Will Brake Cleaner Remove Paint? (Explained)

Even though the ingredients found in brake cleaners vary from one brand to another, they all contain acetone and other solvents that will remove your paint. Therefore, don’t intentionally spray brake cleaner on your car paint.

Brake cleaners contribute immensely to a vehicle’s maintenance. Car brakes often get exposed to grease, debris, dirt, and other contaminants found on our roads.

These contaminants stick to the brakes and can hinder their performance. Brake cleaner on the other hand removes dirt build-up, leaving behind a clean layer of brakes.

Despite the above purpose, DIY car cleaners and detailers have discovered that brake cleaner is a very strong cleaning agent.

Some use it to degrease the engine. Others even use it to remove stains on wheels. Though some of these issues can be solved by using a brake cleaner, some can’t.

Brake cleaners were invented to clean brakes, which we will look into later on. They are not designed to be used on car paint, wheels, or even on the engine.

There are products designed to be used on all these parts of your car. So, spraying brake cleaner on your car puts you at risk of damaging the car paint.

will brake cleaner remove paint

What is a Brake Cleaner?

To understand further the effects of brake cleaner on paint, let us look at what it is. In the garage, the brake cleaner goes by the name, parts cleaner.

This is because it doesn’t just clean brake disks, mechanics use it to clean car components that get greasy such as the engine. It is however not used on sensitive car components.

Brake cleaner is a strong cleaning substance that when applied, immediately dissolves and absorbs dirt or contaminants. It then evaporates leaving behind a clear surface.

Brake cleaners work fast and effectively remove dirt and any other ingredients from surfaces.

Its formula is very strong on contaminants and that’s what makes it unsafe for car paint. Your car’s finish, clear coat, and a layer of wax won’t be a match for brake cleaner.

And it’s not just modern brake cleaners that are unsafe to be used on car paint, even old brake cleaners were very harsh.

The old ones were synthesized from chlorine compounds. This ingredient was banned because of its effect on the environment, especially the ozone layer.

Brake cleaner manufacturers, however, didn’t give up and they created a new formula that contains acetone, methanol, isopropanol, and ethanol amongst others.

All these ingredients are mixed at full strength and each has very bad effects when it makes contact with car paint.

When you spray a brake cleaner on car paint, all the above ingredients react immediately on it. After the solution evaporates, you will see a stinky substance comprising of etched wax, a clear coat, and paint.

The sprayed area may look dull or burnt. And to fix such damage, you will have to get a re-spray. See how costly using brake cleaner on car paint can be?

And it’s not just car paint that brake cleaners can damage. This product also damages plastic. That’s why it is stored in a metal spray can. It is also dangerous if you get some on your skin. Always use gloves when handling brake cleaners.

What are the Recommended Uses of Brake Cleaners?

While you were inspecting your vehicle, did you come across a build-up of grease, brake dust, and other contaminants?

If you are wondering how to clean the above then a brake cleaner can do wonders for you. Brake cleaners get the job done faster and easier than any other way you can think of.

You don’t have to dismantle the brakes or anything. Just spray it and let the cleaner do its job.

Other than the above, brake cleaners also have other uses which include;

Stain removal

Brake cleaner is one of the best stain removers on the market. No matter how stubborn that stain you are dealing with is, it is no match for a brake leaner.

Talking about stain removal properties, it is worth noting the following. Brake cleaners should be used to remove stains on cloth fabric.

If this is the material used in your car’s upholstery, you can use brake cleaner to remove such stains. Don’t use it on leather seats as it may eat through it.

Cleaning metal surfaces

If other parts in your car are dirty, then you can use brake cleaner provided that part is made of metal. As mentioned earlier, this cleaning agent is very harsh on plastic, therefore, only use it to clean metal surfaces.

Paint removal

If you are removing paint on some parts of your car, then you can use a brake cleaner. The thing about this cleaning product is that it reacts immediately with paint and will remove paint, nail polish, ink, and any other blemish on your car’s surface.

How to Protect Your Car Paint When Using Brake Cleaner?

By now, you are already aware of the dangers of using brake cleaner on car paint. However, there are times when you may accidentally get some brake cleaner on your car paint.

Below I am going to give you tips on how to avoid that and what to do if you happen to spray it on car paint.

Let’s start with how to avoid spraying brake cleaner on car paint;

When cleaning brakes, ensure that you spray in a well-ventilated area. This minimizes the odds of the spray spreading to other parts of your car.

Ensure that the spray is pointed directly towards the brake pads.

Be very gentle when handling the brake cleaner.

If you think that it may reach car paint, cover the surrounding area with some tape.

What Should I Do If I Spray Brake Cleaner on Car Paint?

The first thing you need to do is avoid smearing the cleaner in an attempt to rub it off quickly. Doing this results in spreading the cleaner to more areas.

Get a clean cloth or towel then dab it on the sprayed area. Don’t wipe but dab it gently. This will ensure the cleaner isn’t rubbed into the clear coat or wax.

Rinse the area with some water. Wash it with shampoo and rinse once again with water. Dry it off with a clean cloth and apply some wax or sealant.

After performing this procedure, you will need to assess the extent of brake cleaner damage.

There are instances when the paint may be etched. If this is the case, you will need to get a re-spray.

However, if it’s only the wax that was stripped off, you have got nothing to worry about.

Red brake pads and discs of modern car with black alloy discs

Can I Use Brake Cleaner on Painted Calipers?

The calipers are the ones that squeeze the brake pads to slow down or stop the car. They too are an integral part of the car’s braking system and should be cleaned regularly.

Calipers, if not painted, there is no issue if you spray them with a brake cleaner. This is because no paint is going to be removed.

However, for those whose cars come with painted calipers. Spraying brake cleaner on them will result in the removal or damage of the paint.

So, you are better off washing the calipers with shampoo and water. Then spray other parts of your braking system with the brake cleaner.

Is Brake Fluid the Same as an Engine Degreaser?

Though not the same thing, they do share some ingredients. Engine degreasers remove oil build-up and dirt from your engine.

Which is nearly the same thing that is done by brake cleaners. Both contain co-solvents such as alcohols and ethers. These solvents are responsible for the removal of dirt build-up.

The only difference between the two is that brake fluid is a stronger cleaner. And because of that reason, it is a top choice for many mechanics and detailers.

However, engine degreasers should also not be applied to car paint. This is because engine degreasers contain alcohol which will also etch paint.

To be on the safe side, whether you are using an engine degreaser or a brake cleaner, don’t let it touch your paint.

Is It Okay to Spray Brake Cleaner on the Pads?

Brake cleaners are designed to clean the entire braking system. Be it the pads, lining, drums, or shoes, you can spray the cleaner directly.

You should only avoid spraying it on painted calipers. Also, cover areas that you think will be damaged if they come into contact with the cleaner.

Can I Substitute Isopropyl Alcohol with a Brake Cleaner?

Alcohol is one of the key ingredients found in brake cleaners and it can be used to clean dirty brakes.

Therefore, should you find yourself in a situation where you have only rubbing alcohol and your brakes need to be cleaned, don’t hesitate to use this powerful cleaning ingredient.

As you substitute rubbing alcohol with brake cleaner, be very careful it doesn’t come into contact with the paint. The results will be the same. Isopropyl alcohol can damage car paint if left to evaporate on car paint.

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1 thought on “Will Brake Cleaner Remove Paint? (Explained)”

  1. • How about cleaning with denatured alcohol rather than isopropyl alcohol? [Did you know isopropyl is derived from propane?]
    • Does the industry still recommend washing cast iron cylinders with soap and water after honing them?
    • Factoid – [learned while I taught Brakes at the GM Training Center] We all know that DOT 3 fluid is hygroscopic [absorbs moisture]. But why do the cast iron cylinders and steel brake lines rust in even a leakless brake system with a master cylinder that has never been opened in a shop? Because the moisture vapor in the air wicks thru the pores of the cast iron cylinders. The moisture is attracted by the DOT 3 fluid [like a magnet] but the fluid is too dense to flow out thru the pores. [Use this Factoid on your Chem teacher for extra credit]

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