What to recommend for cleaning brake parts
Brake cleaner is a chemical product specifically formulated to
do a specific job. There are other chemicals that can be used for cleaning,
but many leave behind a residue that can contaminate linings and attack
Brake cleaners contain a variety of ingredients. Many have been
reformulated to make them more environmentally friendly.
For years, 1-1-1 trichloroethane was the primary ingredient in
most aerosol brake cleaners. It works great, dries almost instantly,
leaves no residue and is nonflammable.
It was also a relatively inexpensive chemical until a new federal
excise tax increased its cost. The tax was applied because 1-1-1 trichloroethane
is an ozone-depleting chemical (like CFCs).
To minimize the impact of the new tax, some cleaners now use a
mixture of 1-1-1 trichloroethane with other chemicals such as perchloroethylene.
Others have eliminated 1-1-1 trichloroethane altogether and use other
Perchloroethylene is a chemical used by dry cleaners because of
its excellent cleaning properties. It dries fast (though not quite as
fast as 1- 1-1 trichloroethane), leaves no residue, and is nonflammable.
It also costs less than 1-1-1 trichloroethane.
Perchloroethylene is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), which is
being regulated because it contributes to air pollution. It is also
toxic and not biodegradeable.
Some cleaners use nonchlorinated formulas, including n-methyl pyrollidone,
oxodecyl acetate (acetone), methanol alcohol, toluene, and various petroleum
distillates. None of these chemicals are CFCs and are exempt from federal
Most nonchlorinated brake cleaners don't clean as well as 1-1-1
trichloroethane or perchloroethylene, nor do they dry as fast. Products
without petroleum distillates do not leave a residue.
Nonchlorinated brake cleaners are flammable, making them subject
to a national fire code regulation limiting the number of cans of flammable
product a retail store or parts jobber can stock. Nonchlorinated brake
cleaners are also VOCs and not biodegradeable. Some are toxic.
Another alternative are water-based brake
cleaners. These typically contain a citrus-based solvent, such as D-Limonene,
and other ingredients, such as Methyl Ethyl Ketone. The primary advantages
with a water-based formula are nonflammability, no residue, biodegradability
of the base product, low VOCs, no ozone depletion or greenhouse gases,
and low toxicity. Water-based products clean more slowly and may
require scrubbing or wiping to do a thorough job. Drying times are also
slow, measured in hours rather than minutes or seconds.