The cylinder head (or head) is an important part of your vehicle's engine and plays an integral role in the internal combustion process. This element is used to control the entry of air and fuel, as well as the expulsion of exhaust gases. Because a cylinder head is made up of many small elements, cleaning it can be quite easy. Just be sure to completely disassemble it and be careful not to damage its surface during the cleaning process.
Method 1 of 3: Prepare to Clean the Cylinder Head
Step 1. Gather the necessary equipment
Before you begin, you should gather the tools and equipment that you will need to clean your cylinder head properly. You can find most of these tools at home, but you will also need a chemical brake and parts cleaner that you can find at your local auto parts store. You will also need warm water to soak the cylinder head. Before you begin, you should gather the following supplies:
- a brake or parts cleaner
- Aerosol compressed air or an air compressor
- two large tubs or buckets
- absorbent paper or rags
- a plastic spatula
Step 2. Make sure the cylinder head is completely disassembled
When the cylinder head is installed, it contains many small parts that you must remove before beginning the cleaning process. Most cylinder heads contain one or two camshafts, intake and exhaust valves with support hardware, and probably some starting components (such as spark plugs or ignition coils). All of these parts should be removed and stored safely while cleaning the cylinder head.
- You must be careful when removing the valve cover that sits on top of the cylinder head to avoid warping. Loosen all the bolts first, then unscrew them completely.
- Be careful not to lose any of the small pieces that you removed.
- You may need to press down some components of the cylinder head using a die cutter. If you don't have access to one, you could go to a mechanic shop to have this work done for you.
Step 3. Use the appropriate safety equipment
The cylinder head cleaning process involves the use of chemical cleaning agents that are a serious hazard to your eyes and can irritate your skin due to prolonged contact. In order to protect yourself, you must wear the proper safety gear at all times while cleaning the cylinder head.
- Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes. You should wear them at all times while working with chemical cleaning agents.
- Get gloves that are resistant to chemicals to protect your hands and prevent irritation from contact with the brake and parts cleaner. If the cleaner you are using does not come in a spray can, you can use long gloves (which extend to the elbows) to fill the tub.
Step 4. Determine the type of material the cylinder head is made of
Most cylinder heads are made of iron or an aluminum alloy. Each material has advantages and disadvantages in terms of performance and vehicle life, but more importantly, aluminum is a softer metal and can be more prone to damage during the cleaning process. To determine the type of metal your cylinder head is made of, you should consult your vehicle's service manual or look for the following factors that can help you determine this information:
- Aluminum stocks are much lighter than iron stocks, both in weight and color. Light gray cylinder heads are likely made of aluminum, while darker colored cylinder heads may indicate the presence of iron.
- Iron tends to rust, while aluminum does not. If there are signs of surface rust on the cylinder head, then it is made of iron.
- If you hold a magnet close to the cylinder head, it will not stick if it is made of aluminum, but it will stick if it is made of iron.
Method 2 of 3: Clean the cylinder head
Step 1. Use the plastic putty knife to remove the gasket material from the cylinder head
There is a good chance that some gasket material is still on the cylinder head. The gasket creates a seal between the cylinder head and the engine block (sometimes referred to as the "upper" and "lower" ends). Scrape off any remaining gasket using a plastic putty knife. Be very careful not to scratch or damage the "contact surface" of the cylinder head where the gasket material can be found. Any scratches or damage can cause leaks that will cause the gasket to fail as soon as you reassemble the motor.
- Do not use a metal spatula or any tool that can damage the cylinder head's contact surface.
- Make sure to remove any excess material from the gasket so that you get a proper seal when you reinstall it.
Step 2. Place the cylinder head into the tub
After removing the gasket material, you should place the cylinder head in the first tub. If you are using a liquid parts cleaner, you should pour it into the tub with the cylinder head in it so you can use it while you clean it. If you're using a spray cleaner, you don't need to fill the tub.
- You must be careful when moving the cylinder head. Vacuum nozzles and bolts may be sticking out and can be damaged by hitting them against walls or tables.
- Depending on the situation, you may need help moving the cylinder heads in and out of the tubs, as they can be quite heavy.
Step 3. Use a parts cleaner and rag to begin scrubbing the cylinder head
Use a rag and cleaning agent of your choice to scrub each section of the cylinder head that you can access. Pour or spray the cleaner over the areas of the cylinder head that you can't reach. The cleaning agent will break down most of the charcoal residue and burnt oil, but you may need to scrub a little more over some areas.
- You should not use a steel toothbrush or anything else that could damage the cylinder head's contact surfaces as you scrub it.
- You should take your time to make sure you clean every nook and cranny of the cylinder head.
Step 4. Fill the second tub with warm water
After rubbing the cylinder head, you should fill the second tub with warm water. Make sure the tub is high enough to allow the cylinder head to be completely submerged in the water. Then fill it with enough water to completely cover the cylinder head. You will most likely want to do the next step outdoors or in a room that has a drain.
- Make sure the tub is large enough to allow the cylinder head to be completely submerged.
- You should use warm to hot water when filling the tub.
Step 5. Submerge the cylinder head in the water
Gently place the cylinder head into the tub filled with water. The water will get into the areas of the cylinder head that you couldn't access with the rag and will also help remove the cleaning agent you used in the previous step. Aluminum cylinder heads can be damaged by prolonged exposure to caustic cleaners, so it is essential that you rinse them thoroughly.
- Let the cylinder head sit in the water for a few minutes.
- If the cylinder head is not fully submerged, you should add warm water until it is completely submerged.
Step 6. Remove the cylinder head and use a cloth to clean it
After a few minutes, you should carefully lift the stock from the tub and place it on a stable counter. Use a clean rag to clean the cylinder head and remove as much of the water as possible. Make sure to drain any standing water that may have collected in the nooks and crannies of the cylinder head.
- You won't be able to completely dry the cylinder head if you just use a cloth. However, if you remove most of the water, you will be able to dry it faster.
- Do not reuse a rag that contains a cleaning agent. Make sure to use a new, clean cloth.
Step 7. Use a pressure washer to clean the cylinder head
If you have access to a pressure washer (one specifically designed for cleaning auto parts), you can do a more effective cleaning job on the inner and outer areas of the cylinder head. As with hand washing, pressure washers typically don't clean hard-to-reach internal surfaces well, but they can dramatically reduce the effort required to clean the rest of the cylinder head.
- Pressure washers are common in many machine shops.
- You can purchase a smaller pressure washer at an auto parts store, although the cost may be unaffordable if you don't intend to clean other parts of the car.
Step 8. Put the cylinder head in an auto parts washer
These washers are another type of specialized equipment used to thoroughly clean auto parts. They are full of caustic cleaning agents that can reach all internal and external surfaces of the cylinder head. Plus, they require significantly less effort than other cleaning options, as all you have to do is pop the part into the washer and turn it on.
- You can usually find these washers at professional auto repair shops.
- You can choose to put the cylinder head into a washing machine after cleaning it by hand to make sure it stays as clean as possible.
Method 3 of 3: Dry and Store the Cylinder Head
Step 1. Use the air compressor to push the water out of hard-to-reach places
After drying the outer surfaces of the cylinder head with a cloth, you can use compressed air spray or an air compressor to spray all the narrow tunnels and openings in the cylinder head. This will dry out the cylinder head and remove any dust and other debris that may have gotten inside the head during the cleaning process.
- Spray the air into each opening you can find on the cylinder head to make sure there is no moisture or debris.
- Make sure there is no residue of any kind inside the cylinder head. Even small amounts of residue can seriously damage the cylinder head once it is seated.
Step 2. Let the cylinder head dry completely
You should leave the cylinder head on a counter to dry completely. Lay absorbent paper over the top to prevent dust from entering the clean, residue-free cylinder head.
You should not store the cylinder head if it is still wet. Iron cylinder heads, in particular, tend to rust if stored damp
Step 3. Inspect the cylinder head for defects or damage
Before reassembling or storing your cleaned cylinder head, you should inspect it for any damage that may have resulted from the cleaning process or that occurred previously. Any cracks on the cylinder head can impair its ability to function. Also, imperfections, scratches or scratches on the mating surface (the bottom of the cylinder head) will cause the gasket to fail. If you notice any such damage, you can still have the cylinder head repaired at a mechanic shop. However, you will most likely have to buy a new cylinder head.
- If you notice that the cylinder head is still dirty in some places during the inspection, you should start the cleaning process again.
- Remember that better safe than sorry. It will take a long time to reassemble and install a cylinder head. If you are concerned that the cylinder head is damaged, you should have it examined at a local mechanic shop.
Step 4. Lubricate the cylinder head and place it in a bag for storage
If you intend to store the cylinder head for a period of time before reassembling it, you should take the appropriate preventive measures to protect it from debris and prevent it from rusting. Spray it lightly with a WD40 brand lubricant before placing it in a sturdy plastic bag.
- Tie the bag to seal it or secure it to prevent dirt from entering by accident.
- Make sure you store your cylinder head in a safe and undamaged place.