Q&A – Oil filters

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Q: How do I change my oil filter without making a mess?

Q: How do I change my oil filter without making a mess?

A: You don’t. At least if you’re me you don’t. But there are a few things I’ve learned over the years to make a bit less of a mess.

I’ve owned two Perkins engines on which the oil filters were mounted upside down (opening facing down). I think it’s one of the ways the British figured they could get even with us for the Revolutionary War. My filter-changing method for this rig was to spread plenty of Star brite Bulk Bilge Pads all around and under the filter area. (Star brite also sells Oil Absorbent Engine Pads with cords at the corners so you can tie them underneath the engine.) I’d also spread and stuff the pads immediately around the base of the filter.

I would take three small plastic kitchen garbage bags and layer them inside each other, with two pads inside. I hung this next to the filter with the mouth opened as wide as it would go. This is important, because when the oil begins to fly you need to get the filter into the bag as quickly as possible, and you seldom have time to aim. I also placed this bag in a small bucket, so if the filter broke through when I dropped it in, the bucket would catch it.

Just before the filter began dumping oil as I unscrewed it, I took a pad in my hand and removed the filter, clapped another pad over the gushing mouth, inverted the mess, and dumped it into the bag. With practice, this was remarkably effective.

Some people drain upside-down filters by punching holes in them with an ice pick or can opener and trying to catch the oil coming out. I found that much of the oil always remained inside, and catching the stuff coming out without spilling a lot was seldom successful.

If you have a filter with the opening facing up — as I do now on my 200-hp Yanmar — don’t think you’re home free. You still could have a problem because oil can puddle in the passageways and fittings where the filter screws onto the engine. Punching holes in the filter and slowly draining it is likely to be more successful with this setup, but still it takes a long time and can make a mess if you’re not careful.

Again, I liberally spread layers of oil absorbent pads under and around the scene of the impending crime. And I have my triple garbage bag with absorbent pads inside nearby, with mouth wide open and a small bucket underneath. I also have a double-layered large, heavy-duty Ziploc bag under the filter area, holding it with its mouth wide open. As the oil begins to come out, this bag and the pads handle the mess, and I drop the slippery filter into the Ziploc bag — rather than the bilge, which is not a fun thing to do. I then seal the Ziploc and dump it into the garbage bags in the bucket.

Some people use a lot of paper towels instead of the pads. I keep a full roll on hand during the job, but I primarily use them to quickly clean up splatters and messes. It’s important to tear off many sheets — depending on how much of a mess you intend to make — and have them within reach. When you need them you won’t have time to pick up the roll and tear them off. These will absorb oil but not a large volume, like the pads.

Remember to wear protective throw-away gloves suited for the purpose when changing your oil filter, as contact with used engine oil can be harmful.

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