Injector Cleaners, what are they and are they useful at all?

in #steemstem2 years ago

A few days ago I've noticed that my diesel car started to produce some strange rumbling/ rattling vibrations at the low revs. It manifested in a similar way as you would experience the fault ignition cable or a fault spark-plug on a car with a petrol engine.
The fumes from the exhaust were unusually hot and the most logical explanation was simple: some of the diesel went to the exhaust without being burnt.

The solution is to use some steemcleaners, I mean injection cleaners.
There is no need to call steemcleaners, this post will be "clean"

For the last two years, I was conducting the research for petrochemical industry and I'll devote 2-3 posts to this part of my life. CV is a simply obsolete way of communication.
(*yes, I know, my career is like a rollercoaster: molecular biology --> spectroscopy --> math --> asphalt but unlike the rollercoaster, it also included some branching as well).

Types of deposits and the problems related to deposits

There are 3 significant regions in the cylinder chamber that are exposed to slightly different conditions (different temperature is the main factor) and consequently forming 3 types of deposits that could be classified according to porosity. Numerous studies have been done that included AFM, FTIR, Raman, NMR and I played a little bit with EPR, because the deposits are forming stable organic radicals.

  • deposits on the intake valve (the one that made my engine running badly)
  • deposits on the cylinder head (check the diagram)
  • and the deposits accumulated on the top of the piston

slika 1.jpg

As you can imagine, I draw this. And I'm bad in drawing things... I'm not as skilled as @atopy. She is great!

This various porosity will affect chemical properties of the material and produce contradictory effects once we discuss the cleaning methods.

Deposits themselves can negatively affect the performances of the engine by simply blocking the valves to move freely. Some "hot spots" could be formed and create the unwanted ignition (this could be prevented by using the fuel with the higher octane number). And of course, the deposits could form the insulation layer. Keep in mind that bad ignition = more pollution and less power...

What is the composition of injector cleaners?

This is not a sponsored post, thus I have no intentions to advertise any of those products.
Generally speaking, all products of this class have a very similar composition, thus buy the one with the nicest name and with the reasonable price.

PEA (polyether amine) and PBA (polybutene amine)

Those are the main ingredients in all injection cleaners because those are well-known industrial detergents.
There are not too many substances that could be dissolved in fuel, ignited and yet retain the main pourpose.

Formual of PEA, polyether amine

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA)

As a biologist, many times I experienced the problem how to dissolve some substance in water that is (almost)not soluble. The solution is very simple: dissolve the substance in a small quantity of a suitable solvent (like DMSO) and then put that mixture into the water - it will work.

The most common impurity in fuel is - water. Water can make all sorts of problems. It could freeze in lines during the winter, it will destroy the surfactant layer it will make several problems if it's ignited in the cylinder *(unless we are talking about very strange BMW M4 CS).

So the idea is to keep the water in some small droplets and to mix it with the fuel as best as possible.
Isopropanol, IPA, is perfect for this purpose for several reasons:

  • it doesn't evaporate easily
  • it mixes with water, ethanol, ether, and chloroform while dissolving fats, oils and resins
  • it lowers the freezing point of the fuel

Conclusions from the studies:

As you can see, fuel manufacturers have to make compromises. They need to add additives, including the detergents and IPA.

But... If there are way too many detergents, those will ruin the engine oil. Both the detergents and IPA will cause the formation of deposits on the top of the pistons. If they remove all the detergents there will be the deposits on the intake valves. And if there is no IPA, water will ruin, well, everything.

Let's see what was published in one of only a handful of studies (for petrol engine!, but it's similar)

We observed that for the PEA additives the average reduction of the mass of the intake valve deposits was 73% with respect to the base fuel deposits. This reduction was accompanied by 21% increase of the mass deposited on the cylinder heads and piston tops. [4]

So, what should we do in practice?

First of all, check which brand of fuel is good for your car. My Alfa prefers Shell, Shell for her is like the chocolate for me. And the Total fuel is considered to be the broccoli for her. It doesn't mean that some brand is "bad", it means that it's not optimal for your car.

There is no need for "Premium" fuel if your engine belongs to the older generation.

If your car is new there is no need to start with the additives from the Day 1 because your valves are clean (there is nothing to clean there). Using too many additives will make more deposits on your pistons.

Of course, use the cleaners regularly (in my case, 3-4 times per year). You will increase the power, increase your mpg (percent or two) and reduce the pollution.


  1. A Fuel Additive Concentrate for Removal of Injector Deposits in Light-Duty Diesels 841349, link
  2. A Survey of Gasoline Fuel Deposit Control Additives in the Retail Aftermarket: Performance Claims vs. Chemistry 982712, link
  3. Evaluation of the Effect of Fuel Composition and Gasoline Additives on Combustion Chamber Deposits 962012, link
  4. Zerda, T. W., Yuan, X., & Moore, S. M. (2001). Effects of fuel additives on the microstructure of combustion engine deposits. Carbon, 39(10), 1589-1597. link
  5. Website about the industrial application of isopropanol, link

*Keep in mind that the vast majority of industrial research is kept confidential and never published in scientific journals, even at the level of general concept thus it's very difficult to find the proper references. Most of the time, it's easier to do the experiment from the scratch.

Read steemSTEM and your car will be happy


Hey @alexs1320!
Thx for the interesting post. Funnily i mostly enjoyed your information on the procedure how to dissolve hardly soluble substances in water. :) Especial thanks for this. :D


Unexpected :D

Additives to fuel??
I heard of it but i have never seen where they are used.. Especially the ones that they say saves fuel.
Its nice to read about some here.

Additives are very common and well regulated.
The second part of the question is more tricky because it comes to thermodynamics - what amount of energy will be released from the fuel. No matter what is added to fuel it will have more-less amount of energy per mass (*unless we are talking about the mixtures with ethanol, but that's the different topic). The only way how fuel consumption could be decreased would be to provide more consistent, more stable mixture of air and fuel. In practice, it could be seen only in extreme cases: fantastic gasoline vs the worst possible gasoline, or if the engine is a tech. masterpiece that runs well only with the best fuel.

Very interresting and usefull, thank you @Alex1320 , i would like to ask you about composition of injector cleaners, even if it's similar but I wanted to take a general idea of the ingredients.
Thanks for this great job

As the composition of them is kept as the industrial secret, it's difficult to say what is the exact composition.
However, we can make some educated guesses:

  • there must be some detergent either PEA (if produced by Chevron it's named Techron). Some PEA-similar things such as: PBA, PIB, PIBA
  • some aliphatic hydrocarbon like nonane (as the pre-wash for extremely dirty parts)
  • There must be some mixture of alcohols with the chain length C3-C5
  • Some exotics include the derivates of asparagine (amino something...)
  • There must be something with "the rings": naphthalene, 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene (2,3,5 or any combination basically :D), propylbenzene, cumene, xylene
  • something to make it similar to the actual fuel, like kerosene...

I've never seen the exact ratios, but the (admitted) composition is very similar.

Before the "modern additives" that are applied in the gas tank, there was a popular product with the brand name SeaFoam. It was not mixable with the fuel but it was applied via the vacuum lines.
Its composition was a bit different and included: pale oil, naphtha, and IPA. Certainly, it was not very user-friendly.

All the products always come with some 5-10 pages of documentation with the basic data about the chemical properties, physical characteristics and advice what to do in case of poisoning.
And the most important how not to set the products on fire :D

Very impressive knowledge for someone who's just guessing :D

I was in charge for asphalt XD

Very useful answer :) , thank you very much @Alex1320

I LOVE automotive posts on #steemstem! thanks a ton for posting this and i hope you post others of the sort!

Thanks :) There will be some...

Great post, I have a diesel and I am sure your efforts it will serve me well.

Thank you and welcome to Steemit. Maybe I gave you the first upvote :)
Be active on Discord chat and find some friends.

Good luck!

I've had no luck with fuel injector cleaner while dealing with clogged injectors from rust in fuel tank... From what I've read about that is newer injectors don't often clog and what I've experienced is that if you're enjoying a clogged injector save yourself some time and replace them since they are probably f-ing up electronically anyway from old age