Which brake parts cleaner is best?
The road is covered with dirt. Unfortunately, that gets picked up by your brake pads, making them squeal and reducing efficiency. It gets into your other braking components too, causing wear.
The simple, efficient solution is a good brake parts cleaner. We’ve been looking at what’s on the market so we can help you choose the right one for your vehicle. Our top pick, CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaner, has long been a favorite with pros and is now available in a safer, more environmentally conscious formula.
Considerations when choosing brake parts cleaners
Ease of use
There are few maintenance jobs on your car or truck that will be easier than this. Take off the wheel, put down a drip tray, spray the brake from top to bottom. The extremely strong action of the cleaner means most of the dirt, grit, oil and grease will simply rinse away. You may have to get into the nooks and crannies with a small, stiff brush. If they’re really dirty they might need a second spray — but that’s as hard as it gets.
Types of brake parts cleaner
For many years, brake parts cleaners were chlorine-based. While effective, it’s pretty nasty stuff. High in solvents, toxins and arguably carcinogenic, it’s not good for you, and not good for the environment. Their one advantage is that they are non-flammable. California has banned them. They are still for sale in most places, though the expectation of further restrictions means most manufacturers now produce non-chlorinated versions.
Unfortunately the alternative — non-chlorine brake parts cleaners — are very flammable, so care is needed. In fact, it’s suggested you leave your vehicle stationary for at least a couple of hours before using it. Non-chlorine versions still contain toxins, but they’re considered to have less environmental impact. Things like isopropyl alcohol, heptane (a petroleum by-product), and mineral spirits are widely available. While they offer slightly less cleaning power than chlorinated versions, they are still far stronger than any detergent you would use with water.
You couldn’t really call non-chlorinated brake parts cleaners ‘environmentally friendly,’ but they are considerably better than the chlorinated versions.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are found in many heavy-duty cleaners and coatings. Some of the chemicals in them are dangerous to your health. As a result, they are subject to increasing regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other safety organizations around the world.
However, rules vary from state to state, as does the permitted level in different products. It’s all very confusing. You can get Safety Data Sheets (SDS) from manufacturers to check the composition (we did), but you need a chemistry degree to understand them!
Bottom line? The lower the VOC the better. Technical specifications are bewildering, and manufacturers aren’t required to put figures on their can — though they do need to comply with relevant legislation. A reputable brand that calls its product low VOC or ultralow VOC could only do so if such a statement were true. It’s probably the only significant information you’ll get. Currently, the most stringent requirements are for brake parts cleaners that are legal in California (which will be no surprise to most people). Sadly right now very few are.
Brake parts cleaner price
With many quality products available from recognized brands at between $6-$10 for a 14-ounce can (sometimes enough to do all four brakes), there’s really no need to look for cheap brake parts cleaners. A few multipurpose brake / metal cleaners run to $20, and ultralow VOC formulas can be almost $40.
Brake parts cleaner FAQ
Q. Do I need to take any safety precautions when using brake parts cleaner?
A. Yes. Absolutely. Fumes are dangerous, and the spray irritates skin. Wear goggles or a face shield, disposable gloves, and a lightweight mask. Make sure the brakes are completely cool to avoid toxic chemical reactions or the risk of fire. Work in a well-ventilated area.
Q. Is brake parts cleaner safe on rubber, plastics, etc.?
A. It depends on the product, so it’s vital you read the instructions. Even those that are safe might attack your vehicle’s paint. Rather than trying to flood the dirt off, be patient and use sparingly and accurately.
Brake parts cleaners we recommend
Best of the best
CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaner
Our take: Popular American-made non-chlorinated version for rapid removal of all contaminants.
What we like: Fast acting. Upgraded version reduces toxicity, and has lower VOCs. Safe on most rubbers and plastics. A very cost-effective cleaner.
What we dislike: Very little, though spray nozzles have been known to break.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Best bang for your buck
3M High Power Brake Parts Cleaner
Our take: Effective low-budget product from a known and trusted brand.
What we like: Efficient high-pressure action and narrow spray help maximize accuracy, and minimize waste. Non-chlorinated. Quick drying and no residue.
What we dislike: Not much. Occasional faulty cans reported.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: Competitively priced, one of few that meets California’s low VOC requirements.
What we like: Non-chlorinated formulation good for cleaning all kinds of metal components and equipment. Safe for CV joints. Doesn’t leave a residue.
What we dislike: Not as economical in use as some.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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