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Spark Plug Cleaner

While doing the yearly maintenance on your lawnmower like a good Toolmonger, you pull the spark plug and discover it’s covered in crud. While replacing the plug is a fine idea, you might save a little dough and a trip to the store by cleaning it and using it for another year. And though you could clean the plug with a little elbow grease, why do it the hard way when this cheap-ass pneumatic spark plug cleaner’ll do the job for you?

Both Harbor Freight and Tool King sell a low-cost pneumatic spark plug cleaner. They look slightly different, but both seem to function similarly. Hook the 1/4″ inlet of the cleaner to your compressor, crank the pressure regulator to 90 PSI, and pray you have enough CFM’s (7.7) to get this baby to clean. Then choose air or abrasive cleaning with the turn of a switch, stick the plug in the opposite end, and hit the start button — and see whether the plug looks like new or, more probably, slightly cleaner.

The $10 price even includes the abrasive material — but is this cheap-ass tool a bargain, or is it just a cheap tool? If you’ve had experience with one of these things, let us know in the comments.

Spark Plug Cleaner [Harbor Freight]
Spark Plug Cleaner [Tool King]


11 Responses to Cheap-Ass Tools: Pneumatic Spark Plug Cleaner

  1. Adam R says:

    $10 for the tool or $4 for the spark plug? Tough choice, but I will go with the plug. I don’t have to drive 20 miles to pick it up and I know it will work.

  2. Well, obviously if you only have one plug to clean it’s not probably worth it unless you’re thinking long term, but what about the plugs in the chainsaw, the snowblower, the weed wacker, the leaf blower, that’s just my garage… then there’s the neighbors, the parents, etc…

    I don’t think I’d use this on my truck though.

  3. tmib_seattle says:

    I agree with Benjamen. Sure, replacing the plug is the way to go a lot of the time, but what if you have a tool or vehicle that regularly fouls plugs? What if you’re trying to tune your carb(s) and have the mixture too rich? You’re going to go through a lot of plugs as you troubleshoot the carb if you’re not just cleaning them as you go.

  4. Chris says:

    This looks awfully similar to the plug cleaners used for aviation spark plugs. Aviation spark plugs have a terrible fouling problem due to the low (but non-zero) lead content of the gasoline used in piston aircraft, and every shop I’ve been in has a small dedicated sandblasting apparatus for exactly this purpose.

    I don’t think any of them used the $10 Harbor Freight version, though 😉


  5. fuzzmanmatt says:

    I can see how this MIGHT be useful in a situation like Chris points out, but for most DIYers, it’s $1.78 out the door for a spark plug in a mower. And how many people still have carbed cars? In a modern car with platinum plugs, this is useless. Now, ten years ago I would have snatched it up in a heartbeat.

  6. Kelly G says:

    This is a tool that has great value when needed…but for many it will NEVER be needed.
    I am a mechanic. I have 4 parts houses on delivery, and can have any plug delivered in 1 hour at wholesale.

    But when I want one, I want it NOW! This cleaner allows you to clean a fouled plug and make it runnable instantly. No finding, buying, and driving or waiting.

    The poster who said Platinums dont need it was absolutely incorrect. Platinum plugs WEAR better than old conventionals, they last 60k-100k instead of 20-40k, and they can run larger gaps than old plugs without melting. Thats where the advantage ends. They oil or ash foul just like any other plug, they transfer material, they carbon up and fould or lower gap when the mixture is rich. And since they often stay in an engine 100k or more, the odds of them getting old and staying in there when fuel or oil control parts start wearing out is HIGH. most deposits are not sudden disasters (Fuel injector sticking open, sensor temporarily causing a rich condition). Most foulidng and deposits are caused by SLIGHT problems that add up over time. the deposits stay there and it hardens and becomes impossible to remove by hand. These abrasive cleaners will clean them 90% of the tyme. And on plugs that routinely last 5-7 YEARS, if you have deposits at year 3, and a set of plugs is 50-100 dollars, or you have freezing temps and winter fuels that foul them up once a year even though THE PLUGS are actually fine…it actually becoems wise to cleam good plugs rather than replace them.
    With Shipping, the Harbor Freight version is about 5 bucks cheaper to lower 48. Thes cleaners are the same design that has been used worldwide in autos and aircraft for over 75 years. They work, they havent changed, and they are still used by professionals to keep even NEW car sparkplugs clean and efficient and avoid needless replacement. (Like say 8 iridium plugs at 13 bucks each that have 40k miles and the only problem with them is crummy gas that caused them to get deposits young…but they still have OVER half their lyfe left, plus they are OEM plugs which are always better matched and superior performance to any generic aftermarkets that were made to work on many years and brands/applications. Youd be much better off with cleaned OEMs than new Bosch’s or new Champions!)

  7. bo says:

    I’ve had one for over 30 years. Looks identical to me. I’ve used it frequently and it works. I’ve used it on all manner of yard equipment plugs. Gives a real clean plug in seconds and I don’t have to chase a plug by driving to the store. I do take a needle and clean out the ceramic from trapped sand and do flush out the grit with carb cleaner. I would not give mine up.

  8. Art ChevyNut says:

    If you have an old antique car that takes a plug that is not in the local NAPA or AutoZone store a cleaner can be a godsend. These old cars seem to be prone to carbon buildup since you try to use non-oxygenated gasoline with a lead supplement if you can. And if the plugs in your 80 year old car are the original plugs, like mine, then the last thing you want to do is replace them as they are part of the cars originality. So don’t just think of new cars or lawn equipment for one of these, think more broadly about car collectors. And those old plugs, if you can find them, are not $2 each or anything like that.

  9. Jason Burnstein says:

    The plugs for my model A Ford cost $32.00 each
    (Champion 3-X) This cleaner is very usefull to me.

  10. Danny says:

    Rather than just adding another comment about how this kind of tool in general works and whether or not it’s worthwhile… I actually have one of these, and it works great. I was recently tuning the new fuel injection controller on my new engine (supposed to be “self-learning”; the idle self-tuning doesn’t work with a cam that has a lot of overlap), and fouling plugs every half hour or so. I bought one of these at the local HF for under $10, and it works really well. You need to point it with the spark plug up in order for the abrasive to work well, but it actually works great. And it costs less than a single set of 8 decent plugs. Most of the crap at HF is actually crap, but this thing is one of those tools where precision doesn’t really matter; it just works.

  11. B says:

    Aviation spark plugs cost $32 ea. and upward. And a 4 cylinder engine has 8 plugs…6 cylinder has 12…you’re not gonna go out and buy a new set just because they are dirty. Aviation plugs last a long time if cared for.

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