Car Engine Cleaning:
Simplified tips for success

best auto detailing tips tag line

Car engine cleaning is one of those areas of auto care and detailing that is full of bad and misleading information. Many people are stuck in the past with techniques of how to clean their car engine that are largely based on cars of old, versus cars built using new technology.

The engines of today's modern cars are vastly different than the cars built 20+ years ago. From the many "how to clean a car engine" video's on YouTube, to the many posts made within car forums, it is an area that is often over-complicated with bad information from misinformed people to the point where most people are afraid to clean their cars engine due to hyped up concern and fear.

A Clean Engine is a Happy Engine

While I have many customers in my professional world who never give their car engines a second thought, I personally think that detailing should extend to all areas of a car; including cleaning under the hood.

Dirty Car Engine

Cleaning car engine

Clean Car Engine

picture of detailed car engine after cleaning and detailing

"Which of the car engines above would you rather see when opening the hood of your car? Which engine do you think would be treated with more respect from your auto mechanic?"

Car Engine Cleaning Made Simple

  1. Use effective engine degreaser.
  2. Apply degreaser to all areas of dirty car engine.
  3. Agitate excessively dirty areas of engine.
  4. Spray engine off with water.
  5. Blow off excessive water with leaf blower.
  6. Start engine and allow to reach normal operating temperature.
  7. Apply engine dressing if desired.

car engine cleaning

Automotive Engine Cleaning:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)

I am often asked by my long term followers the following:

"Darren, just tell me what you would do!"

I also know from experience that this often comes from a place of personal frustration from people just like yourself.

People who are confused and frustrated by the endless opinions fro the endless so-called experts. And for this reason I am going to lay out exactly what I use and what I do to detail the engine of the not just my own cars, but the cars of my customers.

The Best Engine Degreaser:
Starting with the Essential

Simple Green 19128 Crystal Industrial Cleaner/Degreaser, 1 Gallon Bottle

  • Concentrate (custom blend to suit your needs)
  • Versatile (can be used for endless cleaning projects)
  • Environmentally friendly (won't hurt you, your car engine, or the environment)
  • Very effective in breaking down car engine dirt, grime, and grease
  • No caustic ingredients, no caustic smell
  • Rinses incredibly clean (no bad residue found n many other car engine degreasers)
  • I mix this product as an engine degreaser 5:1 (this means I mix one part concentrate with 5 equal parts of water)

Darren's Note: I have been using this Simple Green product and their other cleaners for years now. I have really fallen in love with the many products they produce. I used Meguiar's Super Degreaser for years and while it was very effective, it was always hard on my skin and my lungs as I breathed in the fumes when using the Super Degreaser.

Professional Sprayers

Bar5F Empty Plastic Spray Bottles 32 oz, Chemical Resistant, Professional, Heavy Duty, Fully Adjustable Head Sprayer, Pack of 3 (Grey)

  • Perfect for using your blended concentrate solution
  • The exact spray bottles and spray heads I use professionally
  • Chemical persistent sprayer heads
  • The most ergonomically friendly sprayer heads I have used

Smith 190285 1-Gallon Bleach and Chemical Sprayer for Lawns and Gardens or Cleaning Decks, Siding, and Concrete

  • Perfect for dispensing larger amounts of chemicals (like when you are degreasing car engine or using wheel cleaner)
  • A far more efficient and effective way to clean larger areas of your car that require larger amounts of a cleaner
  • This pump sprayer allows me to mix my car engine degreaser in the container, and then dispense quickly and easily
  • I use this pump sprayer specifically when I am cleaning my wheels, wheel wells, and engines as these tasks require the use of large amounts of my choice in cleaners
  • Say good-bye to the fatigue you will suffer when dispensing large amounts of a cleaner through a traditional spray bottle

Tire/Wheel/Engine Brush Kit

Chemical Guys ACC_G09 Body and Wheel Flagged Tip Short Handle Brush

Chemical Guys ACC_G01 20" Long Handle Body/Wheel Brush with Flagged-Tip Bristles (Angled Head), , 1 Pack

  • Use these brushes to agitate heavily soiled areas of your car engine.
  • Especially useful for degreasing and cleaning the under-side of your engine hood.
  • You don't necessarily need to get both versions, but based on your car/truck and the reach you will need for car engine cleaning, you may need a longer reach brush to save your back.
  • My professional choice in quality brushes.
  • Feathered bristle tips for extra effectiveness and safety.

Car Engine Cleaning:
Dressing Your Car Engine

While I believe most people can appreciate the value of car engine cleaning and the end results, there are varying opinions as to whether to put an engine dressing onto your freshly detailed car engine.

I get the reservations you may have and accept that engine dressing is not for everyone. Anyone that actually drives dirt roads or uses their car/truck/SUV for off-road use will definitely have a negative opinion on this subject.

So with that said, let me apply my perspective on the subject.

  • It is one thing to have a very clean engine; another thing to have an engine that is not only detailed to perfection, but has been dressed and literally looks better than the day you bought it!
  • This added step of dressing your car engine really puts the "Wow Factor" into the equation!
  • You can look at a quality engine dressing as a sacrificial barrier for your engine (kind of like wax for your car paint; a layer that protects the engine components from dirt that will get onto your car engine)
  • The dressing will be removed along with the dirt the nest time you perform your car engine cleaning

Darren's Note: People have this opinion that applying an engine dressing will actually attract more dirt into your car engine bay. The reality is that it will not create this magnetic charge that will truly "attract" additional dirt to your car engine. Since you have degreased your car engine and now have applied a dressing that enhances all the components of your car engine, any new dirt will be more visible or apparent since it is now collecting on a very shiny engine.

With that said, there are different dressings you can apply to your car engine to make it shiny and fabulous, and some of these dressings are heavy with silicone's and solvent based ingredients that make them rather "sticky" and greasy. Any new dirt will in fact cling to your engine and the endless components better than an engine that has not been dressed. But once again, this is one of the reasons I recommend the engine dressings I do on this page.

These dressings are not overly greasy or heavy with solvents. So each time you clean or degrease your engine, the dirt and dressing will be cleaned away for any new application of an engine dressing.

Stoner Trim Shine

Stoner Car Care 91034 Trim Shine Protectant - 12-Ounce

  • I am a huge fan of aerosol dressings as they are both extremely convenient, they deliver a much finer mist than that of a traditional pull-trigger sprayer, and ideal for intricate areas such as a car engine.
  • Product warning says "Flammable". You will not be spraying this to any open sparks or on a hot engine, and in 25+ years I have never had a problem. (as a rule it is the propellant of the aerosol that is flammable, not necessarily the actual ingredients. Once the product is released from the can, the flammable propellant is released into the air. It's not like you are applying a flammable layer to your car engine)
  • You will love the results.
  • The perfect way to make your detailed engine "Pop" when you lift your car hood!

CSI Nu Tyre Lotion

csi Nu Tyre Lotion

CSI Nu Tyre Lotion

  • True professional grade product.
  • For use on both interior and exterior.
  • Vinyl, rubber, plastic, leather.
  • Also an excellent engine dressing.
  • Multi-use product.
  • Hydrophobic.
  • True waterborne technology (can be diluted down with water for a lighter consistency you may find wanted when using to dress your car engine)

Darren's Note: The simple and easiest approach to dressing your car engine after you are done with car engine cleaning is to use the aerosol dressing above. But to be more economical, you can get a liquid dressing like this Nu Tyre Lotion from CSI. Since this is the exact tire dressing I use for my tires, along with the dressing I use for any other applications (both interior and exterior), it makes economical sense to simply use it to dress my engine with this product if I am looking to save money by not having to buy a separate dressing like the aerosol dressing from above.

Darren's Professional Tips:

When car engine cleaning, there will always be heated debate as to whether to apply some form of engine dressing to your car engine after you have degreased and cleaned it.

Use the following guidelines to help you make a decision:

  • Not recommended for off-road vehicles. (I know many that do and I would myself as I consider a dressing as a sacrificial barrier between my engine parts and new dirt. Meaning: I apply a dressing that I accept will show the dirt and dust, and in some ways, allow the dirt and dust to "stick to" the car engine and components better, but is also a layer of separation between the dirt and my actual engine and components.)
  • Water based dressing. (As a rule I prefer water-based dressings as opposed to the typical clear, solvent based dressings promoted as durable, long lasting dressings that are very difficult to clean off before any new applications of dressing.)
  • Becomes a sacrificial layer that can easily be cleaned off each time you want to repeat car engine cleaning steps from above.
  • I recommend either dressings above to take your freshly cleaned car engine to a level 10!
  • Watch "how to video's" below for specific steps and tips.

Darren's YouTube Video Channel

Make sure you check out and subscribe to my YouTube video channel as I continually upload more and more tutorial videos that are taken straight from my world as a professional detailer at Auto Fetish Detail. You can subscribe with my YouTube icon just below!


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