How to safely clean an engine bay
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This is a discussion on How to safely clean an engine bay within the Detailing Forum forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; I've been washing the engine bays of all of the cars I have driven for the past 20 years or ...

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    Moderator   Sasquatch's Avatar
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    How to safely clean an engine bay

    I've been washing the engine bays of all of the cars I have driven for the past 20 years or so.

    How did I get started? Isn’t this really bad for my car? Why did / do I bother?

    I worked with a guy back then who was seriously obsessed with keeping his 1986 Thunderbird clean - way more so than I ever was or currently am. He popped the hood one day and I marveled at the near showroom appearance of the ~ 4 year old engine bay.

    I asked the same questions many of you have about getting the various components and systems wet. The owner of the car was quite talented with most things automotive, especially the electrical systems as he was a professional car audio install technician with a high end audio shop. The sound system in that car was phenomenal even by today’s standards.

    He was quite confident that the water would not cause problems. That engine bay got a rinse with nearly every car wash and a regular washing. I was still skeptical. I carefully tried it myself starting out away from wiring and the alternator gradually becoming more confident until the entire engine bay was squeaky clean. It looked great then and still does.

    I’ve never had a problem with getting any electrical items wet – even a distributor. A modern engine bay is engineered to get somewhat wet during normal use. Assuming your engine bay is in reasonably good shape, with no defects in the electrical, crankcase ventilation and intake systems you will most likely have no problems as well. This works best and is easiest from when a car is new as dirt and oxidation never have a chance to start. Even an older engine bay can be transformed with a little extra work.

    This is being provided as a guide only - I cannot guarantee you will not experience difficulties.

    Wash your engine bay at your own risk.


    This is what works very well for me …

    Start with a cold engine. A warm or hot engine will cause any detergent you spray on to quickly evaporate. Letting it sit and soak is what gets things clean. I’ve never covered electrical components, but have put a plastic bag over open exposed conical air filters. Obviously do not spray liquid directly into the air intake. Use a garden hose with a variable nozzle to go from a fine spray to a concentrated stream depending on what you are hosing down. A pistol grip style of nozzle is the easiest and fastest to use. A high pressure car wash hose is asking for trouble. Common sense is called for here.

    This the perfect nozzle imo. Plastic coated so it is easier to use in cold weather and has a rubber collar around the outlet to prevent damage if it makes contact with the paint. I just bought this to replace my worn out old one.



    I wash the underside of the hood first. I removed the fiber insulation the day I brought the WRX home as I have with all of my previous cars. I personally believe the insulation is largely for sound suppression. It becomes a dirt magnet if left on and seems logical to assume it also promotes heat soak. I have not observed any engine heat related effects on the exterior hood paint with four different cars.

    Hose down the hood, fenders, windshield and engine hosing off loose debris. Spray liberal amounts of full strength Simple Green all over, especially in the inaccessible areas. You would probably see good results with diluted Simple Green as well. I use a quart sized commercial type variable nozzle spray bottle rather than one Simple Green is sold in – it’s much easier and faster. Hose off any overspray from the fenders as Simple Green is too harsh for polished waxed surfaces. Let soak for ~5 minutes or so. While I wait I have a few odd brushes I use to scrub around where I can.

    Thoroughly hose off all areas (with common sense) until all traces of the detergent are gone. Some areas can take higher pressure, like the intercooler and around the firewall. Once the car / engine wash has been completed I take the car on a drive to heat and dry the engine bay out. I repeat this maybe four times a year – that’s all it takes to keep everything looking showroom clean. The WRX’s under engine cover does a great job in keeping dirt out of the engine bay. My previous cars without a bottom cover required more frequent washing to keep things as clean.

    Happy bay cleaning.
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 04-25-2014 at 06:59 PM.
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    Master Baiter EJ257's Avatar
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    Post a pic of your engine bay to validate your qualifications
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    Moderator   Sasquatch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EJ257 View Post
    Post a pic of your engine bay to validate your qualifications
    Yeah ... why didn't I think of that? More images in the Pics link in my sig ...

    Full size original 5301 x 2903 (updated 5/13/2014): https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7336/...3f8aa703_o.jpg




    It is best seen in person.


    Even the bottom of the engine is clean (new exhaust mains install):


    Last edited by Sasquatch; 05-13-2014 at 02:07 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 04.SPT.WRX
    Yeah ... why didn't I think of that? More images in the Pics link in my sig ...

    A high resolution (2816 x 2112) image: http://i106.photobucket.com/albums/m...c/cf64dc91.jpg

    It is best seen in person.
    Remind me not to park next to your car @ CretinFest 2010; my engine bay looks nothing like that, and would feel quite inferior

    The only thing that would make that engine bay look better would be a set of hood dampers (plus, it would make cleaning it easier, as well).
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    Quote Originally Posted by EJ257 View Post
    The only thing that would make that engine bay look better would be a set of hood dampers (plus, it would make cleaning it easier, as well).
    I've thought of those, but not sure which ones would be best. The Tein's are the wrong color - for anything.

    I've done well with an old broomstick as a prop rod when working on the turbo side of the engine.
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    Registered User scoobz's Avatar
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    That is the cleanest engine bay i have seen! Very well done! I used to try cleaning with a damp cloth which barely makes a difference.

    Does taking that bottom engine guard have an affect on performance at all? Was told it allows more cold air in, is that true?

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    AMAAAAAZING!!!!! can you do mine next HAHA I'll pay you

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    I can attest to the fact that Bills engine bay really IS THAT CLEAN. I would pretty much fell perfectly comfortable eating food from his engine bay.



    ...Expect he would probably kill me for dropping crumbs in there. lol
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    simple green is amazing for metal and plastic but what about rubber?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamakazecam View Post
    simple green is amazing for metal and plastic but what about rubber?
    According to them (simple green) it is safe for rubber parts. .
    Last edited by TheJ; 08-22-2010 at 07:30 AM. Reason: Clarify
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    I've cleaned mine just using simple green and rags, always a little weary about hosing it down. With your advice, now I can get all those hard to reach places clean. thanks. poor pic quality. i'll have to take a more recent one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobz View Post
    Does taking that bottom engine guard have an affect on performance at all? Was told it allows more cold air in, is that true?
    I think the engine bottom cover helps keep the engine bay clean. All of my previous cars did not have one and they required more frequent attention to keep them clean.

    I'd guess the cover enhances cooling while the car is moving. Air is forced through the radiator without any turbulence from below. The lack of this turbulence probably makes for better aerodynamics increasing overall performance.

    Quote Originally Posted by joesubaru7 View Post
    I've cleaned mine just using simple green and rags, always a little weary about hosing it down. With your advice, now I can get all those hard to reach places clean. thanks. poor pic quality. i'll have to take a more recent one.
    Glad it worked out for you. A less than clean bay will start to look better each time you give it a cleaning.
    Last edited by Sasquatch; 08-22-2010 at 07:57 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamakazecam View Post
    simple green is amazing for metal and plastic but what about rubber?
    Original formula Simple Green oxidizes aluminum. You need to use the "Motorsports Forumla" Simple Green.

    http://www.simplegreen.com/products_extreme_motor.php

    Also one I use thats one of my favorites for engine bays. Black Magic 2 n 1 Engine Shine.

    http://www.blackmagicshine.com/2-in-1-engine-shine.php

    Biggest mistake most make is trying to pressure wash the engine. This ends up forcing water through normally sealed componants. Mainly engine electrical connectors and coil on plug ignition boots.
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    how funny it should be called Simple Blue! hahaha



    Quote Originally Posted by Donkey View Post
    Original formula Simple Green oxidizes aluminum. You need to use the "Motorsports Forumla" Simple Green.

    http://www.simplegreen.com/products_extreme_motor.php

    Also one I use thats one of my favorites for engine bays. Black Magic 2 n 1 Engine Shine.

    http://www.blackmagicshine.com/2-in-1-engine-shine.php

    Biggest mistake most make is trying to pressure wash the engine. This ends up forcing water through normally sealed componants. Mainly engine electrical connectors and coil on plug ignition boots.

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    Moderator   Sasquatch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donkey View Post
    Original formula Simple Green oxidizes aluminum. You need to use the "Motorsports Forumla" Simple Green.

    http://www.simplegreen.com/products_extreme_motor.php
    I have never had any oxidation / corrosion that I could see with original formula Simple Green on aluminum. I've always wet down the cold engine first, then use SG without letting it dry, followed by a thorough rinse. I'd imagine if you let it dry without a good rinse that could cause some issues.

    I'll give the motorsports version a try.

    Quote Originally Posted by Donkey View Post
    Biggest mistake most make is trying to pressure wash the engine. This ends up forcing water through normally sealed componants. Mainly engine electrical connectors and coil on plug ignition boots.
    Ah yep. Common sense is good.
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