Chlorinated vs. Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaner: Which is Right for You?

As a car owner, you may not give cleaning products much thought – you just grab whatever brake cleaner is on the shelf to get the brake dust off, right? But with your safety and the environment at stake, it pays to understand your options. Join me as we go under the hood and deep dive into the two main types of brake cleaners: chlorinated and non-chlorinated. We’ll explore how they work, compare their pros and cons, and help you choose the right one for your needs. Let’s get rolling!

Here’s a quick answer:

When choosing between chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners, consider your priorities. Non-chlorinated cleaners are generally safer for your health and the environment, while chlorinated cleaners provide superior cleaning ability. However, both require safe usage precautions. Ultimately the right choice depends on your specific needs and how willing you are to trade power for eco-friendliness.

How Brake Cleaners Do the Dirty Work

Before we compare, we’ve gotta understand what makes brake cleaners tick. They work using strong solvents that can power through that baked-on brake dust, grease, and grime your brakes pick up from daily use and stop-and-go driving.

Chlorinated cleaners rely on potent chlorinated solvents like perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene. Non-chlorinated cleaners turn to acetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol, and mineral spirits to get the cleaning job done without the chlorinated chemicals. Both options dissolve gunk very effectively, but take different routes to brake cleaning success.

The Crusty Veteran: Chlorinated Brake Cleaner

Chlorinated cleaners have been the old reliable option for decades thanks to their unmatched cleaning power. Mechanics and DIYers alike turn to them when they really need to scour stubborn buildup from brake parts.

The chlorinated solvent formula cuts through almost anything, wiping your brake parts squeaky clean in no time flat. It also evaporates rapidly for a quick complete job. And unlike some alternatives, chlorinated cleaners won’t catch fire around sparks or flames.

But before you grab that familiar can of chlorinated cleaner, it’s time to peel back the label. Those hardcore chlorinated chemicals take a major toll on the environment and your lungs.

Prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory irritation, dizziness, and even organ damage over time. Plus, they erode the Earth’s ozone layer, contribute to climate change, and require special hazardous waste disposal. Reconsider reaching for it unless you have fantastic ventilation and proper protective gear.

The New Kid: Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaner

Lucky for your lungs and the planet, brake cleaner has gone green. The automotive industry has increasingly shifted toward non-chlorinated cleaners using alternative formulas sans chlorinated chemicals.

While maybe not quite as outright potent on severe brake gunk, non-chlorinated cleaners still scrub away brake dust very effectively. More importantly, they help you breathe easier and tread lighter on the Earth.

Their formulas also play nicer with more sensitive under-hood components. Chlorinated cleaners can degrade rubber, plastic, and valuable ABS sensors, while non-chlorinated alternatives don’t attack materials so aggressively.

However, some drawbacks do exist. The safety benefit of being non-flammable no longer applies, so avoid sparks or open flames just to be safe. They also tend to be a bit pricier than the old chlorinated standbys.

Head-to-Head Comparison

Let’s see how chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners stack up against each other:

IngredientsChlorinated solvents like trichloroethyleneAcetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol
Cleaning PowerVery effectiveSlightly less effective
Dry TimeVery fast evaporationSlower drying
FlammabilityNon-flammableFlammable – Take precautions
Environmental ImpactHarsh – avoid releasesMore eco-friendly
Health RisksRespiratory irritant; organ damage possibleLess risky, but take precautions
CostCheaper typicallySomewhat pricier

As you can see, it’s largely a tradeoff between cleaning power and safety – both personal and environmental.

Making the Right Choice for You

When deciding between chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners, it’s wise to consider your specific situation and priorities.

Maximum Cleaning Ability Needed?

Chlorinated cleaners shine when tackling the grimiest brake buildup that other cleaners can’t conquer quickly. Just be sure to use them only with comprehensive safety gear in place and dispose properly after.

Eco-Conscious Driver?

Non-chlorinated cleaners align best with green values by reducing pollution and ozone harm. Your lungs will thank you too. Just be diligent about avoiding sparks or open flames when in use.

Tight Budget?

Upfront cost favors chlorinated cleaners typically. But the potential costs of health issues or environmental impact down the road are impossible to calculate. Make safety the priority if funds allow.

DIY Brake Jobs?

Non-chlorinated cleaners play nicer with more brake materials if you’re diving into your own repairs. Chlorinated solvents could degrade components over time, leading to premature failures.

Safe Usage Tips for All Brake Cleaners

While making an informed choice is key, smart usage practices matter greatly too for your safety. Give brake parts a good spray down only in a very well-ventilated area while wearing protective gloves and eye covering. NEVER directly inhale the fumes.

After thoroughly cleaning brakes, allow all remnants to fully evaporate before driving, and always dispose of used cleaner responsibly. Check your product’s label for any further precautions too.

With smart, safe handling, you’ll keep your brakes sparkling while avoiding personal or environmental hazards.

Beyond the Can: Exploring Other Brake Cleaning Approaches

If you’re still uneasy about the brake cleaner route, some alternative cleaning options do exist:

  • Brake-Specific Degreasers – Tailored formulas for effective, safer brake gunk-busting power
  • Brake Dust Shields – Physical barriers to minimize dust buildup so cleaning needed less often

Confident in Your Brake Cleaner Choice?

As you can see, chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners both scrub brakes with power – but very differently. Once armed with “under-the-hood” insights about ingredients, safety, green factors, and cost, you can make the ideal choice for YOUR needs.

You rely on your brakes each time you hit the road, so keep their cleaning safe and eco-friendly without compromising performance by picking the right brake cleaner solution. Here’s to many miles of happy, hassle-free driving ahead!


1. Are non-chlorinated brake cleaners safe to use?

Non-chlorinated brake cleaners are generally safer than chlorinated options. However, they can still pose health risks if inhaled or used without gloves or ventilation. Always check the label and follow safety precautions.

2. How often should I clean my brakes?

You should clean your brake parts about twice a year to prevent dirt and debris from building up which can cause squeaking or impact stopping power. Clean more often if you notice symptoms of contaminated brakes like grinding, vibration, or uneven pad wear.

3. Will a brake cleaner damage ABS sensors?

Chlorinated cleaners are more likely to degrade ABS sensor materials over time, while non-chlorinated cleaners are generally sensor-safe. Avoid directing any spray directly at electronic components to be safe.

4. Where should I dispose of used brake cleaner?

Never dump either chlorinated or non-chlorinated brake cleaner down the drain, sewer or directly on the ground. Check local regulations – many auto part stores collect used cleaner fluids for proper disposal and recycling.

5. Is it bad to breathe in brake dust?

Yes, brake dust contains particulates and chemical residue that should not be inhaled. Use brake cleaner sprays responsibly in well-ventilated areas and wear an appropriate mask if airborne dust is present during brake repairs. Prioritize your respiratory health.

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