How to Clean Chrome Exhaust Pipes

Dual chrome exhaust on a motorcycle
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
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Chrome exhaust pipes are bright and shiny, and they add just the right pop to any truck, car, or motorcycle...until they get grimy and dull. You need to know how to clean chrome exhaust pipes, both along the pipes and at the tips, because they're going to get dirty all the time.

What Is Chrome?

Chrome is one of the metals of choice for automobiles and motorcycles of all kinds. It's also commonly seen in fixtures and faucets around the house. Chrome is prized because it's shiny and pretty, and durable. But what is chrome, exactly?

Contrary to belief, chrome usually doesn’t indicate the type of metal an object is made of. Most of the time, the chrome you see is chrome plating that is put on top of some other metal.

On vehicles, hard chrome plating is used to create the shiny finish that looks so good on exhaust pipes. It also protects the metal underneath, which in vehicles is usually steel.

This is a heavier, thicker chrome plating than what you will find in household faucets and fixtures, which is usually a thinner and more decorative material that's not meant to be as durable as automotive chrome.

Hard chrome plating is a heavy coating of chrome that can take the wear and tear associated with being on the road. But like all chrome, this plating will show dust, dirt, and road grime.

When the motor is engaged, the pipes get hot. This means that debris like paper, plastic, and other waste can stick to hot pipes and melt, creating an even bigger mess.

Cleaning chrome exhaust tips and pipes is an essential activity if you want your vehicle to look clean and shiny. Chrome will become dull and need cleaning from time to time, even if the vehicle is never driven and garage-kept.

But if you actually do drive your vehicle, you will need to clean the chrome every few months or more to keep it pretty and well-maintained.

You’ll also want to know how to clean exhaust tips, which takes some slightly different techniques than cleaning the outside and inside of the exhaust pipe.

How to Clean Chrome Exhaust Pipes

There is more than one way to clean chrome exhaust pipes and tips. You might need to use a few different methods for particularly grimy spots.

1. Prep

Make sure your vehicle has not been driven in a while so that the exhaust is not hot. Also, park the car outside so you have plenty of ventilation and fresh air.

Do not do this inside an enclosed garage. You want plenty of ventilation so that you aren’t breathing in chemical fumes.

Before you begin, put on some gloves to protect your skin and nails from chemicals and grease. Fill up a bucket with warm water and a few drops of liquid soap.

Pre-wash the chrome using a soft microfiber cloth and the soap solution. Dampen the cloth with the soapy water and wipe it over the chrome to remove debris, dust, and loose grime.

2. Scrub

Use a round, soft-bristled brush to clean the inside of the exhaust. Dip it into the soapy mixture and rub it all around the inner edges of the pipe.

A dedicated exhaust cleaning brush works perfectly for this task, but any round brush will do.

3. Apply Degreaser

Use a soft-bristled brush to apply degreaser all around the tip and along as much of the pipe that is exposed inside and out. This is one of the most effective methods if you're wondering how to clean the exhaust pipe inside.

Rinse the degreaser off with plain water and dry it gently with a towel. Degreaser works very well to remove gunk and junk from the exhaust pipe inside and at the tips.

4. Stubborn Dirt

For stubborn dirt that won't go away, spritz some WD-40 directly onto a clean microfiber cloth. Rub it liberally all over the stubborn area.

Use a stiff-bristled brush to remove the built-on grime. Wipe off the WD-40 with a clean, damp cloth.

You can also soak a clean cloth in vinegar and liberally wipe this all over the grimy area of the exhaust. Try spraying vinegar directly onto the spot and let it sit for a few minutes if the grime doesn't come off right away.

These methods work well for cleaning chrome exhaust tips that have a lot of stubborn dirt.

5. Apply Polish

Put some metal polish or exhaust cleaner on a piece of steel wool. Apply this to the chrome with gentle, small circular motions.

The steel wool and polish will help to buff out scratches and remove any residue or buildup on the pipe that dulls the shine.

Use ultra-fine steel wool that is rated 0000. You also want to work it in the pipes and all around the tips quite thoroughly, and you can be a bit aggressive if needed to remove caked-on gunk.

Spend at least several minutes working the polish into the chrome with the steel wool before you rinse it off with plain water. The steel wool is an effective chrome exhaust tip cleaner.

6. Shine It Up

Next, use a soft cloth and chrome polish to get the exhaust bright and shiny again. This will buff out any remaining small scratches and really make the chrome pop.

Chrome polish is formulated to give chrome metal a bright, mirror shine. This polish will remove any streaks and give the chrome a nice, bright finish.

Use a second cloth to remove excess polish and create a nice, uniform finish. Don't touch or disturb the chrome for at least a few minutes as the polish finishes drying.

7. Finishing Touches

Let the exhaust pipe dry completely before you add any protectants to the chrome, such as wax or chrome sealant. You don’t want any remaining chemicals or moisture on the chrome before you apply a sealant.

What’s the Best Way to Clean Chrome?

Which of the methods used above is the best way to clean chrome? There is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to using chrome exhaust cleaner tools or formulas, no one best cleaner for chrome exhaust tips.

Cleaning chrome on motorcycle or vehicle exhaust pipes may take more than one method, depending on what’s working and not working for the grime you happen to be dealing with.

Carbon, road dust, mud, and all kinds of junk and grime have a way of building up and becoming caked onto chrome, especially at the exhaust tips.

You may find one particular technique that works best for your vehicle. Anyone can learn how to clean exhaust tips with household items like vinegar and find out which self-made formula seems to work best on the dirt your vehicle is most exposed to.

Try out different methods to clean chrome exhaust tips and pipes to see what works for your vehicle and your grime and soon, performing this maintenance task won’t be so difficult.

Cleaning Chrome Exhaust Tips

When you know how to clean chrome exhaust motorcycle exhaust pipes and car or truck chrome exhaust tips, you can keep your vehicle looking nicer.

It's often the little details that make the biggest difference, and dirty chrome is one of those things people notice even when they don't notice that they're noticing it.

In other words, keeping the chrome clean will just make the entire vehicle look better overall. With some cleaning chrome exhaust tips, you can make this vehicle maintenance easier and maintain the shine and "pop" that you want your vehicle to have.

Chrome Exhaust Pipes FAQs

How do you clean chrome exhaust pipes?

There are multiple ways of cleaning chrome exhaust pipes. Many common products, such as liquid soap, vinegar, and WD-40 can be used to clean off stubborn grease and grime.

Use microfiber cloths and soft-bristled brushes to scrub away grime and dirt, and follow up with chrome polish to get the exhaust gleaming and sparkling.

How do you remove carbon buildup from chrome exhaust tips?

A cleaning brush and fine-grained steel wool work extremely well for removing carbon buildup and other caked-on junk from chrome exhaust tips and pipes. Steel wool has the added benefit of buffing out small scratches to help restore the look of chrome.

Steel wool is a great tool when it comes to learning how to clean chrome exhaust tips. Get the steel wool a little bit wet for caked-on grime.

How do you clean pitted chrome exhaust?

Chrome may become pitted over time. This is usually caused by rust and happens with age. Although it happens to the best of vehicles, pitted chrome doesn’t look amazing.

It is possible to smooth this out with a wad of aluminum foil, however. Take an ordinary sheet of foil and scrunch it up in your hand.

Get the foil wet and rub it along the pitted areas. This helps remove rust and smooth out the pits. Rinse off the area when you're done and wipe it off with a cloth or sponge.

How do you clean chrome exhaust headers?

Chrome exhaust headers can be cleaned with liquid soap and water and scrubbed with fine steel wool. If you've noticed a discoloration, or "bluing," in exhaust tips, there are specialty products made specifically to remove this bluish tint.

Products that are specially made to remove blue tint will have detailed instructions for how to clean chrome exhaust tips using this formula.

How often should you clean and polish motorcycle and vehicle chrome?

The frequency with which you clean your chrome exhaust pipes and tips depends entirely on how often you drive your vehicle. If you drive often, you will want to do a light washing on the chrome at least once a week.

You should always clean chrome off exhaust pipes when your vehicle has been exposed to snow. Road salt can be particularly damaging to chrome, creating pits and damage to the pipes and tips.

If you drive more rarely, clean chrome after every 50 miles or so. Use your judgment for how dirty chrome looks before you clean it but remember, it's always easier to clean when it is less dirty rather than dirtier.

How do you use chrome metal polish?

Apply chrome metal polish by placing the polish on a soft cloth, rather than directly on the chrome itself. Gently rub the polish into the chrome with small, circular motions.

The polish should be applied firmly but not aggressively.

If any part of the chrome looks dull, try adding a drip of olive oil to the cloth and rub this into the finish. This little bit of oil restores shine and brilliance to chrome, a trick that also works on other metal finishes as well.

Wipe excess polish off with a clean microfiber cloth, again working in small, circular motions to do so. This should leave behind a glossy, streak-free finish.

How do you clean black or painted chrome exhaust tips?

If the tips of your chrome exhaust pipe are painted or blackened, do not use regular chrome cleaning and polishing methods to clean them. These tips have been specially treated, and the paint should be cleaned differently than you clean chrome.

Before you know how to clean these painted tips, find out what type of paint or treatment was used on the tips to give them this effect. Often, there are specialty products that are made just for cleaning painted exhaust tips.

When polishing and cleaning the rest of the chrome on the exhaust, you can tape over these painted tips with painter's tape or a similar material to avoid getting chrome cleaning formulas on these tips.

Further Reading

3 Exhaust Pipe Repair Tips

6 Advantages of a Flexible Exhaust Pipe

Dual Exhaust System: How to Install the H-Pipe

How to Repair a Motorcycle Exhaust Pipe

How to Install a Straight Exhaust Pipe

How to Install a Truck Exhaust System

Installing Aftermarket Exhaust Pipes

Pros and Cons of a Dual Exhaust System

Repairing a Broken Exhaust Pipe