BMW With Black / Fiber Exhaust Tip

How To Clean Exhaust Tips: Chrome, Carbon and More [Guide]

Chase Manhattan

Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

As any car enthusiast will know, the overall appearance of your car is determined by all of the small details coming together. This is why you should frequently clean and protect your exhaust tips as they are most frequently exposed to dirt and road residue. Dirty exhaust tips will otherwise detract from the appearance of your vehicle.

Keep reading to add some knowledge to your detailing arsenal.

Titanium Exhaust Tip Example


How To Clean Exhaust Tips

This part of the guide is for those of us with standard tips (stainless steel, aluminum, or black), not carbon fiber or chrome tips. If you fall into one of these latter categories, keep reading or skip ahead so you know what to do.

1. Rinse Your Exhaust Tips Thoroughly

You’ll want to make sure that each exhaust tip is rinsed very well. The name of the game here is to protect the surface because any leftover dirt can scratch the tips as we move through the initial cleaning process.

2. Apply A Degreaser and Soak

This is the stage where we’ll be loosening the black carbon buildup on the tips. Apply a high quality degreaser and allow it to soak for 30 seconds to 1 minute. In a pinch, you can use hot soapy water instead of a dedicated cleaning solution.

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3. Wipe or Brush The Degreaser

Start scrubbing your exhaust tips with a microfiber cloth until the cleaning solution has been fully removed. I prefer to use old microfiber cloths that have been previously used, and are still clean enough to use on the dirtier parts of the car. Alternatively, you can opt for a stiff bristled brush or steel wool to dislodge the buildup.

4. Apply an Automotive Metal Polish

To fully restore that shine to your tips, I recommend using the Heavy Metal Polish from Chemical Guys applied to a polisher drill attachment also produced by the Chemical Guys. This attachment will allow you to evenly polish each exhaust tip while also cleaning the carbon buildup from further inside the exhaust pipes.

5. Buff Until Clean

Using a clean microfiber cloth or wash mitt, buff any remaining materials from the exhaust tips. Buff until you’re satisfied with the shine. Be sure to avoid remaining dirty areas as it’s possible to grab leftover dirt where you’ll later find scratches.

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How To Clean Chrome Exhaust Tips

Even more so with chrome exhaust tips, dirty exhaust tips greatly detract from the overall appearance of your vehicle. Follow the guide below to remove road residue and carbon buildup from your exhaust tips.

1. Rinse Well and Dry Thoroughly

Since chrome exhaust tips are more susceptible to scratches and imperfections, we want to rinse thoroughly to remove any loose dirt that could scratch your tips throughout the cleaning process.

2. Apply A Chrome Safe Degreaser

Again, given the nature of chrome we will want to use a gentle all purpose cleaner as our cleaning solution of choice. A heavier duty degreaser may run the risk of tarnishing the chrome surface. Apply your cleaning solution and allow it to soak for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Hot soapy water is a viable alternative.

3. Scrub Gently With A Brush or Old Cloth

For stubborn black carbon build, you can use a stiff bristled brush to loosen it from the surface but do be mindful as chrome surfaces are more susceptible to showing scratches. For a gentler method, use a microfiber cloth to agitate the buildup. I prefer to use an old cloth should you choose this agitation method. Do not use steel wool on chrome surfaces.

4. Wipe Away The Degreaser

With the buildup loosened from the surface, you can proceed to wipe away any remaining dirt using an old microfiber cloth. Keep in mind that I do not recommend using a metal polish on chrome surfaces. Chrome exhaust tips will vary in composition, and some are more prone to tarnish and wear from chemical and abrasion exposure.

5. Buff To Restore Shine

Lastly, use a clean microfiber cloth to buff your tips until you’re satisfied with their appearance.

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Multiple Carb. Fiber Style Exhaust Tip on BMW

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How To Clean Carbon Fiber Exhaust Tips

Given that a carbon fiber exhaust tip is more highly regarded when compared to its counterparts, I highly recommend that you proceed with caution and follow our guide closely to avoid damaging your tips.

1. Assess The Area

You will need to determine if you have a fully carbon fiber exhaust tip, or a standard stainless steel exhaust tip that is covered by carbon fiber material. Proceed accordingly.

2. Rinse The Area Thoroughly

Per standard processes, rinse thoroughly to remove any loose dirt that may scratch your exhaust during the cleaning process.

3. Apply Carbon Fiber Safe Degreaser

For cleaning a carbon fiber exhaust tip, I recommend using a gentle all purpose cleaner or a sensitive surface safe automotive degreaser. Apply the cleaning solution and allow it to sit for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

4. Gently Scrub or Brush Clean

Keep in mind that carbon fiber is extremely durable but should always be treated with care. I recommend using a clean microfiber cloth to agitate the carbon buildup, but it is an option to use an extremely soft bristled brush to do so. I do not recommend using a stiff bristled brush on any carbon fiber exhaust tip.

For the best results, be sure to wipe inside the exhaust pipes as leftover black carbon buildup will be visible inside the pipes. Do not use steel wool under any circumstances, and do not use metal polish.

5. Dry Thoroughly

Use a clean microfiber towel to thoroughly dry each exhaust tip. Since carbon fiber is typically black, it will be more prone to showing leftover water marks. If there is excess cleaning material left over, wash the area with car soap prior to drying.

6. Buff Until Shiny

Using a clean microfiber cloth, polish the exhaust tip until it’s shiny enough for your preference. Do not scrub too aggressively or you run the risk of scratching the surface.

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How To Clean Your Exhaust Tips With Household Items

Fortunately for us, there are some household alternatives that you can use to clean your tips. I prefer to use wheel cleaner when available, but some of us don’t have access to any automotive cleaning supplies.

Here are some household items that you can use to clean your exhaust tips:

WD40 Exhaust Tip Cleaner
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Clean Exhaust Your Exhaust Tips With WD40

WD40 is what’s known as a solvent, it is used to lubricate and break down buildup on all types of surfaces. With these properties, WD40 is a readily accessible alternative to clean your exhaust tips.

Here are the steps to clean your exhaust tips with WD40:

  • Apply WD40 To Your Tips
  • Soak for 45 seconds
  • Wipe clean
  • Repeat as necessary
  • Buff to shine

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Use Oven Cleaner To Clean Your Exhaust Tips


Oven Cleaner as an Exhaust Tip Cleaner
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Another accessible alternative to clean your exhaust tips is oven cleaner. With this particularly, I highly recommend you avoid getting this on other surfaces around your tips, and do not use it on chrome exhaust tips as it can tarnish the chrome surface. Follow the same procedures as outlined above.

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Best Way To Clean Exhaust Tips In A Rush


Chemical Guys Sticky Citrus Wheel Cleaner in Spray Bottle
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In a rush, you can clean an exhaust tip with household items like WD40 or oven cleaner, but you can also use a standard automotive product like wheel cleaner. Wheel cleaner will act as a solvent for your tips as it was naturally designed to remove brake dust buildup from wheels.

Otherwise, it’s acceptable to use a small amount of metal polish with steel wool to remove this buildup in a rush. You can polish it off with a clean microfiber towel.

If you have carbon or black tips, I recommend being very careful throughout the whole polishing process as these colors and materials are more prone to showing scratches and leftover dirt. Be careful when buffing or applying heat as this is the point where you will normally create scratches.

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What To Use To Clean Your Exhaust Tips

To wash and clean your exhaust tips, you will need some of the following items:

  • dedicated car soap
  • protective gloves
  • bucket for your soapy water
  • clean microfiber cloths
  • a recommended degreaser
  • steel wool
  • a car safe metal polish

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Best Exhaust Tip Cleaner

My preferred exhaust tip cleaner is the combination of the Chemical Guys Wheel and Rim Polisher Drill Attachment, Heavy Metal Polishing Compound, and the Super Citrus All Purpose Cleaner & Degreaser by Chemical Guys. A cheaper alternative to the drill attachment is Gerbil Wheel and Rim Brush which will function the same as the drill attachment, but operated by hand.

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In both cases, the important part of cleaning an exhaust tip is to clean not only the outside rim, but inside the visible parts of the exhaust pipes as well.

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