You step on the brakes one day and hear a squealing sound. And it’s not the tires — it’s the brakes themselves. That noise from the disc brakes is often caused by brake dust, and the answer is a good cleaning. Below are some useful car brake cleaning tips to help keep your brakes running smoothly.
Question: Can I Clean My Brakes?
Raise the Car
A garage-style hoist is best for this, but if you don’t have access to one, jack stands are the next best thing. Note that you will need more than one jack stand for the job. First, jack up the car, place the car on the jack stand (always use jack stands!), pull off the wheel, and clean the brakes. Then, put the wheel back on, reverse the jacking process, and repeat until all four brakes are done. This process will go especially smoothly if you can jack up both front wheels or all four at once. If you raise all four at the same time, your workflow will likely look something like this: jack the car up in the air, take all the tires off, clean the brakes, put the tires back on and lower the car back to the ground.
Make Sure You’re Equipped
A good brake cleaner is essential for this process, as is eye protection. You’ll want an appropriately sized container underneath to catch what falls while you clean. Also, check your local regulations to determine the proper method for disposing of the used brake spray and debris. Note — brake cleaner is toxic.
Be sure to carefully read the cleaner’s instructions and any other literature related to the procedure. The good news is that the liquid does most of the work. You just need to spray it on the rotors, hubs, linings, springs, fasteners, cylinders and drums, and other brake hardware at a distance of 18-24 inches. Make sure to avoid getting any on the plastic, rubber and painted surfaces of your car and garage. Spray from the top down, cleaning the dirt away from the brake. Get the surfaces good and wet with the spray. A lot of the gunk will dislodge and come off on its own.
After you’re finished spraying, you’ll need a wire brush. Use this to remove any dirt and dust from the caliper housing and backing plate. After that, you can either let the brakes air dry or wipe them down with a clean rag. If you’ve got a severe buildup of dirt, dust and grime, you might have to repeat this process.
Time for a Road Test
After you’ve put the wheels back on, tightened the lug nuts to the correct torque specification, and lowered the car, take your vehicle for a spin! Enjoy the quiet when you step on the brake pedal.
Check out all the chemical & lubricant products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on brake cleaning tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.