Carb Cleaner Vs Brake Cleaner – Can You Substitute Them?

Carb cleaner and brake cleaner do the same job of cleaning off grease and grime so does it matter when you use these two and where?

If you carry out a survey of car owners or auto mechanics on these two cleaners, we bet the response you’d get the most is that carb cleaner is used while working on a carburetor while the brake cleaner is used on every other part.

But the difference between these two is beyond just that. And in this post, we’ll be explaining the specific differences between a carb cleaner and a brake cleaner, and how it affects their usage.

Carb Cleaner Vs Brake Cleaner

1. Chemical Ingredients

A carb cleaner is made up of the following: Acetone, Heptane, Toluene, and Carbon Dioxide.

Heptane and Acetone are just solvents that aid in cleaning. Toluene is an aromatic chemical that is used to give the carb cleaner a paint-thinner smell that lets anyone around know they need to stay away while it’s being used. The Carbon Dioxide acts as a propellant.

The significant difference in the chemical ingredients between a carb cleaner and a brake cleaner is the presence of Methanol in a brake cleaner.

Methanol is bad for rubber. So if we consider what carburetor cleaning involves, you know we’d be talking about rubber gaskets and being able to seal the carburetor properly.

That said, when it comes to cleaning the carburetor, you should stay away from trying to substitute a carb cleaner for a brake cleaner because the Methanol will cause those rubber seals to deteriorate and swell.

2. Reactions on Surfaces

Due to the Methanol, brake cleaners evaporate a lot cleaner and leave a surface completely clean and clear.

On the other hand, the carb cleaner leaves a bit of a film on surfaces. This is good for carburetors and choke systems because that little bit of film will help to deflect some of those sticking particles in the carburetor to help it last and stay clean for a longer period.

Whenever we’re talking about carburetor components, we’re talking about the fuel that’s constantly being run through the carburetor interior and the gaskets.

To have that protective coating inside that carburetor where that fuel is continuously circulating is a good thing as it’ll deflect those particles and keep that junk from building within your carburetor.

3. Uses

Carburetor cleaner and brake cleaner are two different substances with different uses. Carburetor cleaner is a petroleum-based solvent that effectively dissolves gum, carbon deposits, and oil in carburetors. It works by breaking down the bonds that hold these components together. Brake cleaner, on the other hand, is a chlorinated solvent used to clean brakes and other automotive parts.

4. Solvent-base

Brake cleaner is an air-drying, solvent-based cleaner. Brake cleaners are often called “carbon removers” because they dissolve the carbon and brake dust that accumulates on your brake rotors, making them look new again!

However, some formulas contain chlorinated solvents that can be harmful to paint and plastic surfaces if not used carefully. It’s important to read the label before using these products so you know how they should be applied.

5. Petroleum-base

Carb cleaners work by dissolving and removing deposits from the engine so that it can operate more efficiently. They’re an excellent tool for cleaning the inside of your carburetor, as well as other fuel-related components including jets and injectors.

6. Chlorinated Solvent Content

Carburetor cleaner is made up of non-chlorinated solvents that are safe to use around the house. You can rest assured that you won’t accidentally inhale harmful fumes or hurt the environment when you’re cleaning your carburetors.

On the other hand, brake cleaners contain chlorinated solvents like trichloroethylene (TCE). TCE is a known carcinogen and can cause severe effects on human health when used in high concentrations over an extended period.

Even if you aren’t using it frequently enough for long periods to cause cancer, TCEs are still harmful to human skin and should be handled with caution at all times.

7. Packaging

Carburetor cleaners are sold in pressurized cans and are usually aerosols, while brake cleaners usually come in non-pressurized bottles or cans. This can be confusing because the two products look so similar at first glance. Carburetor cleaners tend to be pressurized; brake cleaners typically aren’t.

8. Removal of Heavy-duty Contaminants

The main difference between brake cleaners and carburetor cleaners is that brake cleaners are made with different chemicals than carburetor cleaners.

Carburetor cleaners are meant to dissolve rust, dirt, and oil from a carburetor while also providing lubrication for the engine parts inside it. Brake cleaner is specifically meant to dissolve rust and dirt from a brake caliper while also removing oil deposits that could cause leaks in your brakes.

9. Corrosiveness

Carburetor cleaners are non-corrosive and safe to use on vinyl, rubber, neoprene, and gaskets. This makes it a popular choice for cleaning fuel lines as well as the carburetor itself.

Brake cleaner has been known to damage these materials over time. While this may not be an issue with newer vehicles or those with synthetic components, many older cars have rubber hoses that can start to deteriorate over time if exposed to harsh chemicals like brake cleaner.


Carb cleaners are designed to remove dirt and grime from your car’s carburetor, while brake cleaners are designed to remove gunk from hard-to-reach places like brake drums and pads (and therefore contain stronger chemicals). Both of them perform different functions but they are as important to your car parts.