Reviews

LAST UPDATED: March 3, 2019

Best Brake Cleaners: Our Top Picks for Spotless Brakes

Everything you need to know about the best brake cleaners in one handy guide

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PUBLISHED ON March 3, 2019

Cleaning your own brakes can be a simple task, provided you have the right tools, knowledge, and safety equipment. Here you’ll find a quick reference guide to brake cleaners, including how to use them safely and properly. We’ll name our top picks for the best brake cleaners and point you in the right direction to get both spotless brakes and a better braking system.

  • Best Overall
    3M 08180 High Power Brake Cleaner
    3M 08180 High Power Brake Cleaner
    Summary
    Summary
    A high-quality option from a well-known force in the industry. The 3M brake cleaner has a multipurpose formula that dries quickly and leaves no residue
    Pros
    Pros
    Low-odor, high-flushing action and an included precision straw make this an easy product to use in tight spaces.
    Cons
    Cons
    Because it is 3M, you’ll pay a bit more per can than you would for other brands.
  • Best Overall
    3M 08180 High Power Brake Cleaner
    3M 08180 High Power Brake Cleaner
  • Best Value
    CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaners
    CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaners
    Summary
    Summary
    A non-flammable formula helps this brake cleaner to work quickly and efficiently. Affordable and consistent, the CRC Brakleen parts cleaner can get the job done for less.
    Pros
    Pros
    Though you might be fooled by the cheaper price, CRC Brakleen’s brake cleaner works as well as higher-priced competitors.
    Cons
    Cons
    The brake cleaner is chlorinated, even though it is non-flammable, so you’ll notice a stronger chemical smell during use.
  • Best Value
    CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaners
    CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaners
  • Honorable Mention
    Permatex Non-Chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner
    Permatex Non-Chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner
    Summary
    Summary
    Permatex’s brake cleaner uses the same chemicals found in other brake cleaners but can be used for a variety of applications.
    Pros
    Pros
    Accompanied by a precision straw, this brake cleaner leaves no residue or chemical runoff.
    Cons
    Cons
    This brake cleaner is priced higher than other equivalents, and it doesn’t come with the precision straw.
  • Honorable Mention
    Permatex Non-Chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner
    Permatex Non-Chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner

    Cleaning your own brakes can be a simple task, provided you have the right tools, knowledge, and safety equipment. Here you’ll find a quick reference guide to brake cleaners, including how to use them safely and properly. We’ll name our top picks for the best brake cleaners and point you in the right direction to get both spotless brakes and a better braking system.

    Best Brake Cleaners Reviews & Recommendations 2020

    Best Overall

    3M is a brand well-known in the automotive industry and has a variety of useful products. We chose the high-power brake cleaner as best overall for its multi-purpose formula, price point, and cleaning action. This brake cleaner is non-chlorinated and leaves no residue.


    The high-pressure flushing action of 3M’s brake cleaner is what sets it apart from the rest. The brake cleaner itself dries quickly to leave no residue. Because it is non-chlorinated, you won’t have to deal with an unpleasant odor, and the included precision straw makes targeting small, hard-to-reach areas an easy task. It’s still a good idea to avoid plastics and paints, but the multipurpose formula is designed to dissolve contaminants like dirt, oil, grease, tar, etc.


    Admittedly, the 3M brake cleaner we’ve chosen is a bit pricier than most, but it’s still relatively affordable when compared to other brands. Like most, if not all the brake cleaners we’ve chosen, 3M’s brake cleaner is ideal for anyone looking to clean their brakes quickly and efficiently.

    Best Value

    Widely available from a number of retailers, CRC Brakleen’s brake parts cleaner evaporates quickly even as it dissolves the toughest grit and grime. This brake cleaner can be used on a variety of brake parts, along with many different tools and machines. 


    Depending on where you purchase the cleaner, it lands somewhere in the middle of our price range segments. Though it doesn’t have the brand recognition of others, many consider it a close second to more expensive options. Because it is non-flammable, you won’t have to worry about disassembling your brakes to clean them. We chose the chlorinated version for our best value pick, but CRC Industries also offers a non-chlorinated variant for a comparable price.


    You might find the chlorine smell to be a bit strong if you choose the CRC Brakleen brake parts cleaner, but otherwise, the solution is easy to use for all experience levels. The red and green labels used by CRC Industries make it easy to determine which type of brake cleaner you’re purchasing as well, so recognizing a can on the shelf is a simple task.

    Honorable Mention

    Permatex’s non-chlorinated brake cleaner might not top our list, but it’s still an option you should consider. Like others, it comes with a precision straw that allows for pinpointed use in tight areas. It can be found in a variety of stores, both locally and online. 


    Permatex brake cleaner has a variety of uses, from cleaning brake systems to scrubbing CV joints, tools, farm equipment, and many types of machinery. The aluminum-safe formula leaves no residue and creates little to no runoff during use. 


    Permatex is perhaps a brand you’d only purchase on sale. Its cleaner, however, is something almost anyone can use, especially given the included precision straw. The non-chlorinated formula won’t give off a sharp smell, but it’s still a flammable substance, so proper precautions should be taken before, during, and after use.

    Honorable Mention

    Gunk’s non-chlorinated brake parts cleaner is easy to use and works quickly to unclog your vehicle’s brakes. It is non-chlorinated and removes fluid, dust, and oil from building up on the braking system. Best of all, it shouldn’t leave behind any residue whatsoever, making for simple cleanup.


    Since it contains no chlorine, it is better for the environment and doesn’t have any extra chemicals in the mixture. It also dissolves rapidly and is priced in a budget-friendly range to stock up and fill your garage with several canisters. You may actually end up needing multiple cans to get through thicker grease and grime. It may also end up eating away at paint, so be careful when applying it.

    Honorable Mention

    Denco’s brake cleaner comes in a large canister that holds just over 15 fluid ounces. Its compact can provides a high-powered spray to instantly remove built-up gunk on brake systems. The formula is designed to work on calipers, pads, rotors, and other parts of your vehicle’s brakes.


    One of the best benefits of this particular brand is it is non-chlorinated. You won’t find any unwanted chemicals, lingering odors, or lasting residue after spraying it. It dries quickly, is reasonably priced, and is a high-performance fluid built for dealership technicians. However, it may end up costing you a bit more in the long run as it tends to run out quickly. Plus, as far as this order goes, it only comes in a pack of 12. So, if you want one, you may have to look a bit harder. That, and it doesn’t include a straw.

    Honorable Mention

    This is another great non-chlorinated brake cleaner packaged in a 14.5-ounce bottle. The bundle is a great value price as well, and you get more for your buck. It’s a versatile fluid that cleans out and improves brake systems by getting rid of dirt on cylinders, springs, drums, joints, and discs. Another benefit is it won’t leave behind any gross or sticky residue either, as it evaporates quickly.


    Another interesting feature about this brake fluid cleaner is it supposedly can be used as an engine starter. It even doubles as a degreaser for different parts of your vehicle, but be sure to use it sparingly and with caution and always research before doing so. However, it is highly flammable, so be extra careful when using it. It doesn’t come with a straw either.

    Honorable Mention

    This is a 14-ounce canister of high-powered brake cleaner from Johnson. Its compact container provides a smooth and direct spray that quickly and effectively combats dust, dirt, and grease. There's also no need to clean up afterward as the liquid dissolves in a few seconds and doesn't leave behind any substance.


    It can be used on all types of ABS, disc, and drum brakes as well, making it a versatile and convenient spray to have around. However, while it is another bundled deal, you may actually end up paying a bit more for individual canisters. However, that may be due to the name brand recognition. Plus, Amazon and the official website don't show that it comes with a straw, so you may have to purchase your own.

    Honorable Mention

    Brakleen is already on our list, but this is the sibling to our best value choice. It’s nearly identical in every way possible except one rather large facet: This one is not developed with chlorine. The non-chlorinated formula is more eco-friendly than its counterpart. It also breaks down caked-on dirt and grime evenly and quickly.


    You will notice right away that it doesn’t come with that strong chlorine scent. It may come in a smaller bottle (14-ounce) than the value choice, but that doesn't diminish its overall functionality. If you’re looking for something with a bit of power, the canister produces a high-pressured jet to fight against grease. Although, you may find problems when it comes to placing the cap back on, as it can be a bit annoying. You will also notice it is a bit pricey as well.

    Why Trust Us


    All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

    Learn more

    Why Buy Brake Cleaner

    • Extend the life of your brakes. Decelerating in a car is just as important as accelerating. If you’re still saving up for that brake replacement job at your local garage, use a brake cleaner in the meantime to remove harmful debris that can shorten the brakes’ lifespan. Like your car, sometimes, your brakes just need a good rinse.
    • Fix brake squeals and other noises. Small rocks and pebbles may lodge in your brakes and create a high-pitched whine every time you stop. Clean the debris from your brakes to prevent any further unwanted sounds and to help your car stop more efficiently and effectively. 
    • Spruce your car up before you sell it. While brake cleaners should never be used on paint, plastic, or rubber surfaces, you can use them to remove stains from the carpets. Removing old brake dust from the brake components can also show others you’ve taken care of your vehicle as well.
    • Remove brake dust buildup on your wheels. It has been said that we purchase with our eyes. Give your car a visual lift by removing the unsightly black brake dust that can discolor wheels over time. You might need a scouring pad to break the oldest contaminants free.   

    Types of Brake Cleaner

    Have you ever wondered what’s in brake cleaner? Here’s a breakdown of the different types, no chemical engineering degree required.

    Chlorinated

    Most of us have experienced chlorine whenever we’ve taken a dip in the pool, but the chlorine found in brake cleaner isn’t quite so friendly. Chlorinated brake cleaner contains chemicals, known as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs, that allow the cleaner to break down numerous forms of debris. These compounds, as you might imagine, are harmful to your health. When using chlorinated brake cleaner, be sure to use proper safety equipment such as gloves and eye protection.

    Non-chlorinated

    While they may be a more environmentally-friendly type of brake cleaner, non-chlorinated cleaners can still be detrimental to your health. Non-chlorinated brake cleaners contain chemicals known as “low-toxicity petroleum hydrocarbons,” such as the acetone found in drugstore nail polish cleaner. Just like nail polish cleaner, non-chlorinated brake cleaners tend to evaporate more slowly than chlorinated cleaners.  

    Flammable

    The other important factor to remember when purchasing and using brake cleaners is that non-chlorinated variants are flammable. It’s actually the heptane and n-hexane that make this type of brake cleaner reactant to flames. Burning oil is never a good sign. If you’re concerned about a potential fire hazard, it’s best to stay away from flammable brake cleaners.  

    Non-flammable

    Chlorinated brake cleaners are non-flammable. Though the chemicals that comprise this type of brake cleaner are still a danger to human health, they’re not a fire hazard. In fact, even the carbon dioxide used to propel brake cleaners is non-flammable, which is true for flammable brake cleaners as well.

    Top Brands

    Gunk

    Founded by a wrenching family based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, Gunk has been in the automotive business for over 75 years. Their products are geared towards the do-it-yourself mechanic who takes car maintenance into their own hands. Gunk’s brake and parts cleaner is non-chlorinated and affordable in both single cans and full cases.  

    CRC Brakleen

    CRC Industries just celebrated its 60th anniversary. Operating from their global headquarters in Pennsylvania, CRC Industries creates a solution for everything from automotive and marine applications to metalworking and production. If you’re looking for an alternative to CRC Brakleen's chlorinated cleaners, try a non-chlorinated version instead.

    Throttle Muscle

    The Throttle Muscle family partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to open its doors in 2012. You can find their headquarters in Santa Maria, California. Check out their 50-State-Compliant Non-chlorinated brake cleaner if you’re not a fan of our top picks above.

    MAG 1

    A sub-brand of Warren Distribution, MAG 1 serves North America and a number of other countries as well. Try the MAG 1 409 Non-chlorine Re-formulated Brake Cleaner to see what this company has to offer.

    Brake Cleaner Pricing

    • Less than $3: Considered the starting price point for brake cleaners, $3 or less is where you’ll find the weak and watered-down options. Paying $3 for a can of soda might seem outrageous, but it might clean better than most brake cleaners at this level. We recommend you avoid this price range if quality matters. 
    • $4-$6: As with any cleaning product, spending a few extra dollars can both improve the results and decrease your elbow grease output. Most brake cleaners of decent quality will cost about $4 to $6 per can. Chlorinated/non-chlorinated and non-flammable/flammable options make up this price range. 
    • $6-$10: You’ll find top name brands like 3M here. If you’re working on a budget where every dollar counts, stick with this range. Otherwise, it’s worth it to spend a bit more for better quality. 
    • $25-$35: If you’re someone who uses brake cleaner on a consistent basis, check into buying in bulk. You’ll typically find cases of average-grade brake cleaner in this price range.

    Key Features

    Chemical Makeup

    Most manufacturers will differentiate their brake cleaners based on both chemical makeup and flammability. Remember, chlorinated brake cleaners are non-flammable, while non-chlorinated cleaners are flammable. You should wear the proper safety equipment while using both kinds of brake cleaners, but check that you’ve selected your desired type before making your purchase.

    Precision Straw

    Brake cleaner spray isn’t something you want to apply liberally in every direction. Having a precision straw will help to pinpoint the areas you want to spray, while avoiding those you don’t. Most brake cleaners will come with a short, often red, straw attached directly to the side of the brake cleaner can. However, manufacturers might not always advertise if this straw is included or not, so ask if you’re not sure.

    Bottle Size

    It may seem like a negligible factor in your purchasing decision, but choosing a slimmer bottle of brake cleaner may help you reach into those tight areas with greater ease and improve your grip on the can as well. By the same token, compare the quantity and price of the brake cleaners you’re considering. How much does each ounce of brake cleaner cost from one brand to another?  

    Nozzle Size

    Again, it might not be a dealbreaker for you, but choosing a larger nozzle size will help your pointer finger fatigue less quickly. Considering how careful you need to be with brake cleaner around painted, rubberized, and plastic surfaces, having a better grip on the nozzle is important.  

    Other Considerations  

    • Disposal. Like motor oil, coolant, and a number of other harmful automotive substances, brake cleaner must be properly disposed. It’s a good idea to purchase a large pan to catch the brake cleaner runoff and to clean your brake parts. Just as brake cleaner will evaporate after a few seconds once it is sprayed out of the can, it will eventually evaporate from the catch-all pan. Never pour brake cleaner down the drain.
    • VOC content. Some states do not allow certain brake cleaners based on the product’s Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content. Many manufacturers will list the states in which their products cannot be sold, but it’s always best to check with your local government before making a purchase, especially online.    

    Best Brake Cleaners Reviews & Recommendations 2020

    Best Overall
    3M High-Power Brake Cleaner

    3M is a brand well-known in the automotive industry and has a variety of useful products. We chose the high-power brake cleaner as best overall for its multi-purpose formula, price point, and cleaning action. This brake cleaner is non-chlorinated and leaves no residue.


    The high-pressure flushing action of 3M’s brake cleaner is what sets it apart from the rest. The brake cleaner itself dries quickly to leave no residue. Because it is non-chlorinated, you won’t have to deal with an unpleasant odor, and the included precision straw makes targeting small, hard-to-reach areas an easy task. It’s still a good idea to avoid plastics and paints, but the multipurpose formula is designed to dissolve contaminants like dirt, oil, grease, tar, etc.


    Admittedly, the 3M brake cleaner we’ve chosen is a bit pricier than most, but it’s still relatively affordable when compared to other brands. Like most, if not all the brake cleaners we’ve chosen, 3M’s brake cleaner is ideal for anyone looking to clean their brakes quickly and efficiently.

    Best Value
    CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaner

    Widely available from a number of retailers, CRC Brakleen’s brake parts cleaner evaporates quickly even as it dissolves the toughest grit and grime. This brake cleaner can be used on a variety of brake parts, along with many different tools and machines. 


    Depending on where you purchase the cleaner, it lands somewhere in the middle of our price range segments. Though it doesn’t have the brand recognition of others, many consider it a close second to more expensive options. Because it is non-flammable, you won’t have to worry about disassembling your brakes to clean them. We chose the chlorinated version for our best value pick, but CRC Industries also offers a non-chlorinated variant for a comparable price.


    You might find the chlorine smell to be a bit strong if you choose the CRC Brakleen brake parts cleaner, but otherwise, the solution is easy to use for all experience levels. The red and green labels used by CRC Industries make it easy to determine which type of brake cleaner you’re purchasing as well, so recognizing a can on the shelf is a simple task.

    Honorable Mention
    Permatex Non-chlorinated Brake Parts Cleaner

    Permatex’s non-chlorinated brake cleaner might not top our list, but it’s still an option you should consider. Like others, it comes with a precision straw that allows for pinpointed use in tight areas. It can be found in a variety of stores, both locally and online. 


    Permatex brake cleaner has a variety of uses, from cleaning brake systems to scrubbing CV joints, tools, farm equipment, and many types of machinery. The aluminum-safe formula leaves no residue and creates little to no runoff during use. 


    Permatex is perhaps a brand you’d only purchase on sale. Its cleaner, however, is something almost anyone can use, especially given the included precision straw. The non-chlorinated formula won’t give off a sharp smell, but it’s still a flammable substance, so proper precautions should be taken before, during, and after use.

    Honorable Mention
    Gunk Non-Chlorinated Brake Parts Cleaner

    Gunk’s non-chlorinated brake parts cleaner is easy to use and works quickly to unclog your vehicle’s brakes. It is non-chlorinated and removes fluid, dust, and oil from building up on the braking system. Best of all, it shouldn’t leave behind any residue whatsoever, making for simple cleanup.


    Since it contains no chlorine, it is better for the environment and doesn’t have any extra chemicals in the mixture. It also dissolves rapidly and is priced in a budget-friendly range to stock up and fill your garage with several canisters. You may actually end up needing multiple cans to get through thicker grease and grime. It may also end up eating away at paint, so be careful when applying it.

    Honorable Mention
    Denco Brake Cleaner

    Denco’s brake cleaner comes in a large canister that holds just over 15 fluid ounces. Its compact can provides a high-powered spray to instantly remove built-up gunk on brake systems. The formula is designed to work on calipers, pads, rotors, and other parts of your vehicle’s brakes.


    One of the best benefits of this particular brand is it is non-chlorinated. You won’t find any unwanted chemicals, lingering odors, or lasting residue after spraying it. It dries quickly, is reasonably priced, and is a high-performance fluid built for dealership technicians. However, it may end up costing you a bit more in the long run as it tends to run out quickly. Plus, as far as this order goes, it only comes in a pack of 12. So, if you want one, you may have to look a bit harder. That, and it doesn’t include a straw.

    Honorable Mention
    SQ Brake Cleaner Non Chlorinated

    This is another great non-chlorinated brake cleaner packaged in a 14.5-ounce bottle. The bundle is a great value price as well, and you get more for your buck. It’s a versatile fluid that cleans out and improves brake systems by getting rid of dirt on cylinders, springs, drums, joints, and discs. Another benefit is it won’t leave behind any gross or sticky residue either, as it evaporates quickly.


    Another interesting feature about this brake fluid cleaner is it supposedly can be used as an engine starter. It even doubles as a degreaser for different parts of your vehicle, but be sure to use it sparingly and with caution and always research before doing so. However, it is highly flammable, so be extra careful when using it. It doesn’t come with a straw either.

    Honorable Mention
    Johnsen’s Non-Chlorinated Brake Parts Cleaner

    This is a 14-ounce canister of high-powered brake cleaner from Johnson. Its compact container provides a smooth and direct spray that quickly and effectively combats dust, dirt, and grease. There's also no need to clean up afterward as the liquid dissolves in a few seconds and doesn't leave behind any substance.


    It can be used on all types of ABS, disc, and drum brakes as well, making it a versatile and convenient spray to have around. However, while it is another bundled deal, you may actually end up paying a bit more for individual canisters. However, that may be due to the name brand recognition. Plus, Amazon and the official website don't show that it comes with a straw, so you may have to purchase your own.

    Honorable Mention
    CRC Brakleen Non-Chlorinated Brake Parts Cleaner

    Brakleen is already on our list, but this is the sibling to our best value choice. It’s nearly identical in every way possible except one rather large facet: This one is not developed with chlorine. The non-chlorinated formula is more eco-friendly than its counterpart. It also breaks down caked-on dirt and grime evenly and quickly.


    You will notice right away that it doesn’t come with that strong chlorine scent. It may come in a smaller bottle (14-ounce) than the value choice, but that doesn't diminish its overall functionality. If you’re looking for something with a bit of power, the canister produces a high-pressured jet to fight against grease. Although, you may find problems when it comes to placing the cap back on, as it can be a bit annoying. You will also notice it is a bit pricey as well.

    Tips/Advice

    Here are a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind when using brake cleaners:

    • Purchase one more can of brake cleaner than you think you’ll need. If you need it, it’s on hand and ready to go.
    • When purchasing brake cleaner, stick with one brand to use for the entire job. You never know if multiple brake cleaners will react to one another, especially if you mix chlorinated and non-chlorinated formulas. If you don’t like the brand you chose, purchase a different kind next time. 
    • Add shop towels to your list. Having them will help you remove any stubborn residue or buildup on your brake parts—and quickly remove brake cleaner if it happens to get on paint, rubber, or plastic components.   
    • If you’re not sure if you can use brake cleaner on a specific part, read the instructions printed on the can. 
    • Invest in automotive tape and/or plastic to cover painted, rubberized, and plastic areas. It might feel like a hassle, but it’s a good idea that will protect the overall value of your vehicle. Once brake cleaner is atomized, there’s no telling where it may end up. Once the damage is done, it’s very hard to combat the long-term effects. 
    • Gloves, eye protection, and well-ventilated working space are essential to the proper and safe use of brake cleaner. Avoid skin contact whenever possible and wear clothes you don’t care about damaging. Chlorinated brake cleaners can stain and non-chlorinated cleaners are still flammable.

    Brake Cleaner FAQs

    Q: How should I store brake cleaner?

    A: Because it’s pressurized and, for some variants, flammable, brake cleaner of any type should be stored away from heat and moisture. Under the sink is a good place to keep your unused brake cleaner, but the garage is probably your best option. Make sure to keep the cap to protect the nozzle and to prevent it from spraying when you don’t want it to.

    Q: What should I do with leftover brake cleaner?

    A: You have a few choices here: You can keep it for another day, give it to a friend if they need it, or dispose of it properly. Never attempt to dispose of the brake cleaner by spraying it down a drain or compacting it since the can may still be pressurized.

    Q: How long is brake cleaner good for?

    A: We don't recommend using brake cleaner that is more than a few years old. Shaking the can and testing the remaining cleaner on a piece of scrap is the best way to determine if the brake cleaner is still good or not.  

    Q: What brake problems will brake cleaner reduce/fix?

    A: Squeaking and squealing brakes can often be fixed with brake cleaner. Buildup of debris and contamination can be reduced when the brakes are cleaned as well. If your brake pads contact the rotors more efficiently, you may even increase your stopping ability.

    Final Thoughts

    We named the 3M High-Power Brake Cleaner the best overall for its multipurpose formula and the included precision straw, all at one affordable price point. 

    We found the best value, however, in CRC Brakleen’s Brake Parts Cleaner. Readily available in both chlorinated and non-chlorinated formulas, it’s a great option for any budget.