Fuel System Cleaners: Do They Work, Should You Use One, and How Often?

There are literally hundreds of fuel injector or fuel systems cleaners available at your local auto parts store or online, and they all make similar claims that include improving performance, restoring lost power, increasing fuel economy, and protecting vital fuel system components. But, are they really worth the money, and which one should you buy, if at all?

Will “Any_Brand_Fuel_Additive” Fix My Car?

I get this question all the time since one of my jobs is at an auto parts store. Let’s get the biggest thing out of the way…

No, a single bottle of any product you just pour in the gas tank probably won’t magically fix your poorly maintained car that runs like crap. It’s not going to make your Civic perform like a Ferrari, and it’s not going to give your Escalade the gas mileage of a Prius.

But that doesn’t mean all of these products are useless, and you should absolutely use a quality fuel system cleaner as routine maintenance on your vehicle.

So, when should I use a fuel additive and how often?

Various products have different recommendations on the back, and you could ask every car guy, mechanic, or auto parts store employee and they’d give you a different answer ranging from “never” to “every tank” but here’s what I do and what seems to be a common sense approach that many people can agree with.

Whether you change your own oil, or have a shop do it, just use that as a reference point. Since most people do an oil change 1-3 times a year, it’s easy to remember and affordable to use a fuel system cleaner each time you get (or do) an oil change.

All fuel system cleaners work pretty much the same way – when you get gas, just pour it in the gas tank before you fill up, and then get gas. This way, it will be nicely mixed with the fresh fuel so it can do its job. Then, over the course of that tank, the entire fuel system, from fuel filter to fuel injectors to intake valves to combustion chamber to catalytic converter, get cleaned out.

How do I pick a product?

It’s simple – find one with PEA. Polyetheramines have been scientifically proven to have the strongest cleaning power of all types of chemicals found in these sorts of products. Some fuel injector cleaners might only have polyisobutylene amine (PIBA), which has far less cleaning power, or other undisclosed ingredients with less cleaning power.

Generally, while the terms “fuel system cleaner” and “fuel injector cleaner” are used interchangeably, when it comes to labeling, “fuel system cleaners” are usually the stronger product and contain PEA, while “fuel injector cleaners” are typically the weaker products that only contain PIBA or other less potent stuff. Also, don’t confuse these cleaners with “gas treatment”, an inferior and often cheaper product that usually only counteracts the effects of poor quality fuel, and doesn’t really do any lasting cleaning.

Of course, the amount of cleaning power vs the price is always an important consideration, so I’ve done some research for you, so here are your best choices for fuel system cleaners that contain PEA.

Chevron Techron Fuel System Cleaner – This right here is generally regarded among mechanics and car guys as one of the best products out there. Why? Well, it’s got a high concentration of PEA and whatever else it is they put in there. Now, don’t accidentally buy the Techron Fuel Injector Cleaner product, because, while cheaper, it isn’t the same. The one you want is in a black bottle (at the time of this writing, and unfortunately it’s usually pretty expensive. That said, you can often find it on sale at your local auto parts store. If it isn’t on sale, you can always pick it up for a competitive price on Amazon.com here.

Gumout Regane High Mileage Fuel System Cleaner – A far cheaper alternative is Gumout Regane – problem is, there are many variants out there, so it can be kind of confusing. Thankfully, I, along with the great folks on various internet forums, have done the research, and the best value in terms of concentration per dollar seems to be the “High Mileage” variant. Don’t worry if you don’t have high mileage – it really doesn’t matter. You can find this product here on Amazon.com for pretty cheap (less than $5 at the time of writing, though it might fluctuate), but also check whether that product, or other versions that contain PEA, such as Gumout Regane Complete Fuel System Cleaner or Gumout Regane All-in-one Fuel System Cleaner, are on sale at your local auto parts store or even Walmart, where I’ve seen it.

Royal Purple – This is a little confusing, but Royal Purple makes two great fuel system cleaning products that contain PEA. The first is “Max Atomizer”, a 6oz container, which you can check out here, and the second, “Max-Clean”, which comes in a 20oz container, and you can check that out here. Now, while I have no doubt that Max-Clean does more cleaning (hey, it’s over double the price and it’s a bigger bottle), as a regular maintenance dose Max Atomizer is sufficient and will save you quite a bit of money over Max-Clean.

STP – First off, be careful! STP makes several different fuel additives, and the ones you want are either STP High Mileage Fuel System Cleaner or STP Ultra 5-in-1 Fuel System Cleaner, as these two contain PEA. The “regular” STP doesn’t contain PEA. The STP products aren’t really a great value at regular price, but they are often on sale (either a discounted price or you get several for a better deal), so go hunting and get yourself a good deal if you have the patience!

In Conclusion

While there is no magic “tune up in a can” and anybody who advertises that is full of it, periodically using a quality fuel system cleaner that contains the right stuff can help fight deposits on the intake valves and inside the combustion chamber as well as break up small clogs in the fuel injectors, which will keep your vehicle running smoothly with optimal power and fuel economy.

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