What's a clean way to clean my brakes?
November 28, 2009 9:29 AM   Subscribe

What is an alternative to using commercial brake cleaner when changing drum shoes?

I went to work on my brakes the other day and noticed that the directions on my can of Autozone brake cleaner had quite a few warnings about how volatile and noxious the chemicals are, especially concerning reproductive damage. It's actually banned for sale in twenty different states as a Volatile Organic Compound. These things concern me, especially since I might want to have a healthy Brandon1600 Jr. one day. So what else could I use to clean and degrease brake parts effectively? Something environmentally friendly and homemade would be ideal but I am open to any ideas.
posted by Brandon1600 to Travel & Transportation (2 answers total)
Check around a little. Other brands are less toxic. CRC makes a 50-State legal spray.
As far as I know, brake cleaner is the best way to clean brake parts. A brake parts cleaner needs to trap and remove the brake dust while displacing moisture and grease from the friction surfaces.
Cleaning brakes with compressed air is just as bad as using brake cleaner. Even though new brakes are non-asbestos, the dust is still pretty foul and it's best to saturate it and rinse it off with the cleaner rather than make a big cloud of dust in your workspace.
I can't think of anything specific off hand, but if you can find a product that can displace moisture without adding oils of any kind, that'd be your brake-clean substitute.
posted by Jon-o at 9:49 AM on November 28, 2009

The other characteristic of brake cleaner (which is mostly xylene, IIRC) is that it evaporates very quickly and completely. You might be able to use a less-volatile non-polar solvent like isopropyl alcohol, but you'd have to wait longer for the parts to dry out, and if you didn't you'd be putting your safety at risk - wet brakes don't stop, and hot volatile solvents might catch fire. Another possibility might be pure ethyl alcohol (i.e. Everclear), but is it really worth that much money to clean your brakes?

What I would do is spend the money on a good activated charcoal respirator, a pair of safety goggles, and a steady supply of nitrile or latex gloves. Not only are you largely protected against the toxic solvents, you can use them for jobs other than just jello shots. The nitrile gloves in particular are great, as they'll prevent you from getting all kinds of nasty stuff absorbing into your skin while you work on the car; I hardly ever work on anything in the garage without them any more.
posted by hackwolf at 10:56 AM on November 28, 2009

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