How To Clean a Mass Airflow Sensor

Easily clean your mass airflow sensor by removing it from the air intake system, spraying it 10-15 times with a cleaner, allowing it to dry, and reattaching it.
Written by John Davis
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
To clean your mass airflow sensor, remove it from the air intake system, spray it 10-15 times with a cleaner, allow it to dry, and then reinstall it on the car. Repeat this process every six months or every time you change your oil to ensure your vehicle continues to perform well.
The mass airflow sensor (MAF) is integral to your car's air intake system. It sends important information about the airflow entering your engine to the vehicle's engine control unit (ECU). This data is essential for the ECU to send the correct balance of fuel and air to the engine for combustion. 
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How to clean a mass airflow sensor

Cleaning the mass airflow sensor is a relatively simple process. Depending on your car, you might not even need any tools. However, to be well-prepared, you should have these tools on hand:
  • A ratchet wrench and socket set
  • A flathead screwdriver
  • Mass airflow sensor cleaner (isopropyl alcohol will also work)
  • Some clean towels
When you're ready to begin, park your car in a safe spot, turn off the engine and allow it to cool, and follow the steps below.

Unplug the MAF sensor

Locate your car's air intake system. Depending on your vehicle's make and model, there will be plastic or metal tubing and an air box that houses the air filter. 
Remove the air filter and then find the MAF sensor. It should be between the engine's air filter and the intake manifold. On some cars, this will be a section of tubing with a sensor attached. If this is the case, you'll need to remove that section by loosening the hose clamps.
On other vehicles, you may be able to simply unplug the sensor by releasing a plastic connector using your finger or a screwdriver.

Clean the mass airflow sensor

There are a couple of ways to clean a dirty MAF sensor. The first and easiest way is to purchase a can of
CRC Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner
from your local auto parts store.
If you use a MAF sensor cleaner, spray 10-15 blasts into the sensor and then coat the connections and exterior. Be very careful not to touch the hot wires or the plate with your hands or even the straw on the can of cleaner. 
Alternatively, you can clean your mass airflow sensor with isopropyl alcohol and a plastic bag. For this method, carefully place your MAF sensor in the bag and fill it with rubbing alcohol. Gently move the bag around, ensuring that the alcohol is able to cover the entire part.
Regardless of the method, allow the sensor to dry completely before reinstalling it on your car. 

Reattach the MAF sensor

When the mass airflow sensor is completely dry—generally, after around 20 minutes—reinstall it on your car. Remember to handle the sensor carefully as you reattach it. Then, put the air intake system back together.
Now is a good time to check your air filter for debris or damage and replace it if necessary. 
Key Takeaway You can clean your mass airflow sensor by unplugging it from the air intake system, spraying it 10-15 times with a cleaning solution, letting it dry, and then reinstalling it on the car. 

What is a MAF sensor?

The mass airflow sensor is an important part of your car's air intake system. It measures the temperature, weight, and amount of air entering the engine. This information is sent to your vehicle's ECU, where it is used to determine the air/fuel ratio your engine needs for combustion and efficient performance. 
There are two types of mass airflow sensors—hot wire and cold wire. 
Hot wire mass airflow sensors use a platinum wire. This wire is positioned in the path of the airflow entering your engine. As the air cools the wire, it detects information about the air quality, density, and temperature. 
Cold wire MAF sensors are common in General Motors vehicles and use both cold and hot wires. In these sensors, the cold wire is used as a reference for the data that the hot wire gathers.
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How often to do mass airflow sensor cleaning

You should clean your mass airflow sensor every time you replace or clean the air filter (every 15,000-30,000 miles)
This is a simple DIY project, and your car will thank you for adding this process to your routine car care plan. You can increase your gas mileage and even your vehicle’s horsepower by performing this simple and quick project.

What are some common symptoms of a dirty mass airflow sensor?

If your car has a dirty MAF sensor, you'll probably experience a range of unpleasant issues. Some of the most common symptoms of a dirty mass airflow sensor include:
  • A
    check engine light
    . While these lights can turn on for any number of reasons, there are codes that signify problems with your car's MAF sensor, like P0101. You can check these codes using your vehicle's onboard diagnostics and an OBD2 scanner. 
  • Vehicle stalling or rough idle. If your car stalls, hiccups, or jerks while idling, you might have a dirty MAF sensor. 
  • Poor gas mileage. If your MAF sensor sends incorrect information to the ECU, your car may burn more fuel than necessary. 
  • Hard starting. A dirty mass airflow sensor can lead to hard starting if the data it sends the ECU is incorrect, resulting in the wrong amount of fuel being sent to the engine. 
  • Lousy engine performance. If you have a dirty MAF sensor, you may notice that your car accelerates slowly. 
  • Dark exhaust smoke. If your MAF sensor is dirty or damaged, it may send faulty information to the ECU, which can lead to a range of issues with your vehicle's emissions. 
  • Engine surges or hesitates while driving. If your car engine surges or hesitates, it could be a sign of a dirty MAF sensor. 

Why should you clean the MAF sensor?

Cleaning your car's mass airflow sensor is an important part of routine maintenance. It's an essential procedure that helps ensure that your ECU receives correct information and is able to keep your engine running properly. Failure to care for your MAF sensor on a regular basis can lead to a variety of engine problems as well as more permanent damage to the sensor.
While cleaning the MAF sensor is a relatively easy and inexpensive process, replacing the sensor is much more costly, with prices averaging $100-300.  
In addition to improving your fuel economy and fixing any issues you have with stalling or a rough idle, you can actually gain anywhere from 4-13 horsepower by cleaning the MAF sensor. 

How to find affordable car insurance

Cleaning your mass airflow sensor should be an important part of your routine maintenance plan for your car. But regular maintenance isn't the only thing you need to do to care for your vehicle. Another highly beneficial and equally important form of protection is a quality insurance policy. 
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FAQs

You can clean your mass airflow sensor with a chemical specifically designed to clean MAF sensors, likeCRC Mass Air Flow Sensor Cleaner. Alternatively, you can clean your sensor with isopropyl alcohol
Do not use throttle body, brake, or carburetor cleaner on your mass airflow sensor. These chemicals are not the same as MAF sensor cleaners, and you can significantly damage the sensor by using them.
You should not use WD-40 to clean your mass airflow sensor as it can leave behind a residue that might damage the sensor's delicate pieces and hinder its ability to send accurate information to the ECU. 
Instead, use a MAF sensor cleaner or—for a cheaper option—use isopropyl alcohol.
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