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Can Oxygen Sensors Be Cleaned?

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Old 09-16-2011, 01:58 PM   #1
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Default Can Oxygen Sensors Be Cleaned?

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Old 09-16-2011, 03:30 PM   #2
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There are essentially 2 types of narrow band oxygen sensors using either titania or zirconia ceramics (generally these ceramics are actually doped with other elements.) The ones you generally deal with are zirconia.

The short answer is no, they generally can't be cleaned.

The long answer:
There are a couple failure models
Broken wires
Broken heater circuits
Damaged/cracked ceramic
Eroded ceramic (hot exhaust gasses plus tiny particulates over a long period of time really will just erode the ceramic to nothing)
Contaminated ceramic

the first four the ECU should pick up as a completely non-functional circuit (and cleaning wouldn't help.) The fifth is the only instance when cleaning may be an option, in this instance generally the ECU will report out that the sensor is having a slow response (low cross count).

Ultrasonic cleaning may be an option, but is likely to damage the ceramic or the electrical attachments.

The other popular option is soaking the sensor tip in gasoline. If the contaminant were soluble in gasoline (typically it isn't), then this could theoretically clean the sensor, but the ceramic is a somewhat porous structure and the contaminants become embedded in the sensor, making it questionable if the solvent would do a reasonable job.

Incidentally the metal you see is not the sensor itself, just a protective shell. Physical agitation on the sensor itself would likely destroy it.

Lot of effort to slightly lengthen the life of the sensor, and it probably won't work. So generally if a sensor goes it is simply replaced, they aren't THAT expensive.

This website has a differing opinion. The tests are reasonable, but this is only for Zirconia style sensors The cleaning method for an O2 sensor that was fouled by a rich mixture, running it lean may work, try not to damage your engine if you actually can make it run lean.

Common contaminants:
Silicone from sealants, are soluble in gasoline
Soots, occasionally soluble in gasoline
Glycols, insoluble in gasoline
Metal contamination, insoluble in gasoline
Oil addatives, generally insoluble in gasoline (often metals, silica, potassium, calcium, etc.)

If you are curious why that test won't work with a Titania sensor, it is because they are actually powered and the O2 concentration on either side changes the resistance, as opposed to Zirconia which actually develops a voltage based on the O2 concentration imbalance. Oh, and wideband lambda sensors are a completely different beast.

Last edited by elsdragon314; 09-16-2011 at 03:55 PM. Reason: Clarification
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Old 09-16-2011, 04:02 PM   #3
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Ok, one other option, this one I hadn't heard of. I would be leary of damaging the element doing this, but if it is already bad, you can't make it worse, right?

Oh, and please wear goggles if you try it!
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Old 09-16-2011, 08:51 PM   #4
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If the o2 is not bad but just dirty or clogged it is possible. We use to run the engine lean for a little bit. Like stated above you need to be carefull not to damage the engine but usually we usually ran it at idle for a minute or so.
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