Clean Car Engine Tips
Cleaning your engine is easier then you think!

best auto detailing tips tagline

When it comes a clean car engine, many people are scared by the thought of cleaning a car engine themselves. Due to the many electric connectors and other moving parts that make up a car engine, the thought of detailing the motor makes most of us run in the opposite direction.

The good news is that despite all the bad information repeated by misinformed people, car engine cleaning is one of the easiest jobs in the area of auto detailing in general! A few simple steps will go far when it comes to engine bay detailing and cleaning. Follow along as we dissect this area of auto detailing so you can become part of the select group of people known as the informed, and enjoy the benefits first hand that a clean engine means!

A Clean Engine is a Happy Engine!

Just look at the difference between the before and after car engine pictures just below and tell me which you would rather see when lifting the hood to your car!

Dirty Engine

clean car engine before

Clean Engine

clean car engine after

Engine Cleaning and Detailing Quick Review:

  • The analysis of a car engine.
  • Why would you want to clean a car engine?
  • Is it as difficult as it seems?
  • What is the best car engine cleaner to use?
  • What are the safe methods for a clean car engine?

Analysis of a car engine: Car engine's today are not the car engines of yesterday. If you look at your car engine you will start to notice a few critical factors that actually make car engine cleaning and detailing safer and easier than ever:

  • Much of the engine is covered in plastic shrouding.
  • Electric connectors are fully protected with sturdy plastic housings and assembled using moisture protecting grease.
  • Electronic ignitions mean the elimination of traditional distributors and carburetors.
  • Alternators remain as the only sensitive area with the appearance of exposed wires, etc.

The good news is that any modern day car engine (referring to any car engine within the last 20 years) is extremely protected from water, dirt, and other harmful elements of car ownership in the real world. The alternator is about the only thing any lay person can identify that would represent some form of risk, and the good news is that alternators represent no risk from direct contact with water.

2007 Shelby Cobra GT500 engine detail2007 Shelby Cobra GT500 engine detail

Why would you want a clean car engine:  Admittedly many of my detail customers from my detail business do not even look under the hood of their own cars, but for many more people, a clean car engine is as important as a clean and detailed car itself. Beside the obvious, there are numerous reasons a person would want a clean and detailed auto engine:

ferrari f430 clean car engineFerrari F430 Spider engine detail
  • I believe that mechanics treat cars relative to how your car has been kept up to the point they start to work on it. A dirty engine for many mechanics is a sign of a non-particular customer.
  • A clean engine reveals any problem areas of an engine when leaks of any kind occur such as oil or coolant leaks.
  • A person forgets to install engine oil cap and creates a mess throughout engine bay.
  • Dirt by nature will degrade anything and everything within your engine bay.

Is it difficult to clean car engine: No! The good news is that for most of your car engine cleaning chores, it is more about superficial dirt and oil. The days of thick, heavy grease on your car engine is mostly a thing of the past, and any car detailing tasks will be mostly about day to day dirt and grime that will build up in the engine bay over time. Automotive engine cleaning is as simple as these steps:

  • Spray engine cleaner or degresaser over entire engine and engine bay.
  • Spray to remove engine cleaner and dirt from engine bay and engine with water; either from pressure washer, self-serve car wash bay pressure washer, or water nozzle attached to your own garden hose.
  • Blow engine and engine bay area with leaf blower, or compressed air to remove excess water from engine before starting engine.
  • Start engine and run for 5 minutes to completely dry all moving parts.
  • Follow-up with engine dressing if desired.

What engine cleaner or degreaser works best: This is an area that doesn't need to be over thought. Let me lay out the simple points you need to understand and consider when trying to decide upon the best engine cleaner before I get into my actual engine cleaner and steps I use professionally to clean and detail my own customers car's:

  • Most cleaners with some form of degreaser will work.
  • The more dirt, grease, oil, and grime, the more you will want what would be called a heavy-duty degreaser.
  • If a cleaner will cut oil or grease, then you have to remember it will remove any wax you may have on your car's paint. Care must be taken to keep engine degreaser off car paint. (more on this below)

What is the Safest Method for Cleaning a Car Engine?

Glad you finally asked, as I will show you what I do and use professionally to get perfectly cleaned and detailed car engines. Let me add a few points before we get further:

  • Engines are made up of hundreds of parts; it would be virtually impossible (unless your car engine was already meticulously detailed) to think you could clean every individual part by hand for fear of getting your engine wet.
  • I realize that no matter what I say, there will always remain skeptics who will be forever fearful of getting their car engine wet. I still have customers who forever cling to the fear of getting their engine wet.
  • My clean car engine tips are based on twenty-plus years of professional detail experience.

Car Engine Cleaning and Detailing Steps

Mercedes CL63 AMG engine detailMercedes CL63 AMG engine detail
  • Spray engine with degreaser; a cool to warm engine is preferred. An overly hot engine is not recommended as your engine cleaner will dry too quickly.
  • Keep chamois or micro-fiber handy to wipe off any over-spray from car paint; or, apply a layer of car wax to painted areas surrounding engine bay prior to spraying any engine cleaner to engine.
  • Manually agitate excessively dirty areas of car engine and engine bay area with brush for a really clean car engine!
  • Wash off with water either under normal household water pressure from garden hose, electric pressure washer, gas powered pressure washer, or self-serve car wash location with pressure washer accessibility. (adjust pressure by simply moving wand tip further from engine parts; use common sense here when working around sensitive parts.)
  • Don't over-saturate car engine with water pressure. Use enough to do the job and apply caution to protected areas such as fuse boxes.
  • If this is your first time, you will be nervous. But go easy and work into the process little by little if you remain uneasy. Once again, I have done hundreds of engines in this manner and have yet to have any problems. I have also consulted with more than one mechanic and have verified my process.
  • Blow excess water from engine bay with leaf blower, or pressurized air.
  • Start engine and allow engine to raise to normal operating temperatures for complete and thorough drying of all engine components; I also switch the AC on so compressor engages and runs while engine is running. This only takes about 5 minutes of operating time.
  • Apply aerosol engine dressing shown below if desired for shiny appearance after engine is allowed to cool. This is what is going to make your clean car engine really pop!

Clean Car Engine:
What Would Daren Do (WWDD)

So often I am simply asked by people what I would do:

"Darren, I don't want to learn everything. Can you just tell me what you would do?"

And to this I say that I am going to show you exactly what I do, what I use, and tips to help you achieve professional results

Car Engine Degreaser

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

  • Concentrate (this means you can custom blend to suit your needs)
  • Economical
  • Safe for you, safe for your car engine, safe for the environment
  • No more toxic fumes you are required to inhale as you are detailing car engine
  • Non-flammable
  • Rinses very cleanly

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

  • The exact pray bottles/sprayer heads I use professionally
  • Perfect for dispensing any of your auto detailing products
  • The most ergonomically friendly spray heads I have ever used
  • Chemical resistant sprayers

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

  • A more efficient way to dispense larger amounts of chemicals
  • Perfect for use with your choice in an engine degreaser where large amounts of cleaner will be required
  • The sprayer I use to apply my choice in chemical when I am cleaning my car wheels, wheel, wells, and car engine where large amounts of cleaner are needed
  • Extension wand is ideal for hard to reach areas or tight areas when it's time to clean car engine

Tire/Wheel Brush Kit

  • Use appropriate brush on various engine parts, or on the underside of hood to help agitate and break down build-up of dirt and grease.
  • Also effective for use in wheel wells, tires, etc.
  • What I use professionally.
  • Feathered tip bristles for extra effectiveness and safety.
  • No degreaser in the world will be a true, "Spray down, wash off and every bit of dirt and grease is magically gone". You will always be required to do some level of manual agitation and these brushes are ideal.

Sun Joe SBJ601E 10 Amp 215 Max MPH All-Purpose 2-Speed Electric Blower, Green

  • I use a leaf blower to blow off excess water after I am finished degreasing/washing engine off
  • Most people don't have access to compressed air at their homes; a leaf blower is the perfect solution to this
  • I blow off engine to remove any standing water after the final rinse and before I turn the engine on to allow engine to reach normal operating temperature
  • If you want some serious air power, you can check out a good leaf blower

Clean Car Engine:
Driveway Detailer

I accept that there are those of you out there that want to keep things ultra simple. For this reason I am including the following options for you if you are looking for a single-use type of ready-to-use car engine degreaser.

Wet or Waterless Wheel, Tire, Engine, Cleaner Degreaser, Black Streak Remover, Aircraft Exhaust Soot Remover, for your Car, Aircraft, RV, Boat and Motorcycle, Wash Wax ALL Degreaser

  • Biodegradable formulation.
  • Can be used with or without water. (this means you can spray, agitate, and rinse with water. Or simply spray and mop up dirt, grease, and grime without rinsing first.
  • Perfect for any car owner or driveway detailer.

Chemical Guys CLD_201_16 Signature Series Orange Degreaser (16 oz)

  • Professional based citrus formula.
  • Concentrate; can be custom diluted based on your needs.
  • Perfect to clean car engine.
  • Versatile product for many other types of cleaning duties.
  • Perfect for any car owner or driveway detailer.

Engine Dressing

This will be your final stage for a clean car engine that is detailed to perfection; it is also an area with many conflicting opinions. Depending on your situation, you may want to apply a dressing to your engine. I will lay out the pros and cons of this decision so you can be fully aware of the many variables. Not only can an engine dressing create a shiny and new appearance to your freshly cleaned engine, but can actually serve as a sacrificial layer that is easily washed away and reapplied each time.

BMW 328i car engine detailBMW 328i car engine detail

Pros of Applying an Engine Dressing:

  • Creates an amazing shine and restores that new car look to your auto engine detailing efforts.
  • Creates a completely uniformed appearance to the engine that is almost impossible by simply degreasing and pressure washing the engine and engine compartment.
  • Creates a sacrificial barrier for everyday dirt and dust to attach to that can be easily washed off and renewed each time.

Cons of Applying an Engine Dressing:

  • Dirt and dust will attach to your engine more so than if left undressed. (this also largely depends on the type of dressing you use. In many ways, because your engine is so clean and shiny, any dust that is normal will be enhanced by such a clean and shiny backdrop.)
  • Can't really think of anything else other than that; I remain a big fan of dressing an engine.
  • I consider engine dressing as a sacrificial layer that is easily cleaned off each time. It provides a layer between your engine components and any dirt/dust/oil that will naturally accumulate.

Car Engine Dressing

Stoner Car Care 91034 Trim Shine Protectant - 12-Ounce

  • As easy as easy can get when you ant to add the next level of perfection after you clean car engine
  • really makes your car engine "pop" with shine
  • Aerosol is perfect for all the intricate parts of your car engine
  • The warning on the label will say "flammable". This is mostly due to the propellant in this aerosol can. You will NOT be using it on a hot engine or into exposed flame. I have never had a problem using this on any car engine.

CSI Nu Tyre Lotion Quart 62-208-Q

  • I like using this product to dress my clean car engine with since I already use it for my tires and any other dressing needs of my car for both interior and exterior use (this means I don't have to buy a separate engine dressing since I already have this and use for my tire side walls)
  • This is formulated using true waterborne technology which means you can dilute it down with basic tap water for a light consistency (if you prefer or want to save money)
  • Simply spray entire COOL engine with a light mist and allow to dry (this product dries to the touch)

Chemical Guys AIR_SPRAY_1 Black On Black Instant Shine Interior & Exterior Spray Dressing

  • Aerosol dressing is as easy as easy gets.
  • Apply to the cool engine after you have degreased, washed off, blown dry, allowed engine to run for complete drying, and cool down following those steps.
  • Manufactures label will say that product is flammable. I have never had a problem in 20+ years of doing engines. Just like gasoline, it is the fumes that are flammable and must be used on extremely hot engines or come in contact with direct flame for combustion. For this reason, simply use on a cool to warm engine and you will be fine. The end results are both dramatic and surprising to any first timer!

A Clean Car Engine is a Happy Car Engine!

clean car engine on bmw m series

Whether this is the power of suggestion or not; I am a big fan of a clean and detailed car engine! If you would like additional motivation for a clean car engine, you can go to car engine pictures where I highlight many additional clean and detailed car engines. If you know anyone who might benefit from this info like yourself, please forward the link to them; or simply share on your favorite social media site.


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