How to Clean Engine Heads

Written by dan ferrell
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How to Clean Engine Heads
Clean your vehicle's engine head. (Photo courtesy of IJB TA at

Cleaning an engine head as part of an overhaul job is very important. In some cases, it might still be necessary to send the head to a machine shop for a professional cleaning before you proceed to assemble the head yourself. An engine head builds up sludge and carbon deposits, which may be hard to clean off from small passages running through the head. In either case, you can prepare the engine head for inspection and assembly following these steps.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Spring compressor
  • Ratchet and socket
  • Safety goggles
  • Wide drain pan
  • Plastic scraper
  • Gasket removal solvent if necessary
  • Solvent
  • Wire brush
  • Rotary wire brush and electric drill
  • Tin, flexible wire brush
  • Taps

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  1. 1

    Disassemble the head by removing the rocker arms, sprockets and camshaft using a wrench or ratchet and socket; also remove the valve springs using a spring compressor, and lay retainers, spring seats and springs on a tray for later cleaning.

  2. 2

    Put on your safety goggles on and set the head on a wide drain pan. Working on a sturdy bench, start to remove traces of gasket from the engine head mating surface using a plastic scraper to avoid damage to the engine surface. If necessary, use gasket removal solvent.

  3. 3

    Eliminate oil, sludge and carbon deposits form the engine head surface using a solvent and wire brush.

  4. 4

    Wash the head thoroughly with clean solvent. Dry it with compressed air or let it air dry. Make sure all passages are completely dry before you proceed.

  5. 5

    Clean the rocker arms, push rods, spring valves and the rest of the head assembly with clean solvent and a wire brush. Then let them dry completely.

  6. 6

    Clean the intake and exhaust valves from carbon deposits using a rotary wire brush and an electric drill.

  7. 7

    Polish the combustion chambers and head ports using the rotary brush and drill.

  8. 8

    Remove carbon deposits and sludge off the oil and coolant passages. Use a thin, flexible wire brush for the small passages.

  9. 9

    Screw a tap of the appropriate size through each threaded hole in the head to remove rust and thread sealing if necessary.

  10. 10

    Wash the head thoroughly with new solvent and let it dry.

Tips and warnings

  • If you need help disassembling the engine head of your vehicle, consult the service manual for your particular model. Buy a service manual at your local auto parts store or consult one for free at your local public library.

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