What is Starter Fluid?

have you heard about starter fluid

For new car enthusiasts , you might have heard about  starter fluid but may have wondered what it can do? To answer the question , Starter Fluid is a highly volatile product that people use to rapidly start their engine. It is great to use on difficult-to-start engines during cold weather. Or if you have difficulty starting the engine such as old cars that have been sitting around for years. It is also effective in hard-starting gasoline engines. By using starter fluid, it can help revive the engine to life.

What Is Starter Fluid?

Starter fluid products are composed of several volatile and highly combustible materials such as heptane, diethyl ether, and carbon dioxide. Heptane is the main ingredient for natural gasoline whereas carbon dioxide is used as a propellant. Diethyl ether is a sweet-smelling flammable liquid. These materials are used to assist internal engine combustion due to their low auto-ignition temperature.

What Is Starter Fluid?

Starter fluid is commonly available in the form of an aerosol spray can. A two to three seconds quick press of the aerosol spray into the engine intake is all it takes to apply the fluid into the engine. However, be careful not to spill the fluid or put too much into the engine intake. Starter fluid is highly flammable and volatile. One reason an engine backfires is because of a large amount of starter fluid that was applied inside the engine intake and serious injuries can happen if you are not careful when applying starter fluids. Starter fluids can be bought in auto supply stores. To learn more details about what is starter fluid as well as about carb cleaners, read the rest of the article.

Starter Fluid vs. Carb Cleaner

A starter fluid vs. a carb cleaner can be confusing for new beginners. As mentioned previously, starter fluid is a highly flammable substance that helps start old engines or engines in cold weather. Carb cleaner, on the other hand, is a cleaning substance used to remove dirt from carburetors.  A carburetor is part of the engine system. Its purpose is to combine air and fuel into the engine, to ignite the combustion inside the engine for it to start.

What Is Starter Fluid

To compare starter fluid vs. carb cleaner, there are some aspects you need to consider. Starter fluid is highly flammable but effective in reigniting old engines or difficult to start engines during cold weather. It is commonly found in auto supply stores although, in some countries, they may be harder to purchase than usual due to its potential as a drug substance and its highly flammable properties.

Whereas a carb cleaner is a carburetor cleaner that removes dirt and leaves an oily residue after a couple of hours. The oily residue helps lengthen the lifespan of the seals and gaskets. To compare starter fluids vs. carb cleaners, carb cleaners are also made from flammable and dangerous compounds but they can be used as a substitute for starter fluid if you do not have the starter fluid on hand. But I would not recommend it. They are safe to use on a car that has rubber, seals, neoprene, etc. The only similarity carb cleaners share with starter fluids is that they can both be found in auto supply shops or mechanic shops.

What is Starter Fluid

Can it damage your Engine ?

Starting fluid is highly explosive so you might also wonder, can it damage your engine? The answer is yes. In the long run, the consistent use of starter fluid can damage the engine. The constant exploding force from ignition can strain the car engine, eventually leading to cracked piston heads or bent piston rods. So it is recommended to use it  as a last resort for frequently used cars and machine equipment.

What is Starter Fluid

But can it damage engines that have been sitting around for years? It turns out starter fluid can help extend its life span and is a reliable source to start old engines. Repeated usage can help revive an old engine to life. 

Will it damage an engine that’s been flooded? The safe answer is no. Using it on flooded engines can help fix the problem. Flooded engines are engines with an excess of air and gasoline combined. Or when there is a high level of gasoline in the cylinders. Because starting fluid ignites faster, introducing the product into the engine can fix the problem.  As a general rule of thumb, starter fluids should be used sparingly and on under special circumstances. But otherwise, using it in small doses and properly handling the product is okay.

What is Starter Fluid

What does Starter Fluid do?

For those who do not understand what starter fluid does to an engine, it is pretty simple.  Its made up of extremely explosive substances that help jump-start an engine. Because of its explosive force, it is important to stand back and keep a distance away from the engine once the engine is ignited. If you add too much  into the engine, the starter fluid can cause the engine to burst into flames. This can cause serious accidents or serious damage to the engine itself.

What is Starter Fluid

It is also recommended to wear protective gloves and make sure to point the nozzle spray directly into the engine intake. Another safety measure is to wear a mask and eye-protection goggles to protect yourself in case of any accidents. 

What does it do if you inhale it? Starter fluid or one of its main components Diethyl Ether emits fumes that contain psychoactive elements. Diethyl Ether was previously used as an anesthetic in hospital settings. Drug users abuse the product by inhaling the fumes to get high. But inhaling ether combined with other petroleum components can be more toxic to one’s health. Effects include dizziness, lightheartedness, hallucinations, etc. Long-term abuse of this product can cause serious health complications, as well as harming the people around them.

What is Starter Fluid


Another thing that starter fluid does is mechanics will sometimes use it as a diagnostic tool to check for car problems. Although some mechanics may protest using starter fluid as a diagnostic tool because of its highly flammable properties. However, one mistake could jeopardize other employees or could lead to disaster. So it is important to know how to use starter fluid and what to avoid before using it.

Is it bad for diesel engines?

The correct answer is yes. Is it bad for diesel engines? Yes, it can be dangerous to apply starter fluid to diesel engines especially if you are not sure about its explosive potentials. Starter fluid is highly volatile and can explode when heat is applied to it and many beginners have accidents using it on diesel engines. 

You might wonder, why is it bad for diesel engines? The common reason why starter fluid can be bad for diesel engines is because of the glow plugs that were already preheated, or the air intake heater is turned on. Applying ether into a heated engine can cause a nasty explosion that can seriously damage the engine without any hope of salvaging it. So it is a good idea to check first if your car can handle starter fluid by reading the vehicle’s user manual or by simply asking your mechanic or auto dealer.

There have been some people who tried to use it on diesel engines and these types of people are mostly already experienced car owners, mechanics, or people who enjoy tinkering and are intimately familiar with how their car works. They already know the reason why starter fluid is bad for diesel engines. They know the dangers of misusing it and are prepared in risking their engine’s overall health in case an accident happens. But on the safer side, it is highly recommended not to use the fluid on diesel engines. You can try other safer alternatives instead .

Where Do I Spray Starter Fluid

 Where to spray the fluid, you first need to differentiate between four-stroke engines and two-stroke engines. A four-stroke engine is a type of internal combustion engine that uses four distinct pistons to run different kinds of equipment such as cars, generators, motorcycles, etc. While two-stroke engines are more common in smaller equipment such as scooters and lawn care equipment.

what is starter fluid

Still confused ? For four-stroke engines, you can spray  directly into the engine intake, beside the air filter. Or into the carburetor bore or on the spark plug hole. Starter fluid is a combustible fuel that can quickly fire up the cylinders into propulsion. Make sure the engine is not hot while applying the starter fluid, since heat may trigger the fluid to burst into flames.

But what about the two-stroke engine? Where do I spray ? Turns out, starting fluid is also not good for two-stroke engines because these cannot self-lubricate and their lubricating process is done manually by mixing oil with the fuel. Or it can be automatically injected into the fuel tank. Oil starvation can happen with old engines so adding starting fluid which is a strong solvent, can end up removing the oil off the engine, thereby reducing lubrication.  

Substitute for Starter Fluid

There are several available substitutes if you do not have starter fluid on hand. A carb cleaner can be used as a substitute for starter fluid if you are desperate enough to try it. It is mainly used as a cleaning agent to remove dirt and debris from the carburetor. Its oily residue can be used as combustion fuel to start up the engine. 

You can consider using WD-40 as a substitute. WD-40 is a widely popular American brand commonly used as a cleaning agent. Featured as a water-displacing oil substance, it is mainly used for cleaning, removing and protecting items from water damage or rust. It can act as extra fuel since it contains strong oil up to fifty percent. You can also try premixing gas from smaller equipment such as lawn machines or chainsaws. Any type of premixed gas is okay to use.

Brake cleaner is also another temporary  replacement. Brake cleaners are mainly used to clean the brake pads, shoes and drums. However, it also leaves an oily residue behind after application and similar to the carb cleaner and WD-40, the oily substance can help start up the engine. But keep in mind,  all have downsides like their toxic exhaust or fumes so it’s important that you wear a mask when applying them. Too much exposure to toxic fumes can lead to serious health complications especially among the elderly and people with weak lungs or immune systems.


While the use of starting fluid has a strong potential in reviving engines to life, it should only be used as a last resort when all safe options are exhausted. The best thing to do is head over to your mechanic and have him check on your car problems. If you think using a starter fluid is the best solution but you are not sure what it can do then talking about it with your mechanic can help you better understand its uses and properties.

What is Starter Fluid

Learning what it is and how to properly use it is important for all car owners to remember.

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