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How to Clean Brake Dust the Right Way: 3 Easy Tips

A car wheel with brake dust coated rims.

Wondering how to clean brake dust from your vehicle’s rims as quickly and easily as possible? You might have noticed that regular washing doesn’t always do the trick when trying to remove the dark film that brake pads can leave on wheels over time. That’s because the microparticles thrown off by friction when those pads clamp down on your brake rotors can become embedded in the finish of your rims and require a little extra persuasion to remove. Don’t worry — we’ve got your back. Check out these three easy tips for cleaning brake dust.

1. Know Your WheelsClean wheel

The first step in learning how to clean brake dust from your wheels is understanding what material they are made out of. Alloy wheels, which include almost all rims that don’t have a hubcap or wheel cover on them, are the most affected by brake dust, as it can mar their finish permanently if left uncleaned. It’s also important to know if your wheels are powder-coated, clear-coated or painted, as that will determine which type of cleaning product you should use. Not all wheel cleaners are compatible with all wheel finishes, and if you aren’t sure what you have on your vehicle, don’t be afraid to ask an expert for help.

2. Don’t Wait

Remember what we mentioned earlier about brake dust potentially damaging your rims? This is more likely to happen if you go weeks or months between washes and allow the dust to build up to the point where it’s caked onto the wheel itself. Not only does the heat of the wheel spinning bond the dust more strongly to the rim, making it more difficult to take off, but that same heat can also chemically alter the finish on your wheels to the point where it’s permanently damaged by the dust.

3. Use the Right Product

Choosing the right type of spray-on brake cleaner, matched to the type of rim finish that you’re working with, is the best way to protect and extend the life of your wheels. That being said, there are also universal wheel cleaners that are safe to use on any type of rim finish. You may also choose to work with a polish if initial cleaning doesn’t get rid of all of the grime. These compounds can work much like polishing your vehicle’s paint and help remove imperfections, contaminants and scratches.

Remember: Regularly scrubbing your wheels is a big part of learning how to clean brake dust. Always make sure to use the same soft cloths or sponges you would on your vehicle’s paint (or if absolutely necessary, a soft brush) to ensure that you don’t make things worse by accidentally scuffing up your rims’ finish.

Check out all the chemical products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to clean brake dust chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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