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How to Clean Car Battery Terminals with Vinegar

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Not many people know that car battery terminals require cleaning once in a while. Sometimes, it can be the difference between everything running smoothly or being stuck on the road. With just a little time, you can learn how to clean car battery terminals with vinegar in a few, simple steps.

How to Clean Battery Terminals with Vinegar

You don’t always need the services of an automobile mechanic to clean your battery terminals. You can clean your battery terminals using products you can find in your home. In this case, vinegar and baking soda can give you the best results.

Materials You’ll Need

You can easily find everything you need in your home or at the nearest groceries store. You will need:

  • Protective gear (gloves, glasses, etc)
  • White vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Spray bottle
  • Simple tool kit
  • Bristle brush
  • Insulating tape
  • Clean rags
  • Battery-safe lubrication (vaseline or any other petroleum jelly product will suffice)
  • Small container (you can use a mug or empty water bottle)
  • Medium-sized container (like a plastic takeout container)
Wondering how to clean car battery terminals with vinegar

If you lack any of the items above, you can find substitutes for some of them. For instance, if you don’t have a bristle brush, you can use a toothbrush. The simple tool kit should include various spanner sizes to remove the battery connectors from the terminals. If they don’t, you can use pliers for this if you don’t have a tool kit.

As a rule of thumb, you need protective gear when you are working on your car. Basic items such as a pair of rubber gloves and eye protection are required. They will protect you in case the terminals are badly corroded or if the battery has leaks.  

Getting Ready

Do not start cleaning before you examine the battery case. Make sure it isn’t bloated or leaking. If that’s the case, don’t bother cleaning the battery and simply replace it.

Otherwise, you can start the cleaning process by removing the power cables. There are two power cables, positive and negative. Usually, they are coded by red and black connectors or colors. 

The red cable is the positive cable. You should start by removing this cable then move to the negative cable. The positive cable is the most crucial cable of the two, that’s why we remove it first. Insulate this cable before you leave it hanging or place it anywhere on the hood. 

The vehicle’s body is the ground and is connected to the negative cable. To prevent any short-circuits arising from residual electric current, it is wise to insulate the positive cable. Once you’ve done this, you can remove the negative cable. 

Cleaning Using Vinegar Only

If all you have is white vinegar, that’s okay. White vinegar is effective in the removal of corrosion, dirt, and rust on battery terminals. The following steps will show you how to clean battery terminals using vinegar.

Vinegar as a cleaning solution

Step 1: Preparing the Vinegar Cleaning Solution 

Place approximately 150 ml of vinegar in an empty coffee mug or water bottle. For the best results, try to use white vinegar. Put 200 ml of vinegar in the medium-sized container. 

Step 2: Soaking the Terminals and Terminal Clamps

Submerge the terminal clamps in the vinegar. Do not forget to remove the insulating tape from the positive terminal clamp. Many times, the terminal clamps will have some residual dirt and corrosion from the terminals. If you don’t clean them, you won’t get the best results when you clean the terminals. 

Pour the vinegar in the coffee mug or water bottle on the terminals. Make sure you pour the vinegar evenly on each terminal. Make sure you cover each terminal thoroughly with vinegar. Leave them for about an hour.

Step 3: Finishing the Cleaning Process

After an hour, use the clean rags to clean off the mixture of vinegar, dirt, and debris on the terminals and the terminal clamps. If the dirt and corrosion are minimal, this should finish the cleaning process. Reattach the terminal clamps and you will be done.

Cleaning using Vinegar and Baking Soda

If your terminals are seriously corroded, using vinegar with the steps above may not be sufficient. In such a scenario, you will need to include baking soda in the cleaning process.

Step 1: Prepare a Vinegar and Baking Soda Cleaning Solution

Start by pouring a little vinegar, like 250 ml in the spray bottle. Use the bottle to spray a tablespoon of baking soda. Make sure you spray enough to turn the baking soda into a thick paste.

Step 2: Clean the Terminals

Spray the remainder of the vinegar evenly on the battery terminals. It is also wise to spray the same on the terminal clamps. Spraying evenly will ensure the vinegar is in contact with every area of the terminals and their clamps. 

Baking soda as a cleaning agent

Step 3: Scrub the Terminals 

Unlike cleaning with vinegar only, this process will not require you to wait for the vinegar to react. Take the bristle brush or toothbrush and dip it in the baking soda paste. Start scrubbing the terminals and terminal clamps. Scrub thoroughly and make sure you cover every area. 

Scrub each clamp and terminal for several minutes or until you notice a foam appearing. This process removes dirt, grime, and corrosion. Make more baking soda paste if you feel the first round was not enough. The idea is to ensure you scrub as thoroughly as possible. 

Step 4: Rinse the Terminals

Never use water to rinse off the terminals after thoroughly scrubbing them. Rinse using a clean rag and white vinegar. This method will ensure you remove any dirt or corrosion left. It will also prevent problems such as rust that using ordinary tap water can cause. Do the same for the terminal clamps. 

Step 5: Lubricate the Terminals

Once you have finished cleaning corroded and dirty terminals, you’ll need some lubrication to ensure they stay clean and corrosion-free. This is where the petroleum jelly comes in.

Use your gloved fingertip or the corner of a clean rag to scoop some petroleum jelly. Start applying it on the surface of the battery terminals. For the terminal clamps, make sure you apply lubrication on the interior and exterior of the clamps. 

Step 6: Finish Up

Once you feel satisfied that you thoroughly cleaned the terminals, reattach the clamps. Wipe off any excess vinegar, baking soda from the battery.

Why You Should Clean Your Battery Terminals

A car battery has a direct effect on your car’s performance. Dirty or corroded terminals will negatively affect the functionality of your car. Taking your car to an auto garage or using a professional battery terminal cleaning service costs money. 

Car batteries vary in cost. Typically, the average cost of a new one is $80. This means frequent replacements due to dirty terminals will set you back several hundred dollars. Ensuring the terminals are clean will keep the battery running for a long time. 

Cleaning the car battery terminal

The work of these terminals is to ensure the battery distributes power evenly to other parts of the vehicle. Since they are susceptible to grime and dirt, you need to ensure they stay clean and corrosion-free. You will need to regularly clean them especially if you live in areas with dust, humidity, or near an ocean.  

Lack of proper maintenance leads to a malfunction. So, how do you know if your terminals are dirty and need cleaning? Check the terminals at least once a month to find out. If you see a greyish or bluish substance on them, it means they are corroded or dirty. 

One of the main causes of dirty terminals is not using your vehicle regularly. Another cause may be different people using the car. Lastly, a faulty charging system may cause corrosion on the terminals due to undercharging or overcharging. 

You can easily solve the problem by cleaning the terminals. The good news is you do not need to purchase expensive cleaning materials. Products like vinegar and baking soda can easily clean terminals and leave them working as good as new. 

When to Clean 

Every battery has a specific sign that shows the terminals need cleaning. Usually, they include:

  • Grease-like substance
  • Debris and corrosion
  • A pungent scent 
  • Trouble starting the car

Tip: Do not forget to include terminal cleaning as part of your car maintenance. Ideally, you should check the terminals every month to determine if they need cleaning. 

If you notice any of the above three issues, you need to take action. There are several ways you can clean dirty and/or corroded batteries. Of these methods, cleaning with vinegar is the easiest and most affordable way. 

Bottom Line

The above steps will guarantee you can clean battery terminals effectively. Remember to constantly inspect your battery to determine when it needs cleaning. If you are not sure you can do it on your own, consult a professional.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.