Understanding how an engine works can be summarised (euphemistically so) in just 4 words… Suck, squeeze, bang, and blow. Air and fuel are ‘sucked’ into the engine, as it compresses (or, ‘squeezes’) the mixture, before a spark ignites it and creates an explosion (aka ‘bang’), as fumes are ‘blown’ out of the tailpipes. Well, it isn’t as straightforward without the best carburetor cleaner to keep it going.
The common denominator here is fuel and air, the key ingredients that internal combustion relies on most of all. In practically any car past the 1980s, we’ve adopted what’s known as fuel injection. This is where solenoids and valves inject a precise amount of fuel into the engine. But in the days before electronics took over controlling how much fuel goes into your motor, older cars had carburetors.
No computers, no sensors, no wires, just good old mechanical ingenuity. However, carburetors have one critical flaw (besides the fact that they’re not as finely-tuned as fuel injectors), they can get dirty pretty easily. Dirt in the air, carbon build-up, engine oil, grease, fluid spills, and a vast array of other nasty contaminants could clog it up. Luckily, we have the best carburetor cleaners to help you out.
What Are Carburetors, Anyway?
Lovingly referred to within the car community as “carbs”, they were the gold standard in precisely mixing the right mixture of fuel and air for a thorough combustion process. Automobiles (and anything else with an engine) have adopted carburetors since the first road cars came around in the 1880s. However, as the first fuel-injector car came in the 1950s, it started taking over the carb business.
Fuel injectors contribute to better performance, greater fuel efficiency, as well as lower emissions across the board. So, it’s a win-win-win against carburetors. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the only vehicles still using carburetors were commercial trucks, hardy 4x4s, and cheap economy cars. Yet, it can be surprising to see that carburetors are still around these days, often found in lawnmowers.
So, how do carburetors work, then? Simply, its job is to maintain the right air-to-fuel ratio. Either a mixture with too much fuel or too much air isn’t ideal. At the very least, it can compromise power or wastes fuel. Worse, running with an overly rich or overly lean air-to-fuel ratio could seriously impact your engine’s longevity. Before fuel injection came along, carburetors did all the magic.
A carburetor is essentially a cylinder or tube-like component, where air and fuel are mixed together before heading into the engine for combustion. It consists of 3 main parts:
- Throttle Plate – An adjustable plate or butterfly valve that controls the volume of air flowing into the carburetor, and subsequently, into the engine. You’re controlling the plate with your throttle input.
- Venturi – A narrowing in the carburetor’s central chamber, which pressurizes air to create a vacuum.
- Jet – It’s a narrow port that leads into the Venturi, where the aforementioned vacuum can suction a metered amount of fuel into the air.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Dirty Carburetor?
Given that your carburetors are what’s responsible for supplying the engine with the necessary items for combustion to occur, maintaining it is crucial. Unlike fuel injectors, carburetors are much more susceptible to getting clogged up with dirt and other impurities. When it does clog up, a carburetor would consequently fail to ensure that the right amount of fuel can get into the engine.
Naturally, starvation of fuel is bad for your engine, and the immediate side effects are noticeably unpleasant. Your car will suffer poor performance, rough idling, random stalling, as well as making it difficult to even crank the engine. Hence, why it’s a good idea to keep up with cleaning your carbs at every oil change service. Roughly every 3,000 miles or so, just to keep the carburetors clean.
If you fail to do that and allow dirt, debris, gunk, carbon build-up, and other contaminants to sludge up your carburetors, you’ll notice tell-tale symptoms such as:
- Difficulties in starting your engine, or failure to turn over at all, especially when it’s cold out.
- Bad performance, with a loss of power, slow acceleration, as well as sputtering and shuddering.
- Black smoke emanates from the tailpipes, as excess fuel is being burned.
- Increase in fuel consumption, as there’s excessive usage of unburnt fuel.
- Backfiring exhaust, on top of constant overheating or your engine running hotter than usual.
- Misfiring in one or more cylinders, as there’s an uneven or insufficient supply of fuel.
- Rough and shaky idling, including seeing your RPMs fluctuating repeatedly.
- Fuel flooding the carburetor (as it can’t pass through), spilling over into the engine bay.
- Engine running too rich of an air-to-fuel ratio, or far too lean (either way, not optimal).
Why Bother With Cleaning It?
Now, you might be asking… What exactly do you gain by opting for the best carburetor cleaner? For starters, regularly practicing any form of cleaning for your carburetors should help to solve most or all of those aforementioned symptoms. You’ll be able to restore your carburetor’s functionality, on top of improving your car’s driveability and performance. Plus, it’s good for the carburetors, too.
Over time, and if you were to continually ignore cleaning any deposits or dirt, that clog could put an immense amount of strain on the already failing carburetors. This ought to significantly impact the carburetor’s lifespan, causing it to wear and malfunction prematurely. All it takes is a bottle of the best carburetor cleaner (and a bit of elbow grease) to prevent costly repairs down the line.
Beyond that, there are countless other benefits with using a good carburetor cleaner, too:
- Reliably maintaining the right air-to-fuel ratio for optimal engine functionality and performance.
- Improved smoothness, punchier acceleration, as well as better fuel economy, and lower emissions.
- Removes even the most stubborn impurities and dirt that have built up in and around the carbs.
- It’s a cheap, quick, and effective troubleshooting method if your car isn’t running right.
- They’re easy to find, with most stores selling great carb cleaning solutions for less than $20.
- Contains multi-use additives that could allow carb cleaners to clean other parts of your car.
- Easy to use, requiring you to only spray the solution onto the carbs, and maybe wipe it down.
- It’s potent and works quickly, so you don’t have to keep scrubbing away the carbs for hours.
- While you shouldn’t expose it to paint, good carb cleaners won’t damage the rest of the engine.
- Convenience, as they come in an easy-to-store can or bottle that’s ready for use at any time.
What Are Our Top Picks For The Best Carburetor Cleaners?
Best of all, you can find plenty of effective, as well as the best carburetor cleaner, that’s easy on your wallet. While at the same time, pulling their weight when it comes to getting your carbs cleaned up, no matter how gunky it is. To be fair, there’s no such thing as the best carburetor cleaner, as all the ones we’ll be naming below are great solutions. It’s only a matter of preference and compatibility.
To begin, take a look at your carburetors, gauge their condition (judging the amount of work that is required to clean it), and make your pick. Here are some of the crucial points of consideration to pick out the best carburetor cleaner for you:
- Odor, as some carburetor cleaners have stronger and more toxic-smelling scents. This corresponds to their potency, based on the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the solution.
- Spraying or dipping, either is the method that you’ll be employing to apply the carburetor cleaner. Spray-type cleaners are the most convenient for quick clean-up. However, cleaning your carbs this way isn’t as thorough as dipping the carbs into a bucket of dip-type solutions in bulk.
- Potency, and whether it’ll cause any damage if you were to accidentally have applied the cleaner on rubber, plastic, and other non-metallic engine parts surrounding the carburetors.
- Does the quantity of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) breach your state regulations on how much is permitted and complaint to? Additionally, whether or not there are possible side effects when it’s exposed to the environment.
But anyhow, here’s our top picks for the best carburetor cleaner fit for your car on the market today (in no particular order, and with costs noted at the time of writing):
1. WD-40 Carburetor, Throttle Body, And Parts Cleaner
Cost (WD-40 300134): $6.00 for a 13.5-ounce spray can
Yes, you read that right. WD-40 doesn’t just make lubricant to loosen up practically anything. On top of that, the brand behind it also makes one of the best carburetor cleaners out there. The best praise that we can give to WD-40’s carb cleaner is how fast it acts, cleaning the carbs in mere minutes.
All you need is a quick spray, with no dipping, scrubbing, or wiping needed. It works on the toughest of dirt and deposits that have practically baked themselves onto the carburetors. An entire can has around 13.5 ounces. This should be adequate for cleaning 2 to 3 carburetors at once.
But if you need to store it away, it has a resealable bottle to keep it safe for a rainy day. Additionally, as its name implies, you could alternatively use it to clean the throttle bodies and other metal parts of the engine. The only downside is its lack of a straw to properly point the cleaner at.
- Takes only a few minutes for the cleaner to take effect.
- Could break down even the most stubborn deposits and contaminants.
- Easy to use, or to store away for later use.
- Is capable of cleaning other parts of your car, like the throttle bodies.
- Doesn’t damage metallic parts, or triggers sensors to go haywire.
- Compatible with various vehicles, new and old.
- Doesn’t include a straw, so you’ll have to be precise with your aim.
- Might leave some deposits behind, so you may have to clean that up afterward.
2. Gumout Jet Spray Carburetor, Choke, And Parts Cleaner
Cost (Gumout 800002230): $5.99 (down from $6.49) for a 16-ounce spray can (x12 pack available)
Cost (Gumout 800002231): $3.43 (down from $7.48) for a 14-ounce spray can (x6 pack available)
Here’s another trusted brand in contention for the best carburetor cleaner, Gumout. So much so, it features not only one but two differing carb cleaning solutions. Primarily, the differences are in the capacity and cost, but they both work brilliantly. And, it takes little time for it to take effect, too.
A quick spray is enough to get rid of or loosen the toughest dirt or grime build-up with ease. Once it’s been applied and given a few minutes to dissolve, Gumout’s Jet Spray solutions can then dry clean the carbs. In other words, you won’t have to scrub away or clean up any residue left behind.
Moreover, it comes in a can that’s easy to store, and the chemicals themselves can prevent a build-up of deposits. Albeit, the chemicals in there are quite strong and are susceptible to catching on fire if you’re not careful. Speaking of, be wary that it might not be safe to use on any surface.
- Works effectively, taking only a couple of minutes to activate.
- Relatively cheap compared to much of the competition.
- Strong and potent, which could work even on stubborn deposits.
- Quickly dies off, and could prevent the immediate build-up of dirt.
- Prevents any residue or deposits that require cleaning.
- Easy to apply, and to store for later use.
- It’s easily flammable, so be careful.
- Not safe to use on all materials, even alloys and metals.
3. CRC Carburetor And Choke Cleaner
Cost (CRC Carb And Choke Cleaner): $10.22 for a 12-ounce spray can ($24.64 for the limited edition)
If there’s one thing CRC knows best, it’s how to make a great cleaning product for your engine. They make cleaners for anything from sensors to electronics. So, it’s no surprise that they also make one of the best carburetor cleaners for the money right now. Sure, it’s comparatively expensive.
However, what you get in return is a multi-purpose cleaner. Primarily, it’s formulated to work on the carburetors and choke. But, you could easily use this on unpainted surfaces, valves, the EGR system, and more. And when you do have to rely on it, CRC’s carb cleaner sure works fast and hard.
Better still, it’s friendlier to the environment than many other carb cleaners. CRC’s kit meets VOC compliance rules in every state. Moreover, it won’t damage or cause issues when it contacts other components like the O2 sensors or catalytic converters.
- Works quickly to remove tough deposits.
- Takes only a few minutes to dissolve any dirt, making them easier to wash off.
- Multi-purpose, and could clean a variety of other metallic components.
- Won’t harm or impact the performance of your O2 sensors or catalytic converters.
- Is compatible in all states, and works on a wide variety of vehicles.
- Easy to use and to store for safekeeping.
- It’s more expensive than the competition.
- Doesn’t have a straw, making it harder to apply more precisely.
- Isn’t safe to use with painted surfaces.
4. Berryman Chemtool Carburetor, Choke, And Throttle Body Cleaner
Cost (Berryman Chemtool 0120 B-12): $5.63 for a 20-ounce spray can (10- and 16-ounce cans available)
Cost (Berryman Chemtool 0116 B-12): $2.97 (down from $4.29) for a 15-ounce spray can (x12 pack available)
Berryman has been around for over 100 years. You don’t survive that long if you’re doing something wrong, no? Indeed, they have not one, but two carb cleaners to show off. There’s the 0116, which is capable of cleaning the rest of your car’s fuel system – gas tank, fuel pump, intakes, and valves.
Meanwhile, we also have the 0120, which works with the carburetor, throttle body, and choke. It’s slightly more pricey than the 0116, but it’s preferable when it comes to picking the best carburetor cleaner. Still, they’re far cheaper than their rivals, and as we’ve detailed already, incredibly versatile.
But sticking with carbs for a moment, Berryman’s Chemtool works right away at dissolving gunk and dirt deposits. The potent solvents used might also aid in slowing down future build-ups, too. It’s also safe to use around the oxygen sensor and catalytic converters and comes in various sizes.
- Very affordable compared to its rivals.
- Works effectively and dries quickly.
- Contains strong chemicals and solvents to remove stubborn deposits.
- Comes in a myriad of sizes and packs for your choosing.
- Multi-purpose (depending on which one), and could work on various other components.
- Safe to use around metallic parts, as well as the O2 sensor and catalytic converters.
- Not VOC compliant in all states (get the Berryman 0120C B-12 if you want that).
- It’s highly flammable, so be wary.
5. Berryman Chem Dip Carburetor And Parts Cleaner
Cost (Berryman Chem Dip 0996-ARM B-9): $33.75 for 96 ounces, a 3/4-gallon pail, dip basket, and an armlock
Ah, another Berryman enters the fray. This time around, we have the first dip-style carb cleaner. It’s a neat alternative to aerosol spray cans if you have a lot that needs cleaning. For example, when you spot extensive deposits, contamination, and clogging that’ll benefit from a deep clean.
It’s incredibly versatile, being able to work on metals and alloys, as well as plastic and rubber parts. Aside from that, you could use the Chem Dip for cleaning transmission parts, too. In a moment, it’s capable of quickly removing oils, grease, dirt, sludge, carbon, and other impurities.
Dunking your carburetors in, the Chem Dip could also remove some surface rust, as well. While the Chem Dip could work quickly, this doesn’t apply in every scenario. Depending on how badly dirty the component in question is, you may have to submerge it overnight or for several hours at a time.
- Multi-purpose, as it could work on a myriad of components.
- It’s safe to use it with rubber, plastic, or even painted parts.
- Contains strong solvents that effectively remove all traces of gunk.
- Has some light surface rust repair properties.
- You won’t need to scrub hard to remove any residue or contaminants.
- Enables you to submerge and deep clean several components at once.
- VOC-compliant in all 50 states.
- It might take some hours to take effect (though it works quickly for lighter cleaning).
- Doesn’t emit strong and noxious fumes.
- Isn’t necessary if you’re only lightly cleaning your carbs a few times a year.
Honourable Mentions For The Best Carburetor Cleaners
3M Throttle Plate And Carb Cleaner (08867): $14.84 for a 7.5-ounce spray can
- It works with the carburetor, throttle plate, as well as throttle bodies. It works well and quickly. In addition, and based on what some people are saying, could even fix error codes for fuel problems. The bottle has an ergonomic nozzle for precise control but does contain pretty strong chemicals.
3M Carburetor Cleaner (08796): $20.74 for a 12.5-ounce spray can
- It’s similar to the previous solution but formulated solely for the carburetors. Similarly, it dissolves impurities and contaminants around the carbs quickly. Plus, it’s safe to use around your O2 sensors. In addition, it also contains minimal traces of VOC to make it compliant across all states.
Sea Foam Motor Treatment (SF-16): $7.48 for a 16-ounce spray can
- No doubt one of the most feature-packed and popular all-around cleaning solutions on the market. Sea Foam’s carb cleaners are effective, to say the least. Yet, you could apply it to clean the fuelling system, fuel injectors, and anywhere else where gunk, grease, and sludge could form up.
SQ Non-Chlorinated Carburetor Cleaner: $3.99 for a 12.5-ounce spray can
- Using a non-chlorinated formula, while unorthodox, does have its benefits. For example, SQ’s carb cleaner could be used as a degreaser, easily handling even the worse contamination possible. Yet, it functions quickly, dries rapidly, has a low VOC content (not in every state), and works wonderfully.
Carburetor Cleaner Facts:
- There are two main types of carburetor cleaners: chlorinated and non-chlorinated. Chlorinated cleaners are banned in California due to their high VOC content.
- Non-chlorinated cleaners are considered less toxic, but they are more flammable and do not dry as quickly as chlorinated cleaners.
- Carburetor cleaners come in two forms: spray/aerosol cans and dipping cans. Spray cans are easier to use, while dipping cans are more geared towards long-term and extensive use.
- Carburetor cleaners are priced under $15 for basic products, between $15 and $35 for more capable products, and over $35 for bulk purchases.
- Key features of carburetor cleaners include being fast-acting, effective, storable, and safe for most materials.
- Other considerations when purchasing carburetor cleaners include low odor, spray vs. dip, and amount of cleaning required.
- WD-40 Specialist Fast-Acting Carb/Throttle Body & Parts Cleaner is the best overall carburetor cleaner due to its versatility, effectiveness, and fast-acting formula.
- CRC Carb & Choke Cleaner is the best value carburetor cleaner, and is VOC-compliant and fast-acting.
- Gumout Jet Spray Carb/Choke & Parts Cleaner, Super Tech Carburetor Cleaner, RSC Chemical Solutions Gunk Carburetor & Parts Cleaner, Gumout Fuel Injector Cleaner/Carb Cleaner, and 3M Throttle Plate and Carb Cleaner are honorable mentions and have their own unique features and drawbacks.
- Sea Foam Motor Treatment is an aerosol, spray-on carb cleaner that is suitable for use in all motor oils and can clean up and clear out passageways, intake valves, and chambers.
Well, that rounds off our look at the best carburetor cleaner on sale today. This is by no means some exhaustive list of every carb cleaner product on the market. Nevertheless, they represent the best of the bunch. Great value, while packing a punch as far as cleaning off all that nasty gunk, slime, dirt, and other impurities that could be clogging up your carburetors. Who knew it was this easy, eh?