Brake Cleaner vs Alum. ?


October 20, 2003, 07:25 PM
So I was in VIP today to pick up some brake fluid (which just ran right out onto the pavement when I put it in), and I see some brake cleaner for like $2. "Hmmm" thinks I, "I bet this is almost identical to Gun Scrubber and Electrical Contact Cleaner, and far cheaper". So I pick up a can to use when degreasing this or that. Dont use it that much, but who knows?

So I'm reading the label and it says to keep it out of contact with aluminium! Half the reason I got it was to help with the AR, now I can't use it? :mad:

Should I have gotten some other kind of degreaser? Like Carb. cleaner? What gives?

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October 20, 2003, 08:44 PM
How about Simple Green & an old toothbrush, scrub, let it sit a few minutes, rinse w/ hot water, dry w/hairdryer, re-lube w/CLP or MilTec-1. YMMV.

FWIW, I have used Gun Scrubber on my SIGs (alloy frame) with no ill effects.

October 20, 2003, 08:55 PM
carb cleaner!!!

October 20, 2003, 08:58 PM
Strange, never seen any warnings like this on the brake cleaners I get from local stores. We just have regular & chlorine-free.

Seems counterproductive to sell brake cleaner (& carb cleaner) that destroys aluminum since modern cars typically use aluminum (alloys) for the rims and in the engine.

For $2, I say toss that can and find another brand of brake cleaner. Not worth the risk on your guns (or cars) if that can has such a clear warning on it. Even if your gun has a wonder-finish, it's not worth the risk.

October 20, 2003, 09:03 PM
I've used carb cleaner on some nasty cleaning jobs. Just be sure to use it only on disassembled bare metal parts and never get it near anything wood or plastic ...

October 20, 2003, 09:08 PM
How about Simple Green & an old toothbrush, scrub, let it sit a few minutes, rinse w/ hot water, dry w/hairdryer, re-lube w/CLP or MilTec-1. YMMV.
I've heard that Simple Green does some nasty stuff to aluminum too ...

October 20, 2003, 09:15 PM
I guess I'm just going to give up and stop cleaning them. Thats what a chrome lined bore is for, right? Guys? Guys...?

Navy joe
October 20, 2003, 09:39 PM
Simple Green is in fact an aluminum eater. Not authorizd for aviation use in the Navy because of that fact. Penetrates joints really well. If completely removed promptly it would be fine, but who knows if it is in some crevice between like the mag button and the frame. Dissimilar metals, known electrolyte, sounds fun. The brake clean probably has a chlorinated solvent in it so the likely product would be AlCl although I'd think that under normal use you'd be okay. Different brake cleans have different chemicals. They and Gun scrubber all have one thing in common though, they are bad for your brain cells, eyes, and liver.

Lately I use Butch's bore shine and a Q-tip to clean gun frames. I like to soak small parts and pistol barrels in a bath of the same. I've also gotten into Slip 2000 Gas piston and Choke tube cleaner, it is just what the Dr. ordered for AR-15 bolts and carriers. Very enviro/body friendly. A word of caution is that it completely degreases so I usually water rinse, warm dry and then oil while warm all parts cleaned.

October 20, 2003, 09:40 PM
I just looked at my red can of CRC Brakleen. It does warn of plastics -especially Lexan(tm). this is the chloronated one. I do not see a warning in reference to Al...course then again I think my bifocals ...err my arms needs lengthening again.
The green can is uncholornated. I know everybody says to use the "un"...but it doesn't seen to clean or dry as well. IMO.

That said Schuemanm and others have made it clear they stay away from Cholornated stuff in bores...big no no.

I too have heard that Simple Green needs to be rinsed very very well when used around Al...don't have link...someone reference a stop for use on some Military apps.

Personally, I limit the use of Brakleen, never bores. I rinse well any use of SG.

Of course I rarely clean bores, chambers yes, bores...unless wet, rain mud snow...rare for me to clean. Gun stuff with patch, I still treat new bores with RIG, and will treat a bore new to me or one that has req'd a cleaning.

Lighter fluid is what I used as kid when competing, still use lighter to clean, hear some others do...

See why I don't clean or get all worked up about it? Takes away from ammo $ and shooting time. :)

Of course I didn't use a ball washer when I played golf either...

edit: Thanks Navy Joe, I knew the Simple Green and AL reference was there.

Fudgie Ghost
October 20, 2003, 11:08 PM
Navy Joe: so where can I get this "Slip 2000 Gas Piston and Choke Tube" cleaner? (Boy, that really rolls right off the tongue, don't it?) Auto Parts places?

The back end of my AR bolt gets that baked on stuff that I have to scrape with a razor blade to get off. Looking for a real solvent to "solve" this problem.

October 21, 2003, 12:37 AM
Didn't armalite say to leave the baked on stuff... baked on? Like in the piston area?

I just scrub everywhere with a brush, and make sure everything has a coat of CLP, and I havent had any issues. Only one FTF, due to a crappy mag with splitting feedlips.

Mike Irwin
October 21, 2003, 12:42 AM
I think carbuerator cleaner would be even worse on aluminum if you're not careful with it.

I don't see why brake cleaner is bad, because it's a LOT less agressive than carb cleaner.

October 21, 2003, 01:16 AM
Some time ago I used carb cleaner on my 9mm AR and kinda got freaked out at the results. For those who have never shot a 9mm AR, these are blowback operated. A lot of powder residue and flakes from the powder end up in the trigger mechanism area.

The carb cleaner immediately turned the flakes into a white calcified looking "scales" in the lower. These "scales" became stuck to the lower reciever and required some serious scrubbing with a brush and hoppes #9 to dissolve it.

I've never had any problem with the Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber brand. Although pricey, it works well.

As I understand it most folks view it as glorified brake cleaner. It just might be...but at least by using it I'm not worried.

Good Shooting

October 21, 2003, 01:46 AM
Mike, I agree about the Brakleen seems better to me. I still use the cholornated because it seems to dry faster and doesn't leave a funky residue. The carb cleaner seems a bunch more agressive.
I use the red can of CRC on tools and such...and I cheat on cleaning my patio door tracks.

I guess part of my apprehension with carb cleaner goes back some 25 yrs ago, my gunsmith buddy and I were working on a Holly ...he just didn't think, reached into the carb clean bucket to get a part, without tongs, didn't raise the basket high enough to drain...I remember the skin just a hangin'...

Chairman Meow
October 21, 2003, 01:48 AM
Gun Scrubber is nothing but aerosolized TCE (trichloroehthylene) which can be purchased at a number of places for much less than the Birchwood Casey cans. TCE is used in lots of stuff, including carpet cleaners, paint thinners, and a host of other applications that require a medium strength solvent. While the aerosolized cans are handy, you can purchase TCE at hardware stores and paint stores and put it in your own spray bottle to save money. I wouldn't put it in just any platic bottle though. Paint stores should have appropriate containers.

As far a solvents go, TCE isn't particularly dangerous, but you should be careful. TCE is a central nervous system depressant (headaches, dizzyness, nausea) and can cause lung and liver damage, and it can also basically dissolve the fat layer right out of your skin if you are not careful. As long as you use it in a well ventillated area (I clean guns in front of an open back door) and wear gloves you should be fine. Carb cleaner has a lot of other nasty solvents in it that make TCE look like ginger beer and could really do a job on some aluminum or polymer framed pistols or pistols with polymer based finishes like KimPro, etc.. Whatever you use to clean guns, look up what it is and download the MSDS for each chemical before using it. It only takes 20 minutes to do the research, it costs you nothing, and it could let you know you are cleaning guns with a known carcinogen, which would be very bad.

October 21, 2003, 09:09 AM
OK, now that we've had the down side of all these chemical cleaners, what if you just put your frame in the dishwasher and run it through a cycle? Any downside there? I've run brass thru there and had it come out like it was polished. :confused:

Joe Demko
October 21, 2003, 09:23 AM
Dishwashing detergent contains a silicaceous abrasive in addition to detergents and surfactancts. I believe it is diatomaceous earth. The purpose of it being there is to add a sand-blasting type action to the cleaning the dishes. Great for helping to remove baked-on or dried-on food residue. How much good that would do your guns in the long run is the question.
If you use cleaning chemicals in great quantity and don't want to pay the relatively high price that Hoppes and others cost in the little bottles, probably you should consider mixing up a couple gallons of Ed's Red.

October 21, 2003, 09:32 AM
Thanks, Golgo. I just dislike digging out crap with makeshift tools, q-tips, etc.

For that matter you can wash it out with gasoline and blow it out with high pressure air.

October 21, 2003, 09:50 AM
couple questions, whats Ed's Red??

and what could you use in a 5 gal bucket to dip the whole pistol, or parts of it??

Joe Demko
October 21, 2003, 10:36 AM
Here is the Ed's Red formula as per Ed himself. (

You could mix it up in any quantity you want. According to everybody who has ever tried it, it is darned good stuff.

Mike Irwin
October 21, 2003, 12:16 PM
I thought that TCE had been removed from the general line of aerosol cleaning products a couple of years ago?

Or was that another chemical?

Navy joe
October 21, 2003, 04:33 PM
Slip 2000: Good stuff, won't give you the chemical high of the other spray cleaners. A little pricey depending on where you look.

As soon as I get an ultrasonic cleaner it will be full of Ed's red and that will probably be my primary pistol and parts cleaner.

I've cleaned guns with ammonia and dish soap solutions many times too, the key is to dry with heat and re-oil immediately. A good pistol barrel soak to remove copper fouling. Completely immerse the parts.

I guess part of my apprehension with carb cleaner goes back some 25 yrs ago, my gunsmith buddy and I were working on a Holly ...he just didn't think, reached into the carb clean bucket to get a part, without tongs, didn't raise the basket high enough to drain...I remember the skin just a hangin'...

Re, the auto shop dip tanks always used stuff by the trade name of Varsol, neat smell but that smell is methylene chloride which is also used in really good paint remover. It causes 3rd degree chemical burns and is a carcinogen. I've had a couple of inch tall blisters from where the stuff sneaked past my gloves. Spray carb cleaner doesn't have that.

Maximize brain cells, reduce chemical exposure. ;)

October 21, 2003, 04:38 PM
Be careful of dishwasher soaps - most have a very low PH (basic, not acidic) - to the point where they eat aluminium. It's easy to tell bare aluminium pots & pans that are washed in the dishwasher - they get severely pitted. Most spray carb cleaners contain some kind of lubrication, so you can use them to clean guns and they will leave an film of lubrication behind like CLP does, of course if you wanted clean bare metal this is bad. The old dip style carb cleaners that had a high percentage of Methyl-Ethyl Ketone (MEK) can eat skin, most plastics and some metals. There was a warning about not leaving the parts to soak for more than 15 minutes as MEK can dissolve and/or etch aluminium, zinc, copper and their alloys (like brass, bronze etc). I think these are now illegal, but you really never know what you can find in the back of someones garage.

Mike Irwin
October 21, 2003, 04:42 PM
Wait a second...

Varsol is a trade name for Stoddard Solvent, aka mineral spirits.

A high-flash-point mineral spirits is what is used in parts washer sink-type machines as supplied by Safety-Kleen, for whom I worked for a year.

As for methylene chloride burns, I'd bet that those burns were actually caused by Cresol, which is TRULY a nasty, nasty chemical.

October 21, 2003, 05:29 PM
Got my hands covered in CRC Electraclean once. Turned the back of them white, and started cracking the skin almost immediately. Had to go to the mens room and use some hand lotion; fixed it right up.

October 21, 2003, 05:36 PM
Mike I think the stuff removed was T I-I-I ( forget the actual name).

You guys are probably right about the carb cleaner, its just one of those associations that stuck with me. This goes back to the '70s and the bucket of stuff came from a speed shop, I don't recall the name. Probably lost some gray matter breathing that stuff and the inhibbing I was doing at the time. :)

Matt G
October 21, 2003, 05:50 PM
Generally, brake cleaners are all made of the same formula. Carb cleaners are of several different types of formulas, some of which are very agressive, especially against synthetics. I've also found that many carb cleaners leave a residue that may be great for preventing varnishing on carbs, but suck eggs in my guns. Brake cleaners leave zero residue.

I've been occasionally using brake cleaners for cleaning my guns for about 10 years, now, and have been intensively using brake cleaners (meaning, every time I clean a gun) for about 4 years now. Every time I've cleaned my well-worn Kel-Tec P-11 over the last 5 years, I've used brake cleaner. That's probably 20 to 40 cleanings or so, with several cans worth having been sprayed liberally on the aluminum and plastic frame, without incident. I've spray ed a couple of AR's with them, and a Colt-trained AR armorer with a local P.D. asked me if he could borrow a can the other day to clean his student's AR at the range. He likes to use them himself, without problem. I use whoever's brand of brake cleaner is on sale at the auto parts store, but am careful NEVER to use carb cleaner-- they're NOT the same.



Mike Irwin
October 21, 2003, 05:54 PM
That's good to know, Matt, as my Remington 81 is getting a good bath tonight!

October 21, 2003, 05:59 PM
Matt G
Your experience mirrors mine and my buddy. The CRC Brakleen we just split a case, from a buddy we know at a NAPA. It doesn't leave a residue. Like you we used it at the range on some student's guns for years, yes even the P-11. Never seem to have had an effect on AL, polymer, anything. I just recall Shuemann's concern about bores...I tend to chambers and extraction more than I do bores.

Navy joe
October 21, 2003, 07:04 PM
Thanks for the correction on the Cresol Mike. The funny thing about methylene chloride is the Navy is regulating it out of existence, the EPA is very near getting it away from airlines and yet you can walk into an advance auto and buy an aerosol! can of the stuff that is stronger than what I use in the military. Paint bubbles in 10 or so seconds. Skin faster.

October 21, 2003, 07:23 PM
sooo.... break cleaner is good for guns, chlorine doesnt matter, just don't use it in bores.... is that all right?? what does it do to wood??:confused:

October 21, 2003, 08:00 PM
Purely to add a small point to what has been well covered .........

IIRC the solvent that is pretty much banned now is CCl4 ...... carbon tetrachloride. VERY much a carcinogen and causes liver damage all too well. TCE . (or Triline as I think it was also called) is ''safer'' but in general terms ........ ANY chlorinated hydrocarbon is potential bad news .. and worth treating with respect .... and in open air too.

Another group to be aware of is the benzene ring hydrocarbons ... nitro-benzene was used in one of the gun cleaners and the ''almond'' smell was very distinctive ... that stuff is a cumulative, thru inhalation, skin absorbtion and ingestion .... keep adding little bits and you'll possibly acrue the fatal dose one day!

Safest IMO is to treat most solvents and cleaners with more respect rather than less ...... some once regarded ''safe'' things were later found to be far from safe.

Mike Irwin
October 21, 2003, 10:07 PM

Carbon Tet has been banned for most applications for years -- degreasers, dry cleaning, fire extinguishers, etc. Nasty habit of forming phosgene gas when it's heated.

And yes, TCE 1,1,1 is what I was thinking of. Another nasty solvent, but an excellent degreaser.

Navy Joe,

I was doing some paint stripping a few weeks ago with a methylene chloride stripper (ZipStrip, IIRC). Didn't wear gloves. Got lots on my hands. No blisters. Maybe the concentrations are a lot lower in paint strippers.

October 21, 2003, 10:45 PM
slip 2000 carbon cutter is great stuff but like said warm wash and dry relube

October 21, 2003, 10:52 PM
Nasty habit of forming phosgene gas when it's heated. Oh my .. forgot that lil goodie Mike .. indeed ... just a bonus!!:eek: :p

Couldn't help but think back to a family I knew back in early 70's .... ran a dry-clean business .. am sure then they used CTC ... always wondered whether it ''got em all'':( I know the damn clothes carried vapor for ages after too .. nasty.

AZ Jeff
October 22, 2003, 02:13 PM
Just a point of clarification here:

A couple of guys in this thread have posted that Carburetor Cleaner is bad for aluminum, and that's plainly NOT TRUE.

For those of us old enough to remember carburetors, they were made predominately of ALUMINUM DIE CASTINGS. The cleaners sold at the time ("Gumout" was a popular brand) did a wonderful job of cleaning off varnish, etc, with NO HARM to the aluminum pieces.

Of course, I cannot say that the plastic parts would fair very well when soaked in Gumout or the like........

My point to all of this is that, while carburetor cleaner is perhaps not the best gun cleaning solvent around, it's NOT harmful to aluminum, per se.

October 22, 2003, 02:21 PM
i second rick with the carb cleaner. i got curious about that, and noticed that the 2 i did were indeed aluminum, and it wouldnt make a whole lota sense for the cleaner to be eating the carb its supposed to be cleaning, unless of course the carb people are in bed with the aresol cleaner folks

October 22, 2003, 02:22 PM
For those of us old enough to remember carburetors, they were made predominately of ALUMINUM DIE CASTINGS. jeff .. I am almost TOO old to remember!!!:p

IIRC however ... carburettors have mostly been made using a Zinc based alloy for casting (particularly the fixed/progressive jet types) ... due to its inherent casting ability and ease of machining, tapping etc ... strength being adequate for the purpose.

That is not a comment re carb cleaner's safety on Al or any other material .... just an observation re the carb' metal used..:)

AZ Jeff
October 22, 2003, 02:34 PM

Now that I think about it, you may be correct. I know that there were aluminum parts on the carbs, but I also think you are right that the main bodies may have been Zamak, a zinc die casting alloy.

The easiest way to tell would be to pick one up. Zamak is relatively heavy. Aluminum, of course, would be light.

I just don't own a car with a carb anymore, and have not played with one in about 10 years......

October 22, 2003, 02:37 PM
hmm.... MY holley here looks to be almost completely made of aluminum. New edelbrock carbs on the otherhand, are of that zamak stuff, which holds up quite nicely to the wear and tear, IMO.

Mike Irwin
October 22, 2003, 03:02 PM
I remember caruberators very well.

Worked on many.

I also remember warnings on carbuerator cleaner dunk tanks to never let the carb in the solution for more than the recommended time, or pitting of the aluminum could occur...

Me thinks a carb and a pistol frame are different alloys.

But, I agree with AZ Jeff that a SPRAY on carb cleaner, or brake cleaner for that matter, should pose no threat to either steel or aluminum guns.

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