I experienced a dramatic increase in power after I installed headers on my exhaust system. However, over time, I noticed that the extra power was diminishing.
So I immediately jacked up my car and checked my exhaust. Soon, my eyes caught sight of the stains and rust build-up on the header.
Thankfully, cleaning them fixed my problem and restored the power I was deprived of.
In order to clean stainless steel headers, you can use cleaning agents such as Harpic and Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover. You may also want to try buffing wheels to clear dirt from tight corners.
In the article, I will first explain how a stainless steel header becomes dirty. Afterward, I will elaborate on the methods for cleaning it thoroughly.
Let’s get rolling!
Why Does Stainless Steel Stain?
As its name implies, stainless steel is supposed to be stain-resistant. However, as ironic as it may seem, stainless steel is also susceptible to staining. Let’s have a look at what could be causing that.
- Poor Installation
I see many people buying high-end headers and then relying on inexperienced shops to attach them. This a grave mistake as it can lead to faulty sealing.
When the seal is weak, moisture and oxygen will enter freely. As a result, stains are more likely to form Hence, you should use durable exhaust gaskets and seals.
- Improper Cleaning
If you neglect to clean steel headers properly, they may collect a layer of grime and residue that is hard to remove. Unfortunately, this residue traps moisture, resulting in staining.
- Heat Exposure
Some cars have extremely hot exhaust systems. In such a scorching environment, headers can discolor due to heat reactions.
- Chemical Contamination
A variety of chemicals can stain stainless steel, including grease and fuel. Thus, ensure that only approved chemicals are used in your vehicle’s exhaust.
If your headers are subjected to excessive abrasion, it may erode the protective coating. This means the metal remains exposed to elements, which will ultimately stain it.
Different Ways To Clean Stainless Steel Headers
Here are three methods I suggest for cleaning your precious headers.
Cleaning with Harpic Power Plus
Headers usually suffer from the following elements:
- Dirt from road surfaces
The good news is that one single chemical will eliminate them all – hydrochloric acid. But where do you find it?
You may have a Harpic Power Plus in your home, idly awaiting its turn to wash the bathroom. Among its ingredients, hydrochloric acid is present. It removes calcium and iron build-ups with ease.
This means the Harpic can deal with stains, dirt, and rust without difficulty.
STEP – 1: Protect yourself
The first step is to put on eye protection and hand gloves for safety.
STEP – 2: Apply Harpic with a paintbrush
Pour some Harpic into a bucket without adding water. Put Harpic on the affected area using a paintbrush.
STEP – 3: Use a scrub brush
If some parts have heavy stains, paint brushes won’t work. In that case, utilize a scrub brush to scrub off the stubborn marks.
STEP – 4: Wipe away the remaining Harpic
After you have finished cleaning, you should see Harpic liquid all over your exhaust. Don’t forget to clean it thoroughly before starting your vehicle.
STEP – 5: Give the pipes a good drying
Turn on your car and let the exhaust pipes dry completely.
If you consider using another toilet cleaner besides Harpic, be sure it consists of hydrochloric acid. Most of them are based on formic acid, which is not powerful enough to clean tough dirt and stains.
The procedure is suitable for stainless steel and titanium exhaust pipes. Do not apply this method to aluminum exhaust since it will leave visible stains.
If you own a chrome exhaust, you can use this method, but remove the acid as soon as possible.
Cleaning Rust with CLR
Thus far, I’ve discussed cleaning dirt from headers. Apart from dirt and staining, rust is another problem you may encounter.
Unfortunately, removing rust using Harpic and a paintbrush can be quite challenging. As rust is a strong substance, Harpics would not be able to eliminate it.
You will need a Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover for this. It is formulated with lactic acid and gluconic acid to combat rust effectively. Let’s see how you can take advantage of this combo.
STEP – 1: Use a wire brush
When a header is rusty, loose rust particles should be present. Since you can’t eradicate them using CLR, you will have to use a wire brush first.
It is important to get rid of as many loose materials as possible.
STEP – 2: Spread CLR on the paintbrush
Now grab your paintbrush and dab generous amounts of the CLR liquid onto it.
STEP – 3: Cover rust with CLR
Start brushing the rusty spots. Do not let any rusty parts go unattended. Give the CLR a few minutes to do its thing.
STEP – 4: Rinse the CLR
After about five minutes, you are all set to wash off the CLR. The leftover liquid should not be allowed to dry on its own.
Dry the headers right away with a microfiber cloth. This way, stains won’t appear.
There should still be some pitted marks from rust on the exhaust tips. It’s nearly impossible to erase them, so don’t bother trying.
Cleaning with Buffing Wheels
What if you could effectively remove both stains and rust using a single process? This is exactly what baffling wheels are capable of.
Although they were designed primarily for rim cleaning, they are also useful for removing dirt from headers. These wheels come with soft foam brushes for sweeping tight spaces.
It means when you are performing a full clean, CLR and Harpic can handle all the easy-to-reach areas. The remaining difficult-to-reach spots are easily cleanable with the wheels.
STEP – 1: Apply metal polish.
To prepare the wheel, rub metal polish onto the brush first. Next, attach it to a drill and slow down the speed to let the polish work its way into confined spaces.
STEP – 2: Remove the fairings
Gradually increase your drill speed to medium or high to achieve a thorough cleaning. If you are having trouble reaching tight corners, take off the fairings.
How To Polish Stainless Steel Headers?
Whether you wash your header with Harpic or CLR or buffing wheels, it will still look dull. To make the header shine, you must polish it.
This requires the use of high-quality metal polish. It can bring out the luster of metals like aluminum, chrome, brass, stainless steel, and copper.
All right, enough talking; let me show you how to restore the shine to your header.
STEP – 1: Prepare a cloth
Take a cloth and cut it over 60 cm long. This is the minimum length you should accept.
STEP – 2: Run the cloth through the headers
Pass the cloth through the header and wrap it once around the pipe. Next, pull the cloth at one end. It will result in buffing effects along the pipes.
STEP – 3: Rub the metal polish
Now would be a good time to use metal polish. Put it on the header to the extent necessary.
When you encounter sensors or bolts, adjust the buffing cloth accordingly.
There you have it; your header looks as good as new!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is not recommended to clean stainless steel?
I recommend avoiding harsh cleaning agents like bleach, steel wool, and ammonia on steel headers. They may scratch and damage the surface.
Moreover, these substances may corrode stainless steel due to their caustic nature.
How often should I clean my headers?
You should clean your headers every three to four months if your vehicle is frequently driven. On the other hand, those who don’t use their vehicles regularly can clean the headers once a year.
In my opinion, how often you need to clean your header depends on how quickly dirt, stains, and rust accumulate.
To Sum Up
As you can see from the article, cleaning stainless steel headers does not require much effort. You can either use Harpic or CLR to get rid of stains, rust, and dirt from headers. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to follow all safety precautions.