How to Clean Aluminum

Three aluminum pots hang side by side.

Aluminum (aluminium) is the number one most abundant metal found in the Earth’s crust. With that being said, it’s no wonder that with our propensity for exploiting everything we can get our hands on, you will find something made from this metal in pretty much every home you see. I don’t mean to be an ass about it. I’m every bit as guilty as anyone else. Aluminum is cheap, it’s lightweight, and when it’s clean, it’s pretty nice to look at. You know, all shiny and silvery and stuff.

Aluminum by itself isn’t all that useful. It’s too soft. Under most circumstances it is mixed with other metals like copper, zinc, magnesium, or manganese to create an alloy with greater strength and durability. Even with other metals thrown in there, aluminum alloys are still quite malleable and can be used for an absolutely ridiculous number of things. You will find aluminum used for cans (of course), pots and pans, utensils, siding, boats, machinery, wheels, motors, gutters, blinds, electrical work, paints, and the list goes on and on and on. It makes good sense, along with being cheap, abundant, and easy to work with, the stuff is also very resistant to corrosion. This is due to aluminum’s affinity for oxygen. You know that dull gray that’s been taking over your nice new aluminum pot? That’s what I’m talking about. That’s aluminum oxide, and that’s what we’re here to get rid of today. Yes, it protects your aluminum from corrosion. But as soon as you clean it off, it starts coming back again. Your aluminum is still protected, and now, because that layer of aluminum oxide isn’t nearly as thick as it was, your pan still looks nice. The method for cleaning aluminum found in this article is intended for unfinished aluminum like (but not limited to) that found in aluminum pots, pans, plates, cups, and utensils.

Steps to Clean Aluminum Naturally

  1. scrubbing aluminum potGive it a thorough scrubbing. More than likely, your piece of aluminum has acquired a nice layer of dust. The first step to aluminum cleaning is to wash it. There’s no special trick to this. Fill your sink with hot water and soap and wash away. If you’re washing a pot or pan, make sure to remove all of the grease or you won’t be able to penetrate it later to get rid of the aluminum oxide underneath. You may need to use a scratchy pad. Make sure to get in the edges really well. The final product should be bare aluminum.
  2. boiling water in aluminum potClean off any burnt-on food. Again, the plan is to completely uncover the aluminum underneath. If the pan has food burned onto the bottom, you’ll need to get that off. Put a couple inches of water in the pan and bring it to a boil. Let it go for about five minutes and then, using a flat-edge wooden spatula, scrape as much of it off as possible. You may need to repeat this process a couple times.
  3. vinegar by potBreak out the acid. Sometimes getting rid of the oxidation on an aluminum pot is as simple as cooking something acidic in it like tomato, apple, lemon, or rhubarb. If you don’t feel up to that, fill your pot or pan with water and add two tablespoons of vinegar (you can get it from Amazon), cream of tartar, or lemon juice for each quart of water. Bring this aluminum cleaner to a boil, and let it roll for at least fifteen minutes. Feel free to throw in any aluminum utensils you might have. After the fifteen minutes are up, dump the pot out and check the results. This works very well, but it may need to be done several times. If the thing being cleaned isn’t a pot at all but will fit in one, this is a great way to clean smaller aluminum items.
  4. package of steel woolTry to avoid any harsh abrasives. It is frequently suggested that if there are really stubborn bits of baked-on nastiness or heavy oxidation you can remove them using either plain steel wool or Brillo Pads. The problem with this is these have a tendency to leave your aluminum riddled with little scratches that make it harder to clean in the future. If you feel you must use steel wool, use the finest grade you can find, use it as sparingly as possible, and apply as little pressure as possible. Go with the grain of the metal and don’t use circular patterns. I had to use this step for my aluminum pot. The thing is ancient, nasty, and was pitted when given to me.
  5. lemon juice and salt on stoveCleaning aluminum surfaces. Whether it’s the outside of the aluminum pot you just cleaned or a different hunk of aluminum altogether, the method is the same. More acid. Grab a lemon from the fridge, cut it in half, dip the cut side in some salt, and start rubbing. Don’t rub too hard, as the salt is slightly abrasive. If you don’t have an actual lemon, bottled lemon juice and a rag will work, too. Wet the rag, sprinkle it with salt, and start rubbing (gently).
  6. dirty potclean potCall it a day. All that’s left to do is clean up after yourself. Take your aluminum to the sink and rinse it off really well with hot water. Lemon is kinda sticky and has a tendency to collect things like dog and cat hair. Make sure you get all the crevices good and rinsed and get all that salt off. Finally, dry it off well, put it away, grab a beverage to enjoy, and give yourself a nice little pat on the back for a job well done.

Avoid Scary Chemicals When Cleaning Aluminium

As I said, the method for cleaning aluminum that I took you through in the above section works great for bare, unfinished aluminum. Use or don’t use those steps as they do or don’t apply to your situation. All I ask is that you strongly consider using the safe aluminum cleaners that I mentioned. Some of the methods used back in the day were simply unsafe. Other people will tell you that using chlorine bleach or muriatic acid is the best way to clean aluminum. I hate to say it, but yeah, these chemicals are effective at cleaning aluminum. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to wreak havoc not only on you and your body but also on the environment. Chlorine bleach is caustic as hell. It can cause skin burns and irritates your lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes. Turns out chlorine gas is also known to degrade the ozone layer. Muriatic acid, which is basically another name for hydrochloric acid, does similarly harmful things to your body with the addition of corroding your esophagus and causing vomiting and diarrhea. To top it all off, muriatic acid (HCL) is one of the components of acid rain.

Natural Aluminum Cleaners

Bottle of Amazon's CleanerAmazon’s Aluminum Cleaner and Brightener is a completely biodegradable and environmentally friendly aluminum cleaner that is designed for use on aluminum pontoons, canoes, boat trailers, and boat hulls. It’s also safe for fiberglass.

Containers of Harvey's Organic CleanerHarvey’s Organic Power ABC Metal Cleaner is a nontoxic, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly metal cleaner designed for use on aircraft exteriors, engines, and heavy machine parts.