Unclean and rusty brake rotors can cause many problems and be a safety hazard. So it’s essential to clean the rotors, whether to clean new rotors before installing or to resolve related braking issues.
Traditionally, the wheels must be removed before cleaning the brake rotors.
But if you are apprehensive about removing them or would rather not pay for professional cleaning, you can follow these steps on how to clean brake rotors without removing wheels.
Table of Contents
- How to Clean Brake Rotors Without Taking Off the Wheels
- What to Prepare
- Step 1: Know When It’s Time for the Brake Rotors to Be Cleaned
- Step 2: Wipe the Wheels and Brakes Using a Sponge Dipped in Warm Water
- Step 3: Let the Wheels and Brakes Completely Dry
- Step 4: Spray a Cleaner on the Brake Rotors
- Step 5: (If There’s a lot of Rust) Scrub Rusty Areas With a Wire Brush or Steel Wool
- Step 6: Let the Brake Rotors Completely Dry and Test Your Car’s Performance
- How to Properly Use a Braker Cleaner
- How to Prevent Brake Rotors From Getting Rusty
How to Clean Brake Rotors Without Taking Off the Wheels
What to Prepare
- Warm water
- Brake cleaner
- Wire brush or steel wool – for very rusty brake rotors
- Brake cleaner alternative – vinegar and water cleaning solution, spray bottle, damp rag
Step 1: Know When It’s Time for the Brake Rotors to Be Cleaned
You must pay attention to the following signs to know when to clean car brakes.
Problems on the road
These include the squealing of the brakes, a grinding noise, the longer distance in stopping, the vibrating steering wheel and brake pedal, pulling over one side when hard braking, and brake dust on wheels.
“Check brake pad!” light warning sign on the dashboard
This is displayed on the dashboard to alert when the brake pads are worn down, require replacement, or require cleaning. When you see this, it may be time to clean the brakes if the brake pads aren’t totally worn or don’t really need replacement.
The brake pads are the parts of the brakes near the brake rotors, which play the role of cleaning the rotors as the car is being driven. These should also be cleaned, but they don’t require additional tools for cleaning.
Inspect the brake pads
Some cars don’t have the warning sign feature on their dashboard. If this feature isn’t in your car, you can inspect the brake pads yourself. When a neglected car with scratches, swirl marks, water spots, and oxidation without an intact protective coating of any kind needs to undergo paint correction and car detailing, it would also require a hand wash after using a foam cannon. This process is called the prep wash.
Make sure the wash mitt you use for the prep wash is high quality. Moreover, the car must be dried by hand with a chamois or drying towel, as blow drying wouldn’t work without the beading effect of a protective coating.
When the brake pads have decayed, it would result in the pushing out of the rotor, which makes a blank space where dust and rust would tend to accumulate.
Step 2: Wipe the Wheels and Brakes Using a Sponge Dipped in Warm Water
Before using a rotor cleaner spray, you need to remove debris, dust, dirt, and grease on all the wheels and the brakes. It’s important also to clean the wheels because contaminants on the wheels can get into the brakes.
- Prepare a bucket of warm water.
- Dip a sponge into the water and wipe it onto the wheels and brakes.
Step 3: Let the Wheels and Brakes Completely Dry
After cleaning with warm water, let the wheels and brakes completely dry because moisture can cause brake cleaner to be washed out and less effective. Once you’re done cleaning one wheel, let it dry as you clean another.
Step 4: Spray a Cleaner on the Brake Rotors
When the brake dries off completely, hit it with a healthy dose of cleaner. Make sure to use the nostrils to reach deep inside the wheel and to cover the brake entirely.
Step 5: (If There’s a lot of Rust) Scrub Rusty Areas With a Wire Brush or Steel Wool
If rust’s still left over, you’d need to add some elbow grease using a wire brush or steel wool to clean rusty brake discs.
- Spray more of your cleaner of choice on the rust.
- Scrub the rust off with a wire brush or steel wool.
Step 6: Let the Brake Rotors Completely Dry and Test Your Car’s Performance
Wait for a few minutes for the brake rotors to dry. Once they’re dry, test your car’s driving and braking performance.
Doing a test drive will help check if you’re no longer experiencing any problems with your car. If you no longer do, your car’s brake rotors are all good.
How to Properly Use a Braker Cleaner
Brake cleaner works excellently for brake rotor cleaning without taking the tires off. It’s designed especially for effectively cleaning off brake dust, fluid, oils, grease, and other usual contaminants on brakes.
And it can reach the rotors with the blower pipe it comes with. Moreover, it can also be used on other brake components, such as brake calipers, brake pads, drum brakes, brake shoes, brake linings, etc.
This can be used safely without damaging the rims. But if you have matte-wrapped rims, make sure that you get one with a blower pipe to not damage the wrapped rims.
1. Brake Cleaner Guide
- Attach the blower pipe to the spray bottle.
- Position the blower pipe toward the brake rotor.
- A bottle of brake cleaner is just enough to clean all the four wheels. Apply equal sprays of the brake cleaner on each of the brake rotors.
- Spray it on the rotors from all angles.
- Leave it on the rotors for a few minutes to work on the contaminants before rinsing it off.
- But if the rotors are very rusty, and some rust didn’t come off, proceed to step five to remove rust from the brake rotors.
2. Brake Cleaner Alternative: Vinegar
A DIY option you can do for brake rotor cleaning without removing the tires is to make a vinegar and water cleaning spray.
- Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
- Spray the solution on the rotors and leave it on for a couple of minutes.
- Wipe the surface clean with a damp rag.
- Reapply if necessary.
- If you are using vinegar as your brake rotor rust removal spray, and it doesn’t get rust off rotors completely, use a brake cleaner instead.
How to Prevent Brake Rotors From Getting Rusty
Rust on brake rotors can be challenging to remove. To avoid getting it on your car’s brake rotors, you can do the following:
- Regularly clean the brake rotors with brake oil or wire brush.
- Make sure your car’s oil system isn’t leaking to prevent moisture in the engine compartment that can cause corrosion.
- Make sure your car’s brake fluid isn’t leaking by checking its levels once in a while. A low fluid level can mean leakage, which can result in rust.
- Don’t let water sit on metal surfaces near brakes for too long. This can quicken the process of corrosion.
With these steps on how to clean brake rotors without removing wheels, car owners can easily do their brake rotor cleaning by themselves without having to pay any professional fee. They just have to use the right cleaning products and tools as well as do the cleaning procedure properly.