The Best Brake Cleaners You Can Buy

We chose the best brake cleaners so you can blast off brake dust and road crud, fast.

byMike Bumbeck|
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BYMike Bumbeck/ LAST UPDATED ON February 27, 2021

From start to finish, brake cleaner is an indispensable brake job tool. Well, it has plenty of applications and can be used any time you're trying to remove grime from underneath your car. The laser-focused high-pressure stream of powerful cleaners blasts away grease and dirt, and liquifies harmful brake dust in seconds. Once the crusty old brake parts are off the axle and in the bin, this quick-dry cleaner removes protective oils from new disc rotors and other brake parts for a super clean installation. Just keep it away from your car's paint.


Choosing the right brake cleaner can be vexing at best, so we grabbed a few armloads of cans and put them to work on a front disc brake overhaul to find out which one is the best.

Best Overall
CRC Brakleen Non-Flammable

CRC Brakleen Non-Flammable

Summary

The original brake cleaner formula is still the best of the bunch. The most powerful and fastest drying chlorinated heavy hitter is a time-proven champion against brake dust and crud.

Pros
  • Non-flammable and highly effective
  • Almost 100% perchloroethylene
  • Does not contain paint- damaging methylene chloride
  • Highly versatile
  • Leaves no residue
Cons
  • Not available in California or New Jersey
  • Can cost more than some non-chlorinated brake cleaners
  • Contact with hot surfaces can produce deadly phosgene gas
Best Value

Super Tech Non-Chlorinated

Summary

This non-chlorinated 50-state brake cleaner is a value leader that stands on its own with good performance. It's an excellent choice to supplement more expensive formulations with sheer volume.

Pros
  • Often the least expensive non-chlorinated brake cleaner
  • Effective against the worst of caked-on brake muck
  • Low price means more for your money
Cons
  • Highly flammable
  • Acetone can damage plastics and paint
  • Not as effective as chlorinated blends
  • It's popular — and often out of stock when you need it most
Honorable Mention

3M High Power

Summary

Innovative formulation and trade-secret cleaning agents add up to more power in every ounce. It’s a key component in the comprehensive lineup of specialized 3M brake repair and service products.

Pros
  • High performance 
  • Brilliant shine on bare metal surfaces
  • Three different formulations for professionals and DIYers in all markets
Cons
  • Premium performance comes at a higher price
  • Three different part numbers that share the same name can result in confusion
  • Highly flammable

Summary List of Brake Cleaners

Best Brake Cleaner Reviews & Recommendations 2023

High pressure and high volume can add up to unexpected overspray. Protect painted and plastic surfaces and suit up in safety gear before using brake cleaner. Catch the leftover liquid in a shallow pan and reuse it to pre-clean super crusty nuts, bolts, and hardware. Finish clean with a few fresh shots., Mike Bumbeck

Our Verdict

Non-flammable chlorinated formulas like our best overall winner CRC Brakleen Non-Flammable Brake Cleaner are time-proven favorites. Pick it up by the case or the gallon if the law allows; you’ll save a bundle. Newer non-chlorinated blends are improving, but formulations and availability vary. Relatively new 50-state legal formulas blur longstanding distinctions between chlorinated non-flammable and non-chlorinated flammable types.

Brake Cleaner FAQs

Q: What are the different types of brake cleaners?

A. Chlorinated brake cleaners contain powerful solvents like tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PERC), methylene chloride, and other organochlorines. This top-shelf heavy hitter cleans parts fast, dries quickly, and leaves no residue. Chlorinated brake cleaner is non-flammable, but it should only be used to clean cool parts; tetrachloroethylene can create deadly phosgene gas if it contacts surfaces above 315 degrees Fahrenheit.

Non-chlorinated, flammable brake cleaner is less potent but no less toxic than its chlorinated cousin and can take longer to dry. Non-chlorinated brake cleaners use a blend of hydrocarbon solvents and alcohol to get the job done. These blends can contain hexane, acetone, toluene, naphtha, benzene, xylene, and methanol. Most non-chlorinated brake cleaner ingredients are extremely flammable. Use caution.

Q: What are some important things to keep in mind when buying brake cleaner?

A. Rules and regulations: Brake cleaner formulations are changing to meet state and federal requirements. Conventional wisdom may not apply to newer formulas, so read the label and check out the Material Safety Data Sheet to make sure what you’re using. 

Deadly and deadlier: Choosing between chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaner is like choosing whether to fight a lion or a tiger. Both will kill you, most likely in different ways. Wear safety gear and live to wrench another day. 

Guns and parts: Folks swear by brake cleaner to clean all sorts of parts and even guns, but that doesn’t mean you won’t swear at it. Chlorinated brake cleaner ingredients might be OK for other parts and guns, but non-chlorinated brake cleaner solvents can damage paint, plastics, and non-brake parts. 

Volume Pricing: Check the listed volume before purchase and determine the per-ounce price before purchasing. A $5 can of high-quality chlorinated brake cleaner is often a better deal than a $2 can of less-effective, non-chlorinated brake cleaner.

Q: What should I expect to pay for brake cleaner?

A. Under $5: Many brake cleaners fall into this category, and you usually get what you pay for. It might seem counterintuitive to spend $4.95 for the same quantity as the $2.95 can, but more powerful formulas can get the job done with less.

$5-8: Stepping up with a few more bucks gets you a more effective product and more of it. Mid-range and premium brake cleaners often pack a powerful cleaning punch, a few more ounces in the can, and high-volume spray nozzles for on-target success. 

Over $8: Brake cleaner prices vary wildly online. A single can that costs a few bucks at the local auto parts or big box store can list for crazy money online. Buying in bulk or by the case is an economical choice when ordering on the Internet.

Q: Does brake cleaner harm brake pads and shoe linings?

A. No, not at all. Brake cleaner is a safe and effective brake pad and shoe lining cleaner. A few quick squirts of brake cleaner removes grease and accumulated crud that can damage brake pads and rotors. Brake cleaner also removes accidental grease and oil from new brake pads and shoes during installation. 

Q: What are some brake parts cleaner tips and tricks?

A. Safety first. Non-chlorinated, 50-State, or chlorinated – all brake cleaner is toxic and harmful to humans. Wear safety glasses, protective clothing, gloves, and a vapor mask. Work in a well-ventilated area and avoid sparks or flames. 

Save some money and the environment. Use a container and catch the runoff during your brake job. Dunk the extra grungy caliper bolts, rotor shields, and other parts in the runoff and pre-clean with a brush. Finish off the job with a few shots of fresh cleaner. 

Keep it cool. Never use brake cleaner on hot or even warm parts. Make sure all brake parts are cool to the touch before blasting them with brake cleaner. 

Brake cleaner is excellent for maintenance and brake inspection. Spray from the top down in quick bursts to remove crud and pad material buildup that can cause squeaks and chatter. Now that all the brake dust is gone, take a closer look. 

Manufacturers treat cast-iron brake rotors, drums, and some clutch parts with a rust-preventative coating before packaging. These coatings must be removed before installation. Brake cleaner removes these protective oils and leaves nothing behind.

Q: Will brake cleaner damage the paint? 

A. Yes. Some brake cleaners contain acetone, methylene chloride, and other solvents that damage paint. Acetone can damage some plastics. Chlorinated brake cleaner without methylene chloride might be OK, but it’s far better and less expensive to play it safe. Protect all painted and plastic surfaces from brake cleaner overspray.

Q: Can I use brake cleaner to remove brake dust from my wheels?

A: Don’t do it. Most automotive wheels wear paint or a protective clear coat over the aluminum alloy. Chlorinated brake cleaners can contain paint-melting methylene chloride. Non-chlorinated brake cleaners are full of aggressive solvents and acetone that damage paint and plastics. Use hand dishwashing soap or wheel cleaner to clean your wheels. 

Q: Can I use brake cleaner on electrical parts and connectors?

A. No. Acetone and other brake cleaner chemicals can damage plastic connectors, wire insulation, internal electronic components, and even lift conductor traces off printed circuit boards. Only use a dedicated electronic parts or electrical contact cleaner on all electrical parts and connectors. 

Q: Can I use WD40 as a brake cleaner?

A. No. Not now, not ever. For the thousandth time, no. Never spray WD40, lubricant, or lubricating cleaner on your brakes. Oils and greases of any kind will permanently damage your brake pads and rotors and result in a dangerous reduction in brake performance. Do not use WD40 on brakes. 

Q: Can I clean other parts with brake cleaner?

A. Yes and no. Brake cleaner is proven safe for brake parts or any parts shared with the brake system. Using brake cleaner to clean nuts and bolts, clips, hardware, or other metal parts is OK. Brake cleaner is also fine for cleaning clutch parts and clutch friction material dust.

Q: How do I dispose of used brake cleaner?

A. Use a metal catch tray or pan to collect the brake cleaner and let the excess liquid evaporate. Bonus: Grab a brush and reuse the leftover brake cleaner to pre-clean extra grungy nuts and bolts. Never pour used brake cleaner on the ground or into drains.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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