Engine bay detailing refers to the process of removing perhaps thousands of miles’ worth of dust, dirt and grime from the space inside your car where the engine is held.
Although this may seem like a daunting or delicate process, it’s possible to do yourself with a little planning, thought and effort. The result is a clean, beautiful engine bay that looks just like new—as well as a vehicle that functions more reliably and has a higher resale value.
People often miss the importance of cleaning the engine bay of their cars, in part because it’s not the first thing you see when you look at a vehicle. In fact, most people never see it at all—so undoubtedly there are plenty of beautifully cleaned, polished and waxed cars on the road that are hiding terribly grimy engine bays. However, the engine bay gets dirty really fast.
Cleaning it makes sure that grease and dirt don’t accumulate within or surrounding components that are essential to the function of your car. Dirt tends to cause degradation of components over time—the pulleys and bearings especially are damaged by grit and grease accumulation.
The other benefit of cleaning your engine bay is that it allows you to get a better understanding of what’s there and keep an eye on any problems that may arise over time, which dirt and grime can hide. If you catch any leaks, corrosion, etc. early, you might be able to save lots of money by preventing worsening issues later on.
Additionally, a clean engine bay helps maintain your vehicle’s resale value, as it is indicative of a well-maintained automobile overall.
Note: Although this process is generally quite straightforward, you will definitely want to take extra precautions if your car is from the 1990s or any older. The particular concern is that although most of the time, electrical components are protected if they’re hit with a high-pressure flow of water it can get inside and cause problems.
So it’s a good idea to cover parts like your car’s alternator, fuse box, air intake, electrical connections/plugs, and battery terminals—plastic shrink wrap/cling film is a great choice for this kind of protection.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of precautions you should take when detailing your engine bay. And when in doubt, ALWAYS seek the guidance of a professional for your own safety and that of your beloved vehicle!
Ready to get started?
Here’s our list of 10 straightforward steps to keeping your engine bay spotless and beautiful:
1. Gather your materials
These will include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Plastic bags/plastic shrink wrap
Car wash mitt
Car wash soap
Terry and microfiber cloth towels
2. Give the engine bay an initial hose-down
This is an important step just to get rid of a lot of the dirt that’s on there and help the degreaser spread further.
Be sure to do this once the engine is cool—it doesn’t have to be entirely cold, but you should leave the hood up for at least an hour before you start the process.
While you’re waiting, put down some drip pans and absorbent pads so that the chemicals you’re using don’t get everywhere.
3. Protect parts from water
Cover the battery with plastic (a bag or shrink wrap). You may also want to cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor. This will depend on what kind of car you have—whether it’s a classic or modern car, for one.
Make sure you don’t spray too much water around the fuse box and coil packs if you’ve got a modern car.
4. Add the degreaser
You’ll want to use degreaser rather than standard soap because it cuts through the oil (hence the name “degreaser”).
Apply liberally in the oiliest areas such as the oil pan and starter. Typically you will want to allow the degreaser to sit for several minutes so that it acts on the grease effectively.
A wash brush will also help get things clean, and the soft bristles won’t create any worrisome scratches.
5. Rinse again and perhaps repeat
Using low water pressure, give it all another rinse. If your engine bay hasn’t been detailed in a very long time, you may have to repeat step 4.
6. Clean again with automotive soap
Fill the bucket with soapy water and, using your car wash mitt, get everything really clean now that the degreaser has removed the worst of the oil.
7. Rinse again
Once again, use low pressure to rinse everything. Then remove the plastic bags or cling wrap from the components you were protecting, since there won’t be any more big splashes of water.
8. Polish plastic and metal parts
Polish plastic parts with plastic cleaner, applying the cleaner with your terry cloths and then removing it with the microfiber cloth. This will help to remove small scratches. And then use metal polish as the particular product’s instructions describe (they may all be different).
9. Dry things out
Use a leaf blower or pressurized air to blow out the extra water in your engine bay. Then start your engine until it reaches the typical temperature of operation.
If you turn on your car’s AC, the compressor will run as well. Do this for about five minutes so that all the now-clean components dry.
10. Optional: apply your engine dressing
This isn’t strictly required, but a spray-on engine dressing once the engine has cooled can make it look especially great. It adds shine and will round out the process of making your engine bay look absolutely as good as new.
Enjoy a car that’s now beautiful on the inside as well as the outside!
Choosing the right product can make this whole process a lot easier and more effective.
Here are some of the best degreasers on the market:
1. Gunk EB1 Engine Degreaser
This product has been produced by a family-owned company in Charlotte, NC for 55 years. There’s a reason it’s been out there for such a long time—it’s extremely effective. It’s also cheap, but bear in mind that it smells pretty bad!
2. Meguiar’s D10801 Super Degreaser
Looking for something that doesn’t stink and—dare I say—even offers a pleasant herbal aroma? This is your pick! It’s also very effective and is super easy to use. It leaves no unsightly white residue, either, which is a major positive for this kind of product.
3. Chemical Guys Signature Series Orange Degreaser
This citrus-based formula works well on engines as well as tires, rims, tools, machinery, and other items—so it’s definitely multipurpose. It’s highly concentrated, and quickly and easily emulsifies grease, oil, dirt and grime.
4. Simple Green 19128 Crystal Industrial Cleaner/Degreaser
This is a non-toxic product that’s also unscented, fragrance-free and biodegradable. It’s a more eco-friendly