Turbochargers are amazing pieces of technology that can give your engine a huge boost in power. But like any complex system, turbos need regular maintenance to keep performing their best. Over time, carbon deposits, sludge, and debris can build up inside the turbo impeller housing and restrict flow. This reduces turbo efficiency and performance. But don’t worry, you can clean your turbo at home for cheap with basic automotive products like brake cleaner!
How Turbos Get Dirty
Turbos use exhaust gases to spin an impeller that compresses intake air. This hot, high-pressure exhaust flow combined with blow-by gases from the engine create the perfect environment for carbon and oil residue to coat turbo components. Some common problem areas:
- Turbine Side – Carbon deposits from hot exhaust gases. Causes reduced spool up and boost.
- Compressor Side – Oily residue from blow-by vapors. Creates imbalance and sluggish performance.
- Wastegate – Carbon blocking proper operation. Causes boost spikes and over-spooling.
Over time this buildup restricts flow through the turbo, reducing response and increasing lag between gear shifts. Cleaning removes these deposits and restores turbo health.
Can Brake Cleaner Safely Clean a Turbo?
Yes! Brake cleaner is an excellent DIY solution for cleaning carbon and oily gunk from a turbocharger. Here’s why it works so well:
- Strong solvents – Brake cleaner contains hydrocarbons and acetone that break down and dissolve deposits.
- Penetrating spray – The pressurized spray allows cleaner to reach all internal passages.
- Leaves no residue – Brake cleaner evaporates completely after use.
- Electrical safety – Brake cleaners are non-conductive and won’t short electrical components.
When used properly, brake cleaner is a safe and effective turbo cleaning method. Just take precautions against inhalation and skin exposure. Work in a ventilated area and wear gloves and eye protection.
Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning a Turbo with Brake Cleaner
Cleaning your turbo at home with brake cleaner is straightforward. Just follow these steps:
- Brake cleaner – get a reputable brand like CRC or WD-40 specialist
- Eye protection
- Nitrile gloves
- Shop rags
- Allow engine and turbo to fully cool before starting.
- Disconnect negative battery terminal.
- Remove any intake piping connected to the turbo inlet.
- Have a catch pan ready to collect cleaner run off.
- Shake the brake cleaner can well and attach the red plastic nozzle.
- Turn the turbo impeller shaft by hand to expose all internal surfaces.
- Spray brake cleaner through the turbo air inlet, wastegate, and anywhere carbon deposits are visible. Use short bursts and rotate shaft between sprays.
- Let the cleaner soak for 10-15 minutes. The solvents will break down residue.
- Rotate shaft again while spraying to rinse away dissolved gunk. Flush thoroughly.
- Check for any remaining debris. Repeat soak and flush if needed.
- Allow all brake cleaner to fully evaporate, about 30 minutes.
- Reconnect intake piping and battery when dry.
That’s it! After cleaning, go for a 20-30 minute drive to blow out any remaining solvents and residues. Your turbo will now spool faster and boost stronger.
When using brake cleaner on your turbo, follow these useful tips to get the best results safely:
- Avoid spraying brake cleaner directly at sensitive components like the turbo shaft seals, electrical connectors, or bearings. The harsh solvents can degrade rubber seals over time and get into electrical components, causing corrosion. Use a light misting spray instead.
- Always wear proper eye protection like safety glasses or goggles when spraying cleaners. If brake cleaner gets in your eyes, it can be very irritating and cause temporary vision impairment. Don’t take chances with your eyesight.
- Use a small dental mirror to look inside the turbo housing and see areas that need cleaning. The mirror lets you see around bends and target deposits hidden from view. Automotive inspection mirrors also work well.
- After cleaning, consider rinsing out the turbo with some water to remove any oily residues left behind by the brake cleaner. Make sure the turbo is completely dry before reassembling – moisture in the bearings can shorten turbo life significantly.
- To keep your turbo in peak condition, repeat this brake cleaner cleaning process around every 25,000-50,000 miles. More frequent cleaning may be required if you notice a drop in boost pressure or sluggish turbo response. Stay on top of your maintenance schedule.
- Work in a well ventilated area and take breaks if brake cleaner fumes become overwhelming. Inhaling the fumes for prolonged periods can cause dizziness or headaches.
- Let any overspray on painted surfaces dry fully then wipe with a microfiber cloth to prevent spotting or etching. Brake cleaner is strong enough to damage some automotive paints.
Following these tips will help you safely clean your turbo and achieve the best results from using brake cleaner spray. Take the proper precautions and your turbo will be boosted in no time!
Turbocharger Maintenance Summary Table
|Maintenance Task||Frequency||Why It’s Needed|
|Brake Cleaner Cleaning||25,000 – 50,000 miles||Removes deposits interfering with flow|
|Air Filter Replacement||Per manufacturer||Prevents particles from damaging turbo|
|Oil Changes||3,000-5,000 miles||Prevents turbo bearing wear|
|Oil Feed Line Inspection||60,000 miles||Confirms pressurized oil supply|
|Boost Leak Inspection||Annually||Ensures air leaks not sapping boost pressure|
FAQ – Cleaning Turbos with Brake Cleaner
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using brake cleaner on turbos:
Is brake cleaner safe for the turbo?
Yes, when used properly brake cleaner is safe for turbos. Avoid electrically charged cleaners which could damage the turbo.
How often should I clean the turbo?
Every 25,000 – 50,000 miles is ideal for preventative turbo cleaning. More often if you notice loss of boost or performance.
What areas of the turbo should be cleaned?
Focus on the turbine housing, impeller blades, wastegate, and compressor inlet/outlet. These areas see the most buildup.
Can I use brake cleaner on the shafts and seals?
Avoid direct spray on the turbo shaft and seals, as prolonged contact may degrade the lubricants inside. Light misting is ok.
Is water rinsing required after using brake cleaner?
Water rinsing is optional and may help remove oily residues. Ensure turbo is 100% dry before reinstalling if rinsed.
What maintenance is required after cleaning the turbo?
After cleaning, drive conservatively for 20-30 minutes to clear any remaining solvents from the system. Check for leaks.
The Verdict on Brake Cleaner for DIY Turbo Cleaning
Cleaning your turbo at home with basic brake cleaner is an easy and effective method to remove buildup and restore turbo response and performance.
Brake cleaner’s strong solvents can penetrate and dissolve carbon and oil deposits safely when proper precautions are taken. Just avoid direct spraying on sensitive areas like seals and electrical connectors.
Follow the step-by-step cleaning procedure outlined above, and your turbo will soon be spinning freely again like new! Combine periodic brake cleaner cleaning with other best turbo maintenance practices for optimal performance and longevity.