This frugal mechanic was tired of looking at a discolored exhaust header but a quick trip to his bathroom solved that problem.
If you buy a performance header for better exhaust flow that’s not overly expensive, chances are it’s made from stainless steel, an affordable and rust-resistant metal. But, over time, all stainless steel headers eventually discolor.
What if you want to shine that bad boy up on the cheap and don’t necessarily have all the proper buffing equipment or the right cleaning agents on hand? Well, some good old toilet bowl cleaner will do the trick.
That’s what car enthusiast Danny Humphreys did when he went to clean a pair of headers on his V8 engine. Check out a screenshot of his post below including a gallery of before and after images.
The before shot shows one of his headers, not dirty, but discolored and not the shiny and clean look you expect from stainless steel.
The after shots are amazing, they look practically brand new.
What makes stainless steel stainless is the layer of chromium on the very top layer of the steel. Most stainless steels contain as much as 20 percent chromium relative to steel. While oxygen will cause steel to rust, oxygen reacts with chromium instead, leaving the steel untouched and protected.
The discoloration you see on stainless steel car parts is in direct relation to how much heat these parts are exposed to. The more heat, the more coloration will occur.
Thankfully, you can strip this layer of discoloration away physically or chemically.
Hydrochloric acid, commonly found in toilet bowl cleaner, is one slightly risky way to do this chemically. If left on stainless steel for too long, the protective coating on chromium can possibly be all stripped away leaving steel exposed to air, thus oxidizing the metal underneath.
If you use hydrochloric acid, such as in toilet bowl cleaner to clean your header, you should do so quickly, rinsing away the layer of oxidizded chromium as quickly as possible.
The safest way to clean stainless steel is probably with a dedicated stainless steel cleaner like Blue Away or Meguiars metal polish. Or, if you have the right sanding equipment, some wet sanding would do wonders.
But, if you’re in a pinch and the local Cars and Coffee starts in an hour, toilet bowl cleaner is your best bet.