Eliminating Brake Dust
There’s no way to eliminate brake dust entirely because all friction linings are designed to wear. If the pads didn’t wear, they’d soon chew up the rotors – and pads are a lot cheaper to replace than rotors.
Relatively soft nonasbestos organic (NAO) friction materials typically wear more than harder semi-metallic compounds. It’s hard to generalize about the wear characteristics of ceramic-based compounds because there are so many. Wear varies depending on the formula the friction supplier chooses for a particular application. Different vehicles require different coefficients of friction, so formulas are often “application engineered” to deliver the best combination of stopping power, wear resistance, pedal feel and noise control. Most premium-quality ceramic-based linings will provide long life and wear less than an equivalent set of NAO pads on the same application.
So, the next time you see ugly brake dust sticking to your wheels, you should think about replacing your brake pads with low-dusting ceramic-based pads.
Brake Dust Shields
Another way to reduce brake dust buildup on wheels is to install “dust shields” between the wheel and hub. Shields deflect dust away from the wheel so it can’t stick and form an ugly coating. Shields are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. But some people have raised concerns about these products blocking or restricting air flow to the brakes.
Brakes do generate a lot of heat, and the more aggressive the vehicle is driven, the more cooling the brakes need to prevent brake fade. When too much heat builds up in the pads and rotors, it reduces friction and increases the pedal pressure required to stop the vehicle. In extreme situations (as when driving down a steep mountain and riding the brakes mile after mile), the brakes may get so hot they fail altogether.
We’ve never heard of this happening under normal use on a vehicle that has been equipped with dust shields, but it may be a legitimate concern in a “severe-duty” situation. So if you are considering dust shields, buy ones that have vents. The vents allow some airflow, but keep most of the dust away from the wheels.
How to Safely Remove Brake Dust
What’s the best way to remove brake dust from dirty wheels? Hot soapy water or a cleaner that is specifically formulated for wheels, plus a soft bristle or foam brush and plenty of scrubbing will usually do a good job of removing the dust. Harsh cleaning chemicals or abrasive compounds, such as scouring powder, should never be used on alloy wheels. Nor should you ever use a brush with wire bristles or extremely hard plastic bristles. Scratching through the clear coat finish will open a direct route for corrosion to attack the aluminum.
There are aerosol wheel cleaning products that are safe for aluminum wheels, and many claim to require little or no scrubbing. Just spray it on and rinse or wipe it off. It’s as easy as that.
To keep clean wheels clean, the buildup of brake dust can be reduced by applying a coating of wax or polymer-based protectant, or a spray-on wheel treatment. The coating will reduce the tendency of brake dust to stick to the wheels while enhancing the wheel’s appearance.