Updated: Dec 19th 2019
It’s been long debated whether or not fuel injector cleaner or other fuel additives have any effect on your engines fuel system, or if it’s just marketing and automotive “snake oil.” Short answer? yes, and sometimes. The best fuel injector cleaners contain PEA – an advanced chemical to dissolve the crud that builds up. But many do not contain this cemichal. So do system cleaners and additives actually work? And which fuel injector cleaners are worth buying? You have to get the right formulation, and you have to use it the correct way. So, in that case, you might be wondering what brands are proven to be effective. In this guide, we’ll show you what to look for. After, we’ll help you understand how these fuel injector additives should be used so that you get the most from them. (1)
The Best Fuel Injector Cleaner for 2020
1. Lucas Complete Fuel Injector Treatment
|Undisputed Best Fuel Injector Cleaner
|Cleans, lubricates and maintains internal fuel components|
|Improves idle, horsepower and fuel economy|
|Significantly increases lifespan of vehicle|
|Realistic size/ml for multiple fuel treatments|
Lucas complete is the best fuel injector cleaner for those of you who are looking to save a few bucks by buying in bulk. Lucas has a good amount of PEA that will effectively flush out the deposits from your fuel lines, restoring your fuel economy, power and overall performance of your vehicle. The downside is that you have to store this 1 gallon jug, but if you have the space, it shouldn’t be an issue. There’s enough in there to treat 400 gallons of fuel so you should be covered for a while, and at a fraction of the cost of smaller treatments.
In the seafoam vs lucas debate, lucas wins almost every time. It’s just as strong, and two runs of this stuff is still cheaper than a single run of seafoam. While not all vehicles need to be cleaned regularly if you’ve got a vehicle more than a few years old we highly recommend running this with every other tank to help keep your vehicle running smoothly.
Lucas’ fuel injector cleaner is not only the best bang for your buck, but it also significantly improves the operation of your vehicle, and its lifespan. This is the best performer and it can end up saving you a ton of money for future maintenance and it’s no wonder it’s most buyers’ first choice.
2. Chevron Techron Concentrate
|Our Readers’ Top Choice|
|Very aggressive cleaning action|
|Removes water and moisture|
|Washes away grime and gunk|
|Significantly improves fuel economy|
It should come as no surprise to see Techron make the top of our list. The company that first patented the very additive that’s now found in all of the best fuel system cleaner solutions should definitely be one of your first choice. Techron is the best fuel injector cleaner for clients to need a strong product to breathe new life into an older automobile. If you’re starting to have serious troubles with your vehicle, this is the heavy muscle you want. We had an old Honda SUV that was approaching 19 years old. The car was new to us, but we’re pretty sure that it had never had the injectors cleaned. When accelerating from a stop, the car had very jerky movement and felt as if it was lacking power. We ran two bottles through. The first run helped smooth out the idle, but didn’t really help with the acceleration much. After running a second dose though, the cars performance drastically improved.
This brand of fuel injector additive is one of the most aggressive injector cleaning formulations on the market, and is best suited to vehicles that are starting to have performance issues. Our car was older, and had throttle body injection. Although not as eco friendly, this older type of fuel injection can really take a lot more abuse than modern vehicles. Most modern vehicles have fuel injectors that inject straight into the cylinders. For these cars, your injectors really have to be functioning well. With this in mind, we recommend Techron for an older vehicle with serious problems, or any modern vehicle that hasn’t been properly cleaned at regular intervals.
This is the brand name fuel system cleaner, and you are going to pay a premium for it. While it can be a godsend for any vehicle that is experiencing problems if you’re just looking for something you can run through at regular intervals you might be better off with a cheaper solution. Regardless, this is one of the best fuel injector cleaners you can get.
3. Red Line Complete
|Best Bang for Your Buck|
|Deep cleans your entire fuel system|
|Better acceleration and idling|
|Improves fuel efficiency|
|Noticeable horsepower increase|
Redline is the best fuel injector cleaner for regular maintenance. It has the highest concentration of PEA per volumetric unit than other option on the market. Additionally, it contains a few additives such as cylinder lube oil which can help keep your engine running smoothly.
On older vehicles, adding a bit of cylinder oil is a good idea. Although you pay a little more for this option, anyone regularly running fuel cleaner through their fuel tank will end up saving the time and money required to oil their combustion chamber. In essence, you can look at this as a 2 in 1 solution. For many, red line will be the best fuel injector cleaner for them because it serves multiple purposes.
Another nice thing about this cleaner is that it’s designed to be used with a full tank of gasoline. With many options you add the mixture to a nearly empty gasoline tank and idle your engine for a while. With this one, you pour the recommended amount into your near-empty tank right before you fill up and the pump. When filling the tank, the cleaner is mixed up with the fuel and cleans your engine continually.
Red line is definitely designed to be used at regular intervals. They recommend every 3000 miles, although you could easily get away with leaving it to 5000 miles. Because of its aggressive composition, this is our number one pick for a vehicle with neglected fuel injectors.
4. BG 44K Fuel System Cleaner
|Trusted by Most Mechanics|
|Reduced gasoline emissions|
|Conditions, cleans and lubricates internals|
|Better acceleration, fuel mileage|
|Removes Gasoline Byproducts|
BG 44K fuel system cleaner is the secret weapon of many mechanics. Surprisingly, it’s not always available locally. But if you dig around online you’ll find it, and we’re willing to put money on the fact that you’ll find a few jugs on your favorite mechanic’s shelf. Many people consider BG44k to the best fuel injector cleaner as it is extremely potent and geared towards fuel injectors that are on the brink of failure.
This package is an all-in-one deal where you get three cans plus a funnel that helps you pour it out easily. This is another fairly aggressive treatment that is suitable for cleaning lots of combustion chamber gunk with just one usage. BG 44K is the best fuel injector cleaner for consumers with rough, poorly running engines that needs a deep clean. Unlike the Red Line, BG44K isn’t something you necessarily have to use all the time. Simply run a can through if you’re having any problems with your vehicle, then move on to a cheaper option if you’re looking to regularly maintain a clean engine, intake valves and the rest of your system.
Many consumers have noticed that their engine runs more smoothly and makes more power after using this cleaner, and modern vehicles can also see an improvement in fuel economy.
One key thing that you need to know is that this cleaner is not suitable for diesel fuel vehicles or LPG fired engines. This is strictly for gasoline-only automotives, so keep that in mind.
5. Royal Purple Fuel Treatment
|Most Affordable Option|
|Best results from repeated applications|
|Improves idle and fuel mileage|
|Inconvenient can shape|
Royal Purple is another brand that produces quality and trusted auto oils, lubricants and additives. Their fuel line treatments are no exception, and as a result has a deserved spot on our list. Their mixture has a good amount of PEA, making it a fairly concentrated injector cleaner, so you can trust it’s actually working on you’re not just wasting your time and money. This is one of the most affordable treatments available as well, although like with the others, you may need more than one to get the desired effect.
The low price is mainly due to how it’s meant to be used. it doesn’t have that ultra-aggressive chemical composition that’s designed to remove years of carbon buildup. Instead, this is something that you add to every tank to help keep a properly functioning engine running well. This is a popular choice for consumers in areas where the fuel quality is low, as it can keep an engine running smoothly and increase your engine performance. Alternatively, royal purple is a great choice to use after you’ve cleaned your engine with one of the more aggressive options.
Despite it’s affordable price, it’s still been highly reviewed by many people who found it worked very well. Royal purple is the best fuel injector for maintaining your engine without breaking the bank.
Liqui Moly: Runner Up
As a highly respected brand, it should come as no surprise to see Liqui Moly show up on the list. They have a few unique formulations, and we have had people emailing us and recommending this brand. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to try this brand out. So we will have to hold off on recommending them until we’ve got first hand experience.
How to Clean Fuel Injectors
In your typical gasoline engine (99.9% of vehicles on the road), fuel injectors squirt liquid fuel wich is then burned. When you burn anything, you’re not transforming the solid matter into energy (if you could, you’d solve the majority of problems on Earth), but rather releasing stored energy in the fuel along with whatever byproducts are released in the engine. (2)
When you burn gasoline in an engine, most of it is released as a fuel byproducts, venting out of your exhaust pipe. But, the combustion process is never perfect, and not all of your gasoline is released in gas-form as exhaust. Think of this like a campfire: The large majority of your wood produces fire and smoke (energy and fuel), but you’re left with the coals (leftover solids). And this is essentially what happens inside your engine: as gasoline produces “fire” (energy) and exhaust (gasoline byproduct) it still leaves behind solid fuel deposits inside your engine and fuel injectors. This is what fuel injector cleaning is intended for: to remove these deposits from your fuel injectors. In essence, it’s a cleaning product for your combustion chambers.
The fuel deposits build up on the internal components of your engine (including the fuel injectors), reducing the fuel flow necessary for a properly functioning engine. End result is loss of power. Engines function from a using an optimal mixture of gasoline and air to produce an engine-specific combustion chambers reaction and the fuel deposits can mess with that perfect fuel balance. As they build up in your fuel injectors (over the years) can cause a variety of problems including: reduced fuel mileage, rough idling, smoke, and reduced power. You can think of this like what happens when the arteries of someone with atherosclerosis. Eating too much fatty foods builds up in your arteries forming plaques which reduce blood flow and cause less-than-optimal performance. So, we need to get in there and clean it out! (2)
The deposits in your car, however, are almost entirely carbon-based, and if we’re getting chemically technical, carboxyl compounds, and as a result can be quite difficult to remove. Thankfully, there is a chemical that is specifically designed to dissolve these carboxyl deposits, and its name is polyetheramine, or PEA for short. While there are several different solvents and chemicals in fuel injector cleaner, PEA is hands down the most powerful and effective at removing fuel deposits. PEA is also known by the name Techron, a mixture patented by Chevron. We won’t get into the chemistry of it, but basically PEA dissolves the fuel deposits, allowing them to be “washed” away safely by your fuel system. And now we’ve reached the truth about fuel injectors. (3)
If your fuel additive does not contain any (or enough) PEA, it likely won’t do anything for your fuel injectors.
*Quick Note: This is why Chevron advertises its gasoline as having this chemical since it can help the maintenance of your injector due to the presence of PEA. But, the chemical in the gasoline is in very small amounts and if you’ve never done it, your vehicle could probably benefit from some cleaner.
What You Should Look For
We now know that the most active ingredient in fuel system cleaner is polyetheramine (PEA). Some brands fuel the misconception (sorry for the pun) that these concentrated clearners work on your fuel injectors, since they don’t include PEA in their recipes, or at least not enough to be active, instead filling their bottles with alcohols, kerosene or other fillers. Without PEA, this isn’t really an effective fuel treatment. To help you find the right one, we’ve put together a quick comparison of the top choices on the market. We’ll show you which are the strongest, which are the safest, and which can most effectively keep your fuel injectors spick and span.
PEA free products aren’t totally bunk. In some cases where you have an old, filthy engine, running a few bottles through before you run a PEA cleaner can help remove the big bulky chunks of combustion deposits from your cylinders and fuel injectors. But for most consumers, this is unnecessary. Alcohol based fuel injector cleaners for fuel injectors are often used with old vehicles that barely run, and these types of repairs should be carried out by a certified mechanic. Most consumers are simply looking to keep their fuel injectors running well, or troubleshoot moderate performance issues. If your car still runs, you want PEA fuel injector cleaners.
When you’re ready to use it, you most typically just pour the entire jug of concentrated fuel injector cleaners down an almost entirely empty gasoline tank. It’s also recommended by some people to treat the injector every oil change, which is likely a little overkill. For a ~$10 fuel treatment every other oil change, though, you can potentially extend the fuel consumption and lifespan of your fuel injectors.(4)
We’ve given you a rough idea of what to look for, but there is still quite a lot of difference between specific brands. Up next, we’ll be going through and showing you our favorite fuel injector cleaners. We’ll go through each product one by one and show you what it has to offer. After, we’ll help you select the one that’s right for you and your fuel injectors.
How Can I Tell if I Have Dirty Fuel Injectors?
There are a few common symptoms that can indicate dirty or clogged fuel injectors. In most cases, this all boils down to reduced power. Unless you’re building a race car and commonly take your vehicle to the dyno, it can be hard to tell exactly how well your car is performing. But extreme cases will result in one or several of the following issues:
If your car has a sudden shudder or a rough, lopey idle, then it’s possible that your fuel injectors are to blame. Vehicles need a very specific mixture of fuel and air in order to run well. When your fuel system is dirty and clogged, it’s difficult to maintain that precise fuel to air balance. The end result is a poor idle that seems to come out of nowhere. It could be your intake valves, upper cylinder, or really any component from the fuel tank to the combustion chambers – anything that feeds or is fed by an injector
When you first got your vehicle, it likely started with just a quick crank of the key. If this has degraded over time, you might have to hold the key for much longer than usual. Fuel will have to build up pressure before it can cross the injector. Additionally, you may find that you are unable to get the car to start unless you give it a little fuel. These are all symptoms of a fuel delivery issue – most commonly dirty fuel injectors, but also several other (more expensive) components such as a fuel pump, fuel lines, or injector timing systems.
Poor Fuel Economy
If you’re finding that a tank doesn’t seem to get you as far as it used to, dirty fuel injectors could be the issue. When the AFR (air fuel ratio) is thrown off in the engine’s combustion chambers, your vehicle puts out less power. This means that you’ll have to push the accelerator harder and force more fuel to reach the same speeds you used to. This can result in wasted fuel, lower fuel economy, and unnecessary strain on your fuel injector. The change likely won’t be dramatic, so this is much easier to measure if you have a newer car that displays your fuel consumption. (5)
How Many Types of Fuel Injector Cleaners Are There?
Fuel injectors have been around for quite some time, and over the years this technology has changed dramatically. For this reason, not all fuel injectors are alike. To understand the different types of fuel injectors out there, check out our detailed writeup on the topic.
How Should I Use Fuel Additives?
How you use these fuel treatment products depends a lot on what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re going for preventative maintenance to keep your fuel injectors clean, then the process is simple. Simply grab a bottle of one of our recommended fuel injector cleaners to a fuel tank that’s at least half full. The additive will be heavily diluted since you have quite a lot of gasoline in the tank. This provides slow, consistent fuel injector cleaning while you drive. When done this way, you likely won’t be able to remove build up from your fuel injectors. But this will prevent new build up from forming. This is best done on fuel injectors that currently runs well, to help you keep it that way.
If you’re having power issues, then the process will be a little different. You want to give your fuel injectors a strong, heavy shot of cleaner to help dislodge any gunk that’s built up. To do this, start with a fuel tank that is nearly empty. Add an entire bottle of ifuel njector cleaner, and start to idle the engine. Depending on how much fuel you have left, you may find that you need to give it a little more gasoline than usual to keep it running. This is because fuel injector cleaners don’t actually power your car, they just clean it out.
If you’re going for a drive, bring a little jerry can with you so you can top up as necessary. These problems affect the entire fuel system from pump to injector, so you won’t want to drive somewhere you could get stranded. If the power delivery issues go away, you can go ahead and refill the tank with regular gasoline. If you see improvement but still have issues, you can go ahead and try another bottle of fuel injector cleaner. If you stop seeing improvement, or you don’t see any improvement at all, then you should stop the process. Chances are the damage to the injector is either too severe for additives to fix, or you have another separate fuel releated component.
How to Diagnose Clogged Fuel Injectors
If your car is totally un driveable, it’s possible that you may have another more serious issue. We wrote up a diagnostic guide to help you identify the issue, so be sure to check it out if you believe that your fuel delivery system is fully clogged or if it’s possibly just a single fuel injector not working at full potential.
Are Fuel Injector Cleaners Good for Preventative Maintenance?
the Jury is still out on this topic. Some people believe that this is an essential maintenance item that shouldn’t be skipped. Others thing that it’s a waste of money. After all, if you don’t have a problem, then why spend the money?
Here’s the thing: in a perfect world, your fuel injectors should NEVER get dirty. If a car is driven every day and maintained properly, these things are designed to work for the life of your car. But there has been a lot of changes and improvements to injector fuel flow. Summer and winter fuel is different, and these may be all around different fuel formulations that were out when the car was designed. Ethanol based fuel in particular can cause problems with earily fuel injectors.
But there is an if: and it’s a pretty big one. Sometimes, we don’t operate under ideal circumstances. And there are lots of scenarios that manufacturers don’t account for.
For example, fuel goes bad. If you park your car for a couple months while you’re on a top or simply not using it, the gasoline will degrade and can cause issues within your engines combustion chambers. Additionally, fuel stations occasionally have contaminants introduces into their fuel tanks. These contaminants can build up and start to reduce the performance of your engine.
Finally, there is the possibility of contaminants being introduced from within the cylinder through the fuel injectors. High mileage vehicles will have carbon buildup – a normal byproduct of combustion. Forgetting to change your oil regularly can also cause these issues. If this buildup touches your injectors, you’ll start to have problems.
Fuel additives are designed to address and mitigate these risks. Personally, we put a bottle in every oil change. But we aren’t rolling around in brand new cars either. On high mileage vehicles that have been sitting, we might run one once a month. On newer vehicles, we’ll throw a bottle in anytime we know that the car has been sitting for a while, or if we’ve had less than perfect maintenance habits.
Some people like to wait until there is a problem. But if the problem is serious, it could cost you $1200 at a mechanic instead of $15 at home.
What kind of product do I need for my fuel injectors?
There has been much debate over the effectiveness of fuel injector cleaners. There are those who believe the product to be a necessary component of auto maintenance, and those who see it as snake oil, and a waste of money. There is some truth behind both stances, and the best way to decide for yourself is to understand how these products actually work, and what situations they are designed for. Different types and strengths do different things for your fuel injectors, so before you either write it off as a waste or invest in a bunch of it, let’s break down what happens when you use fuel injector cleaner.
Thinking back to the process of fuel combustion, on a chemical level, the process is never perfect. As we discussed, every time a combustion occurs in your engine, small amounts of carboxyl compounds are left over from the reaction. Generally speaking, buildup in your engine isn’t the end of the world, but over time, it can cause problems. This can be as minor as reduced power or as major as a blown head gasket. What we’re trying to do is to break down these carbon buildups (if they are localized on the fuel delivery system) and keep your engine performance running as optimally as possible. If you have a particularly old engine that no longer runs, there’s a good chance it has a lot of buildup in its combustion chambers. In this case, some high strength products coupled with a tune up might help get it back on the road. In some cases they can be used for deep cleaning of older or neglected gasoline engines that are just starting to show issues.
The most important ingredient for cleaning fuel injectors is called polyetheramine, or PEA. This chemical compound is specifically designed to break down and dissolve carboxyl deposits, like the kind that can build up in your combustion chambers. But this chemical isn’t always used appropriately. There are three times when people tend to use PEA:
- they are having problems with their engine
- As preventative maintenance
3. To improve fuel consumption
If you’ve noticed your engine has a particularly rough idle, this is a good time to give your fuel injectors a good cleaning. Assuming the problem is buildup, fuel injector cleaner can provide a pretty cheap, highly effective solution. While it’s not the most common cause, it is one of the cheapest fixes. Why not try the $20 repair before you try the $1000 repair? Fuel injectors are not cheap, after all. Those who think ahead and hope to avoid this problem in the first place might run some of these products through their gasoline engines on a regular basis. By some recommendations, this can be done each time you do an oil change. In reality, this is probably a bit of overkill. If you run fuel injector cleaner every 20-30,000 km, you’ll likely have no problems develop. Any more than that is unnecessary.
Given the issues that major combustion byproduct building can cause in your engine and fuel injectors, using these can theoretically improve your fuel consumption. However, if you have a relatively new car, or use fuel injector cleaner semi-regularly, you probably won’t see any benefit. The only time you’re likely to see a noticeable improvement in fuel mileage just from one of these products alone is if you start with old, borderline inoperatble fuel injectors that have already suffered lots of buildup.
So what about PEA-free products? This is where some people become skeptical of the usefulness of these products; many of them contain little or no PEA. And generally speaking, if a fuel injector cleaner doesn’t contain the active ingredient, it is probably doing nothing to help your fuel injectors. So how can it possibly be useful if it doesn’t contain the active ingredient?
PEA-free cleaners usually contain alcohol, kerosene, or other fillers that can break down combustion deposits. The problem with these products is that they really aren’t useful for people wanting regular maintenance of their vehicles. PEA-free cleaners are typically used on old vehicles that don’t run, and are only useful as far breaking down larger carboxyl chunks before a proper cleaning using PEA cleaner is done. So while both work by chemically cleaning build up, only cleaners that contain PEA are going to be effective for regular use on operational vehicles with the fuel injectors still installed in the engine.
What’s the Best Fuel System Cleaner to Fix Dead Fuel Injectors?
While these products have helped many consumers improve the fuel delivery of their vehicles, there is still a limit to what they can do. Years of neglecting to clean your fuel injectors will eventually lead to a engine that just doesn’t have power. Once you get to this point, or amount of commercially available chemicals can help you. Often, your engine will require a complete rebuild by a professional.
Fuel injector cleaner should be used before your fuel injectors gets to that point. Just like regular oil changes, cleaning your fuel injectors is essential when it comes to getting a long life out of your engine.
What’s the Best fuel additive for an Older Car?
For the most part, age does’t really matter. Newer vehicles that have fuel injectors that shoot directly into the piston and require more regular cleaning, just like older vehicles with poorly maintained fuel systems. If you regularly run a cleaner on an older engine with throttle body fuel injectors, you can probably get away with running a fuel injector cleaning cycle every 5 to 7k miles.
There is, however, one exception to this rule. In most vehicles made in the 70s or earlier (as well as a few rare examples from the 80s) your engine may be carbeurated. Carborated engines cannot use these products, as the carburetor takes the place of fuel injectors. Instead, you should find something designed specifically for carbureted engines.
Do you use a different product for cleaning your fuel injectors? There are more products out there that work, these are just our favorites. Always read the reviews and see if PEA is an active ingredient, and drop us a comment and let us know the best fuel injector cleaner in your opinion!
- Cole, C. (2018, July 14). Should I Use Fuel Injector Cleaner? ” AutoGuide.com News. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from https://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2015/04/should-i-use-fuel-injector-cleaner-.html.
- Energy Effeciancy, O. O. (2013, November 22). Internal Combustion Engine Basics. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/articles/internal-combustion-engine-basics.
- Cruodace, M. C. (1989, April 22). US4844717A – Fuel composition and method for control of engine octane requirements. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from https://patents.google.com/patent/US4844717A/en.
- Cole, C. (2018, November 21). Is Carbon Buildup a Problem With Direct-Injection Engines? ” AutoGuide.com News. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from https://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2015/01/is-carbon-buildup-a-problem-with-direct-injection-engines-.html.
- Mon, S. S. (2019, September 10). Chemicals used in professional fuel injector cleaning machines. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/5209113/chemicals-used-in-professional-fuel-injector-cleaning-machines.