starter fluid alternatives

I have been using starter fluid for a while now to get my lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and hedge trimmers going again after winter. This stuff is great and always gets my small combustion engines running again fast. But you can also use them on your cars, motorcycles, and Jet-skis.

In this post, we will go over how to use starter fluid or quick start spray on any hard-to-start engine. We will also cover the starter fluid alternatives just in case you run out and need to use a home recipe or DIY solution. Most times the starter fluid alternative is cheaper and just as good.

Warning- Take care when working around flammable liquids, sprays, and materials. Combustion engines are hot and can ignite flammable liquids. Always be safe and wear the appropriate safety equipment. Notsealed can’t be held liable for any damage to yourself, others, or your equipment using this guide.

Starter Fluid Explained

Starter fluid is a mixture of highly flammable liquid that can be sprayed into a combustion gas engine to help it start. Generally starter fluid comes in a spray can and is sprayed into the air filter intake port of the carburetor. It is especially helpful in cold weather conditions and to start worn-out engines.

Starter fluid is called many names such as quick start spray, easy start fluid, liquid fire, start your engine spray, and starting fluid.

Starter fluid is usually made up of Ethyl Ether, Heptane, Methane, and Carbon dioxide. Some manufacturers may also include additives for engine lubrication and protection.

Homemade starting fluid

DIY Homemade starting fluid using fuel, 2-stroke oil and a spray bottle.

To make some homemade starting fluid you will need a small spray bottle, some two-stroke oil, and some fresh fuel.

I find that Windex glass cleaner spray bottles work well to mix the 2-stroke solution together. The oil is there to lubricate the piston and cylinder while we attempt to start the engine. An oil fuel mixture of 50:1 will work well. Fifty to one (50:1) is one of the easiest 2 stroke ratios to calculate, you simply multiply the liters amount by 2 and add a zero. So for 1L of fuel, you will need 20ml of oil.

I have experimented with a few other flammable spray can bottles to see their effectiveness as some homemade starting fluid.

Starting Fluid Substitutes

Starting Fluid Substitutes hair spray, wd40 mass air flow cleaner, throttle body cleaner
Some starting fluid alternatives such as hairspray, WD40, mass air flow sensor cleaner, and carby cleaner.

So you may be wondering what can I use instead of starter fluid? Well, the following products work well as starting fluid substitutes.

  • Windex bottle with 2 stroke mix in it. (preferred)
  • Carburetor cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • Mass air flow sensor cleaner
  • Throttle body cleaner
  • Cleaning Solvent is also known as parts cleaners.
  • Seafoam engine cleaner.
  • Degreaser
  • WD-40
  • Hairspray works in an emergency but is not recommended. It gums up stuff.

Basically, any automotive flammable product that comes in a spray can is a great starting fluid alternative. My top 3 DIY starter fluids are Carburetor cleaner, Brake cleaner, and Mass air flow sensor cleaner. These dry fast and leave virtually no residue.

Where to spray starter fluid on small engines?

Where to spray starter fluid on small engines?
Spraying carburetor cleaner into the air intake port of a generator to use as a starter fluid.

You always want to spray starting fluid into the air filter intake port. Remove the air filter and spray the starting fluid into this hole. No more than a one-second burst is all you need.

With the air filter off you can often see if the choke is open or not. Make sure that the choke is open so that the starter fluid can flow into the piston area.

Turn on the fuel and try and start the small engine. If it starts and runs then everything is good, but if it only runs on starter fluid then you have a fuel delivery problem. If your vehicle or small engine doesn’t run on starter fluid then it is most probably a spark problem.

Starter fluid is excellent to help fire up my Briggs and Stratton generator that won’t start after sitting for a few months.

Where to spray starter fluid on a lawn mower?

Where to spray starter fluid on a lawn mower?
Remove the lawn mower air filter to spray starter fluid into the air intake port.

Starter fluid can be sprayed into the air intake port behind the air filter. You can also spray starter fluid directly into the piston bore by removing the spark plug and spraying it in there. It is important to always remove the air filter before spraying the starter fluid as the fluid won’t travel very far and may dissolve the foam air filter. Plus you need to be able to spray the fluid directly through the carburetor into the engine bore.

I use WD40 or carburetor cleaner as a starting fluid for my old Briggs and Stratton lawn mower.

Another good tip is to use some homemade starter fluid. Any spray bottle filled with some 2-stroke oil and fuel at a ratio of 50-1 will work. This is an excellent recipe for DIY starting fluid. It has a small amount of oil that will coat the piston walls with oil and can be used on any 2-stroke or 4-stroke engine.

Can I Spray Starting Fluid In Spark Plug Hole?

Yes, you can spray starting fluid into a spark plug hole. You must then screw in the spark plug and attach the ignition leads. This is a long process and is why many people prefer to use the air filter port. It is quicker and you usually don’t require too many tools. Plus you can leave the air filter off while you try and start the engine a few times.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Can I use carburetor cleaner as starting fluid?

Can I use carburetor cleaner as starting fluid?

Carby cleaner is excellent as a starter fluid for small engines. It is designed to evaporate quickly and leave no residue as it is highly flammable. In small amounts, carburetor cleaner is great but don’t use it excessively. It can remove the lubrication between the piston and the bore causing wear. It burns fast and hard and is one of the better starter fluid alternatives.

I was able to get this generator running after it had been sitting idle for 5 years with just some throttle and carby cleaner.

If your small engine only runs on carburetor cleaner or starter fluid start looking for other problems. Check out our guide to why your lawnmower runs for a while and then dies.

Can you use brake cleaner as starter fluid?

Yes, brake cleaner makes excellent starter fluid. It is highly flammable and leaves very little residue. Just like carburetor cleaner use it sparingly as it will remove the lubricating oil from inside the piston, rings, and bore.

If your engine won’t start after a few goes of brake cleaner starter fluid you will have to look at other issues why the small engine does not run.

Can parts cleaner be used as starting fluid?

Yes, parts cleaner can be used as starter fluid in an emergency. Often part cleaner comes in a bottle or can. It is more practical to put it in a spray bottle or get some parts cleaner in an aerosol can. An empty Windex bottle makes an excellent parts cleaner spray bottle.

Can I use hairspray as starting fluid?

I have access to a lot of hairspray in my family due to a house full of teenage girls. Hairspray is flammable and people have successfully used it as a starter fluid but it is full of impurities. These impurities will over time gum up parts in your carburetor, piston rings, and valves.

In an emergency, you could use hairspray but there are many better options out there to use as a starter fluid.

On a side note, I use hairspray on my 3d printer to make the bed sticky for printing on. Without the hairspray, I was having problems with the print coming unstuck during the printing process. My Creality Ender 5 pro was having problems until I found out about hairspray now all my 3d prints are rock solid sticking to the table.

Will WD-40 work instead of starting fluid?

Will WD-40 work instead of starting fluid?

Yes WD-40 will work as a starting fluid. In aerosol spray form it is very flammable and I use it as starting fluid on my lawnmower and chainsaws.

WD40 contains LVP Aliphatic Hydrocarbon at 45% and Petroleum Base Oil at 35%, this will create some smoke as the oil burns off. So as a starting fluid it will have some lubrication properties. I have found that other starting fluids seem to start better such as carb cleaner due to the higher flammability properties, but WD40 still works well.

As a water displacement product WD-40 is perfect if you happen to get moisture inside the engine. Just spray some WD40 inside the air filter carburetor port or inside the spark plug hole to drive out any moisture before starting it up.

Can you use starting fluid on fuel-injected engines?

Yes but it must be sprayed into the air intake port closest to the engine throttle body of the vehicle. I was able to successfully start a Sea-doo jetski that had rolled over and had a problem starting it. We sprayed starter fluid into the air intake port on the fuel-injected engine and it started right away. A lot of smoke was produced so there was oil leakage into the bore which must have clogged the spark plugs.

Check out these other tips if your Jet Ski turns over but won’t start.

Quick start spray for diesel engines

Quick start spray for diesel engines

I like to use STA-BIL Starting Fluid on Diesel engines. It is supposed to prolong starter life and has some special upper cylinder lubrication. It’s designed for Gasoline and Diesel Engines with guaranteed faster engine starts down to -65°F.

I have only had to use it once when up in the snowfields when my diesel truck had a weak battery. The combination of the freezing weather and high altitudes made starting the diesel truck hard. But one squirt with the Stabil starting fluid in the throttle body started the truck up fast. I now keep it under the passenger seat for emergencies.


As you can see there is a whole range of starter fluid alternatives that you can use to start your car, motorcycle, boat, jet-ski, lawnmower, generator, or any other small engine.

I still like to keep the real starter fluid brands such as STA-BIL Starting Fluid. I know it will give my engines just that little bit of lubrication protection. But sometimes I run out and need to use another starter fluid substitute.

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