NuBrakes Blog Brake Dust: Causes, Cleaning, And Preventionauses, Cleaning, And Prevention Image

Brake Dust: Causes, Cleaning, And Preventionauses, Cleaning, And Prevention

Brake dust is a dark-colored buildup of friction material from the brake pads and iron from the brake rotors that can damage the surface of your wheels. The residue builds on the wheels of your car over time and increases the longer you drive your vehicle.

If one of your car's wheels has significantly more brake dust than the others, the braking caliper(s) may be sticking and you should reach out to a car mechanic for inspection. However, brake dust doesn’t always indicate a problem with your vehicle since it builds up as you drive normally.

Brake Dust Causes

As the driver presses on the brakes, microscopic particles are scraped off the brake pads due to the pressure of the braking rotors. Abrasion of the cast iron brake rotor by the pad and fibers from the semi-metallic parts of the brake pad generates the brake dust that we all see on automobile wheels.

When your brake pads heat, the metallic particles that wear off the brake pad's or brake rotor’s surface acquire a static charge. This causes the dark, metallic dust to adhere to your vehicle's steel and alloy wheels, as well as other parts. Furthermore, petroleum adhesives might also form a coating that sticks to your wheels.

Why You Should Clean Brake Dust

Metallic fibers are usually present in modern brake pads to help decrease friction. Brake dust collects on the wheel, the brake caliper or brake drum, and other surrounding suspension components, causing several issues:

  • Damaging Alloy Wheels

    Metallic brake dust is corrosive and can etch into an alloy wheel's protective coating and cause irreversible damage if not cleaned.

  • Braking Performance

    While it's normal to have a small amount of brake dust on your wheel, excessive brake dust can generate brake noise and limit braking performance. Brake dust can also form on the brake caliper and rotor, resulting in an uneven braking surface that causes vibration and noise. When brake dust gets stuck inside drum brakes, the problem becomes considerably worse.

Why Excessive Brake Dust Is Concerning

Although brake pad dust is unavoidable, if you have a lot of brake dust on one side, you might have a "frozen" caliper, which is when the caliper pinches the rotors, causing the automobile to slow down constantly. The caliper constantly squeezing the rotors is what causes excessive brake dust. If the caliper has worn down too much, the solution is usually to replace it, as well as the rotor.

Steps to Clean Brake Dust

Cleaning brake dust is not difficult, but you may need wheel cleaner if brake dust has accumulated for a long period.

  • Before you begin, make sure the wheels are cool. Rinse the entire rim with water to eliminate any grit or grime that can harm the wheel when scrubbing.
  • Allow 60 seconds for the wheel cleaner to sink into the rim. Make sure the cleaner gets into all of the nooks and crevices of the wheel because this is where dust collects.
  • Scrub the wheel's surface with a soft bristle brush, making sure the brush gets into all of the small, recessed regions.
  • Rinse the wheel off as soon as you've finished brushing the entire wheel.After rinsing the wheel, dry it immediately.

Since different wheels have different coatings and finishes, make sure you get the right wheel cleaning solution. If you use harsh chemicals to remove dirt from your wheels, you risk damaging the protective covering.

4 Tips to Prevent Brake Dust

Your brakes will always produce brake dust, but there are a few things you can do to prevent them from building up. Here is how:

  • Use a Brake Dust Repellent

    You can use an aerosol brake dust repellent sprayed onto your rims to create an impenetrable, protective layer that repels brake dust for several weeks. However, this might not work on all alloy wheels.

  • Use a Brake Dust Shield

    Brake dust shields are metal plates installed between the wheel rim and the brake rotor to catch brake dust and prevent it from settling on the rims. However, as a result of this, some drivers may notice an excessive buildup of heat in their front brakes, which can reduce brake effectiveness.

  • Apply a High-End Finish

    Consider applying an advanced finishing, such as a ceramic coating, to the wheels to produce a protective barrier that repels brake dust and other road impurities.

    High-end wheel coatings are often permanent or semi-permanent and are also easy to clean. They're useful for removing road filth from other automotive surfaces. However, they are more expensive than normal brake dust repellent and may require professional application.

  • Replace Your Brake Pads with Ceramic Ones

    Ceramic brake pads are quieter and last longer than semi-metallic brake pads, producing very little brake dust. The only disadvantage is that they are more expensive than semi-metallic brake pads and are not suitable for high-performance automobiles. If you're not sure what type of brake pad will work best for your car, a mechanic can help.

Final Thoughts

Normal driving causes brake dust to build up on wheels and hubcaps. Brake dust not only gives your wheels a dirty appearance, but excessive brake dust can damage your wheels. Cleaning brake dust from your wheels helps to maintain their appearance and maintain their long-term durability.

Excessive brake dust from one wheel may indicate a larger issue. Request a quote from a NuBrake mechanic to get an inspection of brake pads if you suspect any issues, and get services done around your schedule.


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