Brake Cleaner

The Difference Between Chlorinated and Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaner

Keeping a car or truck in good condition can be quite a challenge. Beyond oil changes, new tires, wipers, and regular washes, there are many other important maintenance tasks like cleaning brakes that often go overlooked. 

Mechanics recommend cleaning brakes (some as often as annually) because it extends brake life by removing the oil, dirt, and other contaminants that build up over time.

When it comes to this job, choosing between chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners is key for preventing safety issues–but do you know what sets them apart? Understanding their differences can keep your vehicle running smoothly.

Chlorinated vs. Non-Chlorinated Brake Cleaners

Chlorinated and non-chlorinated brake cleaners both contain toxic chemicals, though chlorinated solvents contain the more harmful ingredients between the two. Chlorinated brake cleaners are comprised of Perchloroethylene (Perc), Methylene Chloride (MeCl), and Trichloroethylene (TCE), which are considered Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

As an alternative, non-chlorinated brake cleaners entered the market at a slightly higher cost with less environmentally impactful chemicals, such as acetone, heptane, isopropyl alcohol, and other low-toxicity petroleum hydrocarbons, such as mineral spirits or toluene.

VOC Emissions

For an auto shop concerned with employee safety, the difference in VOC emissions is no small detail. According to the EPA, VOCs pollute the environment in the form of gaseous emissions that can cause serious side effects in humans and animals. These side effects include headaches, nausea, loss of coordination, kidney and liver damage, and some cancers. As a result, chlorinated brake cleaners have since been banned in California.

Potential Drawbacks

Despite those less toxic properties, the chemicals in non-chlorinated brake cleaners are highly flammable. This makes them inappropriate for vapor degreasing and other more complex cleaning applications. Their drying time is slightly longer than chlorinated solvents, which is one of their largest trade-offs along with somewhat lower solvency. But don’t be fooled. While a chlorinated solvent may be toughest on grime, non-chlorinated alternatives are still much more powerful than water-detergent solutions, especially on paint and other substances.

Remember to keep these differences in mind when maintaining clean, healthy brakes. Check your local regulations on legal and illegal solvents and weigh the potential consequences and benefits. For more literature on solvents and safety assessments, you can also visit the Dow Chemical Company at


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