Does Brake Cleaner Remove Rust?

If you have a vehicle, you know that you must occasionally do repairs and maintenance to keep it in working order. Sometimes cars will accumulate rust on different areas of their frames or even the moving parts like rotors and brakes. Removing rust from the vehicle is essential, and a brake cleaner may help you do the job.  

Brake cleaner can remove rust, but only at the surface level. The chemicals in brake cleaners dissolve surface rust and remove other dirt and debris from a vehicle. Brake cleaner also evaporates quickly, leaving no sticky residue.

So, let’s discuss how brake cleaner can help remove rust from your car and its benefits. I’ll also teach you how brake cleaner removes rust so you can have realistic expectations and eliminate the grime from your vehicle.

What Does Brake Cleaner Do?

Brake cleaner is a helpful cleaner that will remove grime, debris, oil, dirt, and some forms of rust. The product generally comes in an aerosol can and can be used quickly and efficiently during most simple vehicle maintenance jobs. Brake cleaner should be used cautiously in a well-ventilated place due to its chemical content.

How Does Brake Cleaner Work?

There are two types of brake cleaners, some that are chlorinated and some that are unchlorinated. The varying chemical components will often add or subtract from the efficiency of the brake cleaner. Choosing the right brake cleaner for the job is essential.

So, here’s a rundown of what makes these cleaners different: 

  • Chlorinated brake cleaners contain chemicals such as Tetrachloroethylene and Methylene Chloride. These dangerous solvents are highly flammable, but chlorine powers the brake cleaner’s reactions and is most efficient at removing dirt, oil, debris, and some forms of rust.
  • Non Chlorinated brake cleaners contain chemicals like acetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol, or mineral spirits to boost the cleaning power. These chemicals are all highly flammable and should not be used in wholly enclosed locations to ensure safety.

Brake cleaners work by dissolving debris, oil, dirt, and rust with various chemical components and solvents. Most surface dirt will run off as a liquid once the brake cleaner has been applied and let sit for a small amount of time.

Brake cleaners will remove surface rust that has not yet penetrated deeply into the part’s metal. Surface rust will dissolve in the brake cleaner’s solvents, but this method cannot fix corrosion. There is a difference between surface rust and corrosion, which means brake cleaners may not work on all rust spots.

Understanding Rust Versus Corrosion

Rust and corrosion vary by the depth of the oxidation in the metal. Oxidation is a scientific process that occurs when certain metallic particles are subject to the elements, mostly oxygen, over time. Oxygen will oxidize and turn some metals like iron a rusty red color.

  • An oxidation process forms rust with reactions between oxygen and other metals.
  • Rust is usually a surface phenomenon, while corrosion is oxidation that destroys under the surface and will sometimes decay exponentially. 
  • Rust will form with moisture on the surface of the metal, while corrosion is an ongoing process that is a complete deterioration of the metal. 

How Brake Cleaner Removes Rust

Brake cleaners will work for the more surface-level cleaning jobs when maintaining vehicle parts. The brake cleaner will only really dissolve and remove surface particulates from metals. Once rust has reached a corrosive level, brake cleaners can only do so much.

Rust formed on a metal’s surface is easily cleaned with brake cleaner and a scrub brush. Rust that has developed into a corrosive area in the metal can still be cleaned away, but the damage in the metal must be fixed, filled in, or completely replaced. 

The brake cleaners’ chemicals help break down rust that has accrued or collected on the surface. These are solvent chemicals that will dissolve dirt and oil and loosen tough debris or rust particles, but they cannot go beyond the surface of metal parts such as rotors.

Brake cleaners will not remove rust in a corroded area and should only be used for surface projects. 


If you are attempting to remove rust from some of the metallic parts of your vehicle, a brake cleaner may be the answer to helping accomplish the job. Brake cleaners can help dissolve surface rust and clean off other dirt, oil, and particulates.

However, when it comes to corrosion, a brake cleaner will not be able to do much. Corrosion is a more permanent process that does irreversible damage deep into the object’s metal. You should only use brake cleaners for small rust spots and surface jobs, and You should take care of corrosion with something else.

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