How To Clean Brake Rotors

In general, brake rotors last up to 70,000 miles. It’s possible for them to get dirty well before they wear out, and that can be a problem. You can address this issue by cleaning your brake rotors. Read on to find out how.

How Do Brake Rotors Get Dirty?

dirty rotors
Image Credit: Lindleys

Most car owners know that they have to inspect their brake pads and rotors to make sure they don’t wear down too much. Few car owners are aware that there’s something else to keep track of: how clean (or dirty) their braking system is. There are many different ways brake rotors can get dirty:

  • Brake dust: When your brake pads wear down, they produce brake dust. This dust is super fine and gets thrown off onto your rotors.
  • Oil & brake fluid: Your car can leak oil and brake fluid for a variety of reasons. The oil or brake fluid can drip onto the rotors. When mixed with dirt and other impurities, the oil turns into gunk.
  • Road grime: When you drive on a road that’s extremely dirty, road dust and grime can stick to your rotors.
  • Rust: If you live in a place with high humidity and salt on the roads during winter, your rotors can rust. Over time, they corrode and get pitted. Frequent exposure to rain can cause rust on your rotors, too.

Why It’s Important To Clean Your Brake Rotors

Cleaning rotors
Image Credit: AutoTrainingCenter

It’s good to get in the habit of checking and cleaning your brake rotors every time you service your brakes. For example, every time you replace your brake pads. There are a couple of key benefits to doing this:

  • Brake dust is the primary cause of squealing brakes. Removing the dust helps reduce the chance that your brakes will squeal.
  • Brake dust and road grime can cover up other problems. If you’ve got a caliper that is beginning to leak, it will be a lot easier to detect when it is clean.
  • It’s easy to get a little brake grease on the rotor when installing brake pads. Obviously, you don’t want brake grease on your new pads, and cleaning the rotors helps to prevent this.

Signs That Your Brake Rotors Need To Be Cleaned

It’s easy to tell when your brake rotors get too dirty. Here are some common signs:

  • Squealing brakes (or other strange sounds)
  • Vehicle pulling to one side under hard braking
  • Vibrating or pulsating brake pedal and/or steering wheel
  • Longer stopping distances

How To Clean Your Brake Rotors

Rotor wash
Image Credit: SmartMotorist

Whether you’re wondering how to clean rusty brake rotors or how to clean brake rotors without removing the wheel, you came to the right place. Cleaning brake rotors is a pretty simple and straightforward process. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Lift your vehicle and then prop it up with jack stands.
  2. Remove all the tires (or only the tires with a disc brake setup).
  3. Technically you could clean a brake rotor without removing the wheel, but it depends on the design of the wheel.
  4. Put a rag underneath one of the rotors.
  5. Spray a lot of brake cleaner all over the front and back of the rotor.
  6. With a microfiber cloth, wipe down the rotor. Make sure that the rotor is completely clean and dry.
  7. If the rotor has too much dirt and/or rust, spray it down with hot and soapy water and then scrub it with a cleaning brush. You can use a wire brush to get rid of the rust and dirt.
  8. Repeat with the rest of the rotors on the vehicle.

Is the rust on your rotors too difficult to remove? Take your rotors to a shop. The mechanic will use a lathe to resurface them. If the rotors are too damaged, the mechanic will advise you to replace them.