How to Clean Your Engine Bay Like a Master Detailer

If you think engine bay detailing is best left to the professionals, think again! Although detailing the engine bay may seem like a daunting process, it’s really not! In fact, we are confident that you can clean your car engine on your own, without the help of a professional. The entire process will take no more than 45 minutes, depending on how dirty the engine bay is.

Most car owners think that they are ruining the engine by cleaning it on their own but the truth is, modern engine bays are so well protected, it’ll take more than hand cleaning to damage the inner components. Learning how to clean your engine bay is not only a great skill worth learning, it could help you save a whole lotta $$$ in the long run! Are you ready to clean your engine bay like a pro? Here’s a step by step guide how:

Safety First: Prep the Engine

Cleaning the engine safely starts by prepping the electrical components so you don’t hit them by accident or damage the components as you work. For modern engines, protecting the electrical components is easier because these mechanisms come with their own protective casings. However, if you’re working with a classic car or any vehicle that’s more than 20 years old, you’ll have to cover the electrical components to keep them away from moisture. We recommend wrapping these components in tin foil to be on the safe side.

As for the air intakes, these components are typically protected but for an added layer of protection, cover the mechanisms with a plastic bag. This way, you don’t flood the air intake with water as you clean the engine. If the aftermarket air filter is exposed, cover that with a plastic bag too. For fan belts or fan covers, alternator and electrical plugs that are exposed, you can protect them with either a plastic cover or tin foil. After covering these components, you are ready to proceed to the next step:

How to Clean the Engine Bay

You will need:

A degreaser
A soft bristle cleaning brush
A cleaning brush with flexible stem
Detail sticks
Water sprayer (set on low pressure)
A portable blower (optional)
Trim detailer

Step 1: Turn off the Car, Leave the Engine to Cool

For your safety, never clean a running engine. This might seem like a no-brainer but back in the day, leaving the engine running during detailing was as normal as can be. But this practice is no longer advisable because 1) you could flood the smaller components of the engine and 2) the blast of water could cause a short circuit in the engine, causing an accident or an extremely expensive engine repair.

Some detailers prefer to clean a warm engine and if you prefer this, just turn on the engine, leave the engine to run for 1 to 2 minutes and then turn it off before detailing.

Step 2: Apply the Degreaser

A auto degreaser is a car cleanser that melts deep seated dirt and grime on a car engine. This product is formulated with deep cleansing agents that cut through grease, leaving the car engine spick and span. Usually, degreasers come in a spray bottle so you’ll just mist the solution over the entire engine including the undersides of the hood to eliminate dirt. So go ahead, give the engine a good mist of the degreaser and let the product sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Step 3: Wipe Dirt Away

Using your soft bristle brush, start agitating the deep-seated buildups that are visible to you. For tight corners, nooks and crannies that are way beyond your reach, use a narrow cleaning brush with adjustable neck. Mist the areas lightly with water to rinse away contaminants as you brush.

For extremely dirty spots, you might have to re-rinse the engine with water, reapply the degreaser and then re-do the scrubbing to clean these areas.

Step 4: Dry Down Time!

After cleaning the entire engine bay, inspect the engine in case you missed a spot. If you’re satisfied with your work, move on to dry down time. With your microfiber towel, wipe the wet areas gently but firmly. For hard to reach areas, a blower will come in handy. The compressed air will get rid of water that could pool in deeper spots of the engine, which may cause corrosion on the inner components if ignored.

Step 5: Restore the Rubber and Plastic Trims

After drying down the engine bay completely, finish up by restoring the trims. The car’s vinyl, plastic, and rubber trims are prone to cracking, drying out, and fading so you need to use a restorer to give your trims and mouldings some love. Trim restorers are formulated with gloss, dyes, and conditioning agents that will protect your car trims and extend their life so do not skip this step!

Use a restorer that works according to the original color of your trims. For instance, if your trims are lighter in color, use a restorer that’s made specifically for non-black trims. For black trims and mouldings, use a restorer that will enhance the deep hue of your car trims and protect these components from the elements.

Step 6: Remove Engine Components Coverings

After applying the trim restorer according to the manufacturer’s instruction, remove all the covered parts of the engine. Give your engine a test before you finish up.

Speaking of degreasers, if you want to get the most bang out of your buck, here are our top 5 recommendations:

The Best Auto Degreaser

Purple Power Industrial Strength Cleaner and Degreaser

$6.49

B002HU5N4O

Purple Power’s degreaser is an industrial strength cleanser that effectively cuts through grease, oil, dirt, and grime that build up in your car’s engine bay. This product is formulated with potent yet non-abrasive cleansing agents that melt the toughest stains within seconds. When using this product, give the degreaser a minute or two to work on the surface being cleaned before cleaning.

This powerful car degreaser works on any surface, including stainless steel and plastic surfaces. What’s more, this product contains zero phosphate so it’s free from harmful compounds that could affect the health and the environment.

The Purple Power industrial strength degreaser does more than just remove dirty, it also creates a protective barrier between the stain and the surface being cleaned for fuss free application. Of course, just like any cleansing product, you’d have to wear protective gears when applying the Purple Power industrial strength degreaser on your engine bay. A pair of work gloves and protective eye gear should suffice during a cleanup job. Also, we recommend working in a well-ventilated area.

Overall, this is a great degreaser and at a little over six bucks per gallon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a degreaser that offers this much value.

Chemical Guys Signature Series Orange Degreaser

$10.85

B00DZI39UW

Chemical Guys’ signature series degreaser is a professional strength, citrus-based cleanser with a lingering orange scent. This product does not produce noxious fumes that could irritate the nose and eyes but we’d still recommend wearing your protective gears for your safety. This product promises to remove tough grime, dirt, and debris, cutting through stubborn grease like a hot knife through butter.

The signature series degreaser is made specifically for car engines but it can be used to clean the car’s rims, tires, and undercarriage. You can also use this product to eliminate tough grease on your machine tools. We love how fast this product worked in terms of loosening stubborn oil build up and how it rinses just as easily. The concentrated formula means a little goes a long, long way so don’t let its diminutive size fool you. The degreaser is so concentrated; you can dilute a small amount in a bucket of water to maximize every drop. However, we recommend using it full strength for extremely stubborn stains.

As for the downsides of using the Chemical Guys’ signature series degreaser, it’s quite pricey. A 16 ounce bottle of this baby costs more than 10 bucks and despite its concentrated formula, you’ll still spritz a liberal amount of the degreaser into the engine in a single cleaning sesh so you’ll probably use up a bottle after one or two washes. At this price point, some degreasers come in a sizable jug.

Krud Kutter Original Concentrated Cleaner Degreaser

$11.75

B005FMZ40Y

Krud Kutter’s Original formula degreaser is well-loved for a good reason. Apart from getting a lot of product for just a little over 11 bucks, the formula quickly and effectively melts deep-seated dirt, grime, and oil. It even removes adhesives and glue, crayon marks, paint over sprays, tree saps, wax and so much more. This versatile degreaser is formulated with Krud Kutter’s proprietary blend of surfactants, detergents, and emulsifiers in an easy to rinse water-based solution.

This product gets plus points for being gentle in terms of removing dirt and grime. The formula is also non-flammable so there’s no need to worry about freak accidents like accidentally setting your engine on fire as you clean or damaging certain components. We also love the non-toxic, non-abrasive formula (contains zero petroleum solvents, bleach or ammonia) so clean up is decidedly fuss free.

Although the formula is gentle, we don’t recommend applying this product on the windshield because it leaves a persistent stain that takes a lot of elbow grease to remove. Limit the application to the rims, engine bay, and undercarriage for best results.

Simple Green Crystal Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser

$19.63

B000ULLGRU

Simple Green’s Crystal Industrial Cleaner and Degreaser is a 2 in 1 formula that provides a highly effective cleansing and degreasing action as well as superior rinsability. This product is formulated with non-toxic, non-abrasive, and non-corrosive degreasing agents for a safe, fuss-free detailing any time. At a little less than 20 bucks, you get a gallon of the stuff, which is a lot so if you’re after value, this is a great degreaser to try.

The Crystal degreaser works great in terms of cleaning and degreasing engine parts as well as the rims and undercarriage. It’s made from biodegradable ingredients so the Crystal degreaser is eco-friendly too! It applies easily and rinses just as quickly so cleaning will definitely take less elbow grease. The versatile formula does not contain headache-inducing scents and it has no added color.

Crystal Simple Green is formulated for “critical cleaning applications” that demand a fragrance-free solution. One thing to keep in mind though, is that the product comes pre-diluted. This means you can use the product directly without diluting it in water, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preference. If you’re after a quick clean, the pre-diluted formula works great because it cuts down cleaning time in half but if you’re after value, you’ll use up a jug in just a couple of washes.

POR-15 Cleaner/Degreaser Surface Cleaner

B004LY5W2M

$28.96

Rounding up the list of our most recommended engine degreaser is the POR-15 2-in-1 degreaser and cleanser surface cleaner. Featuring a highly rinsable formula, the POR-15 surface cleaner and degreaser makes engine clean up a fast and straightforward affair. The product cuts through grease, engine oil, soapy films and waxy buildup with ease and it gets rid of musty odors too.

We love how this degreaser rinses clean, it doesn’t leave unwanted residue and there was no noxious fumes to worry about. This is a petroleum-based degreaser so it’s not exactly eco-friendly but it works beyond engine clean up. The POR-15 degreaser can be used to clean the transmissions, grease traps, suspension, and remove waterline scums. It can also clean canvas, vinyl, nylon, holding tanks, and so much more.

Overall, this product performed well, eliminating stubborn grease stains and deep-seated grime residues that some degreasers took a while to remove. The formula is incredibly versatile because it can be used to remove rust and clean porcelain sinks and tubs too. Our only gripe is the list of ingredients, some of which can be harmful to the health or the environment. We wish POR-15 would come out with an improved formula, one that’s safe and eco-friendly.