There seems to be considerable confusion surrounding carb cleaner vs. brake cleaner. It’s not because people don’t understand the fundamental purpose of each; brake cleaner for brakes and carb cleaner for the carburetor. No, it’s because most drivers tend to use them interchangeably, and more so to clean other parts of their cars other than their primary purposes.
Let’s clear the confusion between these two agents and help you understand when to use one or the other and the chemicals that constitute each cleaner. I’ll also answer the most common questions about these products.
Let’s take it to the end, guys.
Carb cleaner vs. brake cleaner: What are they?
Brake and carb cleaners are the two most common products that you’ll find in any motorist’s garage. While these cleaners are widely used, they consist of different chemical compositions that make them unique.
A carb cleaner removes gunk and heavy varnish from carburetors and carburetor-related components. The carburetor needs periodic cleaning since it collects varnish, a natural byproduct of water-logged or stale gasoline after it breaks down into a less potent form.
Varnish fills up in the carburetor jets and obstructs fuel flow. In addition, the air intake also dries out the gas in the carburetor, resulting in a sticky substance that attaches to the walls of the carburetor.
A carb cleaner does a great job of dissolving sticky substances, unclogging carburetor jets, and removing oil, dirt, and grime.
Carb Cleaner Formulation
Carburetor cleaners consist of powerful chemicals. They include:
These elements are aggressive and can harm skin and clothing. They will also strip paint from painted surfaces. As such, car cleaners are better off in the hands of a trained detailer. Not to say that you can’t use a carb cleaner when need be. But proper precautions are required when using carb cleaners.
However, some carb cleaners are safe on neoprene, rubber, and vinyl. So, if your carburetor has seals and gaskets made of these materials, you will not need to rebuild it.
Carb cleaners leave behind an oily residue to extend the lifespan of the car’s gaskets and seals. Hence, if you have older seals, they will be well-serviced after using a carburetor cleaner on them.
The oil in the carb cleaner is also essential for lubricating stuck valves and linkages.
Other Uses of Carb Cleaners
Clean the Throttle Body
Like the carburetor, the throttle body also collects its fair share of carbon, oil, and soot from the crankcase ventilation system. A carb cleaner can still clean the throttle body since it can break up heavy deposits. Nevertheless, you’ll need to use more of it to remove the carbon buildup.
Cleaning Spark Plugs
Carburetor cleaner can dissolve hardened debris in the spark plug wells. The dirt will be easier to blow off with a compressed air can.
You can also use carb cleaners to strip paint from metallic parts, degrease tools, and clean bolts.
A brake cleaner removes dust, debris, and oil from the brakes and their related components. It can clean brake drums, pads, shoe brakes, and other vehicle parts.
Brake cleaners come in two types; chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners.
Chlorinated Brake Cleaners
This is the popular variety that’s been used the longest, although it has harmful ingredients. These are Methylene Chloride (MeCI), Perchloroethylene (Perc), and Trichloroethylene (TCE), which are considered Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
These elements all contain chlorinated atoms that boost the cleaner’s solvent properties. Nonetheless, these compounds are harmful to the environment and skin.
Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaners
These cleaners have a different molecular structure that does not have any chlorinated atoms. Instead, they use less environmentally impactful ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol, acetone, heptane, toluene, and mineral spirits. However, these chemicals are highly flammable, and their cleaning time is not as fast as that of chlorinated brake cleaners.
Functions of a Brake Cleaner
Brake cleaner loosens dirt, debris, oil, and dust from brake components. In addition, it does not leave behind a residue, as in the case of carb cleaners. Hence, you can use it in an application where you don’t want any oily stuff on the surface.
Apart from brake components, you can use brake cleaner for removing grime from hinges, screws, nuts, and gunk from metallic parts. You can use brake cleaner to remove grease stains from carpeting, driveways, garage floors, etc.
However, brake cleaner can discolor the item you’re trying to clean. Thus, it’s best to try it on a tiny portion before deciding it will work for your needs. Again, the fumes are dangerous to breathe because of their chemical composition, so it’s not ideal to use in closed places or to clean things used primarily indoors.
Places to Avoid Using Brake Cleaner
Although brake cleaner is excellent at stripping grease, you should not use it next to an open flame. In addition, you should not use it on anything that you plan to weld or near welding equipment. This is because brake cleaners have active ingredients that react to Argon and heat, creating Phosgene gas that is poisonous and potentially fatal even if inhaled in small amounts.
Finally, please do not use brake cleaner on a powder-coated surface since it will prevent the powder from sticking to the surface, ruining the perfect finish on a vehicle.
Differences Between Carb Cleaner and Brake Cleaner
Carb and brake cleaner differences are like night and day. Let’s dig deeper to see how each product defines its functionality, specialty, user-friendliness, etc.
Carb Cleaner Vs. Brake Cleaner Comparison Chart
|Formulated to remove carbon deposits in carburetors,
|Manufactured for cleaning grease, oil, dust, grime, and debris on brake components
|Long drying time
|Leaves lubricating residue
|For plastic and rubber
|Some are safe on plastic and rubber
|Cannot be used on rubber, vinyl, and plastic parts.
|For brake and carburetor
|Cannot be used to clean brakes
|Can be used to clean the carburetor
|Require chemical-resistant gloves
|Non-chlorinated does not require chemical-resistant gloves
|Leaves components with oil to lubricate gaskets and seals
|Leaves components clean and dry
|Safe for seal and gasket
|Safe around gaskets and seals
|Not safe for seals and gaskets
CRC Industries (CRC05089) Brakleen
Carb cleaners are for carburetor maintenance without undertaking an engine build. They come in aerosol cans but are also available in gallon-sized bottles.
Carb cleaners are ideally used twice per year if the carburetor needs cleaning. This is because carburetors don’t collect dirt and grime as fast as brakes. Most drivers opt to take their car to the mechanic to have the carburetors checked before undertaking a cleaning process.
Carb cleaners are not safe to use on the brake components since they leave an oily residue.
Main features of carb cleaners
- Remove carbon deposits
- Allow the engine to run smoothly
- Leaves residue
Meanwhile, brake cleaners are about cleaning the brake components. However, you can also use them to clean the carburetor since they dissolve gunk and grease buildup. Nevertheless, they don’t leave an oily residue to lubricate the parts.
Main features of brake cleaners
- Available in chlorinated and non-chlorinated formulas
- Highly effective on metallic parts
- Leaves no residue
- Evaporates quickly
- Reduce brakes squeal
- Degrease instantly
Safety During Use
Both products need proper precautions during use. This is because they are both flammable and toxic when inhaled. In addition, they can irritate the eyes and skin. You will need chemical-resistant gloves with carb cleaners and chlorinated brake cleaners since the components are so aggressive that they can eat away at regular latex gloves.
However, non-chlorinated brake cleaners do not eat rubber and plastic, so you can safely use them with this type of brake cleaner.
Since brake cleaners are fast-drying and solvent-based, you can use them in a couple of cleaning projects. They can clean brake linings and shoes, brake pads, drums, caliper units, rotors, and parts related to the braking system.
They are also safe on nuts, hinges, and screws. However, the active ingredients in chlorinated brake cleaners are damaging on plastic, rubber, vinyl, neoprene, and painted surfaces. This type of brake cleaner is aggressive on paint, and it starts to erode and thin paint as soon as you use it on a painted surface.
Non-chlorinated brake cleaners can clean plastic parts and rubber surfaces. These products do not contain acetone, which can eat through plastic.
You can use carb cleaners on metallic parts and non-painted surfaces. Some brands are safe to use on rubber and plastics, but you have to ensure that the label indicates safe to use on various surfaces.
Which One Is Suitable for You?
As I’ve mentioned, you will need one of these cleaners to fulfill its specific cleaning job. For instance, mechanics recommend cleaning the carburetor every six months or every time you have an oil change. So, this is the time you’ll need a carburetor cleaner.
Typically, it’s best to use a carb cleaner to remove gunk and contaminants after 3,000 miles. Nonetheless, if you drive your car less often, you can use a carb cleaner more often since a vehicle that’s not driven tends to have contaminants that can damage the engine.
A brake cleaner is suitable for cleaning the brakes’ components. When replacing the brake pads, you need a brake cleaner to clean the rotor, brake calipers, spindle, and springs. You can also use it if you notice that the brakes produce a squealing sound.
Recommendation products –
Understanding the differences between carb cleaners vs. brake cleaners is crucial to prevent undue damage to your car’s components. To this end, it’s best to keep the guidelines and cautions that I’ve outlined here in mind so that you don’t misuse these products.
1. What is the best thing to clean a carburetor with?
Cleaning a carburetor involves a few items, including a carb cleaner, nylon brush, and wire brush. The wire brush is suitable for scrubbing various metallic parts, while the nylon brush cleans the plastic parts without leaving scuff marks.
2. Can you use wd40 as a carb cleaner?
WD40 is a spray oil and should not be used as a carb cleaner. This is because it is a lubricant; hence it won’t do an excellent job of dissolving carbon deposits, unlike carb cleaners.
3. What can I use instead of carb cleaner?
Brake cleaner is a good alternative for carb cleaner since it is safe on the various carburetor parts. Also, it is good at dissolving grime which is vital in removing carbon deposits. However, you’ll want to take precautions not to use a brake cleaner than can damage the plastic components. Still, it would help if you did not use brake cleaner on the seals and gaskets in a carburetor.
A vinegar and water solution is another option for cleaning the carb since it can dissolve carbon deposits.
4. What is the best way to clean a carburetor without taking it apart?
While taking a carb apart is the most thorough method of cleaning a carburetor, many small items can easily get lost. Still, you can clean a carburetor without taking it apart.
- Step 1: Put on protective clothing and access the engine bay. Make sure that the engine is off and cool. Then, remove any linkages and hoses to the bottom bowl along with the air filter housing.
- Step 2: Use a cordless vacuum to remove loose dirt and debris around the carburetor.
- Step 3: Lay cloths and rags at the carburetor’s base to catch runoffs.
- Step 4: Spray the carb cleaner directly into the carburetor in even coats. Please wait for a few minutes for the product to do its job.
- Step 5: Use a microfiber towel to clean any grime and carb cleaner. You can use a brush to get to the stuck gunk.
- Step 6: Use a fresh towel to dry the carb completely.
- Step 7: Remove the rags and run a performance test.
- Step 8: Reassemble the bottom bowl, hoses, linkages, and air filter housing. It’s that simple.
5. Can you spray carb cleaner directly into carb?
Yes. As indicated in the cleaning process above, it’s totally okay to spray carb cleaner directly into the carburetor.
6. Is it okay to spray brake cleaner on pads?
Yes. You can spray brake cleaner onto the brake pads and any other brake system parts.
7. Does brake cleaner ruin wheels?
Brake cleaner eats away the clear coat on rims. It’s better to invest in a wheel cleaner instead of risking streaks on the rims.
8. Can I spray brake cleaner without removing the tire?
While it’s possible to spray brake cleaner without removing the tire, it’s pretty challenging to apply it without getting it on the rubber parts. Brake cleaner removes wax protectants that leave the tires unprotected from the UV.
9. Does brake cleaner remove rust?
Yes. You can use brake cleaner to remove rust, especially on the rotors. Just accompany it with a wire brush to scrub off the rust, and your rotors will be as good as new.
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