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Brake Dust: Causes, Cleaning, And Prevention

What is Brake Dust?

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 your car's wheels 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 contact a car mechanic for an inspection. However, brake dust doesn’t always indicate a problem with your vehicle since it builds up as you drive normally.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cleaning brake dust is crucial as it can damage alloy wheels, affect braking performance, and cause excessive brake dust that could indicate more significant issues, such as a "frozen" caliper. It's essential to clean brake dust using appropriate wheel cleaning solutions and a soft bristle brush to prevent damage to the wheel's protective coating.

  • Brake dust can be prevented by using brake dust repellents, and shields, applying high-end finishes to the wheels, or replacing brake pads with ceramic ones. These solutions can help reduce brake dust buildup, protect your wheels, and improve overall brake performance.

  • Excessive brake dust production is often due to the materials used in brake pads, such as metallic or organic compounds. The brake pad design can also impact the amount of dust produced. Regular cleaning of wheels and brake system components is necessary to prevent excess brake dust accumulation, and manufacturers are working to develop brake pad materials that produce less dust and are safer for the environment.

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, which causes the dark, metallic dust to adhere to your vehicle's steel and alloy wheels and 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 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 repeatedly squeezing the rotors is what causes excessive brake dust. If the caliper has worn down too much, the solution is usually to replace it and the rotor.

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Steps to Clean Brake Dust

Cleaning brake dust is not difficult, but you may need a 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 unsuitable for high-performance automobiles. If you're not sure what type of brake pad will work best for your car, a mechanic can help.

Why Do Some Brake Pads Produce So Much Dust? 

Brake pads are an essential component of a vehicle's braking system. They create friction against the brake rotor to slow down or stop the vehicle. However, some brake pads produce an excessive amount of dust.

Well, your car is experiencing brake dust because of the materials used to make the brake pads. You see, many brake pads have metallic or organic compounds that make them more effective at stopping your car but also create more friction and dust.

The design of the brake pad can also impact the amount of dust produced. So, don't worry; it's normal and just means that your brakes are doing their job properly!

Brake pads with grooves and indentations tend to trap dust, leading to a buildup over time. Although brake dust doesn't directly impact the performance of the brake pads, it can cause aesthetic issues and can be harmful if inhaled. Therefore, it is essential to regularly clean the wheels and brake system components to prevent excess brake dust accumulation. Manufacturers are also working to develop brake pad materials that produce less dust and are safer for the environment. 

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 maintain their appearance and long-term durability.

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


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