How To Clean A Catalytic Converter?

Are you struggling with how to clean your catalytic converter? This beneficial exhaust emission control device can be of great help when needed. It also reduces the toxic gases that the vehicle emits. 

Who would have thought that such a tiny rectangular box with two pipes can perform such extensive tasks? However, sometimes it can get harrowing to clean up a converter for the owner of a vehicle.

Primarily because of how many tasks it performs, the chances are that a lot of waste accumulates inside it. Once you get the hang of it, cleaning a converter is not that difficult! Read along to find out what are the things you should keep in mind when approaching this task. 

What Is A Catalytic Converter?

The chances are that you must have seen the converter quite a few times but never knew what it did. However, there is always a point in one’s life where one has to deal with the car’s maintenance. During this time, you will come across the most critical part of a vehicle’s exhaust system. 

This converter is located precisely in the middle of the exhaust manifold and the back pipe. It is usually a black rectangular box with two tubes coming out of it. The inside of the converter is a ceramic substrate or a metal, and this is where most of the reactions occur.

What Exactly Does It Do?

If there is still some uncertainty about how catalytic converters work, it is best to get that cleared first. While the technology is something that has been in place for years, it has now been installed in almost every single car on the road. 

A catalytic converter is something that a driver or a mechanic does not have to worry much about since it goes on completing its tasks in the background. A catalytic converter has a lot of things going on inside it as well. 

Due to the chemical reactions that take place, the converter successfully turns harmful gases that your car emits into clean ones. Believe it or not, there are many poisonous chemicals that your vehicle emits every day. 

These include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide, etc. These, if inhaled or come into contact with, can be extremely harmful to us. Therefore, the converter’s job is to turn these substances into carbon dioxide, water vapor, etc., with the help of chemical reactions. 

If you wish to know in most layman terms how they do their job, here is how! The substrate of the catalytic converter has coatings that consist of several integral metals. These include platinum, palladium, and rhodium. 

Once the converter comes into contact with the right amount of heat, all of the hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, etc., go through the substrates. Post this, there is a reaction that takes place with these metals, and out come the less harmful gases. These gasses then exit through the muffler and the exhaust pipe. 

How To Know Something Is Wrong?

Sometimes, it gets straightforward to ignore the symptoms of a bad catalytic converter and keep getting carried away. However, it is imperative to understand when to take the correct measures before things get too bad. 

For this, you need to keep your eyes and mind open to a range of signs that will tell you something is amiss. If you spot any of these, it means that the time for cleaning has arrived. Most catalytic converters that reside within modern vehicles synchronize into their onboard diagnostic systems. 

These systems also come with a sensor that is exceptionally reactive to trouble. Therefore, if your converter is not working efficiently, the chances are that the sensor will show up with an ‘error,’ and the warning light will be flashed. This is the best indication to the driver to slow down and fix the catalytic converter. 

Here are some of the symptoms that you should look out for when trying to be watchful: 

  • Nasty and stinking smell throughout the vehicle
  • Difficulty in starting (Hard Starts)
  • A frequently poor fuel economy 
  • Lack of strength 
  • Subdued Accelerations 
  • Terrible performance of the engine 

Why Is The Converter Not Working?

While the catalytic converter usually works in silence and does not like to draw much attention to itself, it does its tasks with dedication. This means that in case the converter is not working correctly, chances are that there is something wrong. 

This is because catalytic converters do not stop work on their own. Therefore, it is best to analyse and fix the issue before it gets out of hand. In the worst-case scenario, your converter might even need replacing. 

There are a lot of things that could throw off the processing and job of your catalytic converter. Here are the ones that we most widely observe. 


You may not know this, but the ratio of the fuel-to-air-mixture is an essential part of any driving system. Unfortunately, if this ratio is not in correct proportion or not in precise tune, it can severely harm or hurt many directly linked-up car parts. 

Keep in mind that highly lean or rich conditions can lead to an increasing amount of fuel build-up of carbon supply. If this happens, the chances are that the fuel might end up getting into the catalytic converter. In the longer run, this could completely burn or melt the device from the inside.  

Lambada Or Sensors 

Every car needs a range of sensors to make sure that everything is up to date. You will find that these sensors exist all along with a car’s engine and are also directly in attachment to the exhaust system of a vehicle. 

They essentially test the oxygen of the engine in an attempt to check whether the vehicle is working correctly in normal conditions. The chances are that one of the sensors can sometimes end up getting a bad connection or loose wiring. 

If this happens, the readings that it is responsible for will not be displayed correctly. Therefore, without the help of these, the converter could face several calamities and issues due to overheating. 

Bumpy Rides 

While this is pretty unlikely as compared to all of the other options, it is a possibility to keep in mind for the future. The converter can face a lot of physical damage if you are going through highly rough speed bumps, driving on top of branches, using rogue highway tires, etc. 

These and a range of other barriers or burdens can highly deter the working of a catalytic converter. What this does, is damage the outer shell or sometimes the inner parts of the converter. This directly leads to physical damage that could either hinder its performance or make it fall off entirely. 

In the case of the latter, the chances are that you would need a complete replacement. 

How To Go About Cleaning Them?

While you may think that cleaning a catalytic converter would be quite a harrowing ordeal, it is a lot simpler than you can imagine. Due to frequent dust clogging into the converter, the chances are that it will not work as well as it usually does. 

When this occurs, it is your sign to ensure an excellent and thorough cleaning of the same. There are certain things to keep in mind that will give you no troubles during the cleaning process. Follow these instructions carefully, and you will have a spick and span converter once again! 

Here are some of the most common ways to clean them and a detailed review of whether they work efficiently or not. 

No Removal 

The first method that most people would wish to opt for is cleaning the converter without removing it. This method does not require an individual to take it out of the system or dismantle its parts completely. 

What’s more, is that this is a method that you can get away with without getting yourself too dirty or ending up becoming too expensive. Furthermore, it also goes the extra mile and cleans the oxygen sensors and the exhaust system. 

However, not all catalytic converters can undergo this method. The way to check whether you are eligible for the same or not is to see if your exhaust system is too dirty or whether you have a busted or collapsed catalyst honeycomb. 

In case you spot any of these two things, chances are you cannot go ahead with using this method. The easiest way to check for the same is to simply keep patting the converter with the help of a mallet or a wrench. 

Make sure to only hit it with a special force until you hear a sort of rattling sound. Any harder, and you are likely break it beyond repair. If you use a lot of strength, then you might need to do some extra work.

Once all of the things mentioned above are up to date, it is time to go ahead and get started. Firstly, go and get some fuel and invest in a high-quality catalytic converter cleaner. They are readily available online. Make sure to check for reviews before opting for one. 

Next, what you must do is gently pour the cleaner inside the fuel tank. Before doing so, make sure to thoroughly read the cleaner’s label that comes with all of the instructions you should follow. It will tell you about the quantity of the fuel as well as whether it is compatible with your engine. 

That is it! All you need to do now is start your vehicle and go for a drive. This will make the catalytic cleaner move throughout the car and will give you a clearer picture of whether it has worked or not. 

What you need to look for is the coolant temperature. If all of the things that were going wrong with the temperature gauge and the engine are now working smoothly, then your cleaner has worked!

With Removal 

What might work for one individual may not always work for another. This means that sometimes, fixing it without removing it is not the most efficient solution. However, there is definitely another way you can clean the catalytic converter. 

Once the exhaust system of the vehicle is not extremely hot, jack up the car and use jack stands until the vehicle is at a workable height. Then, get under it and unhinge the oxygen sensors with an oxygen sensor wrench. 

Post this; you need to remove the converter and thoroughly look at it. In case it produces a loud rattle, chances are that the components are broken and that you need to invest in a new one. But, in the case of no rattles, simply clean the entire converter. 

All you need to do now is pressure wash the insides with low frames. Once that is done, soak the catalytic converter in hot or warm water for the solution to degrease. After completely drying it, simply take the car for a drive and see for yourself whether it works!

What Not To Do?

There are certain things that you absolutely should not do at any cost with your converter. 

  • Do not clean your converter with soap and water. It will simply have no effect on the cleaning process. 
  • Do not clean it with a Lacquer Thinner. This one, too, is a no-brainer. No matter how many influencers promise it works, it simply does not. 
  • Do not be in a hurry to get the cleaning done with. 

Wrapping Up 

Now that you have become an expert on everything to do with catalytic converters and cleaning, it is time to go ahead and try out things yourself. Make sure to be extremely cautious at all times.

In case you think that you cannot fix something yourself or do not know what to do with a particular piece, it is always best to ring your mechanic. That is it! Do not be irrational; follow the instructions, and reward yourself with a clean and smooth catalytic converter!


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