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Dirty & Clogged ATV Spark Arrestor Symptoms (How to Clean)

Machines like ATVs are favored by outdoor enthusiasts for their off-road prowess and adventurous spirit. But like any mechanical device, they have components that demand routine maintenance for peak performance and safety. The spark arrestor is one such component. In this article, we’ll explore ATV-clogged spark arrestor symptoms and provide straightforward cleaning instructions.

If your ATV’s spark arrestor is dirty or clogged, you may notice power loss, backfiring, and sluggish throttle response. To clean it, remove the spark arrestor assembly, use compressed air, and clean the screen with a blow torch or wire brush.

Understanding and maintaining a spark arrestor is vital for an ATV’s overall health. Ignoring these maintenance tasks can lead to decreased performance, potential safety issues, and a less enjoyable outdoor experience.

So, without further ado, let’s delve into the different kinds of spark arrestors, their telltale signs when in bad shape, and a 12-step process on how to properly clean them.

Person Riding Large ATV Outdoors Near Trees

Different Kinds of Spark Arrestors

There are several types of spark arrestors based on their construction and design — each serving a distinct purpose and often tailored for use in specific types of equipment or environments. But for your guidance, here are some common types:


As the name implies, these spark arrestors use centrifugal force to separate and remove sparks and hot particles from exhaust gases, preventing them from escaping and potentially causing fires in industrial equipment and engines.

Wire Mesh or Screen-Type

These are among the most common spark arrestors. They consist of a fine wire mesh or screen designed to capture sparks and embers. They are often used in small engines, such as chainsaws and lawnmowers.

Baffle Plate

These spark arrestors use metal plates or baffles to redirect exhaust gases and sparks, allowing them to cool and dissipate before exiting. Baffle plate spark arrestors are frequently found in larger industrial engines and generators.


These employ a honeycomb-like structure made of heat-resistant materials. The design allows for the efficient trapping and cooling of sparks and hot gases. They are used in various applications, including some industrial and off-road vehicles.


Catalytic converters can serve as spark arrestors in some cases. They not only reduce emissions but also help prevent sparks from exiting the exhaust system. These are commonly used in automotive applications.


In certain industrial settings, water-jacketed spark arrestors use a water-cooled chamber to cool down hot gases and extinguish sparks before they leave the exhaust system. They are effective in preventing fires in hazardous environments.


Designed specifically for off-road vehicles like ATVs and dirt bikes, these spark arrestors are often compact and lightweight. They typically use a combination of wire mesh and baffles to trap sparks.


Used in boats and marine engines, these spark arrestors are designed to withstand the unique challenges of the marine environment, including exposure to water and salt.

Custom or Specialty

In some cases, specialized spark arrestors may be designed for specific equipment or applications, taking into account factors like space constraints and extreme operating conditions.

Proper maintenance of the spark arrestor is crucial to ensuring safety and preventing fires in various industries and applications. So, for purposes of this guide, the subsequent sections will all be on wire mesh, baffle plate, and ORV-type spark arrestors.

ATV Clogged Spark Arrestor Symptoms

Like any other filtration device, a plugged spark arrestor can quickly escalate to a precarious situation (not to mention become an unpredictable fire hazard) when neglected. That said, here are some indicators to look out for — so as not to find yourself in a more serious predicament:

  • Loss of power (occurs when a clogged spark arrestor restricts exhaust flow)
  • Reduced top speed
  • Engine stalling or shut-off
  • Poor throttle response
  • Excessive exhaust heat (due to trapped hot gases)
  • Backfiring
  • Overheating
  • Excessive smoke (resulting from incomplete combustion)
  • Loud exhaust noise, such as a hissing or popping sounds
  • Reduced fuel efficiency
  • Sputtering or misfiring
  • Foul odors from the exhaust (noxious or acrid smell)
  • Activated engine warning lights
  • Hard starting
  • Engine fails to reach maximum RPM
  • Reduced trail/off-road performance

Red Dust on Spark Plugs (How It Relates to a Dirty Spark Arrestor)

The red dust on spark plugs is typically the result of what is referred to as ‘iron fouling.’ This type of fouling occurs when small particles of iron or rust are present in the combustion chamber and adhere to the spark plug electrodes. This can happen due to one of the three reasons stated below:

  • Poor Combustion. Incomplete combustion of the air-fuel mixture can lead to the emission of iron particles from the cylinder walls or other engine components. Such incomplete combustion can be triggered by factors such as a fuel mixture that is too rich, ignition problems, or incorrect timing.
  • Engine Wear. As the engine ages, components like piston rings, cylinder walls, and valves may wear down, releasing iron particles into the combustion chamber.
  • Air or Fuel Contamination. If the fuel or air supply contains iron particles or rust, it can play a role in causing iron fouling on spark plugs.

Now, let’s discuss the relationship between red dust on spark plugs and a dirty spark arrestor.

As explained extensively in one of my recent posts, a spark arrestor is a device commonly found in the exhaust systems of small engines like those used in ATVs. Its primary purpose is to prevent hot exhaust gases from exiting the tailpipe and potentially causing fires in dry environments. However, this component’s screen or mesh can get clogged with carbon deposits and debris over time.

When this accumulation happens, it can restrict the flow of exhaust gases and fail at sieving sparks and burning particles — leading to poor engine performance, reduced power output, and potential overheating issues. Backpressure can also occur in extreme cases, effectively contributing to incomplete combustion, fouling of spark plugs, and the presence of red dust.

Key Causes of Spark Arrestor Clogging

ATV Quad Riding on Dusty Track

Incomplete combustion and carbon buildup are the main culprits behind an ATV spark arrestor getting soiled or obstructed. In addition to these, here are other factors leading to spark arrestor clogs:

Ash and Soot

Fuel and oil burning can release ash and soot particles, which may adhere to the spark arrestor.

Oil Residue

In ATVs with two-stroke engines, oil is mixed with fuel. Some of this oil can find its way into the exhaust system and contribute to spark arrestor fouling.

Dirt and Debris

Riding in dusty conditions or harsh off-roading environments can lead to the intake of dirt and debris into the exhaust system, which can accumulate on the spark arrestor.

Stale Fuel

When fuel is old, it can lead to incomplete combustion inside the engine, translating to the release of unburnt fuel and carbon deposits into the exhaust system (effectively clogging the arrestor).


Condensation and moisture from the exhaust gases can mix with other particles and form a sticky residue that clogs the spark arrestor.

Fuel Additives

Some variants may leave behind deposits on the spark arrestor as they burn off.

Rust and Corrosion

The spark arrestor itself can rust or corrode over time, creating irregular surfaces that attract and trap particles.

Excessive Engine Oil Consumption

If your four-wheeler’s engine consumes oil at a high rate, it can lead to more oil entering the exhaust system and contributing to fouling.

Environmental Conditions

Riding in wet or muddy terrain (a given for most off-roaders) can lead to the accumulation of mud and water in the exhaust system, which can mix with other contaminants and clog the spark arrestor.

Expectedly, regular inspection, cleaning, and upkeep are essential to preventing issues with the spark arrestor and ensuring the proper function of your exhaust system. This brings us to the gist of today’s article — the cleaning process.

How to Clean a Dirty Spark Arrestor

Yellow and Black ATV on Brown Field

Cleaning a dirty or clogged spark arrestor is an important part of ATV maintenance to ensure proper engine performance and lessen the risk of fires. Here are comprehensive steps on how to clean a dirty or clogged spark arrestor:

Tools and Materials You’ll Need:

  • Safety gear like safety glasses, gloves, etc.
  • Wrenches and sockets to remove the spark arrestor
  • Wire brush
  • Compressed air or air compressor
  • Cleaning solvent (optional)
  • Bucket or container
  • Disposable rags or paper towels
  • Brass or nylon bristle brush
  • Protective mat or workbench
  • Spark arrestor gasket (if necessary)
  • Spark arrestor cleaner (if OEM-recommended)
  • Lighter that produces a blue flame

1. Park your ATV on Level Ground

Before starting any maintenance, make sure the ATV is parked on level ground and turned off, and allow the engine to cool down entirely. It’s vital to prioritize safety, so wear protective safety glasses and gloves to safeguard your eyes and hands during cleaning.

2. Locate the Spark Arrestor

Determine the position of the spark arrestor on your ATV, which is typically situated within the exhaust system, near the exhaust outlet, or housed within the muffler.

3. Access the Spark Arrestor

Occasionally, you may have to disassemble the component for thorough cleaning. Use suitable wrenches or sockets to detach any bolts or clamps that secure the spark arrestor to the exhaust or muffler.

4. Check for Debris and Obstructions

Inspect the spark arrestor closely, checking for any visible debris, obstructions, or carbon deposits. Note any significant clogging, as it would entail thorough cleaning.

5. Clean the Spark Arrestor

Clean the spark arrestor screen using a blow torch and needle-nose pliers (preferably outdoors). If using a lighter instead of a blow torch, ensure it isn’t a regular one. Hold the screen with the needle-nose pliers and heat it until it glows orange, ensuring complete carbon burn-off.

6. Remove Debris

Utilize a wire brush to remove loose debris, carbon, and soot from both the outer and inner surfaces of the spark arrestor. In case of stubborn deposits, a brass or nylon bristle brush can be gently used to scrape away the buildup. During this step, be careful to prevent any damage to the spark arrestor’s screen or structure.

7. Blow Air Through the Spark Arrestor

For compressed air cleaning, blow air through the spark arrestor screen with either compressed air or an air compressor, starting from the clean side and progressing towards the dirty side. This process effectively dislodges and eliminates finer particles and debris trapped within the screen. Remember to always wear eye protection when operating with compressed air for safety.

8. Use a Cleaning Solvent if It Remains Clogged

Consider using a cleaning solvent if the spark arrestor still exhibits partial clogging even after mechanical and compressed air cleaning. When opting for this method, it’s essential to use a cleaning solvent recommended by the manufacturer. Follow OEM guidelines regarding the solvent, ensuring it is compatible and safe for use with your specific spark arrestor material.

9. Rinse

If you’ve done step #7, it’s essential to rinse the spark arrestor thoroughly with water and then allow it to air dry to ensure it dries completely.

10. Reinstall

For reinstallation, secure the spark arrestor back onto the exhaust system using the original hardware or gasket. Ensure you tighten the bolts or clamps securely, paying close attention to creating a leak-free connection. At this point, you may need to replace the original hardware or gaskets (depending on their condition).

11. Test Run Your ATV

Once everything’s put back, do a test run by starting the ATV and allowing it to run for a few minutes to verify the adequacy of exhaust flow and engine performance. During this test, pay mind to any abnormal noises or performance irregularities, as they may indicate potential issues with the spark arrestor or exhaust system.

12. Check for Any Remaining Leaks or Issues

Conduct a thorough visual inspection of the spark arrestor and exhaust for signs of leaks or issues. Ensure the ATV runs smoothly and the spark arrestor functions properly for optimal performance and safety.

Recommended Cleaning Intervals

Per the USDA website, “spark arresters need to be periodically cleaned to eliminate the trapped particles of carbon.” While this statement is vague, it does imply that the component will need to be cleaned whenever necessary (before it even approaches ineffective working order).

Visible signs of carbon buildup, soot, oil residue, and incomplete combustion are often the basis of many riders cleaning their spark arrestors. But for a more pre-emptive approach, I highly recommend inspecting and cleaning this safety device following the timelines below:

Type of ATVFrequency (Approximate)
Entry LevelEvery 10—20 hours or 200—300 miles
UtilityEvery 20—30 hours or 300—500 miles
SportEvery 10—20 hours or 150—300 miles
Sport-UtilityEvery 15—25 hours or 250—400 miles
High-PerformanceEvery 10—15 hours or 150—250 miles
YouthEvery 15—25 hours or 250—400 miles
Side-by-SideVaries based on engine size

The prescribed cleaning frequency for spark arrestors on ATVs can vary depending on the arrestor’s design and construction, the ATV’s operating conditions, and OEM guidelines. To determine the exact cleaning intervals, it’s ideal to refer to the owner’s manual or maintenance schedule provided by the manufacturer.


Maintaining a clean and functional spark arrestor is crucial for preserving your ATV’s performance and safety. As discussed in this guide, regular inspections and cleaning based on OEM recommendations and usage conditions will prevent clogs and ensure optimal performance during off-road adventures.

By familiarizing yourself with ATV-clogged spark arrestor symptoms and following the steps for proper cleaning, you can keep your four-wheeler running at its best — ready for the next thrilling ride.