How To Clean a Throttle Body

A clean throttle body is essential for smooth engine operation, and it doesn't take long to perform a little maintenance that will keep it running happy.
How to Clean a Throttle Body
Hank O'Hop

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When was the last time you cleaned your vehicle’s throttle body? We’re all guilty of letting these poor things go unloved, at least until our cars start to sputter and idle rough. It’s only then that we think to give our throttle body some TLC, even though it’s responsible for helping your engine breathe. 

It’s not the end of the world if you fall behind on throttle body maintenance, but as with anything, being proactive is better than being reactive. That’s especially true here because cleaning your throttle body is such a simple thing to do. It’s a quick job you can stack onto routine air filter replacements to ensure your engine’s sucking up nothing but clean air. 

Throttle body cleaner and dirty throttle body

We aren’t talking about adding a massively complicated task onto a quick job. Cleaning your throttle body is an easy task that beginner mechanics can knock out in 10 minutes. That’s even if you take an additional step to clean the MAF sensor while you’re at it. It’s also a relatively low-risk job, and from a safety perspective, all you’ll need are some protective eyewear and gloves to save yourself from having a really bad time. 

That’s right—you don’t need any specialty tools to get the job done. It’s not like you’re cleaning a carburetor. All you need is a screwdriver, maybe a socket wrench set, some paper towels, and throttle body cleaner to get it done. Make sure you don’t use carburetor cleaner for this process unless it’s designed to clean both carburetors and throttle bodies, as the latter typically features a specialized coating that carb cleaners can strip away. That said, it’s pretty much a process of spraying things down and wiping away debris. Let’s walk through it together so you know what to expect when you tear into things.

How to clean a throttle body

How To Clean a Throttle Body, Step by Step

Step 1: Remove Air Intake Tube 

The first thing you need to do is access the throttle body. It’s located on the intake manifold with the air intake tube linking it to the air filter box in most applications. You will need to get that intake tube out of the way. Its clamps are held snug with some screws that you’ll need to loosen up so that you can pull the tube free. Some applications, like my 2003 Ram 1500, feature an air intake resonator, which needs to be unbolted from the manifold to access the throttle body.

Step 2: Spray Butterfly Valve with Cleaner 

You don’t need to remove the throttle body to clean it. Spraying cleaner onto the valve with the assembly in place is perfectly fine. There won’t be a ton of harmful debris that can fall into your engine, and the cleaner you’re using won’t hurt anything in the intake.  

You do need to clean both sides of the butterfly valve, and that’s where things get tricky. If your car features a cable-driven throttle, you can open the valve by hand. Drive-by-wire cars will require the throttle pedal to be depressed to open the valve, as doing it by hand can damage the system. You can do that by having a friend step on the pedal while you clean or put something heavy on the pedal to hold the valve open.

Opening a throttle body by hand
Step 3: Wipe Away Excess Debris 

After spraying the throttle body with cleaner you want to go back and wipe up any remaining debris with a paper towel. You need to be careful not to tear it and let pieces fall into the intake as you work. If any build-up remains after hitting it with a paper towel, repeat this step and the last until the throttle body is clean.

Step 4: Give the MAF Sensor Some Love (Optional) 

There’s a reason throttle body cleaner and MAF sensor cleaner bundles exist: it’s silly not to do both at the same time. So, while everything’s apart, you might as well pop that MAF sensor out and give it a quick spritz and polish before putting everything back together. 

Step 5: Reassemble and Walk Away 

All that’s left is to reassemble the intake system and get back to enjoying your car. Be sure to clamp everything down snuggly and that all sensors are connected, and you’re good to go. 

Reassembling after cleaning throttle body

Cleaner Is Always Better

I know that manufacturers generally recommend cleaning the throttle body every 75,000 miles or so. But that’s a long time for an engine to suck up some gnarly air, and there’s no such thing as an intake being too clean. You might as well add an extra few minutes onto the air filter swap you’re going to do anyway. Besides, making sure everything is clean and in working order is only going to guarantee you’re getting the most out of your engine at all times.