Keller-Heartt Blog: July 2016
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Proper Preparation for Brake Cleaning

Brake cleaning is as easy as a few sprays from a can, but the bulk of the work lies in the preparation. These powerful solvents require some extra attention to the mechanical and safety equipment that is used, as well as an awareness of the environment that you are working in, so that simple upkeep can stay just that—simple.

The most important complication to avoid is a health complication. Inhaling toxic vapors is the chief danger of working with chlorinated and non chlorinated solvents. Set up shop in a ventilated area, preferably outside, and you will prevent side effects like nausea, dizziness, neurological damage, and liver dysfunction. You should also plan on wearing gloves, boots, or protective eye gear to prevent skin irritation and rashes. Fresh air and reliable barriers between you and the solvent, or between flammable solvents and sources of extreme heat, will allow you to do the job most effectively.

Once you have supplied protective gear, it is time to protect the car. Before you have removed the tire to access the brake parts, or immediately after removal, you should protect all non-brake parts. If you would like to maintain the paint job on your car, then it is best to cover the car’s exterior closest to the area that you will be spraying. Not only can brake cleaner strip paint, it can also damage your garage floor if a covering is not put in place to catch excess brake cleaner.

So, you got out the wrench, used the jack to lift your vehicle, and removed the tire. But before you start spraying, you should have a plan for disposing of extra brake cleaner. The easiest thing to do is wipe excess brake cleaner with a lint-free cloth, or let the solvent evaporate on its own. Never dump brake cleaner down drains or in sewers, as this is harmful to the environment and may go against local regulations. It is best to look up your area’s suggested methods of disposal before doing any maintenance work.

Now that you have your safety gear, the proper equipment, and a disposal plan, the rest is smooth sailing. If you prepare your environment and keep the right tools handy, you can clean your brakes with the ease of any professional.

Browse Keller Heartt’s full selection of Brake Cleaner.

The different uses of Brake Cleaner

Making the Most Out of Your Brake Cleaner

Brake cleaners are powerful solvents designed to remove dust, dirt, and grime from brake parts, but these potent cleaning agents can also be used in other auto shop and household applications. The following are alternative uses—and warnings—for your brake cleaner so that you can get the maximum use from your product:

Clothing Stain Removal

Perchloroethylene, the chemical most commonly used at dry cleaners, is also a chemical used in chlorinated brake cleaner. Brake cleaner can be used in the removal of food stains, including oil stains from greasy food. Remove tough stains in clothing by rubbing a small amount of brake cleaner on the stain and then washing the garment in water. Remember to do this in a well ventilated area, and wear gloves as these chemicals can irritate the skin.

Cleaning Floors

Whether you’ve spilled oil on your shop floor, or you’ve stained your carpeting, brake cleaner can be used to remove tough substances from most surfaces. For oil spills in the shop, first remove the oil using an absorbent, then scrub the residue with brake cleaner. Scrubbing with brake cleaner can also remove stains from concrete driveways and patios.

If you are removing a stain from carpeting, spray some diluted brake cleaner onto the stain and let it sit for several minutes before brushing the spot. Since brake cleaner can cut through glue and adhesives, do not let the brake cleaner get deep into the adhesive that binds the carpeting and the floor.

Removing Ink and Paint

Brake cleaner can effectively remove streaks from permanent markers, paint, and nail polish that gets on counters, tables, or walls. Non chlorinated brake cleaners often contain acetone and other chemicals that are helpful in removing marks or accidental spills made by you or your children.

Gun Maintenance

Many gun owners swear by brake cleaner to get the metal parts of their firearms spotless.  This can be a cheaper alternative to popular gun scrubbers on the market, though brake cleaner can strip paint, wood finishing, and necessary lubrication from the firearm. Use a lubricant or gun grease after cleaning, and stick to non chlorinated brake cleaner for the safest option.

Inappropriate Uses for Brake Cleaner

In order to prevent ruining certain surfaces, avoid using brake cleaner on plastics, rubber, and any painted surface that you want to maintain. Protect these surfaces with careful application and small amounts of product at one time.  

In addition, read the safety information on all products before use. Non chlorinated brake cleaner is flammable, and chlorinated brake cleaner can give off fatal fumes when in contact with heat and certain chemicals. This is especially true for welding. Vapors from chlorinated solvents can break down into phosgene gas, a highly toxic gas that can immediately cause low blood pressure, emphysema, heart failure, and even death.

If used properly, brake cleaner can be an inexpensive, multi-purpose solvent for the shop or the home. Make sure to use caution with all chemicals, and make safety your first priority when using brake cleaner for new purposes.

The Difference Between Chlorinated and Non Chlorinated Brake Cleaner

Cars and trucks require a lot of maintenance and attention. After oil changes, car washes, new tires, and new windshield wipers, it is easy to forget less-obvious tasks, like cleaning your brakes. When it’s time to clean residue off brake pads, linings, drums, and cylinders, the two most common solvent options are chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners. Both get the job done, but understanding their key differences can prevent maintenance and safety issues.

Chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaner both contain toxic chemicals, though chlorinated solvents contain the more harmful ingredients between the two. Chlorinated brake cleaners are comprised of Perchloroethylene (Perc), Methylene Chloride (MeCl), and Trichloroethylene (TCE), which are considered Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As an alternative, non-chlorinated brake cleaners entered the market at a slightly higher cost with less environmentally impactful chemicals, such as acetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol, and other low-toxicity petroleum hydrocarbons, such as mineral spirits or toluene.

For an auto shop concerned with employee safety, the difference in VOC emissions is no small detail. According to the EPA, VOCs pollute the environment in the form of gaseous emissions that can cause serious side effects in humans and animals. These side effects include headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, kidney and liver damage, and some cancers. As a result, chlorinated brake cleaners have since been banned in California.

Despite those less toxic properties, the chemicals in non-chlorinated brake cleaner are highly flammable. This makes them inappropriate for vapor degreasing and other more complex cleaning applications. Their drying time is slightly longer than chlorinated solvents, which is one of their largest trade-offs along with somewhat lower solvency. But don’t be fooled. While a chlorinated solvent may be toughest on grime, non-chlorinated alternatives are still much more powerful than water-detergent solutions, especially on paint and other substances.

Remember to keep these differences in mind when maintaining clean, healthy brakes. Check your local regulations on legal and illegal solvents and weigh the potential consequences and benefits. For more literature on solvents and safety assessments, you can also visit the Dow Chemical Company at Dow.com.

Browse Keller Heartt’s full selection of Brake Cleaner