Clean exhaust tips header

Clean Exhaust Tips the Cheap and Easy Way

Detailing is called detailing because it’s about details. So if you’re going to do it right, you need to clean EVERYTHING…. Including your exhaust tips. Having clean exhaust tips doesn’t take much work or require any sort of special cleaning products or tools. And in this article I’ll show you the cheap and easy way to clean exhaust tips.

Why clean exhaust tips?

Exhaust tips make a statement on your car. Large-diameter pipes and/or dual exhaust tips are signs of power and muscle. Car manufacturers know this and often design bold-looking exhaust tips on their cars.

Picture of BMW M3 Exhaust Tips
Photo courtesy of BMW USA
picture of 2015 subaru wrx exhaust tips
Photo courtesy of Subaru of America

If cool exhaust tips are part of your car’s aesthetic, they’re probably made of chrome. While shiny chrome exhaust tips look great, they unfortunately attract all kinds of grime. 

Before I tell you how to keep your exhaust tips shiny and clean, I want to talk a bit about exhaust pipes without shiny tips.

Photo of a Camry exhaust tip
Not so fancy…

A word about non-chrome exhaust tips

Not all cars have fancy exhaust tips. On many cars, exhaust pipes are purely functional and are not part of the car’s design. For example an older Honda CRV or  base Toyota Camry generally just have plain exhaust pipes likely made of steel. 

These pipes don’t need to be cleaned. And honestly, there’s not much you can do to clean them anyway. They just kind of age and have that basic plain exhaust patina look

You can, however, dress them up and add an aftermarket chrome tip like this. If you do add a chrome tip, keep reading. You will learn ways to keep your aftermarket exhaust tips clean and shiny.

How to clean your exhaust tips

Confession. The exhaust tips on my Audi allroad look like crap because I’ve neglected them for a long time. So I’m going to use my allroad’s grimy exhaust tips as an example to show you how to clean your car’s tips.

Scrub your tips

If cleaning your exhaust tips isn’t part of your regular car washing routine, it’s time to start!

Photo of cleaning exhaust tips

Since exhaust tips can get particularly grimy, you should use a separate bucket when you wash them. You don’t want to get grime from your exhaust tips mixed in with your main wash bucket. That grime could get on your wash mitt and contribute to swirl marks on your car’s painted surfaces.

If you don’t have an extra bucket, wait to clean your exhaust tips last, after you wash all the painted surfaces of your car.

Step 1.

Spray down your tips with water.  Be careful not to shoot the hose straight into the pipes. If a little water gets in, that’s OK. Just don’t point the hose full force into your exhaust pipes. 

Step 2.

Use your car wash of choice to clean your exhaust tips. Depending on the design of your car’s rear end, you might need a small brush to get around your exhaust tips. As you can see on my allroad, there’s a tight spot at the top of the exhaust tips. I use a puffy brush on a stick to get in there good. 

If you don’t have a special cleaning brush to scrub those hard-to-reach spots, there’s no need to run out and buy one… an old toothbrush can do the trick. 

If you don’t have an old toothbrush, you can always use your significant other’s. Just don’t get caught.

Step 3.

After washing your tips, give them a good dry. Don’t use the same drying towel you use for your car’s painted surfaces. 

Got grime?

If you regularly clean your exhaust tips, you may not have a lot of grime build up and therefore may be able to skip this step. Read on to see if you need to do some grime removal.

When driving, your exhaust tips get very hot. They are also very close to the road surface. AND they are often right behind your tires that are constantly kicking things up when you drive.

So what does this mean? 

Driving creates a tiny perfect storm that makes road grime attach itself and bake on to your exhaust tips because they get so hot.

If you’re like me, and you’ve neglected cleaning your exhaust tips for way too long, there’s a good chance there will be some road grime fused to your exhaust tips.

The exhaust tips on my allroad have tiny black bits of hard road grime fused to them. Scrubbing the tips with soap and water didn’t remove it.

Photo of road grime on a chrome exhaust tip
Embarrassing!
Photo of steel wool cleaning exhaust tips

If you have the same problem on your car, use some fine steel wool to gently scrub the grime off. I stress the word FINE! Use the finest grade steel wool, specifically – 0000.

CAUTION: If you use a coarse steel wool, you’ll almost certainly scratch up and dull your exhaust tips! PLEASE stick to 0000 fine grade steel wool like this.

Gently scrub your exhaust tips with the steel wool to remove the grime. As you work, take pauses to run your fingers over the surface to check your progress. You should feel the the grime getting smaller and smaller.

Keep scrubbing until your exhaust tips are clean and feel smooth.

Make your tips shine

Just like everything automotive, there’s a ton of different exhaust tip cleaning products out there for you to choose from.

I’m a minimalist and would prefer not to crowd the shelf in my garage with another product.

So I’m going to show you how to clean your exhaust tips with a household product that you likely already have.  I’ll also try out a specialty product meant for cleaning cars.

Photo of Never Dull next to exhaust tips

Option 1: Never Dull

I was introduced to Never Dull when I was a kid. My dad bought a 1969 Mustang that needed some restoration. One of the jobs he gave me was to clean and polish his Mustang’s chrome parts.. 

Photo of Never Dull

The chrome bumpers on his Mustang were faded and had some very fine surface rust. With a little work, the Never Dull removed the rust like magic  and made the Mustang’s bumpers look like new!

I never forgot how well the product worked and have always had a can of it on my garage shelf.

So how does Never Dull work on exhaust tips? 

Inside a can of Never Dull, you’ll find a wad of cotton that has cleaning product on it. Just tear off a small piece and use it to polish your exhaust tips.

Use a clean cloth to bufff off the Never Dull cleaning agent and repeat the process a couple times if you’ve got some stubborn spots.

On my allroad, the Never Dull didn’t disappoint. The left exhaust tip looks great and has a mirror-like shine!

How to clean exhaust tips with household items

As I said earlier, I personally don’t like giving money  to the ever hungry capitalism monster by buying every single specialty car cleaning product under the sun. I prefer to use something I already have in the house that will get the job done.  Speaking of this, did you know you can use lemon juice to remove water spots from car windows?

Photo of Soft Scrub being applied to exhaust tips

One of my favorite household cleaners is Soft Scrub. I’ve used it to get some nasty caked-on grime off my stove top countless times. It does a great job and never scratches the surface.

So why not try using Soft Scrub to clean exhaust tips? I use it to clean my chrome kitchen faucet… so why not use it on chrome exhaust tips? 

If you’re skeptical and don’t think you should trust some random guy on the internet (me) who tells you to use kitchen cleaner on your car’s chrome, I fact checked it for you…  Soft Scrub is safe to use on chrome!

All you need to do is dab a little Soft Scrub on a damp sponge and scrub it all over your exhaust tip.

When you’re done, rinse it off with some water, and you’re good to go!

So which is the best exhaust tip cleaner?

Here’s a side-by-side shot of my two tail pipes. I used Never Dull on the left and Soft Scrub on the right.

picture of an exhaust tip cleaned with soft scrub
picture of an exhaust tip cleaned with Never Dull

It’s difficult to tell the difference in the photo, but in-person, I feel that the Soft Scrub did a better job. The shine and reflective properties were slightly better than on the pipe cleaned with Never Dull.

Conclusion

After doing this little experiment on my car,  my exhaust tips looked great! 

But unfortunately, that shine didn’t last long at all. After one drive through some mildly wet roads, they lost their shine and looked like Hell again!

Bottom line, cleaning your exhaust tips is easy. 

But keeping your exhaust tips clean is hard.

So don’t drive yourself crazy  trying to keep them clean all the time. Exhaust tips are grime magnets and keeping them shiny is a losing battle.

Just remember…  if you clean them often and don’t let that grime bake on, your exhaust tips will be easier to clean when you need them to look their best. So when you head out to your next cruise night, all you’ll need to do is use a little Soft Scrub and they’ll shine like mirrors.

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