Cleaning/polishing Aluminum rub rail - SailNet Community

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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest Forums > Gear & Maintenance
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  #1  
Old 04-14-2010
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Cleaning/polishing Aluminum rub rail

After 30 years of use and abuse the aluminum rub rail on my hull is in pretty bad shape and needs cleaning up. It is of course dull with lots of crap on it from the years but also scrapped and gouged in places. What is the best way to clean it up. I was thinking of a detail sander with fine grit paper. Since I am repainting the hull I'd like to do it as well.
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Old 04-14-2010
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If you can keep the steel bits off of the boat, use steel wool. Work your way from 3# to 00# (double-aught).

If you're worried about the steel wool bits getting on the boat (because it rusts and looks unsightly) use bronze wool.
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Old 04-14-2010
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Don't ever use steel wool on a boat and it really isn't good to use on aluminum. Use brass, bronze or stainless wire cup or a nylon abrasive cup, either of which will get the uneven surfaces of a rub rail a bit better than a detail sander. Either cup in a drill will probably also be considerably faster than using a detail sander or bronze wool.
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Old 04-14-2010
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Dog is either misinformed or full of crap WRT steel wool not being good to use on aluminum. From the Rhodes American steel wool package I'm looking at..

VERY FINE #00 Polish and restore aluminum, copper, brass and other bright metals. Clean and polish golf clubs, metal wheels, screens and metal lawn furniture...

I also know because I used it on my aluminum rub rail, and it was good to use. Do you have a source to back up your claim, SD?

Otherwise, we seem to be in agreement on the rest, and I've got the edge on value ($2/bag).
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Old 04-15-2010
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Aboard—

I'm talking about on a boat... steel wool is going to leave rust spots all over... and if the steel wool bits stay on the aluminum, the rust (iron oxide) will combine with the aluminum and leave aluminum oxide and iron... which is a very well known chemical reaction... that will cause the aluminum rubrail to deteriorate faster than if it had been brushed with a brass or stainless wire cup.
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Old 04-15-2010
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I don't see how steel whole will work anyway. Yes it might polish it but there are deep scratches and gouges in this. It would take forever to take it down by hand. so using a drill sounds like the way to go
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Old 04-15-2010
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sailingdog is right. Steel wool will cause lots of little rust stains all over the place. Little pieces will get stuck in every nook and cranny and will rust faster than a '76 Plymouth Volare.
A friend let me try some of his Woody Wax on my dark anodized rub rail. The result was amazing- of course it doesn't remove gouges, but it made the rail look a lot better. It's expensive ($40 for a little bottle) and needs to be reapplied every 3-4 weeks but it's a fast easy job.
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Old 04-18-2010
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The quickest way I can think of is to start with a green substute sanding pad on the the ruff stuff to soften the edges and then switch to the red (fine) for the rest using soapy water and long strokes. The above will give a bright finish with fine scraches running horizonal and all it takes to keep it up is to give it a quick with the red pad when you wash your boat.

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Originally Posted by superiorvoyager View Post
After 30 years of use and abuse the aluminum rub rail on my hull is in pretty bad shape and needs cleaning up. It is of course dull with lots of crap on it from the years but also scrapped and gouged in places. What is the best way to clean it up. I was thinking of a detail sander with fine grit paper. Since I am repainting the hull I'd like to do it as well.
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Old 05-14-2010
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I agree with SailingDog do not use "steel" wool on or anywhere near a marine application. Now "stainless steel" wool is fine but far to labor intensive for me. I would use a ScotchBrite pad (red is good). Or better yet a scotchbrite flapper wheel attached to an angle grinder. Benefits are its fast! and will wear and conform to the shape of the rub rail. We use them to repair s/s rubrails and elevator panels in-situ at the marina.
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Old 02-01-2011
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do these abraisive pads hurt the anodizing on rub rails?
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