How to clean lifters without removing them

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Both hydraulic lifters and solid lifters can get sticky, clogged, or can become noisy as they are used. Most experts recommend removing the lifters to properly clean them, but removing them can be time-consuming and labor-intensive.

You can, however, clean lifters without removing them. Flushing the engine with an engine cleaner is the best way to clean the lifters without removing them and will get a large portion of the work done in all but the most extreme cases.

Materials needed

  • Your preferred engine flush cleaner
  • Jack stands
  • Oil drain pan
  • Oil filter
  • Replacement oil drain plug (if the old one is damaged)
  • New oil per your car’s specifications

Note: you should always research what your specific vehicle requires and follow the directions provided by both the engine cleaner manufacturers vehicle manufacturers. In general, most engine cleaners should be suitable for most engines, but it’s always a good idea to check the maintenance guidelines for your vehicle.

Step 1: Adding the engine flush cleaner

The first step is to add your preferred engine flush to your engine. Open the oil cap and add the appropriate amount of cleaner based on the size of your engine.

Be sure to follow the directions for your engine flush. Some people may need two or more bottles if they have a large engine.

Once you’ve added the cleaner, close the oil cap. 

Step 2: Running the engine to allow the cleaner to work

After adding the engine flush detergent, you will want to start the engine and allow it to idle for about 15 minutes. This allows the detergent to work its way through your engine and through your lifters.

You may hear your lifters get a bit quieter the longer your engine idles, indicating that the engine cleaner is working on the lifters. After the directed amount of time has passed, you can proceed to turn the car off. 

Step 3: Drain the oil from your engine and remove the oil filter

Once you’ve run the cleaner through the engine, depending on the directions for your cleaner, you may need to change your car’s oil. Not all engine detergents need an oil change and can be left in the engine, but some will require it.

That said, if your lifters are making noise and you’ve cleaned them with an engine detergent, that dirt is now in the rest of the oil, and changing that is a good idea in general.

Use jack stands to lift up the front end of your car–be sure to use the appropriate jacks for your vehicle. Place an oil drain pan underneath your vehicle’s oil drain spout and then drain the oil from your car. This process will vary based on the exact model of vehicle that you have.

After you have drained all of the oil from your car, remove the oil filter from your car. Once again, this process can vary slightly based on the make and model of the vehicle you own. 

Step 4: Replacing the Oil Filter and Oil

After you have drained the oil and removed the oil filter, you will need to install a new oil filter and replace the oil in your car.

Ensure that the new oil filter is installed securely and that you have put the oil drain plug back as well.

Always do your research to learn what type of oil is recommended for your car and how many quarts of oil your vehicle needs. 

Step 5: Allow the New Oil to Circulate

After replacing the oil in your car, you will want to turn on your vehicle and allow the oil to circulate throughout the engine. Allow the engine to idle for a few minutes, and then rev the engine a few times.

If you have successfully cleaned the lifters without removing them, you should not hear any rattling or noise as the oil circulates.

What if the lifters are still making noise?

If you still hear noise coming from the lifters, you will need to remove them and clean them individually. 

This process will, of course, vary from vehicle to vehicle, and may not be a good idea for novice mechanics to tackle on their own. At this point, you’ll want to either take your vehicle to a shop or reach out to a mechanic friend or family for help.


In many instances, cleaning your vehicle’s lifters can be done with engine cleaners to bypass the need to remove them. While removing the lifters is, of course, the best way to get a full cleaning, using engine cleaners at regular intervals will often do a majority of the work for you without the extra effort.

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