Keeping your engine clean is important for many reasons. Using an engine steam cleaner to remove the grime from your engine and engine bay is one of the simpler things you can do to keep your engine in good condition.
Let’s first make sure we are talking about the same thing. When engine steam cleaning is discussed, what is actually meant is engine pressure washing. A steam cleaner is never used on an automobile engine.
So what’s the difference between engine steam cleaning and engine pressure washing?
A pressure washer has a heating element and a high pressure pump. It is fed water that it heats to a preset temperature. It then uses the pump to force the water out of the end of a want at high pressure. This high temperature stream of hot water may look similar to steam, but it is not. It is merely fast moving hot water. A pressure washer doesn’t heat the water to boiling so it doesn’t generate any steam.
A steam cleaner is a device used for cleaning fabrics and jewelry mostly. A steam cleaner does not force a jet of water out of it at high pressure. A steam cleaner heats the water above boiling and that is how it generates steam. Steam cleaners usually have nothing but a heating element in them. The steam isn’t forced out of the device by anything other than the force of the expanding steam. When you see the steam come out of a steam cleaner it only travels a few inches from the device before it rises and dissipates. This is much different from the forceful jet of water that shoots from a pressure washer.
Why is pressure washing your engine bay helpful?
The main benefits of keeping a clean engine bay are that you can spot the source of leaks easier, and your engine will run cooler. When your engine is covered in grime and dirt, it is very difficult to determine the source of a leak. A leak will tend to make a large damp dirty spot rather than a trail of fluid back to the source of the leak. A clean engine bay will dissipate heat better due to the radiator flowing air through it more freely, and the radiator fins not being insulated by grime.
Where can you clean your engine?
There are many self-serve type car washes that have bays with pressure washers installed in them. These car washes usually take coins or dollars for a set amount of washing time. Many of these setups also have options for soap or other additives to be added to the high pressure water stream.
Another option for engine steam cleaning is to buy a pressure washer for your own use. Many home supply stores such as home depot or Lowes sell pressure washers. These washers are available in a variety of sizes and prices. These washers are available as gasoline powered or electric usually. Many of these units are capable of spraying soaps and other solutions as needed.
What are the risks in steam cleaning your engine compartment?
The main things to avoid spraying directly are electrical components, breathers, and fill ports. Some electrical components and connections can retain water and then cause issues or corrode days or weeks after they were sprayed. Oil breathers and oil fill caps have the potential to allow water into the engine crankcase and should not be sprayed directly. The same is true for power steering and power brake fluid fill caps.
So to summarize, engine steam cleaning is what most people call engine pressure washing. Cleaning your engine bay is a good preventative maintenance measure. Avoid spraying directly on or into electrical devices, or anything that could let water into your engine oil. Avoid spraying the caps to your hydraulic fluid reservoirs.