Degreasing Your Engine With Pine-Sol
Pine-Sol: Easy and Safe Engine Degreaser
Any time you are working on a car, you are likely to have dirty parts that you would like to clean. This can be easier said than done. I once spent two days cleaning a cylinder head with a towel and some Goop hand cleaner. Solvent sinks, ultrasonic cleaners, and sandblasting are common techniques used by professional shops for heavy-duty degreasing, but a safer and easier way to clean your parts at home is to use Pine-Sol. Soak your parts in Pine-Sol overnight, wipe them off with a rag, and your parts will be sparkling clean.
Materials and Prep
To clean your parts with Pine-Sol, the first thing you need to do is prepare your parts to be cleaned. Pine-Sol will remove paint and grease, soften carbon deposits on pistons and heads, and really soften the carbon inside an EGR system.
Rubber seals and o-rings will be swollen for a while but after they dry out they do not seem to be harmed. Still, if I were planning to reuse any rubber parts, I would make sure to remove them. Anything that might be harmed by the Pine-Sol that you want to keep intact should be removed. Ideally, you should completely disassemble whatever you want to clean, but I have heard of people cleaning things like hydraulic lifters and just putting them right back in the engine head full of Pine-Sol to mix in with the oil. Needless to say, I don't think that is a good idea. Pine-Sol contains a lot of water after all.
Once your parts are ready to be cleaned, you will need to find a good container that they will fit in without requiring you to buy too much Pine-Sol. In the case of the Geo Metro that I was working on when I wrote this article, I just used a big plastic bucket from Wal-Mart. In the case of larger engines like the VW I am restoring or my Subaru Outback, I find the smallest volume rubber-made container that I can fit the engine block into and use that for all the bigger parts, but I clean most parts in an old 1-gallon plastic ice cream tub. I buy a couple gallons of Pine-Sol and dilute it as much as required to fill the container I am using. For the smaller parts, I use Pine-Sol at full strength, using a toothbrush before hand and then putting them to soak for a while for a final cleaning.
Pine-Sol seems pretty innocuous, but it does contain carcinogens, and it does require some safety precauctions. I would not go dipping my hands in it under most circumstances. Also be aware that it can cause "temporary but very substantial" eye damage. I am not sure what that means and I am pretty sure I don't want to find out. In general, you should probably wear gloves whenever handling Pine-Sol, which is something several people very familiar with Pine-Sol have made clear to me time and time again. Anyway, be careful not to get it in your eyes, be aware that it might dry your skin, read the label, and you should be all right. It's 100% safer than most other solvents you would use for this purpose.
Mix Pine-Sol With Water
Use straight Pine-Sol for small and difficult to clean parts. For larger parts, use a 50% or 75% dilution of hot water (the hotter the better). Mix the water and the Pine-Sol together before adding your parts.
Cleaning Your Parts
Ready, Set, Dip!
When you remove your parts, you will want to let the Pine-Sol drip off the them for a while. Hanging the parts over the Pine-Sol container with a wire is a good idea just to let them drip off for a while. After most of the Pine-Sol drips off, scrub the parts with a toothebrush and wipe them off with a clean towel and blow all the Pine-Sol out of any internal holes with compressed air.
You can actually wipe almost everything off of a part without using the toothbrush first, but I eventually got tired of wetting a toothbrush with fresh pinesol to remove the tough grime all the time so I started just scrubbing the whole thing right at the beginning. I spend only a few seconds to a minute brushing each part but I am able to remove 99% of the grease, oil, and paint from most parts in that amount of time. If I still have trouble I just throw it back into the Pine-Sol bath for another round. and it usually brushes off easily then. I use a stainless steel wire brush on extrememly tough deposits and I have not come into anything I could not remove with the combination yet.
If you have a part you can't fit in a Pine-Sol bath, you can still use Pine-Sol to clean it. Just apply the Pine-Sol with a spray bottle and let it soak for a couple hours before scrubbing the surface and wiping it clean. Multiple applications may be required. This works well for large engine blocks, parts you don't want to remove, etc.. It is also popular for cleaning motorcycles in this form.
You may have problems with flash rusting if you try to use this method. I would ignore it and use CLR afterwards in most cases, flash rusting is usually very superficial. This is akin to the way Pine-Sol has been used in households for years. Turns out it works pretty good on engines too. Who would have thunk it?
You can use Pine-Sol to clean grease stains out of your clothes and off of concrete also. It is also great for washing shop towels.
Buying your Pine-Sol
Where is the best place to buy Pine-Sol?
You can just run down to the hardware store and buy a gallon of Pine-Sol, but that will run you about $15.00, and if you need several gallons, that could be a problem. You can sometimes find Pine-Sol on sale, especially at bargain stores that sell unsuccessful or slightly damaged products at low prices. Be warned that while Pine-Sol brand cleaner is almost 1/4 pine oil, many knock off products are much less potent. Pine oil is the main ingredient so if you decide to buy an off brand make sure you are really getting more pine oil for your money. I bought one gallon at the hardware store and I am about to order more from Amazon.
Don't Let Your Parts Rust!
100% Pine-Sol does not cause any rust in my experience, even if you let a thin film of it dry off your part. However, if your Pine-Sol is watered down, you will have to worry about your parts flash rusting as they dry. I did not use enough Pine-Sol for my engine block and the cylinders ended up flash rusting. Probably not a huge problem, but I regret not wiping them down when I pulled the block out.
Rust prevention is thankfully pretty simple. For complicated parts, a spray with oil like WD-40 is perfect but flat parts can just be wiped down with motor oil. Wiping the Pine-Sol off thoroughly will also do the trick. You should have have any problem avoiding your parts rusting, but be warned that they will if you do not take precautions to avoid it.
Let us know how Pine-Sol worked on your cleanup job.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.