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How to Use a Battery Terminal Cleaner

A battery terminal cleaner tool.

Preventing your battery terminals from developing corrosive buildup is an important part of maintenance, as it helps to ensure a long battery life and good current flow, which are necessary to keep your engine starting and going as you expect. Having a battery terminal cleaner on hand can make the job of halting corrosive buildup easy if you know how to use one. Here we’ll describe how to do so to keep your battery clean and dependable.

Find the Battery

First, you have to identify where the battery is. Check your owner’s manual if you’re unsure or if it isn’t immediately obvious. Most are located under the hood, but a few manufacturers put them in the trunk.

Stay Safe

Next, make sure you’re putting safety first. Always wear goggles and gloves when you’re working with batteries, and make sure your engine is off and the vehicle’s parking brake is on. Before you start, ensure that the battery doesn’t appear to be leaking or bloated, which are signs that it could be dangerous to handle and should be changed immediately.

Disconnect the Battery Terminal Cables

Next, locate the negative battery terminal (with the “-” sign) and disconnect that cable first. After that, disconnect the positive battery terminal (with the “+” sign). These steps are necessary to help prevent shorting onto the chassis.

Use a Cleaning Solution

Grab a cleaning solution from your local store or make one yourself with baking soda and a bit of water stirred into a paste. Apply the solution to the terminals and cable ends, and be ready for the chemical reaction that follows. Allow the solution to sit for a few minutes so it can neutralize the acid, and then grab your trusty terminal cleaner.

Employ the Right Tool How to Use a Battery Terminal Cleaner

Use the female end of the battery terminal cleaner (either in the cap or the bottom of the tool) to clean the terminals. Then, use the male end, which usually looks like a wire brush, to clean in and around the cable ends. You’ll likely have to make several passes to get everything. Next, wipe the terminals and clamps down with a wet rag or spray bottle to remove the cleaning solution, and dry them completely after.

Protect and Complete

Lastly, you’ll want to use a protector to keep the buildup from coming back. This can be found as a spray-on product on the shelf, but petroleum jelly works as well. Connect the battery cables back in the opposite order: positive (+) first, followed by negative (-). With this completed, the job is done.

When you’re choosing a battery terminal cleaner, opt for one that’s covered by a cap, with both male and female components. It’s a handy tool, but it does get covered with battery acid and gunk, so you’ll appreciate the added protection between uses.

Check out all the batteries and battery accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cleaning your battery terminals, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe


Blair Lampe View All

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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