Brake Cleaner – Discover Its Many Uses

Automotive brakes are undoubtedly one the most important parts of an automobile. If there’s any part that requires constant care, it is the brake system. Brakes get dirty often due to the constant exposure to grease, brake dust, road debris, grime and petroleum-derived brake fluid. A quick way to dissolve these pesky varmints was needed. This is why brake cleaner was invented. 

As the name suggests, the primary aim of brake cleaner is to ensure that your brakes are free from the contaminants mentioned above. However, there are more benefits associated with the use of brake cleaner. Alongside the features of a brake cleaner, precautions are addressed, additional uses reviewed, as you learn the major uses of brake cleaners via this guide. 

brake cleaner chemicals

What Is Brake Cleaner?

Brake cleaner aka parts cleaner is a colorless cleaning substance which is often touted as a solvent that evaporates without leaving any dirt remnant on the metal or glass surface. It's primary uses include cleaning brake disks, engine parts and other metal components that tend to get greasy. 

Old brake cleaners were made using chlorine compounds called organochlorides. A good example of an organochloride is tetrachloroethylene. Sometimes, tetrachloroethylene could also be accompanied by 1, 1, 1, trichloroethane, a chloro alkane and popular solvent. As a result of its ozone-depleting features, the use of these chlorine compounds was banned a few years back. 

Modern non-chlorinated brake cleaners are made up of aliphatic or aromatic compounds alongside polar solvents such as ethanols, isopropanol, methanol and acetone. Brake cleaners could only be used on metallic and plastic surfaces. It is not advisable to apply these formulations on plastic surfaces as they can damage such appliances, surfaces or materials. 

Brake cleaner is made up of methyl acetate (5% - 30%), and aliphatic or aromatic hydrocarbons (25% - 50%). Aliphatic hydrocarbons have a molecular formula of CnH2n+x, where n could have a value of 5 to 8 and x ranges between 0 and 2. The composition could be accompanied with about 25% acetone depending on the manufacturer. 

Brake cleaners are harmful to most plastics so they are mostly packaged in metal spray cans. It can also damage the skin, if exposed to the chemical for a long time. Users are given certain precautions which you will learn later in this guide. 

Major Uses of Brake Cleaner

Brake cleaners are primarily used in the degreasing and wiping of metallic areas of car parts, excluding painted surfaces or other chemical sensitive surfaces. Degreasing is a procedure where metallic parts are set up for succeeding activities such as painting, electroplating or car repair. Brake cleaners can help you get rid of fats, oils, resins, dusts and tar on or in between tiny parts of an automobile.

Fighting to get your brakes unmounted from the car so you can better eliminate all the build-ups but fail? It would be the best to use CleanBoost® Nano-Spray™ to unlock the stubborn rusted components. Once the components are off the car or truck, you can easily inspect and clean with brake cleaner on all areas that require it.

If your brakes have seized because of all the residues that have built up over time, miles and/or corrosion, using a brake cleaner alone won't help. Thankfully we have another guide that covers this issue specifically. Read it here.

Other Uses of Brake Cleaner

Brake cleaner could also be used on other parts of the vehicle. It can be used for cleaning a valve cover before putting new oil in it or removing grime on the bearing before regreasing it. The difference between engine degreaser and brake cleaner is that brake cleaner doesn't leave any undesired residues and can be used without water to rinse parts. More secondary applications of brake cleaners are mentioned below:

Stain remover

Chlorinated brake cleaners contain perchloroethylene, a compound that is readily used in laundry. Brake cleaners can be used to clean food stains and oil stains when domestic stain removers are not available. Before washing stained clothing, you can apply a little brake cleaner on the stained spot. (Always test in a non conspicuous spot first, as well as employing other precautions as outlined below)  After washing, the stain will be most likely be gone. 

Floor cleaner

Like clothing, floors often get stained, especially when the area is a working space. For instance, oil spills in a shop can be cleaned by applying an absorbent (aka, floor dry) to make the job easier, then, wipe the remnant clean using brake cleaner. The same process can be followed for the removal of stains on patios and concrete driveways.

When applying brake cleaners on carpets, it is necessary to be careful and vigilant, so as to prevent the brake cleaner from eating deep into the carpet. If there are better alternatives around, it is preferable not to use brake cleaners for carpet surfaces, as they can damage rubber or plastic materials, cleaning tools or surfaces. 

Assuming there’s no other choice and you’re left with brake cleaner... apply only on the stained part and wipe off the remnant immediately after application. Refusal to act swiftly can cause carpet damage. Always open windows for proper ventilation. Odors are very strong and not for breathing in at all. Always test the surface in a non conspicuous area first before applying to the carpet stain you wish to clean.

Ink and Paint Remover

As stated earlier, modern brake cleaners contain acetone and other compounds that make the removal of ink and paint easy. Brake cleaners are useful in the removal of streaks made by permanent markers, inks, paints and nail polish, again... always test first and use in a well ventilated area. Brake cleaner has very strong odors not desirable for indoor use. See other precautions below. 

Gun Cleaner

Like car owners, gun owners are also familiar with the use of brake cleaner. Many gun owners rely on brake cleaner to retain the newness of the guns. In addition, a good number of gun cleaners are more expensive than brake cleaners. It is important to note that brake cleaners cannot replace the use of gun greasers, as their functions differ. Brake cleaners and gun greasers work hand in hand to keep your gun clean and spotless. With that said, always keep brake cleaner away and off of more sensitive gun components such as polymers, plastics, rubberized materials, etc.

Precaution measures when using brake cleaners

Precautions To Take When Using Brake Cleaner

Before scanning through the precautions, let’s examine the dangers attached to not following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

The chemical makeup of brake cleaners are quite toxic to the human system and in cases of chlorinated alternatives; it could be also a threat to the ozone layer. Brake cleaners could pose a threat whether in storage or usage, so the precautions are for retailers, distributors and end-users. 

Due to high-flammability, they are required to be used or stored in places where explosives are not kept. Usage of brake cleaners near the kitchen or other open flames would prove to be very dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. 

After using brake cleaners, it is necessary to wash your hands and any other parts of your body that were exposed to the substance. And on no occasion should brake cleaners be ingested. That’s why it is necessary to keep away from the reach of children.

Chlorinated brake cleaners undergo decomposition on exposure to UV light or high temperatures (beyond 260 Celsius or 500 degrees Fahrenheit). On decomposition, they give rise to two toxic compounds namely; hydrogen chloride and phosgene. These two compounds are harmful to the respiratory system and other organs in the human body. 

When brake cleaners come in direct contact with rubber or plastic, they cause the materials to disintegrate or otherwise break down, thereby causing permanent damage. Brake cleaners damage the plastic materials by targeting the components that bind them together. Initially, the plastic surfaces would appear intact, then, it would turn brittle. After some months, fractures and cracks would be quite visible.

Having understood the dangers of brake cleaners, let’s proceed to the necessary precautions compiled from various auto manufacturers.

Below Are the Necessary Precautions to Take When Using Brake Cleaners for any Purpose:

  • Keep away from delicate areas such as eyes, skin and nose. Wear a protective mask while applying brake cleaner. Wear safety glasses. If it comes in contact with your eyes, rinse carefully with water for some minutes. Ensure you take away the contact lens, if present at the time of contact and continue rinsing until the irritating effect of the brake cleaner reduces significantly. However, if irritation does not stop after rinsing with water, see a physician.
  • Use brake cleaners in an open and well ventilated environment, so as to avoid inhaling toxic substances. If inhaled, move closer to fresh air. In cases where the user has difficulty breathing, administer oxygen and see a physician immediately. 
  • Keep away from the reach of children.
  • Store in a cool and well-ventilated area. Keep fire and explosives away from brake cleaners. Do not spray on flame and keep away from direct sunlight. 
  • There are other precautions when using brake cleaners of any brand, see specific warnings from the manufacturer and always use your better judgement when using brake cleaner for purposes that may not be discussed here or from the manufacturer.
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Tech Guy

Automotive enthusiast, passionate about Jeeps, hot-rods, turbos, performance, efficiency, diesels, fuels, high performance oils, additives and anything with an engine.

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