Extend Your Battery’s Life: How to Clean Car Battery Terminals

Without a functioning car battery, your vehicle can’t do its job, which means you can’t do yours either. If you’re a rideshare driver, understanding how to clean car battery terminals will save you preventable trips to the mechanic and keep you earning instead of spending.

Car batteries aren’t exactly cheap. An average battery costs around $100, so constant replacements can add up to a pretty large investment. Keeping your battery terminals healthy is a huge part of extending your battery life beyond the average three years — or making sure it lasts all three years of a career that depends on a functioning car.

Here, we’ll dive further into why you need to keep your battery terminals clean and how to do so.

Jump to:

Why Do I Need to Clean My Car Battery Terminals?

Engine of a car

Car battery terminals, the electric contacts that streamline electric currents to and from your battery, are susceptible to grime and dirt. Whether you’re facing city smog or dusty country roads, this buildup will slowly cause damage if it isn’t proactively removed.

Car battery corrosion is also a common problem when terminals aren’t properly maintained. A white, powder-like substance on your terminals is a sure sign that your battery is corroded. While this typically occurs in vehicles that aren’t frequently used, rideshare drivers aren’t completely safe from car battery corrosion. This issue can occur when batteries are overcharged, too full with battery water, aging, or poorly maintained.

Corrosion and general buildup will both eventually make it difficult to turn on your engine, even if the battery itself is perfectly fine.

When Do I Need to Clean My Car Battery Terminals?

How to clean car battery terminals: Open hood of car

If you haven’t been regularly maintaining your battery terminals, there are some sure signs that immediate cleaning is needed. These include:

  • Signs of corrosion, dirt, or other forms of debris building around the terminals
  • Greasy car battery terminals
  • A scent similar to rotten eggs coming from the battery area of your car (which may hint at other battery issues, too)

However, most experts recommend cleaning these battery connections as a part of your set maintenance schedule. While crossing off your monthly car maintenance checklist, be sure to inspect your car battery.

If you see any issues, clean the terminals immediately. Otherwise, we recommend following one of the cleaning methods in our next section every six months, even if you have clean battery terminals. This will prevent future corrosion and buildup so your battery can last as long as possible.

How to Clean Car Battery Terminals

There are multiple methods that car owners swear by when maintaining their battery terminals. In this section, we’ll go over two that may be useful for you.

Before you start either cleaning method, make sure your car is turned off and no accessories are running. Your engine should additionally have cooled down for at least 30 minutes. To minimize the chance of an injury, wear gloves and safety glasses and avoid contact with metal beyond the battery throughout this entire process. A protective apron is also recommended so you keep your clothes clean.

In all cases, we recommend reading through your owner’s manual to ensure no additional steps are needed to disconnect the battery. This will help you avoid electric shocks as well as future issues with your battery.

Cleaning With Household Supplies

Baking soda spilling out of glass jar

The most popular method of cleaning can be done straight at home with supplies you probably already have easy access to. There materials are:

  • A wrench. This should be 8 mm if terminals are on the sides of the battery, but the size varies between 10 mm and 13 mm for terminals located at the top of the battery.
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • An old toothbrush
  • A dry, clean rag
  • Petroleum jelly

Once you’ve gathered all the materials, you can get started with these steps:

  1. Use your wrench to loosen the nut on the negative clamp. The negative terminal is typically marked with a “-” sign, black, and smaller than the positive terminal. Remove the negative cable clamp. You may need to wiggle out the clamps if corrosion or buildup is especially bad.
  2. Loosen the nut on the other side to remove the positive clamp. This is will be marked with a “+” sign and is typically red. Always make sure your negative side is disconnected before doing anything on the positive side, as removing the positive cable clamp first can cause electric shocks or burns.
  3. Make sure the clamps and cables are not overly worn and the battery is not leaking. If you spot any of these signs, these respective parts or the full battery may need to be replaced.
  4. Secure the cables in a place where they can’t fall back onto the battery terminals.
  5. Sprinkle baking soda directly on the terminals so as to fully cover each terminal as well as the small areas around them.
  6. Dip your toothbrush in water and scrub the solution until it cleans the corroded or debris-filled areas. Dip your toothbrush in more water as needed.
  7. Pour just enough water on the terminals to rinse off the debris and baking soda, then use your dry rag to completely dry the terminals and your car’s battery.
  8. Follow steps 4-7 to clean your cable clamps, as well.
  9. Rub petroleum jelly over the metal of your battery terminals. This will protect your terminals and help conduct electricity.
  10. Reattach the positive cable clamp and tighten the nut, then do the same on the negative side.

Cleaning With Professional Materials

While using household supplies is the most cost-effective way to clean your battery terminals, tougher buildup may demand better quality materials that won’t break the bank. Here are the supplies you’ll need, which can be found at your local auto parts store:

  • Wrench with the same dimensions as specified in the previous method
  • Battery terminal cleaner like this one
  • Wire brush
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Battery terminal protector like this one
  • Dry, clean rag

Once you have your professional-grade materials, follow these steps to clean your terminals:

  1. Follow the first four steps of the household supply method to remove the battery cables.
  2. Spray your battery terminal cleaner onto the terminals and clamps as instructed on your product. Let it soak in for a few minutes or as specified on your bottle.
  3. Use your wire brush to scrub in the solution and loosen any debris or corrosion. Keep scrubbing until the bristles have fully loosened anything covering the metal.
  4. Spray clean water onto the terminals and clamps to rinse off any excess materials.
  5. Use your clean rag to completely dry the car battery terminals and cable clamps.
  6. Apply a thin layer of your battery terminal protector onto your terminals.
  7. Reattach the positive cable clamp and tighten the nut, then do the same on the negative side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tools lined up in workshop

Using either method listed above, you can start putting clean car battery terminals on your vehicle maintenance checklist. Have additional questions? Here are our answers to a few common ones:

1. Can I really use Coca-Cola to clean my car battery terminals?

Yes, you can. Because of the citric acid inside, Coke will work in place of baking soda or battery cleaner. This is an odd, popular DIY method that works when you’re in a pinch.

This is a convenient method if your battery stops working while you’re on the go. We recommend you only attempt it only if you have a wrench, gloves, and a rag on hand. Using household supplies or professional equipment will always be more effective (and sanitary).

2. Is it worth it to hire a professional to clean my car battery terminals?

We don’t recommend hiring a professional to clean your car battery terminals. A procedure like changing your engine oil may be worth professional help, since you’ll save tremendous amounts of time and spend only slightly extra on materials. However, battery terminal cleaning can cost you over $30 for something you can complete in less than 30 minutes at no extra cost.

3. Can I use vinegar to clean my car battery terminals?

Vinegar alone likely won’t be extremely effective. However, when using the household supply method, you can use vinegar in place of water for a stronger cleaning agent if corrosion is stubborn.

Keep Money in Your Pocket With DIY Maintenance

Getting a new battery every few years can be a hefty expense, especially when you’re not a full-time Uber or Lyft driver. Extending your battery life by even just one year can give you the breathing room to prioritize your health, your education, and your family’s needs — or simply help you achieve your goals.

Now that you know how to increase your battery’s life, learn how you can diagnose any engine problems fast with our top car code readers.