There are a lot of myths swirling around about fuel system cleaners. Do they work? Are they a waste of money? Most people seem to have a bias towards one or the other, but today we’re separating fact from fiction in the quest for the best fuel system cleaner.
We include a complete buyer’s guide designed to keep you from wasting your money, plus check out our top picks for the best fuel system cleaner on the market today. Whether you’ve got a brand-new vehicle or you’re trying to increase performance and efficiency on an older vehicle, we’ve got the right cleaners for you.
The first thing people want to know when they’re wondering about fuel cleaners is, do they work? It’s an excellent question; let’s take a closer look at the fuel injection system in your vehicle and then we can answer whether or not (and how) fuel cleaners work.
Fuel Injection Basics
Combustion is at the heart of modern engines today, which means that at its most basic level, the fuel ignites and the resulting explosion releases energy to power the vehicle. For the right amount of energy to be released at the right time, engines need to be able to efficiently combine fuel, air, and an ignition source.
Today, modern gasoline engines utilize indirect injection systems to get the fuel to where it needs to be. Indirect injections systems comprise fuel pumps that move the fuel from the gas tank to each engine cylinder.
The fuel injector is the part of the injection system that sprays the fuel into the cylinder so that the combustion can take place, causing the engine’s pistons to move, thereby moving your vehicle.
Single-Point vs. Multi-Point Injection
You might have a single-point injection engine, which has one injector that supplies all the cylinders, or you might have a multi-point injection engine, which supplies each cylinder with its own injector.
Most likely, however, you have a single-point injection engine, as these are cheaper and easier to work on.
Complicated Systems Mean More Opportunities for Problems
We have significantly oversimplified the fuel injection process; the truth is, the system is complicated and requires all parts to perform well and in sync. If one part is damaged or compromised, the whole system becomes compromised, which can lead to expensive repairs down the road for you.
Compromised parts, however, don’t just cause outright damage, they can also tamper with your engine’s performance and fuel efficiency. It’s the fuel injectors, after all, that is responsible for providing more or less fuel as you speed up or slow down, so poor part performance means your whole vehicle’s performance can decrease.
What kind of damage can occur in fuel injection systems? We’re so glad you asked!
The Problem With Gasoline
Here’s the problem with combustion: it isn’t completely efficient. In other words, when you burn something, you get leftovers. A campfire is a perfect example: when it burns, you get nice heat that melts your marshmallows and warms you on a cold fall night, but you also end up with ash and smoke.
The smoke (exhaust) from an engine ejects via the exhaust pipe, but the ash equivalent in a combustion engine is the carbon residue that’s left throughout your engine. The carbon is extremely stubborn and can be very difficult to remove; it can also build up over time. One of the factors that increase its occurrence is the addition of ethanol in our fuels.
Ethanol (or, ethyl alcohol) is a corn alcohol byproduct that helps decrease the pollution in fuel and lower its overall cost. However, ethanol is very corrosive, and it can dislodge some of the carbon that’s built up in your engine and fuel lines, causing serious problems (at worst) or simply decrease your engine’s performance or efficiency (at best).
That’s where fuel system cleaners come in!
The Benefits of Fuel System Cleaners
Fuel system cleaners are additives that you pour into your gasoline tank. As they mix with your fuel and flow through your fuel injection system, they are capable of dissolving and releasing those carbon residues, helping to open up blocked or poorly performing fuel lines and optimizing the performance of your fuel injectors.
They can also help with issues like rust, erosion, or overheat.
Ultimately, regular use of the best fuel system cleaner means the following:
All Fuel System Cleaners Aren’t Equal
While fuel cleaners have all kinds of additives, solvents, and chemicals designed for different engines and different end goals, the only chemical that will tackle the carbon deposits--the real culprits--is polyetheramine (PEA).
PEA is the only recommended chemical that’s powerful enough to tackle those problematic carbon residues, and if your fuel system cleaner doesn’t include it, we recommend looking elsewhere. PEA won’t just dislodge the most stubborn carbon; it will also dissolve it so that it won’t cause problems in your fuel lines or other parts of the engine.
You already may be aware of PEA but by a different name. Chevron has patented a unique PEA blend and called it Techron.
What to Look for in a Fuel System Cleaner
Different brands will include differing levels of kerosene, alcohol, and others, but your priority is making sure your cleaner includes PEA. After that, you need to match the best fuel system cleaner to your particular engine.
Some engines and circumstances might call for exceptionally strong cleaners, while others call for very safe mixtures. You might also simply want the best value or the most cost-effective cleaner; we’ll point those out, as well, below.
How to Use a Fuel System Cleaner
Using a fuel cleaner is ridiculously easy; you’ll simply pour it into your gas tank! It’s relatively inexpensive, and while some people recommend treating your vehicle every time you get your oil changed, most mechanics recommend using a treatment every other oil change.
Ready to find the best fuel system cleaner for your vehicle? Let’s get started!
How We Chose Our Ratings
A quick word before we get started: we are dedicated to accuracy and integrity here, so we’ve made a point to only provide you with information that’s relevant and helpful. We gather reviews and customer testimonials as well as expert opinions to help you sift through the sales jargon and outright misinformation so that you can keep your engine running longer and cleaner.
Top 5 Best Fuel System Cleaners
- Cleans, restores, protects the entire fuel system (fuel injectors, carburetors, intake valves and combustion chambers)
- Restores: lost power, acceleration, lost fuel economy, and operation of the fuel gauge sensor
- Reduces: rough idle, engine surge, hesitation, and spark plus fouling
It shouldn’t surprise you that we’re topping our best fuel system cleaner list with Chevron Techron. As we’ve already mentioned, the patented mixture of PEA is a powerful way to clean out junk from your fuel line without dislodging carbon that could cause further damage.
Chevron Techron is about $12 a bottle, and it’s safe to use every 1,000 miles (unless your vehicle hasn’t been treated in decades, you don’t need to treat it that often), on catalytic converters, and oxygen sensors. It is not, however, recommended for 2-stroke engines that are air-cooled.
Depending on how dirty your fuel system is, you should see improvement after using a bottle of this stuff. Mechanics will often tell you they use it on new-to-them older vehicles that, for all they know, have never been cleaned. In those cases, it sometimes takes two bottles to thoroughly loosen and clean out the lines, but performance after that is markedly improved.
Our final verdict: Chevron Techron is the heavy-duty go-to when you need a fuel cleaner that can deliver, but it’s also the idea maintenance cleaner. In short, it earns every one of those five stars!
- Fuel system cleaner quickly cleans fuel injectors, valves and combustion chambers
- One can will treat 20 gallons of gasoline
- Restores performance and gas mileage
BG 44K is a powerful cleaner in use for the last four decades, with terrific results. It’s designed strictly for gasoline engines (don’t try to use it on your diesel) and it’s heavy duty.
While it’s considered to be one of the most effective cleaners available, it’s also primarily used as a one-time, heavy-duty application. Partly for this reason and partly because of the cost (this usually runs about $20 a can, though it can sometimes be hard to find in stores), we don’t recommend this for regular or maintenance use.
Instead, this is a tool for those of you that are DIY mechanics, rehabbing an older vehicle, for example. In those situations, however, BG 44k Fuel System Cleaner shines--mechanics and drivers report significantly improved driving performances after treating their engines with it.
Our final verdict: BG 44K is perfect for heavy-duty applications, but look for something cheaper if you’re looking for a maintenance cleanser.
- Cleans to nearly 100 percent efficiency in one treatment
- Reduces need for octane by up to two points
- Contains synthetic upper cylinder lubricant
Red Line Fuel System Cleaner is an Amazon Bestseller in its category, and over 85% of its reviews are four-star or five-star. It’s designed to be safe for continuous use, so if you’re somebody who prefers to treat continually, this is a solid option.
Red Line reports that it will reduce an engine’s need for octane by as many as two points, and while we can’t promise 100% efficiency (as promised by Red Line) on older vehicles, we can assure you that this cleaner works and works well.
One of the things we especially like about Red Line is that, in addition to very high concentrations of PEA, it contains cylinder lube oil, which is extremely helpful if you’re treating an older vehicle. At about $13 a bottle, it’s an affordable option, especially when you consider you won’t have to purchase cylinder lube oil separately.
We also appreciate that, unlike other options listed today, this one can go into a full tank.
Our final verdict: Red Line Fuel System Cleaner is great for frequent use and as a two-in-one product if you’ve got an older engine.
- 3-in-1 fuel additive keeps new engines clean and improves vehicle's performance
- Improves fuel economy an average of 3.2 percent
- Increases horsepower an average of 2.6 percent
Another cleaner priced at around the $12 or $13 mark, Royal Purple Max-Clean offers some great numbers for those who want to do fuel cleaning by the books.
The company states that using Royal Purple Max-Clean reduces toxic emissions by as much as 18% in some cases, increase horsepower by 2.6%, and raises overall fuel performance by 3.2%. These are impressive stats, and customer testimonials back them up.
Royal Purple Max-Clean is easy to use whether your vehicle is brand-new (and you’re giving it a preventative treatment) or it has been idle for long periods of time. Bonus: if your engine is in storage out of season, you can utilize this product to stability fuel.
Our final verdict: Royal Purple Max-Clean could easily win the best fuel system cleaner award thanks to its solid performance on most types of engines.
- Cleans and lubricates the fuel system. Neutralizes low sulfur fuel problems
- Increases power and miles per gallon by burning excess exhaust emissions
- Made in USA
Because Lucas Oil 10013-PK4 is a fuel condition agent (and not just an injector cleaner), you should know right away that it will be more expensive (about $100 for a gallon) than most of the other products we’ve already listed.
That said, this is an excellent product that’s earned its five stars thanks to its reputation for improving the durability of your fuel injection system as well as rejuvenating your entire engine. It also has the benefit of helping to burn excess toxic emissions, meaning your engine is safe with this product.
Our final verdict: Lucas Oil will help increase the total mileage capacity of your vehicle, which is worth every penny in our book!
We’ve shared five of the top cleaners on the market today--now you just have to select the best fuel system cleaner for you and your vehicle. Whatever you pick, you can be sure proper use of your chosen cleaner will help increase the performance and the life of your vehicle. Happy driving!