior. This method is not only time-efficient but also yields superior results compared to manual polishing.
  • Buffing. Once you’ve achieved the desired shine, use a clean microfiber towel to buff the exhaust tips, ensuring all polish residue is removed, leaving them looking pristine and renewed.

Applying Protection

clean and shiny car exhaust tips, illustration

To further enhance and maintain the shine of your exhaust tips, it’s beneficial to apply a protective layer. This not only amplifies the gleam but also acts as a barrier against dirt and grime, ensuring longevity and ease of future cleanings.

While there are numerous waxes and sealants available, I highly recommend Gtechniq C5 Ceramic Coating. Originally formulated for wheels, this product has proven to be exceptionally effective for exhaust tips as well.

Before applying, ensure the exhaust tips are clean and dry. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the Gtechniq C5 Ceramic Coating. A proper application will not only enhance the shine but also create a protective layer that repels dirt and grime.

With this protective layer in place, you’ll notice that dirt and contaminants won’t adhere as easily to the exhaust tips. This means that subsequent cleanings will be quicker and more straightforward, and your exhaust tips will maintain their luster for longer periods between cleanings.

How Long Does It Take To Clean Exhaust Tips On Cars?

car exhaust tips full of dirt, mud, and rust

You can expect to clean car exhaust tips in 10-20 minutes. The time it takes you to clean and polish them depends on more factors:

  • The quality of the products you’re using
  • Your experience
  • How dirty the exhaust tips are

If you’re using low-quality products, they won’t have enough cleaning power to remove all that carbon buildup from exhaust tips.

Meguiar's G180124 Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner - 24 Oz Spray Bottle

Personally, I like to use Meguiar’s Ultimate All Wheel Cleaner (check above), which is one of the best wheel cleaners, in my opinion.

It may take a bit longer when you attempt to clean tailpipes for the first time. However, even for inexperienced people, cleaning exhaust tips shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.

Lastly, if you neglected exhaust tips for a few years, cleaning all the buildup and restoring that factory shine might take more than 15 minutes. That’s why I recommend cleaning exhaust tips every time you wash your car, and well-maintained exhaust tips require only 2-3 minutes of cleaning.

I tried to keep everything simple, and by following the steps above, you’ll be able to clean and restore shine to car exhaust tips. However, if you want an even more detailed guide with additional steps that include even steel wool, check the video below.

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