How to clean an engine



A well-maintained car looks amazing when it is driven on the street and it drives better. But, driving more means exposing a car to stones, grime, greasy and oily residue, dirt and particles. This unwanted debris can also collect under the hood of a car.

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For a car owner to appreciate the beauty of a clean car, it is essential to tackle the cleanliness of the interior, exterior, and under the hood – the engine.

The engine is the heart of the car. Keeping it clean means giving a car the power to run smoothly.

Why clean a car engine?

As a general rule, people who live in urban areas with paved roads and have little to no debris should clean their engines twice a year.

However, those who live in the country or do a lot of off-road driving – where they encounter a lot of dust, dirt, and debris – should clean their engines every three months. The same goes for those who live in areas that experience heavy snowfall and rain.

Related: How to Change an Air Filter

There are many benefits to cleaning a car’s engine, but doing it safely is essential to avoid making mistakes that can lead to malfunctions.

For example, sensors and motor wires should not be exposed to water. They can cause short circuits, leading to a faulty motor which can be very expensive to repair.

Benefits of cleaning a car engine

  • It prevents combustible materials, such as oil or leaves, from building up and becoming a fire hazard.
  • It removes debris and road salt, reducing corrosion.
  • This makes it easier to spot any potential hazards, such as fluid leaks and cracks, before they become a problem. This means that a clean engine can make a car safer and protect the driver from breakdowns and accidents.
  • A clean engine improves the appearance of a car, thereby increasing its resale value.
  • A layer of gunk in the engine makes it work harder, thus using up excess fuel. But a clean car engine improves the fuel consumption and performance of a car, thus saving money.

How to clean a car engine

1. Calendar.

Ideally, go for a hot day. Warmer weather, which is low in humidity, will help the car engine to dry out faster.

2. Prepare cleaning supplies.

To effectively clean a car’s engine, you will need certain equipment and products, including;

  • A non-metallic scrub brush
  • Simple all-purpose cleaner
  • Air compressor or clean towel
  • Adhesive tape and a plastic bag
  • Water sources, preferably a pressure washer
  • Safety glasses and gloves
  • Biodegradable engine degreaser
  • Wrench to remove the battery cables.

3. Let the car cool down.

If the car was running, turn it off and open the hood to allow the hot engine to cool for a few hours before cleaning it. In fact, it is advisable to clean the engine in the morning as the car would have cooled down overnight.

Pouring cold water over a hot engine can warp and crack it, leading to expensive repairs. Plus, a hot engine instantly dries the cleaner, leaving the engine with unwanted stains.

4. Tighten the dipstick and caps.

Tightly seal brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant, and other fluid reservoir caps. Please press the dipstick to make sure it is sealed properly.

This prevents water from entering the fluids, thus preventing chemical reactions and degradation, which can damage the engine.

5. Disconnect the battery.

First, disconnect both battery terminals and, if possible, remove the entire battery to allow you to comfortably clean that area. Disconnecting the terminals allows you to protect them from moisture and damage.

6. Cover up.

Cover sensitive electrical components with a plastic bag and seal them tightly with electrical tape. Protect functions such as engine control units, ignition wires, distributor caps, spark plugs, coils, alternators and other filters.

Protecting these compartments from moisture will ensure that you clean the engine well without worrying about damaging anything.

7. Degrease.

Agitate surface dirt and dust with a synthetic bristle brush and vacuum. After you’ve cleaned off the dirt, wet the engine bay with lukewarm water to help remove dirt and grime. Then spray the degreaser into the engine compartments and let it soak for 10 minutes.

Pay close attention and add more degreaser to caps, pipes, fluid containers, and firewalls, which always have additional dirt build-up.

8. Rinse.

Flush out the engine compartment with a low pressure spray jet. Avoid using a high pressure sprayer, as it can leak water onto the covered areas and cause problems. Start rinsing from the back, going forward.

9. Finish.

After rinsing it, wait for the water to evaporate, then wipe the motor with a soft microfiber cloth. Alternatively, you can use a compressor to blow air into nooks and crannies, thereby removing excess water.

Remember that wiping the motor removes not only water but also remaining dirt.

10. Remove the covers and reconnect the battery.

After draining the water, remove the plastic and electrical tape from the covered areas. Dispose of them properly. Leave the engine with the hood up for about an hour or until everything is completely dry.

Reinstall the battery terminals and reconnect the battery.

11. Start the car.

After the engine is completely dry, start the car and let it run in the usual way until it reaches operating temperature; you can drive it or turn it off.

Things to avoid when cleaning a car engine

Don’t be too quick to remove the components from the car; you could lose them or put them back incorrectly. It is advisable to take a photo of any part you want to remove.

Don’t go crazy with cleaning chemicals. Some engine cleaners can leave residue on an engine, leading to corrosion.


Get into the habit of announcing the need for regular car engine cleaning by following the steps above. This way, it becomes easy to keep the engine in good condition and to be able to identify and fix any emerging engine issues while ensuring safety.

Darren Tobin is a personal injury lawyer in his firm, Tobin Injury Act. He and his team are helping injured victims as well as surviving family members who have lost a family member to a wrongful death to recover from their losses.


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