How to clean your car’s exhaust (and why every driver should)


Your exhaust is an essential part of your car, but it rarely gets the attention it deserves when it comes to maintenance. This often unappreciated component of your vehicle not only directs harmful exhaust fumes away from passengers, but also drastically reduces noise levels while improving the car’s performance and fuel consumption. Properly cleaning and maintaining your car’s exhaust will not only keep your vehicle in peak levels of performance, but also ensure the safety of you and your passengers.

The exhaust tip (the end of the exhaust that is visible from back of the car) is also an often overlooked item when it comes to detailing. Cleaning and polishing it properly can be the final touch that gives your car a professional-looking finish, while neglecting it can take away from the overall appeal of your otherwise gleaming car.

Read on to find out exactly how to clean both the inside and outside of your exhaust for optimal performance and a stunning end result.

Why you should clean your car’s exhaust


The fumes released through your exhaust include carbon dioxide, and in smaller quantities, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Some of the carbon in these gases fuses to your exhaust on the way out, which is what makes the inside of your exhaust pipe turn black. Not only is this aesthetically unappealing, but an excessive build-up of carbon can hamper the release of exhaust fumes from your vehicle and negatively impact performance and efficiency.

Another thing that damages exhaust pipes is rust, also known as corrosion. Rust is caused when moisture reacts with the iron in steel and forms iron oxide. In extreme cases, rust can weaken a part of the exhaust to the point that it even falls off completely, so it’s important to do everything you can to prevent it.

Water vapour is present in the exhaust whenever the car is running, as it’s a by-product of combustion. When the engine is shut down, whatever water vapour is in the exhaust condenses as it cools and turns into water, which remains in the system and rusts the exhaust pipe.

If you only ever go on short journeys in your car (15 minutes or less), the water never heats up to the point where it is turned back into water vapour and expelled from the exhaust. Therefore, make sure to frequently take your car on longer journeys to prevent corrosion inside your exhaust, and avoid very short journeys, such as pulling your car from your driveway into your garage for the night. This will also have the added benefit of helping to prolong the life of your battery, which you can read about in our guide to car batteries.

The outside of your exhaust can also be rusted by rain, hail, and snow. In the winter, the problem is exacerbated by the salt in the grit applied to roads, which speeds up the corrosion process. To prevent rust on the outside of your exhaust in winter, spray a solution of ten parts water to one part baking soda over the underbody of your vehicle. The baking soda will neutralise the salt and prevent it from causing further damage. Thoroughly dry the underbody (a leaf blower will make this a lot faster if you have one), and then apply a wax sealant to prevent further corrosion, which you can pick up in our range of underbody seals.

While these precautions will help slow the deterioration of your exhaust, they won’t prevent it completely. If you’re planning on keeping your current vehicle for many years, a stainless steel exhaust can be a wise investment, as it won’t suffer from carbon build-up or rust, and the only upkeep it will require is a clean with a soap and water every now and then. Find the exact stainless steel exhaust parts to fit your make and model of car with our car parts finder tool, and get everything you need to fit them yourself with our exhaust fitting kits.

Make cleaning your exhaust a part of your car maintenance routine and you’ll nip these problems in the bud before they can develop into serious issues, saving yourself a lot of money in the process. Here’s our step-by-step guide to cleaning your car’s exhaust.

How to clean your car’s exhaust



Before you start, make sure to gather all of your tools and equipment so you have everything to hand. You’re going to need:

  • Gloves to protect your hands from the harsh chemicals you’ll be using. If you don’t have some already, pick them up from our body protection
  • A bucket of soap and water, and a few old cloths.
  • A degreaser, which you can buy from our range of degreasers and cleaners.
  • A metal polish. We recommend Autoglym metal polish.
  • #0000 grade steel wool, which you’ll be able to pick up from any good DIY shop.
  • A microfibre cloth, which you can buy from our range of microfibre cloths and towels.
  • A round, hard-bristled brush to clean the inside of the exhaust pipe. A wheel brush, also known as a spoke brush, is perfect for this, which you can purchase from our range of cleaning brushes.

When you’ve gathered all of your equipment, you’re ready to begin.

1. Clean the exhaust pipe with soap and water

The first step in getting a tarnished and corroded exhaust pipe looking as good as new again is to wash off the superficial dirt with soap and water. To clean the exhaust tip, use an old cloth which you don’t mind getting mucky. For the inside of the exhaust, use your brush, getting it as deep as you can.

2. Apply the degreaser

Next, apply the degreaser to the inside and outside of the exhaust tip as far you can reach with a dry old cloth. The degreaser will loosen the caked-on carbon deposits and rust.

2. Remove the degreaser

After leaving it to soak for the time recommended on the product’s label, scrub the degreaser off in small, controlled circles using the steel wool. This will remove tarnish, carbon build-up, and small flakes of rust. If your exhaust has been neglected for a number of years, then you may need to repeat this process a few times to achieve the desired result.

3. Apply the polish

Thoroughly wipe down the exhaust with a microfibre cloth to remove all moisture and dust, and then apply the polish to the inside and outside of the tip with the steel wool.

4. Remove the polish

After leaving it to soak for the time recommended on the label, buff the polish off using a microfibre cloth. You should be left with a gleaming exhaust which looks great and is free of blockages.

Add this routine to your car maintenance schedule and your exhaust will stay in the best possible condition for as long as possible. This will not only improve your vehicle’s performance, but also keep it looking great. Follow the tips in our guide to detailing your car like a professional to get the rest of the exterior of your car looking as good as your exhaust.

Take the time to look after this often overlooked part of your car’s mechanics using the simple routine we’ve outlined in this guide, and it will give you peak levels of performance over the entire course of its lifespan.

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