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How to clean a car engine by yourself

Learn how to wash a car engine at home and get motoring!


a person in a white shirt repairing a car engine

Key steps:

  1. Remove any debris or cobwebs from the engine.

  2. Let the engine run for a few minutes to warm it up. Turn it off before cleaning.

  3. Cover electrical components with plastic.

  4. Spray the engine with degreaser and leave for a few minutes.

  5. Wash the engine and the rest of the car with water.

  6. Wipe off the water and wax any parts of the body touched by degreaser.

The engine might not be the first place you think of washing when cleaning your car but there are benefits to learning how to wash a car engine at home, both to cut costs and to keep your car purring smoothly. Learn how to make your engine bay look good and how to stay safe while cleaning your car engine with these tips.

Still got some stubborn grime deposits after washing your engine? Try spraying a bit of brake cleaner on the affected area and use a stiff-bristled brush to remove the grime.

Why should you wash a car engine?

You might not think it matters too much or you might be put off by the electrics involved, but the advantages of washing a car engine are manifold:

  • Keep your motor running. Your engine will run better when it’s in good shape. That includes keeping it clean.

  • Are you being serviced? A mechanic may service a well looked-after car better than one that looks like the owner’s never noticed the engine is there.

  • Get more buck for your bang. A clean car sells more easily and stands a better chance of selling at a good price than a dirty one.

  • Keep the rust-ic look away. By cleaning your engine and engine bay regularly you’ll keep rust from forming and damaging it.

How to wash a car engine at home

There are a few crucial steps to learning how to wash a car engine at home, which you’ll want to adhere to as electrics are involved. This method should have you cruising in style before you can say “all good under the hood.” Remember to wear protective clothing and to work in a well-ventilated area.

You will need:

  • Protective clothing

  • Plastic covering (sturdy plastic bags will do)

  • Commercial degreaser

  • A stiff-bristled brush

  • A garden hose

  • Two buckets of water

  • Three cloths (one damp and two dry)

  • One sponge (for the body of the car)

Looking for advice on washing other parts of your auto? Try our advice on cleaning headlights with everyday ingredients like toothpaste and baking soda!

How to clean a car engine — the method:

  1. Brush off any debris, such as leaves, which may have gathered under the hood and on the engine. It’s also a good idea to check for animal nests and cobwebs.

  2. Cover your car’s electrical system (this includes the battery, distributor cap, spark plug inlets, and wiring) with plastic to protect yourself and to prevent any electrics from coming into contact with water during cleaning. Consult your car’s manual if you’re unsure of which components to cover.

  3. Loosen the bolt on the negative terminal of the car battery and remove the cable from the terminal to keep your battery safe and to avoid blowing any fuses or causing other electrical damage. If you want to take the battery out completely, you can do so by repeating the procedure on the positive terminal. If leaving the battery in place, secure the ground cable on the side of the battery to stop it from making contact with the terminal.

  4. Start your engine and leave it to run for a few minutes. A warm engine will soften the grease, making it easier to wipe off. Turn it off within five minutes as you don’t want it to be hot when you start cleaning.

  5. Use a commercial degreaser to clean the engine. These often come in spray cans and are easy to apply – read the instructions on the can first. Spray the engine, working your way up from the bottom to be sure you cover it completely. Try to avoid getting degreaser on any painted areas as this can damage the clear coat and remove the shine. If you do get degreaser on a painted part of your car, use a damp cloth to remove it right away.

  6. Let the degreaser do its work for s few minutes, depending on how dirty your engine is. Follow the instructions on the packaging for precise times.

  7. Start scrubbing at the engine with a stiff-bristled brush to loosen any solidified grease or oil. It should come away fairly easily thanks to the degreaser. This is only necessary if you’re dealing with solid bits of grime on your engine.

  8. Rinse the engine with a regular garden hose, using the ‘stream’ setting on the nozzle. This should be enough to clear the remaining grime but if not, wipe off the water, spray on another layer of degreaser, and repeat steps 5-7.

  9. Wash the rest of your car to ensure any degreaser is removed. Use a different set of cleaning tools for the body of your car to prevent spreading grime and apply wax anywhere you find degreaser after washing the car.

  10. Wipe off any water from the engine and the rest of your car.

  11. Finish with some engine dressing spray if you’re wondering how to clean your engine bay and really make it shine. Apply according to the instructions after your engine has cooled.

How to wash engine parts

There’s more to learning how to clean your engine bay than just the engine itself. Take a look at our tips below to get the details on your engine as clean as the rest of the engine bay.

  • Plastic parts: engine covers, reservoir caps, and other plastic parts of your engine can be cleaned with a sponge and a stiff-bristled nylon brush. Use a degreasing agent such as degreaser or car wash soap then rinse them with water and dry with a cloth.

  • Battery: battery acid can often lead to corrosion on the battery terminals. To get rid of this, remove the cables and scrub the battery terminals with a wire brush until the rust has been replaced with bright and shining metal. You can use a paste made from water and baking soda to remove any leaked battery acid when you’re brushing – wipe the paste off with a cloth once you’re done.

By now, these tips on how to make your engine bay look good will have left your car looking great both inside and out. Time to take your ride for a spin!

Originally published