Brake Cleaner vs. Carb Cleaner: Are They Similar or Different ?

Are brake cleaners and carb cleaners similar or different? Can they be replaced by each other? Which is the better option for your car?

It sounds like a straightforward question. But it’s not so simple. As a driver or car owner, grappling with this question inconclusively can prove costly. Therefore, comprehending both aspects helps keep your car parts clean and ensures the proper functioning of the car.

This article aims at putting to bed the raging brake cleaner vs. carb cleaner contestation to help you decide which one will work best for you and your vehicle.

Summary Difference Table

CRC BRAKLEEN Brake Parts Cleaner - Non-Flammable

CRC Brake Cleaner – Non-Flammable

CRC Clean-R-Carb Carburetor Cleaner

CRC Carburetor Cleaner

PurposeTo eliminate dirt, oil,
and debris from the
car’s braking system
To remove any debris and carbon buildup in the car’s carburetor
IngredientsChlorinated brake cleaner : tetrachloroethylene and
carbon dioxide
Non-chlorinated brake cleaner:
heptane, acetone, and
carbon dioxide.
Acetone, Xylene, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Propane, Toluene, 2-Buxtoethnol, and Ethylene Benzene
Avoid using onAny hot metal component or material
on the vehicle, rubber, plastic, and any painted surface of the car
The area below the throttle plate and the carburetor throat with the engine off
Avoid using it on the brakes as well.
Human’s Safety Dangerous for eyes, causes respiratory complications, and irritates
the skin.
It is toxic when handled by bare hands or inhaled. Therefore, handling needs a gas mask and gloves.

What is a brake cleaner? 

It is a colorless liquid with a unique formulation used for cleaning brake disks, engine compartments, besides a car’s underfloor.  

A break cleaner functions by using its special chemical formulation to dissolve debris and dirt to ensure it remains clean and without residue. 

What is a Carb Cleaner?

It is a liquid with a unique chemical formulation designed for cleaning carburetors (possessing plastic jets)

The carb cleaner dissolves varnish deposits (dried gas that transforms into varnish) but leaves the plastic jets intact besides not leaching oily plasticizers.

Detailed Comparison: Carb Cleaner vs. Brake Cleaner   

Brake cleaner is used to clean brake system while carb cleaner is used to clean carburetor.
Brake cleaner and Carb cleaner are totally different.

Avoid getting confused by the conversational debate online on the brake cleaner vs. carb cleaner question by considering the following. 

Purpose

While the brake cleaner can clean brake components such as pads and rotors, among other car components, the carb cleaner cannot clean brake parts. It arises from the chemical formulations of carb cleaner that, upon application, will leave oil residues on your brake parts, consequently resulting in clogging of the brakes.

Ingredients   

Similarity

Both the brake cleaner and carb cleaner have special formulations for their respective application. Additionally, both cleaners possess some common ingredients, such as acetone and toluene.

Difference

The two cleaners have different chemical formulations for their respective functions. The carb cleaner is oil-based and leaves residue post-application. In contrast, the brake cleaner is alcohol-based and has chlorinated and non-chlorinated formulations, which leaves no residue upon use.

Brake cleaner ingredients: Chlorinated brake cleaner has tetrachloroethylene and carbon (IV) oxide. Non-chlorinated brake possesses heptane, acetone, and carbon dioxide.

Carb cleaner ingredients: Acetone, xylene, methyl ethyl ketone, propane, toluene, 2-buxtoethnol, and ethylene benzene.

Avoid Using On

Similarities 

Both cleaners by design have formulations that target specific car areas and thus should not be deployed haphazardly. 

Differences   

Avoid using the brake cleaner on rubber, painted surfaces, hot metallic parts, and plastic. Its formulation will remove paint, dry up rubber surfaces, and burn hot metallic parts besides releasing toxic gaseous substances.

The carb cleaner, on the other hand, should not get applied to brake components. Further, avoid using it on the area below the throttle plate or the carburetor throat with the engine off. The oily residue left upon application compromises the braking system through clogging. Using it on the throttle plate or carburetor throat with the engine cold and not running will cause it to mix with the fuel, which may prove disastrous.    

Human safety  

Similarity

Both present a danger to human health and require personal protective equipment to safeguard yourself from its effects.

Difference

The brake cleaner is hazardous to your health. Therefore, apply it on your brake system when fully protected using personal protective equipment (protective eyewear, coveralls, and gloves). The cleaning product can irritate the eyes and skin when you get exposed to it. Further, you can lose consciousness or become dizzy. Therefore, wear a gas mask, coveralls, heavy-duty gloves, and protective eyewear when handling or using it.  

The carb cleaner, on the other hand, also proves dangerous and needs PPEs. Please remember that the carb cleaner turns everything into a goo mess when using certain gloves.      

Is it Possible to Use a Brake Cleaner Instead of a Carb Cleaner?

No. 

Despite contrary opinions online suggesting deploying brake cleaners instead of carb cleaners, you should never attempt this. Every product (cleaning) has a specific formulation designed and tested for specific car par. Because of this, always avoid using a brake cleaner for your carburetor. Break cleaners are flammable on hot metallic surfaces, and they can cause problems when the engine is running. Further, the toxic gases emitted will pollute the environment. Such gases do not get diluted into milder gaseous compounds by the catalytic converter.

When Does My Car Need a Brake Cleaner?

CRC BRAKLEEN Brake Parts Cleaner - Non-Flammable

CRC Brake Cleaner – Non-Flammable

Brakes are a pivotal aspect of your car and need periodic checks to ensure full function or service. Because of this, always check and address the following brake-trouble symptoms.

  • Strange sounds. Whenever you hear strange and high-pitched squealing sounds from your braking system, you may need to stop, check, and clean your brakes. Additionally, any harsh grinding sound may imply depleted brake pads. However, in this instance, you will have to replace the pads.
  • When the brake lights on your dashboard come on, the yellow or red indicator could imply brake problems or that you are due for inspection. 
  • Pulling. The feeling that your car has its brain and wants to turn right or left when braking can imply a problem with the braking system. It results from a stuck caliper or a collapsed brake hose.
  • Leaking fluid
  • A soft brake pedal often implies fluid leakage on the braking system of your vehicle. Check to ascertain this whenever you experience a soft brake pedal. 
  • Vibrations. The quick grab the system often applies to the rotors during emergency car stops results in vibrations. However, when this happens during standard braking, it implies wrapped rotors. You will have to check and either clean or repair the rotors for proper function.    
  • Temperamental pedal. A mushy brake pedal can indicate a problem with either worn-out pads or a malfunctioning hydraulic system. Additionally, if the brake pad proves too sensitive, the rotor could prove unevenly worn out, moisture contamination of the brake fluid, or dirty brake fluid.

When Does My Car Need a Carb Cleaner?

CRC Clean-R-Carb Carburetor Cleaner

CRC Carburetor Cleaner

  • When your engine cannot start, it may imply a dirty carburetor. Here, it may crank or turn over but fail to start. You will need to open and clean it using the carb cleaner.  
  • If the engine runs lean, it implies a balance between air and fuel is off. The typical balance of air-to-fuel comes as 12:1 or 15: 1, and an imbalance causes popping sounds.  
  • When the engines flood. The situation arises whenever debris or dirt clogs the needle valve preventing it from closing. Consequently, fuel overflows and offsets the air-to-fuel ratio, thereby wetting the spark plugs.
  • When the engine runs rich, the engine becomes imbalanced but with more fuel than air in this scenario. It results in incomplete combustion and leads to the emission of black smoke from the exhaust. 

Final Thought

The brake cleaner is instrumental for all car owners, drivers, and mechanics. It especially proves its significance in maintaining a clean and top-notch functional braking system.

Similarly, carb cleaners also become instrumental for car owners and mechanics in cleaning their carburetors and ensuring the proper functioning of the carburetor.

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