Engine Compartment Detailing


Engine detailing is often overlooked but is an essential piece to the overall detailing process. Engines get very dirty…not only is there typically grease/oil buildup on the engine and engine components but you will undoubtedly have salt/dirt/grime in your engine bay that makes its way into the engine compartment through the wheel wheels, underside, and hood seams. Detailing the engine compartment is actually quite straight forward. Most people avoid the engine as there are a plethora of electrical connections, hoses, sensors, etc…in general, the engine compartment is complicated looking – detailing the engine compartment, however, can be achieved quite easily using steps below.

Pop the Hood

Upon opening the hood you will most likely see something similar to the below photo. This is a larger engine from a 2002 model-year Ford…your engine may be smaller but it will have the same components. This engine compartment is not too bad – nevertheless we will use this as our starting point.

Our initial starting point - this engine compartment is not too bad but could use a detail.

Step 1: Prepare the engine compartment. In most cases your engine will be covered with a plastic engine cover. Newer cars tend to have large engine covers that cover the whole engine whereas older cars have smaller engine covers, or in some cases no engine cover. You can either remove the cover or leave it on…we will leave it on as it is small and we can still get to most parts of the engine with it in place. It is common for detailers to ‘cover’ the battery and alternator with plastic bags…in the above photo, the battery is in the bottom left and the alternator is dead center. We will not cover these components as we will simply be careful not to spray them directly with water (see below). If you are concerned, by all means, go ahead and cover those components with bags to ensure water does not get into them. Prior to proceeding with the steps below, ensure that your engine is cool.

Step 2: Spray the engine down with an all purpose cleaner (APC), engine cleaner, or a complete auto wash product such as P21S Total Auto Wash. As long as you use a dedicated engine cleaning spray you will be fine. Make sure you get the spray into all the hard to reach areas…do not over spray electrical connectors, the battery, or the alternator. Here we are using P21S Total Auto Wash.

Spray the engine engine with a dedicated engine cleaner.

Once you completely spray the engine, let the product sit for a few minutes so it can loosen the dirt/oil/grease/grime/salt, etc.

After you spray the engine compartment, let the engine cleaning product dwell for a few minutes.

Step 3: At this point you are ready to spray the engine down with water. Some people recommend using a pressure/power washer for this step to ensure that you completely loosen all the grime. I don’t like to use pressure/power washers as they tend to get water into places you probably don’t want it. Simply use the same nozzle you use for washing your car and spray down your engine thoroughly being careful not to directly spray the alternator and/or battery.

Spray the engine down with water using the same nozzle you use for washing your car.

Step 4: After you thoroughly spray the engine down with water you are ready to dry it! Here you can simply use a cheaper microfiber towel to completely dry all and every part of the engine compartment. If you notice any areas that need further cleaning, simply spray them with your engine cleaning product and use a small brush to directly hit the stubborn spots. Some detailers recommend starting the engine to aid in the drying process. This step is not necessary if you take your time and dry everything with your towel.

Thoroughly wipe down/dry the engine compartment with a microfiber towel.

Step 5: Once you completely dry the engine compartment you will notice that all of the black plastic will appear a bit dull…this is normal. At this point you have to ‘dress’ all of the plastic with a plastic dressing. I highly recommend Meguiar’s Hyperdressing for this step – it is a very nice, all around, water-based dressing that will yield an extremely nice finish. You can either spray the plastic and then wipe with a microfiber towel or you can spray the towel and then wipe the engine compartment down – either method will yield a nice end product.

Wipe the plastic engine parts down with a plastic dressing after it has completely dried.

Step 6: Enjoy the final result!! This engine detail took about 25 minutes. We certainly could have spent more time – this all depends on what final result you are seeking…this particular engine has more than 150,000 miles on it and is 8 years old…there is not much more improvement that can be achieved through detailing.

The detailed engine compartment shows great improvement over what we started with!


  • Engine detailing can be very rewarding. Typical engine compartments is often severely neglected and will show significant improvement after detailing. There are a plethora of products on the market for engine cleaning…simply chose a product that you are happy with and use it! You can’t go wrong with a good all-purpose cleaner (APC) or a product like P21S Total Auto Wash.
  • Once you detail an engine compartment following the above steps, you will need to maintain it to avoid having to perform a full detail again. Maintenance is key to keeping all aspects of your car looking their best. The below photo is taken from a car that is over 2 years old. This engine compartment has never been fully detailed using the above steps as it is maintained with a simply wipe down every month.

    This engine is routinely maintained with a towel wipe-down every month.