Quick and Easy Disc Brake Clean

Have you ever been for a muddy ride and washed your bike afterwards, only to find that your disc brakes have lost a lot of performance the next time your ride? Well, often that loss in performance can be caused from a film of mud that’s still on your brake pads.  Mud that’s been pressed onto the surface of the brake pads every time you applied the brakes.

Sure, the rotors will eventually clean the pads, or maybe they won’t.  But who wants to waste the first twenty or thirty minutes of your next ride or race finding out?

Now, there are plenty of products out there from the likes of Muc-Off, Finish Line and others that are solutions in a can for this type of problem. Good products that work well.

But, what if you don’t have the 10 to 20 dollars they cost, or you’re saving your cash for a new set of wheels or lock-on grips instead?  How do you clean your disc brakes effectively and cheaply?

One quick way to clean your disc brake rotors and pads for next to nothing is with a good old scrubbing brush, some sandpaper, water and a towel.  And it takes next to no time.

Sure, it doesn’t beat some fancy spray in a can doing most of the work for you, but not all of us have the cash for those little luxuries.

So, let’s get to it.  Here’s…

How to clean your disc brakes in a flash (video)

1. Secure your bike in the workstand and remove the wheels

2. Remove both sets of brake pads, including the pad springs. If you’re not sure how to remove your pads, google the brake maintenance manual for your brand and model of disc brakes.

3. Scrub the pads with a scrubbing brush. Use water if needed.  Scrub the backing plate of each pad as well, to ensure the pistons will contact the pads firmly and squarely.  Use a flat blade screwdriver to clean mud from around the pad blocks.  The video below illustrates the cleaning procedure very well, and in greater detail, so check it out!

4. With your sandpaper lying on a flat surface, lightly sand the braking surface of each pad to remove the last bit of mud and freshen up the pads.

5. Clean inside the brake caliper using a strip of damp cloth, working it back and forth gently through the caliper. You can also use a wet Q-tip or cotton bud.  Remove any dirt and muck from the piston faces to ensure they push squarely onto the backs of the pads.

Always wash inside your calipers with great care.  Allow time for the mud to soak up the water of your cloth or Q-tip, so that you don’t have to resort to aggressive cleaning.

Spraying high pressure water or air directly into the caliper to clean it and the pistons is a definite no-no.  Doing so could force dirt, water or air past the seals which will compromise your brake system and lead to leaks and loss in performance.

6. Clean both sides of each rotor using a scrubbing brush or kitchen scourer, then wipe clean.

7. Re-install and secure your disc brake pads as per the manufacturer’s instructions, and don’t forget that pad spring!

8. Re-install your wheels

9. MOST important – bed-in the cleaned pads with this procedure or risk annoying brake squeal!

  Super Tips Galore – MTB braking skills and brake maintenance tips

*NEW* Wet Weather Braking technique – Brake better and crash less in the wet with this little known wet weather braking technique

Resist the Urge – Don’t operate the brake levers while your wheels and pads are out, otherwise your brake pistons will reset closer together and you won’t be able to get your rotor back in.

If the pistons do reset closer, simply install your pads and carefully lever them apart with a large flat blade screwdriver until you have space to slip the rotor back between them.  Use old pads to lever against if you can, then once your bike is re-assembled, perform a few hard stops out on the street to reset the pistons ready for the trail.

Squeaky disc brake fix – find out how to fix squeaky disc brakes here. It’s easy!

Birthday brake fluid flush – It’s best to flush your brake system and install new brake fluid every 12 months.  However, twelve months can go by pretty quickly, so if that’s too soon, perform a fluid flush at least every two years. Don’t want to do it yourself?  Enquire at your local bike shop.

How to break-in or bed-in disc brake pads – a simple procedure that you can do in minutes

How to fix oily or greasy brakes trailside – Use this tip and everyone will think you’re a MTB Guru!

Leaks are a two way street – If your hydraulic disc brakes are leaking fluid, heed the call and get them repaired as soon as possible.  Remember, leaks are a two-way street. Just like a leaking suspension fork, a leaking brake system not only loses brake fluid, but can also draw in air, dirt and other contaminants during operation.

Air is compressible, so any air drawn in can cause the lever to feel spongey on application of the brake, making it difficult for the brake system to develop full braking pressure. Dirt and other contaminants washed in or drawn in by operation or system vacuum, can increase friction of seals and internal parts, accelerating wear. It all just gets worse from there…

and don’t forget Step number 9!