You know that black residue that builds up on your car’s wheels? Yup, that’s brake dust. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon that’s hard to eliminate. But with a few helpful tips, you can keep brake dust to a minimum—and improve the appearance of your otherwise pristine ride.
What is brake dust?
Brake dust is the dark-colored residue that accumulates on your car’s wheels. The debris is a combination of friction material (from the brake pads) and iron (from the brake rotors) that builds up over time.
Contrary to what some online sources may tell you, brake dust doesn’t usually indicate a problem with your car. The dust is a byproduct of normal brake operation, which means it’s not dangerous—but it does ruin the appearance of your vehicle’s wheels.
There is, however, one exception to the rule mentioned above. If one of your car’s wheels has a lot more brake dust (and we mean a lot more) than the others, there’s a chance either the brake caliper or caliper sliders are sticking.
Though in such a scenario, you’ll probably notice other symptoms before the dust.
What causes brake dust?
Each time you apply the brakes, the pads and rotors press together, creating brake dust. It’s a normal occurrence that happens on all vehicles.
But certain types of brake pads create more dust than others. Many modern cars come from the factory with semi-metallic pads, which are the type of brakes that create the most dust.
Replacing the semi-metallic pads with ceramic pads will reduce the dust significantly.
Even though ceramic pads still produce dust, they create less of it. Plus, because ceramic dust is lighter in color, it doesn’t stand out like the black residue created by semi-metallic pads.
How to get rid of brake dust
Upgrading to a high-quality ceramic brake pad will limit the amount of brake dust your car produces. But if you don’t feel like swapping out your pads—or at least not yet—there are other preventative measures to consider.
For instance, there are aerosol brake dust repellents you can buy. Although some people swear by these products, how well they actually work is up for debate.
If you’re in the market, Hot Rod magazine recommends the repellant from Armor All.
There are also rim dust shields (also known as brake dust covers) that mount between your car’s rim and wheel hub. The problem is, because the covers modify your car, there’s always the chance they could affect vehicle performance and safety.
Our take is this—skip the aftermarket dust shields altogether. If you’re going to go to the trouble of taking off your wheels, you might as well upgrade your brakes to ceramic pads. Replacing semi-metallic brakes with a set of ceramic pads is a proven way to reduce brake dust.
How to get brake dust off rims
If you don’t feel like taking any preventative measures, you can simply clean the brake dust off the rims while washing your car.
What you’ll need:
- Hose with a spray nozzle
- Wash mitt
- Car wash soap
- Soft-bristled wheel cleaning brush (optional)
- Spray-on wheel cleaner
- Wheel polish
Be sure your wheels are cool before you begin cleaning. Also, if possible, park your car out of direct sunlight. You’ll want to clean one wheel at a time by doing the following:
- Use the hose (with the spray nozzle attached) to rinse off the wheel.
- Apply the wheel cleaner according to the instructions on the package.
Note: Different types of wheels have different finishes (i.e., aluminum, painted, etc.). Be sure to select the correct type of cleaner for your wheels. Otherwise, you could do more harm than good.
- Rinse the wheel to remove the cleaner.
- Mix the car wash soap and water together inside the bucket.
- Dip the wash mitt into the bucket, then use the mitt to scrub away any remaining brake dust.
- If that doesn’t do the trick, you can try cleaning the dust off with a soft-bristled brush. Do not use a stiff-bristled brush, as it can damage your wheels. Selecting a brush that’s designed specifically for wheel cleaning is a safe bet.
- Rinse the wheel to remove the car wash soap.
- Dry the wheel with a clean towel.
- Apply the wheel polish according to the instructions on the package. Once again, be sure to select the correct type of cleaner for your wheel finish.
Now that you have the inside scoop on brake dust, you’ll be able to keep your wheels squeaky clean. Your car will look fantastic.
What’s more, you’ll be the envy of everyone who has yet to tackle their brake dust issues.