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Can You Use Carb Cleaner as Starting Fluid? (Quick Answers)

An engine is the core component of each and every vehicle and the quality of its performance also greatly impacts the user’s driving experience. Therefore, it is crucial that the owners of the vehicles make sure that their engine is using the right starting fuel. 

In the extract below, you will learn whether you can use carb cleaner as starting fluid or not.

Can you use carb cleaner as starting fluid?

You can use carb cleaner as starting fluid but you must only in desperate situations where you do not have starting fluid. Not all engines are compatible with carb cleaners as starting fluid since the ingredients of both are very different so take note of that as well. 

You may encounter situations where the engine of your car refuses to start due to winter or cold weather and in order to get rid of this issue, starting fluids are used to dry the spark plug and create an optimal environment for the ignition to start. 

The starting fluid contains ether and other combustible fluid in an aerosol spray can which is highly combustible and thus allows for easier ignition from the spark plug.

Besides that, the starting fluid can also be used as an excellent cleaning agent to clean the debris and oil layers in the cylinder of the engine – which helps prevent clogs in the fuel line that may prevent fuel flow.

On the other hand, the carb cleaner is a cleaning fluid but is also highly flammable as well as cleans and dries out the ignition. Carb cleaners are available in both normal cans as well as in the form of aerosol sprays. 

The carb cleaners that come in aerosol sprays are usually non-chlorinated and thus contain combustible ingredients that make the spray flammable. 

However it is not meant to be used as a combustible fuel – thus it will emit toxic fumes from the exhaust when it is used as a starting fluid. 

Therefore, you can use carb cleaner as a starting fluid but only when you have no starting fluid or any other better alternatives because not only it can produce fumes toxic for humans but also they may not be as effective as starting fluids.

Is starter fluid same as carb cleaner?

The ingredients of the starter fluid consists mostly of ether as well as other combustible fluids stored in an aerosol spray can. 

On the other hand, the carb cleaner is made for a different purpose and it is used as a cleaning fluid, however, due to its flammability and ability to dry out oils makes it suitable to be used as starter fluid. 

Therefore, it should be noted that the starter fluid is not the same as carb cleaner not only because their ingredients are different but they are designed to serve different purposes despite having a common use.

3 reasons why you can use carb cleaner as starting fluid

Starting fluids are an essential item to your engine’s operation during winters or cold weathers – without them, getting your engine to start becomes increasingly difficult. However, you may not have starting fluid available in your garage and so you might be compelled to use a substitute. 

In this list below, you will know why you can use carb cleaner as starting fluid:

Can remove oils and dry:

One of the reasons the starting fluid aids in the ignition is because it can remove the oil and moisture from the spark plug and creates a dry environment for proper ignition. 

In case of carb cleaner, they also have similar properties that removes excess oil from the cylinders and allows the spark plug to dry. For this reason, the carb cleaner can achieve a similar environment created by the starter fluid.


Besides creating a dry environment for ignition, the starter fluid also aids in ignition due to its combustible nature. When the spark plug tries to start the engine, the vapor from the starter fluid eases the ignition and thus the engine starts up much easier. 

In the case of carb cleaner, it achieves the same result because the carb cleaner is flammable – but make sure it is in an aerosol can. Cleaners in ordinary cans are not flammable.

Can be sprayed into the ignition:

Ease of application is another major factor that enables carb cleaners to be used as starting fluids. The carb cleaner can be directly sprayed into the chamber from an aerosol spray can and thus enable you to start the engine in a short time.

Starting fluid vs carb cleaner – What are the differences?

Although starting fluid and carb cleaner can serve a common purpose of starting the ignition of our car engine, both of these fluids are much different from each other in multiple cases. Apart from their common use, they cannot be interchangeably used because of their core differences. 

Below detailed are some of those differences between a starting fluid and carb cleaner:

Use Case / Purpose:

Despite having a common use case, the starting fluid and carb cleaner are fundamentally different since they are manufactured for completely different purposes with various different ingredients. 

The starting fluid is manufactured to be used on cars to aid the starting of the ignition – therefore it contains mostly ether and other flammable compounds. Whereas the carb cleaner is a cleaning fluid that is produced to clean the oil from the carburetor.


Since the carb cleaner was not made to be used as a starting fluid, it is not as effective as the starting fluid. The carb cleaner should only be used as the starting fluid when starting fluid or any better alternatives are not available. 

It may also cause damage to motorcycle engines as the carb cleaner strips the engine of its oil layer, leaving it completely dry and prone to damage.

Side effects:

The carb cleaner is not meant to be used as a starting fluid and therefore, its fluids produce a toxic fume out of the exhaust when they are combusted. 

Starting fluids do not produce such toxic fumes when combusted – thus human health is also at risk when using carb cleaner as starting fluid.

How do you start the engine with carburetor cleaner?

In order to use carb cleaner as a starting fluid for your engine, follow the steps below:

Lift the hood of your car and locate the air intake:

The carb cleaner should be sprayed into the car’s air intake, which is located under your car’s hood. In order to spray it, you must first lift the hood of your car and then locate the air intake – which is present in different locations for different cars according to the manufacturers. 

If you cannot find the air intake of your car, you may use the user manual of your car or contact the manufacturer’s to know the exact location.

Remove the air filter from the air intake:

Once you have located the air intake, you must remove the air filter to expose the air intake cylinder. The air filter covers the air intake, therefore you must remove the air filter in order to properly spray the carb cleaner.

Spray the carb cleaner into the air intake:

Once you have removed the air filter, you must spray the carb cleaner directly into the air intake. You can also choose to spray the carb cleaner into a clean rag and hold it in front of the air intake to allow the vapors to diffuse into the intake cylinder. 

After you have sprayed a considerable amount of carb cleaner into the air intake, replace the air filter back into the intake and close the hood of your car.

Start the engine to check: 

To check whether the carb cleaner is working as a starting fluid, turn on the car to start the engine. If the engine does not start, you may repeat the process one or two more times – but if it still fails, then take it to a technician.

What can be used as a substitute for starting fluid?

It is highly recommended that you only use your starter fluid for ignition, but if a situation arises where you cannot use it, the following substitutions can act as starting fluid temporarily. 

Keep in mind that these fluids are not as effective as starting fluid and should not be used as a permanent substitute – only use them in case of emergency.

  • Brake Cleaner
  • WD40
  • Gasoline And Oil Mixture
  • Carb Cleaner
  • Any Type Of Premixed Gas

Final Thoughts

You can use carb cleaner as starting fluid in emergency situations when you don’t have any other options. Because the ingredients in carb cleaners and starting fluid are so different, not all engines are compatible with carb cleaners as starting fluid.