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How to Clean a Turbo

Posted by Scott Goldfarb on

A turbocharger makes a huge difference to the efficiency of your engine. Maintaining and cleaning the turbocharger is a critical task for any vehicle enthusiast to ensure its optimal performance and longevity. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the key steps of how to clean a turbo to keep it in top shape.

A turbocharger is responsible for boosting an engine’s power by compressing air. However, it can accumulate dirt, deposits, and debris over time, ultimately hindering its performance. Knowing how to clean a turbocharger properly will not only restore its effectiveness but may also prevent potential damage that can lead to a replacement.

In this article, you’ll discover the reasons and causes of turbo clogging and seizing and how you can prevent them. We’ll also provide you with insightful information on the benefits of turbocharger maintenance and a simple guide on keeping this component in top-notch condition.

How to Clean a Turbo

Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: J. Lekavicius

How to Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

Cleaning a turbocharger is a precise task for anyone seeking peak engine performance. While there are several practices that can help you achieve a sparkling turbo, we’ll provide you with the most efficient and effective way possible.

So, to start off, you’ll need to gather the necessary items you’ll use to clean your turbo:

  • Turbocharger cleaner
  • Soft-bristle brush or toothbrush
  • A water source for rinsing
  • Endoscope or flashlight
  • Proper safety gear such as gloves, eye protection, and alike
  • Compressed air (optional)

Once you’ve gathered the needed equipment, you should remember some essential precautions while cleaning. This includes following the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, avoiding excessive force or abrasive materials to prevent damage, and taking necessary safety measures.

However, if you don’t feel confident enough to clean your turbo, we recommend seeking professional help to ensure all precautions are met. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on cleaning a turbocharger without removing it:

1. Access the turbocharger

Firstly, you should start by locating and accessing the turbocharger. Depending on the model of the vehicle you own, this step may require removing some components. This may be the air intake or intercooler. Carefully disconnect and gently remove these components if necessary.

2. Inspect for damage and buildup

Before beginning the cleaning process, inspect the turbo for any signs of damage, dirt, debris, or carbon buildup. For this step, you can use the endoscope or flashlight to inspect more thoroughly. This will determine the amount of cleaning required.

However, if you notice any significant damage, you may need to replace the turbo instead of cleaning it. A fantastic alternative that can offer great power without breaking the bank is getting a cheap used turbocharger. These turbos deliver an affordable way to boost your engine's performance and effectiveness.

3. Prepare the cleaning solution

Once you’ve accessed the turbo and identified signs of dirt and buildup, you can start preparing your cleaning solution. Choose a suitable cleaning product that’s free of any harsh chemicals or solvents that can damage the turbo or its components. Make sure you carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

4. Clean the turbo

Begin the cleaning process by removing loose dirt or debris with a soft cloth, brush, or compressed air. Once you’re finished, spray the cleaning product onto the exterior surface of the turbo while focusing on areas with visible carbon buildup. Leave the product on the turbo for a few minutes, allowing it to penetrate thoroughly.

After a few minutes, you can use a soft-bristle brush or cloth to gently scrub the exterior surfaces of the turbocharger. Pay special attention not to apply excessive force so you can avoid damaging any delicate components.

Focus on the turbine blades and compressor wheel, as these areas are most prone to dirt and carbon buildup. They’re also the most critical components where debris can affect your vehicle’s performance.

5. Rinse thoroughly

After thoroughly cleaning the turbo, rinse the cleaner using clean water to remove any remaining signs of the cleaning product. This step will ensure that any potential damage or contamination of the turbo is avoided and minimized.

6. Dry completely

Once you’ve finished rinsing, it’s essential to allow your turbocharger to dry completely. You can do this by using compressed air or a clean towel to speed up the drying process. However, we recommend allowing it to air dry naturally to avoid causing any damage or scratches.

It’s vital you ensure that there is no moisture left on your turbocharger before reinstalling any removed components.

7. Perform thorough inspection

Finally, perform a thorough inspection by starting your engine and checking for any abnormalities. Carefully listen for any unusual sounds or vibrations and monitor your turbo’s performance.

Cleaning a Diesel Turbocharger

While the cleaning process for turbos is similar in both gasoline and diesel engines, there are a few differences you should keep in mind. This includes the following considerations:

  • Diesel engines tend to produce more dirt, debris, and carbon buildup in the turbocharger when compared to gasoline engines. This makes it crucial to clean your diesel turbo regularly and thoroughly.
  • The increased amount of deposits in the turbo can affect its performance and efficiency. This may lead to issues such as decreased power and fuel economy.
  • Maintaining and cleaning the turbo in diesel engines requires specific considerations due to the unique characteristics and nature of diesel engines.

Cleaning the turbo in diesel engines requires specific considerations due to the nature of diesel fuel and the unique characteristics of diesel engines. So, here are the key differences in the cleaning process of diesel turbochargers:

  • Since diesel chargers produce more buildup, it may require a more thorough cleaning approach.
  • Diesel fuel contains higher viscosity and more impurities, making the use of specialized cleaners a must.
  • If necessary, the cleaning process may involve removing the turbocharger for a more comprehensive cleaning. However, this entirely depends on the cleaning requirement and carbon buildup.
Cleaning a Diesel Turbocharger

Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: PHONT

Importance of Maintaining a Clean Turbocharger

Regular maintenance and cleaning of your turbocharger are essential steps for keeping your engine operating at its best. Over time, oil residue and carbon deposits can accumulate on the turbocharger. This can ultimately lead to decreased airflow and reduced power output. So, neglecting the issue can result in several problems, including turbocharger lag, decreased fuel economy, and even potential damage to the engine.

Cleaning a turbocharger is vital for optimal engine performance, durability, and efficiency. With this, you can also save repair expenses and promote a cleaner environment. Additional benefits a clean turbocharger can offer include the following:

Prolonged turbo lifespan

Regular turbo maintenance and cleaning can significantly increase the lifespan of a turbo. By preventing a buildup of harmful deposits as well as wear and tear on the turbocharger, you can ensure that your turbocharger operates and functions efficiently and smoothly. By keeping this component in good condition, you can expand its service time and delay the expenses for repair and replacement.

Enhanced fuel efficiency

Keeping your turbo clean can provide a more efficient mixture of fuel and air. Ultimately, this can lead to an improved fuel economy. When a turbocharger is clean, it can reduce engine stress by delivering the same amount of power and fuel. So, providing a more efficient mix of fuel and air results in an improved fuel economy. Additionally, this can also contribute to reduced emissions and a healthy environment.

Improved engine performance

A clean turbocharger can ultimately allow better airflow and combustion. This may provide better air compression and increased power output, which leads to enhanced engine and vehicle performance. You can also gain faster acceleration, smoother operation, and overall performance.

Prevention of engine damage

An unclean turbo can cause many issues to the engine’s performance and operation. This includes adding stress to the engine and accumulation of debris and deposits, which can lead to potential damage.

Regularly cleaning your turbo can prevent these issues. You will also ensure the efficient function and longevity of both your turbo and engine as a whole.

Reduced turbo lag

A turbo lag is a delay in power delivery when accelerating. A clean turbo can help you minimize lag.

Turbo lag refers to the delay in power delivery when accelerating. Cleaning the turbo helps to minimize lag by ensuring that the turbo spools up quickly and delivers immediate power when needed.

Reduced turbo lag

Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: Nordroden


In conclusion, cleaning your turbocharger is essential if you want to keep your engine at peak performance. Maintaining your turbocharger in top condition is a rewarding task for you and your vehicle, even though it may seem challenging and meticulous.

Following the steps outlined in this guide, you can confidently remove any carbon deposit, dirt, or buildup accumulating over time. This will ensure that your turbo will profoundly impact your vehicle’s performance and longevity.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with the needed information on how to clean a turbo. Knowing how to do so can be a valuable skill that will keep your engine running smoothly for years to come.


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