Guide To Cleaning Turbo: Prevent Clogged Turbo & Seizing

Cleaning the turbo is a good preventive maintenance to do on your car, mainly to remove all of the carbon deposits on the hot side and the debris on the cold side. 

I have run a lot of turbo cars during my long years of working on cars and I never cleaned my turbos, until one day I realised that my car was losing power. 

Everything was ok until I opened my turbo intake and saw the condition of the turbo and the debris that was inside. Since then, I always use a turbo cleaner to clean my turbos every once in a while. 

In this article, we are going to cover most of the things when it comes to turbo cleaning:-

  1. Steps To Cleaning A Turbo
  2. Turbo Clogging & Seizing
  3. Turbo Cleaners Product & Alternatives
  4. How Often Should You Clean Your Turbo?
  5. What Happens If Your Turbo Is Clogged? 

If you want to prevent or already have a clogged/seized turbo, this is the right guide for you. Let’s get going.

source: carlist

Ambient air intake on the cold side, output hot exhaust air to wastegate.

Image source: Carlist


Steps To Cleaning A Turbo (Without Removing It)

You can clean your turbo without removing it. You’ll need to spray some turbo cleaning fluid into the turbo through the inlet tube and then drive around for some time. This should get rid of the debris within the turbo.

Note: Be careful not to damage the turbine inside. These turbines are very fragile.

There are specific turbo cleaners in the market that you can get. Alternatively, you can also get carb cleaners, brake cleaners, or oven cleaners. They will do the job as well.

This is how dirty turbocharger looks like

Turbo Clogging & Seizing: Cause & Prevention

Turbo can clog up and seize easily, especially on the hot side where you can find a lot of carbon build-up. More frequently happened on diesel engines, where the carbon build-up can get so large that it will seize the turbo. 

Sometimes, the cold side of the turbo can get clogged with dirty air, usually a blow-by from the combustion process. The dirty air normally contains a lot of contaminants and can clog up over time.

Best prevention for this is to run your car at higher speed frequently. At first, I really doubted this idea, but my technician did a very good job explaining in detail why that is. It will help dissolve carbon deposits, dirt and debris from the turbine. 

Indeed, a very good reason for you to drive faster…

Turbo Cleaners Products & Alternatives

Here is a list of products that clean your turbo. For each, I will mention their pros and cons with its cost. 

1.Turbo Cleaner ($20)

A proper turbo cleaner is probably the best solution when it comes to cleaning your own turbos. Turbo cleaner is designed to dissolve the carbon. It works magically and removes almost everything.

It works pretty straightforward. You will just need to open the turbine intake and spray the turbine inside. The product will start working and some foam will start to appear. 

Leave it to sit for an hour (with engine off) and then go for a drive with some good acceleration and get up to some quick highway speeds. Voila!

Repeat the procedure if necessary.

Personally, I have got myself one of these turbo cleaners from Amazon. It works perfectly cleaning intake valves on GDI engines and turbo systems

2.Carb Cleaner ($10 or less)

Carb cleaners are also a good way to remove debris from the turbo. They are specifically designed to remove sludge and debris that have been built up with time. Perfect for cleaning carburettors, but also works very well for turbos.

I have tried this method too, the carb cleaners I got from Amazon works pretty well. This product comes at a cost of $7 which is relatively inexpensive.

3.Brake Cleaner ($10 or less)

Brake cleaners are simply a degreaser that can remove the greasy contaminants that are stuck on the turbine. This product works well especially on the cold side of your turbo.

It also comes at a fairly cheap price, and I have got this brake cleaner at $5 from Amazon. You can also find the same one at your local car parts store.

4.Oven Cleaner ($5 or less)

Oven cleaners work well cleaning debris ONLY on the hot side. Applying oven cleaner on the cold side will clog up the turbo even more.

You will need to remove the EGR valve on your car, then apply oven cleaner to the hot side of the turbo. 

Make sure to fill up the whole thing, then move the actuator until the turbo gets free. Leave the cleaner inside for a few hours to do its job.

Reassemble the parts and give it a good run on the highway to get all the dissolved carbon out of the turbo. The hot side of the turbo will also help melting other leftover debris.

This approach requires more work and risk, I personally wouldn’t recommend this method, but it is very inexpensive and can be found for less than $5.

How Often Should You Clean Your Turbo?

You should clean your turbo once a year. This is preventive maintenance and you will benefit in the long run by doing this practice. 

If you are driving your car a lot, you will need to do it every 30,000 miles in order to keep it in check and remove the debris build-up.

Personally, I clean my turbo in the spring and I’m safe through the whole year.

What Happens If Your Turbo Is Clogged? 

Clogged turbo will slow down the car, and could damage your car. Because they spin at a lower rate and they suck less air in.

A clogged turbo can also damage the shaft that is inside the turbo and the turbo to start losing balance. When the rotor inside touches the walls, the turbo will start to squeak when you are applying the throttle. 

This sound is characteristic of a turbo with a broken shaft. In this case your turbo won’t work properly and your car will start losing power.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we have covered everything you need to know when it comes to cleaning turbos. Which are the main steps and also the best products to do this job effectively.

Turbo cleaner is more effective but it’s also a bit pricier, so if you are on a tight budget you may try one of the alternatives that are available.

Chai WJ.

Chai WJ.

I am a car enthusiast and a passionate rider who loves to discover new places. Since the pandemic, I can't go to places and I started to blog and share information that I learned. I'm not easily distracted, I just... OMG, do I hear a Supra?

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