How to Clean Up Old Aluminum Valve Covers

When we were building the 1953 Chevy pickup, we had an older small block chevy sitting around and decided to clean it up and use it for the build. Since our goal was to build a better version of what might have come from the factory around that time, we thought the small block would be appropriate, versus dropping an LS in. The small block was complete, and had a nice set of original Mickey Thompson aluminum valve covers on it, but it had been sitting for a number of years and was showing its age. We really wanted to keep the valve covers, but they were heavily corroded. After doing some research, we found a solution that we figured was worth a shot before we started looking for a different set. The solution – etching mag wheel cleaner. Yep, it was fantastic, and here’s what we did to clean these fine finned covers up.

  1. Degreased the heck out of them, inside and out. The old cork gaskets just didn’t want to let go. They were really stuck in place, so that took a little bit of time to get them worked out. Once they were out we thoroughly cleaned the covers to make sure there was no oil anywhere on them.
  2. Sprayed them with the etching mag wheel cleaner and let it do its thing. We let the cleaner soak on the covers for a few minutes, scrubbed them, and then cleaned them off as directed. The first picture below is what the covers looked like once they were cleaned and etched.
  3. Once dry, we primed them with high temp engine primer. The second picture below shows a primed cover.
  4. We top-coated with a rattle can Krylon semi-gloss black. It was not high temp paint. We did this because we wanted the paint to match the rest of the color and sheen of the other components in the engine compartment. We also didn’t think the valve covers would get hot enough to alter this paint. Even after putting 1,000 miles on the truck, the paint looks just as good as when we sprayed it.
  5. Since these covers had the heat dissipating fins, and the raised M/T, we took a block with some 220 grit sandpaper and scuffed the paint and primer off of the top of the fins and the raised lettering. We then repeated this process with 400 grit and then 600 grit. The third picture below shows a painted cover (with some of the paint wiped off of the large rectangular area) and also a cover that was in the process of being sanded. The last picture shows the cover as it is today, after many miles on the road.


Valve cover etched

Valve cover primed

valve cover sanded

valve cover