When we talk about car detailing, we talk about the things that define “detailing” over simply “washing”. This is where we look at refining the car, rather than simply cleaning it. For me, my guide on how to clean exhaust tips is refinement and therefore “detailing” in its purest form.
Before I dive in, there are a couple of points that I want to make.
The first is that you need to have some limitations on the results that you’re going to get. If you’ve got a 5-year-old car that’s never had their exhaust detailed before, the chances of you getting it back to new are slim.
That being said, the difference from what it was to what it will be with a little effort will be huge.
One of the first things that I say to people who get a new car is to protect and maintain your exhaust tips. The early you do this, the easier it will be to clean, and the better the results long term.
My BMW M2 that I use for today’s article is 2 years old and admittedly had very little love when it comes to its exhaust. As you will see, the results are great, but not 100% defect-free.
Manage expectations and things will go much smoother for you.
Exhaust Tips Cleaning Product List
As with all my detailing processes, there are things that you will need to get the best results. Some products are pretty much standalone for this job, but others you can likely take from your detailing arsenal.
Ultra-Fine (0000 Grade) Wire Wool
Almost all jobs on cars that have any sort of mileage are going to need some wire wool to shift the contaminants. This may sound extreme, but you need to make sure that this is ultra-fine and 0000 rated otherwise you are going to scratch your exhaust tips.
There are lots of these products on the market, but I’ve included my recommendation below. It’s a relatively cheap outlay and you get a lot of wire wool with this pack.
- Liberon Steel Wire Wool 0000 250g
- Wire Wool
- Pack of 1
Autosol Metal Polish
Metal polish is another essential and for this, there is only one; Autosol. I’ve been using this stuff for years and it’s hands down the best one that I’ve come across.
Again, it’s another product that is relatively inexpensive, but it works so brilliantly that it’s a must-have. This is going to give the exhaust pipes that added “ping” when you look at them. Given that you’ve spent so long getting them clean, you may as well make them shine.
- Polish for all metal parts, chrome, brass,copper, etc
- Cleans,polishes,protects and removes rust
- Polishes metal fittings on boats
Bilt Hamber Auto Wheels
The reason I choose this is that it’s got a fallout remover built-in, which means that it can break down the contaminates on the exhaust tips as well as anything I’ve tested. Given that you can use this on your wheels as well, it means it one less product that you need to buy.
- Non-acid non alkaline universal wheel cleaner
- pH balanced, Proven number 1 in independent test
- Easy to use colour changing formulation
If you are in the USA you may not be able to get Bilt Hamber Auto-wheel but I Adams Deep wheel cleaner is just as good.
Poorboys Wheel Sealant
As the name would suggest, Poorboys wheel sealant is designed to work best on wheels, but I find that it also works well on exhaust pipes. The reason is that it’s designed for areas that generate a lot of heat and dust, which both wheels and exhaust pipes do.
Again, given that you can use this on multiple parts of the car make for one less thing to buy. I’ve tested lots of waxes and sealants, but once layered up, this is by far the best.
- Long lasting protection
- For use on any type of wheel
- Protects wheels from brake dust, dirt, tar, bugs, water and anything else that impacts your wheels
Again, If you are in the USA you may not be able to get Poor Boys wheel sealant but Rim Job Wheel Wax is on par so grab some of this instead.
How to Clean Exhaust Tips – Step by Step Guide
To start with I like to get a bucket of water with some general car shampoo in along with my wheel cleaning brushes. Use your dedicated wheel bucket for this as it’s going to likely get very dirty if, like me, you’ve neglected your exhausts for too long.
Step 1 – Apply Wheel Cleaner and Agitate
Apply a liberal amount of your wheel cleaner and let it dwell for a minute or so. If it’s a warm day, make sure it does not dry. If you are using Bilt Hamber Auto Wheels, then it should start to turn purple as it reacts with the contaminants. This is good!
After a few minutes or once it has changed colour, use one of your wheel cleaning brushes to then start to agitate both the inside and the outside of your exhaust.
You should start to see a good amount of the dirt come off here, but it won’t shift the lot, so don’t worry too much at this stage.
Another step that you can take is to get a wheel wash mitt to wipe down and give it a clean. I find this is good for removing some of the soap and then seeing what has been taken from this process.
Step 2 – Wire Wool
At this point, we need to start to tackle the stuck-on dirt that the first step would not budge. This is going to be the most transformational part and where we get rid of most of the dirt for cars that are older or have dirtier exhaust pipes.
Take a decent amount of wire wool from the packet. It will start to disintegrate pretty quick which makes it harder to use, so make sure it’s a good handful or so.
Reapply your wheel cleaner and leave it to dwell for a minute or two.
You can now start to rub the cleaner and the tips with the wire wool. You shouldn’t need to rub the barrel of the pipe as this will likely be fairly clean, but more the tips and the front.
You can be quite aggressive and given that the wire wool is so fine, it will not scratch. Keep working the product in and working over each exhaust as it starts to break down the dirt.
At this point, you can start to decide how clean you need your exhaust. If you want perfection or close to, then you are going to need to work this for at least 10 minutes per pipe. If you are looking for a nice finish, but not too bothered about totally remove all contaminants (around 80% clean) then a couple of minutes or so per tip should be about right.
Once you are happy with the results, rinse down and dry. You can then get a much better idea of where you stand in terms of cleanliness.
Take a step back here and check compared to the other side. Often with these, it can feel like not much has changed and it’s only when you step back do you see the transformation.
Step 4 – Metal Polish
Once you are happy with your finish, it’s now time to start moving on to polishing. For this, as stated above, I use Autosol, which is designed for both metal and to resist high temperatures. Ideal!
I like to apply to this my hands and then just use my fingertips to almost massage it into the exhaust. Give it a good covering and then leave to set for a few minutes.
You can just wipe this stuff straight off and I’m not sure that leaving to cure does anything, but it makes me feel better, so that is what I do.
After a few minutes, get an old microfibre towel and then buff off. Don’t worry too much about layering this up as you won’t get the desired effect that a wax would create.
Step 5 – Finish with a Wheel Wax
The final part is then to use a dedicated wax. For this I just my wheel wax which is Poorboys wheel wax. It’s the best that I have tested for this and is one less product to then have to buy.
Again, this is best applied by hand in my opinion and just get enough to give a good coating to the exhaust. Make sure that you reach all the back for coverage.
I leave this for about 10 minutes to properly cure. You can use the finger test to swipe and see when it’s ready to remove. It doesn’t work quite the same as it would with paint, but it changes in texture, which is good enough for me.
Once cured, buff off with a microfibre towel.
I then repeat the wax process for a second time about an hour later when I know it’s fully cured. You can do it straight away if you like, but it does work better if you can leave it for as long as possible.
After this has cured you are done. It’s time to step back and take a look at your work. I’ve included before and after shots below, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide on to clean exhaust tips.
Important Things to Note
- I mention microfibre towels for buffing and you can use for application as well. I have some that I use only for wheels and only for exhausts. These towels should not, under any circumstances, be used on your car’s paint. Ever. I don’t even hate throwing them out after use.
- You need to work as hard as you want to for this. You can keep going and going to get them perfect or you can get them to wherever you need them to be. The beauty of detailing is that it comes down to your personal preference.
- If you get into a routine of regular cleaning when doing a maintenance wash, this drawn-out process won’t be needed every time. A good wax will be worth its weight in gold when it comes to cleaning.
How do you remove carbon build-up from your exhaust tips?
You need to use fine wire wool, rated 0000. This along with a good quality wheel or metal cleaner is going to get the best results. If your exhaust is especially dirty, you may need to repeat this process for some time.
What kind of wire wool do I need to clean exhaust tips?
Ultra-fine 0000 grade is the wool that you want. This will be light enough that it will not scratch the metal but strong enough to remove embedded particles.
How do I make my exhaust tips shiny?
For this, you need a metal polish. Autosol is the best on the market for this right now and is relatively cheap. You can apply this by hand and then buff off with a microfibre towel.
Can you use WD40 on exhaust pipes?
This is not recommended because the heat from the exhaust will burn any remaining oil that is not removed. You are much better off using a wheel cleaner and wire wool.
What are the best products to clean an exhaust tip?
You need a good wheel cleaner like Bilt Hamber Auto Wheels, 0000 grade wire wool and a quality metal polish like Autosol.