It’s funny how some of the most frightening and worrying car problems can actually be the easiest to fix.
One of the issues that people commonly face is dirty MAF Sensors.
The Mass Air Flow Sensor handles measuring the air intake in your engine. If the sensor is dirty and cannot measure air intake correctly. This means the ECU will not be able to dictate the required air/fuel ratio, resulting in poor engine performance.
A simple clean of the MAF sensor could have your car running correctly in no time.
Cleaning your MAF sensor is the cheapest solution to solving the problem and it’s straightforward too. You don’t need to pay a mechanic to do this, I promise that even the least mechanically inclined can DIY it.
Symptoms of dirty MAF sensor
In the beginning, you’ll start noticing subtle performance differences. These may be inconsistent or something that you just brush off, to begin with. This could be anything along the lines of taking slightly longer to start, slightly different idle, decreasing fuel economy, or a hard-to-notice hesitation.
As the Mass Air Flow Sensor continues to get dirtier these problems will continue to become way more consistent and obvious.
My car for example would always hesitate when pulling away and at around 3000 RPMs. It would also have a very ropey idle on start-up that would almost make the car stall if I didn’t hold it consistently above 1500 revs for a little while.
The dead giveaway is when you have a lot of these problems and then the check engine light also comes on to confirm the problem.
At this point, if you have a code reader, you’ll be able to confirm that it’s the MAF sensor as the EML will have almost certainly thrown a code for it. It’s from this point, you have to consider whether to clean or replace the sensor.
Benefits of cleaning mass air flow sensor
The main reason to clean your MAF sensor over replacing it has to be the financial savings. Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, replacing it could cost you $150+. Whereas a MAF sensor cleaner will cost you $10 or so.
Another benefit to cleaning your sensor is that you can probably fix the issue the same day. All you need to do is go to your local auto parts store and grab yourself a can, return home, disassemble and then clean the sensor.
The other more obvious benefit is the fact that your car will begin to perform as it should again. If a dirty MAF sensor is your only problem, once cleaning it, you’ll regain some power, have better fuel economy and it should no longer hesitate under acceleration either.
Where is the MAF sensor located
The Mass Air Flow sensor is located between the air filter and engine intake manifold. If you look back from the air filter, it should be located in the housing where the first cable plugs into.
For example, on my Skoda, it’s right after the air box.
You may find on some cars that the Intake Air Temperature sensor is built into your MAF sensor. You could also find out that your car doesn’t actually have a MAF sensor, but rather a MAP (manifold absolute pressure sensor).
On most cars removing the MAF sensor is easy, it’s normally just two screws. Sometimes these are security bolts, so you’ll need to know how to remove those and have replacement ones lined up.
If you don’t want to remove the sensor from the housing, all you need to do is disconnect the silicone pipes from either side and use a MAF sensor cleaner with a tube/extension that will allow you to get the cleaning product directly onto the sensor.
Best MAF Sensor Cleaner
CRC Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner
If you’ve ever done any servicing, repairs or have ever been in an automotive shop, you’ll recognize CRC.
CRC offer superior quality products in the general maintenance and repair section. Their highly-specialized formulas are developed to solve your problems with ease.
This is why it’s no surprise that the CRC MAF Sensor cleaner is the highest rated on my list. It’s also the highest rated cleaner on amazon, which means many others believe in the product too.
It’s completely safe to use on all car parts and plastics and will help to clean the MAF sensor on any car of your choice.
What I love most about this product is that fact that it dries almost instantly, leaving behind 0 residue. Some of the other products take longer to dry, while this one is super fast meaning you can reinstall your sensor much quicker.
It’s recommended that you use this product every time that you clean or change your filter. But if you’ve left it too late, it should still remove heavy build-up, it might just take more effort and product.
This product is a no brainer to me, spending less than $20 to not have to replace a sensor. Depending on your vehicle, that could be huge savings.
Buy CRC MAF Sensor Cleaner from amazon and have your car running normal again in no time.
Johnsens Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner
The Johnsens Mass Air Flow Sensor cleaner is another product that comes highly rated. It’s completely safe to use on both retro and modern vehicles, and can even be used on other sensors too.
It comes in the exact same bottle as the CRC MAF cleaner. Im led to believe it’s the same product relabelled by another company. If this is true, you’re better off buying whichever is cheaper at the time of reading this article.
It does exactly as you’d expect from a specialty electrical cleaner. It dries super quick, no residue and it doesn’t discolour your plastics either.
Providing you remove the MAF sensor from the intake and clean it thoroughly, there’s no way this product doesn’t work.
Johnsens is said to be cheaper with the 10oz can costing less than what the 4.5oz CRC option is. It’s a no-brainer which product to buy.
Buy Johnsens MAF Sensor Cleaner From Amazon.
Berryman Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner
The Berryman MAF sensor cleaner is another product that I like. It works the exact same way as any other mass air flow sensor cleaner, but, it comes with an extension tube.
Using the extension tube you’ll be able to spray the product into narrow or blocked off areas. The MAF sensor on my skoda is blocked by a honeycomb type cover & is held in by security torx.
As berryman claim in their descriptions, this product quickly and safely cleans all dirty maf sensors.
It’s fast drying and is designed for maximum compatibility with sensitive sensors and is completely safe to use on any plastics.
As for the pricing, it’s pretty much the same price as the rest of the products on this list. The 11oz bottle will set you back just under $20. The only problem being, you seem to need a little bit more of this product than the CRC one for example.
That being said, there’s not too much difference between the 3 products I’ve mentioned so far. I’d personally just order which ever comes first, as they’ll all achieve very similar results.
Buy the Berryman Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner From Amazon.
Liqui Moly Air Flow Sensor Cleaner
If you live in Europe, the products above are probably unavailable or take ages to ship to your country. This is because they’re all US products.
The best MAF sensor cleaner I’ve been able to find over here, is in fact the Liqui Moly one. This completely cleared my problems that I had in a Skoda Octavia 1.8T.
After saturating my MAF sensor in this product and letting it dry, I could say good bye to the rough idle and hesitation at around 3000 RPM that the car had.
On top of my great results, the 2,700 product reviews on amazon also swear by this product. saying that it worked a treat and does exactly what it says on the tin.
Again, this is another well-priced product, setting Europeans back less than $15.
It’s a no-brainer to try and clean your MAF sensor before you replace it.
You can buy Liqui Moly from Amazon.
Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner Alternatives
Now, I tend not to recommend MAF Sensor cleaner alternatives, this is because even the best MAF sensor cleaners are super cheap.
Why even try to use another product when one specifically designed for the job is available for somewhere between $10-20?
If you still are intent on using something different, I’ve read most electrical cleaners will do the trick. The most recommended being WD40’s Specialist Drying Contact Cleaner.
I personally have no experience with this product and wouldn’t recommend using it over actual MAF sensor cleaners. Best case scenario it works, worst case scenario, you’re having to replace your MAF sensor.
How to clean a MAF sensor properly
- Remove the sensor or housing – Depending on the tools you have and the decision you make, remove the MAF sensor from its housing or remove it from your car as a unit.
- Use MAF Sensor cleaner to clean it – most MAF sensor cleaners come with instructions on how to use them but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Spray the cleaner onto the sensor and housing to remove the dirt.
- Let the cleaner dry – Most decent MAF sensor cleaners dry quickly, this depends on how much you use. Once dry and inspect that the MAF sensor is clean.
- Reinstall The Sensor – When you’re satisfied that the sensor is as clean as you’re going to get it, reinstall the sensor.
- Clear The Codes – If you have a code reader this is when you would clear the codes and engine management light. Providing you managed to clean it properly, the codes should not reappear.
There’s not really an exact science to it. Depending on how dirty your sensor is, you may have to use a lot of product to get it clean and even then, it could only be a short term fix.
Most of the mechanics I’ve spoken to suggest just replacing them, but this would be expensive and doesn’t prevent them getting dirty in the future. At least if you’ve got cleaner on hand you can fix it there and then, regardless of how long term of a fix it is.
How Often To Clean Your MAF Sensor
There’s no set schedule on when to clean your MAF sensor. I’d recommend doing it every service, especially when changing filters.
You could keep a regular schedule such as every 6 months, but, unless there’s any recurring issues with your sensor, it’s a bit overkill.
Alternatively, clean your MAF sensor when the issues start to pop up. This is the least pro-active solution but unless you’re getting consistent problems, is probably the one that makes the most sense.