Cleaning and polishing metal can produce some astonishing results and for very little cash outlay.  For all intents and purposes, bare metal will fall into one of two categories - chrome plating and aluminum alloy.  I suppose when really old road bicycles are concerned, there might even be some raw brass to polish but I have not had the pleasure of working on such a bicycle yet.

Both chrome plated and bare alloy surfaces suffer from surface oxidation.  That dull look that aluminum alloy takes on over the years is oxidation.  And the brown stuff that appears on chrome, commonly referred to as rust, is the second primary form of oxidation that you will be dealing with.  Even though oxidized surfaces can look awful, they can frequently be cleaned up with astonishing results.  However, once oxidation goes beyond the surface stage, and begins to pit the chrome plating and parent material underneath, there is no hope for satisfactory cosmetic repair.  The issue can be disguised and certainly lived with though, and from time to time cosmetically challenged chrome plating adds a little something extra to the patina of age sported by the bicycle.  That said, crystal clear deep chrome plating is what every vintage bicycle collector/rider seeks.  And few things set a vintage bicycle off as nicely as uncompromised chrome plating.

The tools for cleaning chrome plating are incredibly simple.  So simple in fact that some of the items might prove to be surprising.  The tool list includes soft rags, nylon scouring pads, small brass brush and aluminum foil.  Supplies include metal cleaning solution of some kind and, of course, a good quality cleaning wax to both clean and protect.

Begin cleaning chrome by washing away the chunks and hunks of debris that can be flushed away.  Once satisfied that larger pieces of debris have been removed, pick up the small brass brush and start cleaning.  Use the brush vigorously and do not be worried about the chrome surface being marked by the soft brass wires that make up the brush.  The brass is far softer than the chrome plating and will not damage it in any way.  However...

Bits and pieces of debris can become embedded between the brush's wire bristles.  If the debris happens to be a piece of glass, there is a good possibility that the chrome could be damaged.  Avoid this possibility with frequent cleaning of the brush's head.  The process can even be made to be more safe by using the brush wet.  Brush and flush with a stream of water from something like a plastic squeeze bottle.  Adding water to the brushing mix will assist the process greatly.  So, in a nut shell, the process is wet, brush, flush and repeat until the chrome surface will come no cleaner.

Of course, the chrome plated surface will become much better looking with the next cleaning/polishing method.  The brass wire brush will have worked wonders at removing most of the surface oxidation but only most.  After brush cleaned and dried off, run your finger over the surface of the plating.  It will likely feel a bit rough.  Tiny points of chrome will still rest above the plating's surface level.  Though these tiny points, and there will be lots of them, are difficult to see they will diminish the quality of the chrome's lustre unless something is done.  So do something...

Tear of a piece of aluminum foil from its container, ensuring that the foil sheet is about as long as it is wide.  Softly crumple this square of foil into a ball shaped wad.  There is no need to hard crush the wad into any particular shape.  Just roughly spherical and loosely wadded.  Now, rub the aluminum foil on the chrome plated surface and do not be shy about it.  Rub back and forth on one spot for a few seconds.  Now check the surface texture with your fingers.  Smoother than before - right?  And shiner also.  Using aluminum foil to clean of oxidized chrome plating is a wonder worker.

And not only will the aluminum foil do a great job of cleaning surfaces, but the foil will shape alter to fit into nooks and crannies that might otherwise be difficult to clean.  What a great little tool for cleaning chrome.  I might add that the foil will work well for cleaning out bearing races also.

The aluminum foil does two things as nearly as I can figure it.  First, it will help to knock the high spots off of the oxidized chrome.  And, secondly, the aluminum foil will actually shred off, allowing small particles to be forced into any depressions in the chrome plating's surface.  Once again, the result is stunning.

Of course, if the chrome plating is pitted, nothing can repair it short of re-plating and that in today's world is a pricey endeavour.  But for the average Street Restoration, cleaned off chrome plating, even if its state of repair is not factory perfect, is more than adequate.