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Technical Cleaning Finned Aluminum Heads

Discussion in 'Traditional Hot Rods' started by flatheadlouie, Sep 6, 2022.

  1. flatheadlouie
    Joined: Aug 11, 2022
    Posts: 14

    flatheadlouie
    Member

    Is there any tips or tricks out there to clean up some finned aluminum heads besides taking them off the motor? Ive tried a few things like brushing them with a stiff grout brush (which worked decent) and some other compounds. In the end, my fingers are too fat to squeeze in there.
     
  2. NoelC
    Joined: Mar 21, 2018
    Posts: 611

    NoelC
    Member

    I'm going to say a picture might tell the need for cleaning action or serious cleaning action. But if it was me, oven cleaner and a long bristle brush, followed by a hot water soaping and a good rinse.
     
    Stogy likes this.
  3. pirate
    Joined: Jun 29, 2006
    Posts: 814

    pirate
    Member
    from Alabama

    There are several aluminum brightness available from car parts stores and Amazon. There is a brightener/cleaner from Amazon from a company named Quality Chemical that works well. Used full strength it foams and leaves a uniform gray finish but is designed to be diluted with water. I’d start with a dilution and then go stronger as needed. Caution: Wear rubber gloves and safety glasses as this is an acid.
     
  4. theHIGHLANDER
    Joined: Jun 3, 2005
    Posts: 9,298

    theHIGHLANDER
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    I'd like to see a pic too, but my 1st instinct is wheel cleaner, and judicious use of trash bags to keep the surrounding area from getting spotted up.
     
    Stogy likes this.

  5. Blake 27
    Joined: Apr 10, 2016
    Posts: 1,396

    Blake 27

    EASY-OFF brand oven cleaner has a warning about using on aluminum. What ever cleaning product you use, be sure to read the directions first.
     
  6. Hemi Joel
    Joined: May 4, 2007
    Posts: 1,402

    Hemi Joel
    Member
    from Minnesota

    It depends on if they are polished or as cast. If they are polished, don't want to use anything that will catch or dull the polished surface. A lot of aluminum cleaners have acid so watch out for that.
     
    Stogy and Just Gary like this.
  7. Flat Roy
    Joined: Nov 23, 2007
    Posts: 533

    Flat Roy
    Member

    I have used HD SABRE on my un polished heads . does a good job.
     
    Stogy likes this.
  8. joel
    Joined: Oct 10, 2009
    Posts: 2,267

    joel
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    For raw castings, I would try S100 ( available at most Harley dealers ) . It will dull cad plating but paint and chrome will be fine. For polished, Wizards has a spray on wash off wheel cleaner that works well on un-coated wheels.
     
    rbrewer likes this.
  9. Budget36
    Joined: Nov 29, 2014
    Posts: 10,457

    Budget36
    Member

    Ali-a-brite if it’s still available. It is an acid but you mix it with water. We used it on my dads Pete for all the aluminum, we mixed in a weed sprayer, then sprayed the aluminum, just when it started to foam, washed it off. Kept the polished Al shiny and brightened up the unpolished. Won’t harm or streak paint unless you let it dry, then it would leave a streak. We’d just wet, reapply and wash off, streaks would be gone.
    But a pic of what you’re trying to clean may yield other options.
     
  10. flatheadlouie
    Joined: Aug 11, 2022
    Posts: 14

    flatheadlouie
    Member

  11. Budget36
    Joined: Nov 29, 2014
    Posts: 10,457

    Budget36
    Member

    That looks like a lot of corrosion?
    That would be akin(in my mind) trying to sand through pitted metal and trying to get the pits out.
     
    NoelC likes this.
  12. banjorear
    Joined: Jul 30, 2004
    Posts: 4,235

    banjorear
    Member

    I've had good luck using various levels of Scotch Brite pads and brake cleaner/gum cutter.

    EmpireAbrasives.com sells individual sheet for $0.99. When folded, they fit nicely in between the fins.
    https://www.empireabrasives.com/non-woven-6x9-scuff-clean-finish-abrasive-hand-pads/

    I've also used these with excellent results:
    https://www.empireabrasives.com/4-nylon-wire-wheel-1-4-hex-shank/
    https://www.empireabrasives.com/1-nylon-wire-end-brush-1-4-hex-shank/

    For that level of corrosion, you may need to start with the nylon wheels/brushes and then move up to the Scotch Brite pads.
     
    Atwater Mike and Budget36 like this.
  13. I've been trying to research this for awhile now. The best way to clean aluminum is dry ice blasting. It will take off paint, but won't harm rubbers and plastics. The problem is dry ice blasting is hard to find. Beware of acids. If too strong it can etch the aluminum. Best to practice on some scrap before damaging your heads. After you get it clean, I would think some Gibbs or some type of light wax would be good to protect the aluminum. Some guys are having their heads and intakes Cerakoted. Seams to work good, but you would have to remove your heads. Good luck, and let us know what you come up with.
     
  14. 1971BB427
    Joined: Mar 6, 2010
    Posts: 7,826

    1971BB427
    Member
    from Oregon

    Seeing the pictures I doubt much you can do to them installed will make them look much better. If they were mine I'd pull them off and have them professionally cleaned, and polished, or at least buffed up a bit more to bring them back to a clean look.
    I've used mag wheel cleaner to spray on and brush on intakes, and other cast aluminum, and it works great. But none of them were had this much corrosion on them.
     
  15. NoelC
    Joined: Mar 21, 2018
    Posts: 611

    NoelC
    Member

    In a previous reply I mentioned using oven cleaner. Still do. But in the interest of common sense, don't just spray and walk away.
    [​IMG]
    As mentioned it's an acid and corrosive. Left on it will eat burnt oil away, and the oxide layer, then the aluminum. The idea is stop at the burnt oil then rinse.

    Seeing a picture brings clarity. Buy a bunch of tubing brushes, cut the handles off, clamp in a drill and start brushing.
    [​IMG]

    I should mention, wear a dust mask. And eye protection. Maybe gloves. You could leave it really it doesn't look that bad after all.
     
    Haven Hills Auto Club likes this.
  16. Joe H
    Joined: Feb 10, 2008
    Posts: 1,310

    Joe H
    Member

    A cheap Harbor freight soda blaster might work with enough time and pressure. The soda won't hurt surrounding parts and rinses right off. It would polish up the acorn nuts at the same time.
     
  17. brjnelson
    Joined: Oct 13, 2002
    Posts: 581

    brjnelson
    Member

    I went a little crazy with brake wash one time, on polished Alloy, it cleaned some spots too much and they corroded and left marks.
    I have used Krud Cutter and a plastic bristle brush with good results, some of the "green" cleaners are still too harsh.
     
  18. Look up Dry Ice blasting in your area. It will remove all the filth and corrosion and leave the aluminum looking like it was just cast. Plus it will not harm paint, wiring, plastic ETC, requires no disassembly and can be done it like 15 to 20 min. A friend if mine Runs a Business in Charlotte NC called Merrit Motor Company and does a ton of this on high end Porsches and such for the ultimate in detailing. Look it up in your area, it should be reasonable and done in the time you have a coke and smoke. If you dont have any one that does that, call Serve Pro, they have the dry ice blasting equipment and might do it for you, they use dry Ice blasting in mold remediation in houses.

    https://merrittmotorsco.com/dry-ice-blasting/automotive-dry-ice-cleaning-and-restoration/
     
  19. Bandit Billy
    Joined: Sep 16, 2014
    Posts: 9,814

    Bandit Billy
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    I wrap micro fiber towels around paint sticks to maintain mine but those are pretty corroded and the nuts are in the way. I'd remove the heads, sand them to 3000-5000 and polish them on a wheel.

    Or you could paint them and sand and polish the ribs. That would be fairly easy on the vehicle.
     
    Slopok likes this.
  20. What about using an SOS / Brillo pad,,,,,they work very well,,,,,and are cheap ?
    Then go at it with a Scotchbrite pad .
    Should get you fairly close,,,,,with the corrosion you have already,,,,it’s never gonna be perfect .

    Tommy
     
  21. stuart in mn
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
    Posts: 2,262

    stuart in mn
    Member

    NAPA sells aluminum brightener in a spray bottle. Get some of that and an old toothbrush, and scrub. Wear gloves and goggles, and keep the brightener fluid off painted surfaces as best you can. Flush with water.
    I've used it on nasty aluminum motorcycle engine cases and they came out looking like new again.
     
  22. AccurateMike
    Joined: Sep 14, 2020
    Posts: 428

    AccurateMike
    Member

    Krud Kutter is an acid based cleaner. Most others are base. I have had good results with it cleaning carb bodies in an ultrasonic. If there is iron or rust around, it will anodize it into the aluminum and darken it. I don't clean my steel parts in the tank with aluminum anymore. Most "how to brighten aluminum" stuff says to use an acid. Just watch the iron.
    As crusty as those heads are, I'd think about paint. I just did 4 transmissions with aluminum cases. The corroded areas had darkened up. Totally clean they looked blotchy. I would have had to remove enough metal to get back to clean aluminum to even them up. ScotchBrite didn't cut it. I ended up painting. Those heads are worse. I think some metal will need to be removed to get them back to an even color. Mike
     
  23. This valve cover was caked in grease and grime, I had originally planed on polishing them after I used easy off oven cleaner, the oven cleaner did the job as far as removing all the crud off but the more I looked at them and the way I was building the car I decided to paint them and then use lacquer thinner to clean off the paint on the raised fins, then I used sand paper to make everything shiny.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  24. I've used the Napa stuff, works great!
     
  25. GordonC
    Joined: Mar 6, 2006
    Posts: 2,793

    GordonC
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    On those heads why not start off with a wire wheel in a drill? That would reach in between the fins and probably take off the oxidation. Then you can go to scotch brite wheels to polish.
     
    Desoto291Hemi likes this.
  26. flatheadlouie
    Joined: Aug 11, 2022
    Posts: 14

    flatheadlouie
    Member

    I have gotten a lot of great suggestions from everyone and I am thankful for the help.

    I have tried a few things so far. Stiff plastic bristle brush; wheel and rim cleaner, never-dull. It all seemed to work each to their own degree. This afternoon I picked up some “in between coats” of scotch brite and folded it around a paint stick piece and used soapy water as a lubricant. It worked the best so far. Ultimately I’ll end up taking off the heads this fall and winter when I tuck it away and clean them up very well. In the meantime I will be trying many of the suggestions all you hambers provided me with.

    thanks again 574A9F94-97A5-45E7-AA8A-89DE5624A971.png
     
  27. Blake 27
    Joined: Apr 10, 2016
    Posts: 1,396

    Blake 27

    I'm not trying to be argumentative but Easy-Off doesn't just warn against contact on aluminum, but also paint. EASY-OFF® - Oven & Grill Cleaner.png
     
  28. Atwater Mike
    Joined: May 31, 2002
    Posts: 11,200

    Atwater Mike
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    I 'discovered' Easy-Off more than a few years back. One of my '54 Ford Coupes had a 427 Side Oiler, and it got dirty. (upper oil leak, "Low Maintenace Mike")
    Ex wife had this 'miracle stuff, look at the oven!' I used some, thanks to the gods of better sense I checked on it soon enough...The stuff was harsh, to say the least.
    427 engine room ended up getting a good old TIDE soap bath, with HOT water.
     
  29. Kiwi 4d
    Joined: Sep 16, 2006
    Posts: 3,353

    Kiwi 4d
    ALLIANCE MEMBER

    @flatheadlouie . You have had good success and looking good, I asssume the chrome nut covers are just that, pull them off for better access . I see the carb has slight oxidation also. A small brass brush works well also. I know others may chime in,but dont trust the small round fuel pressure regulator, they have a tendency to self regulate to what they please. If you plan on removing the heads ,why not get a clear heat coating.
     
    Tman likes this.
  30. 1971BB427
    Joined: Mar 6, 2010
    Posts: 7,826

    1971BB427
    Member
    from Oregon

    That's a huge improvement over the before pictures! I honestly never expected they could be that nice looking by cleaning them on the engine. Nice work!
     
    Tman likes this.

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