How To Clean Bike Brake Pads

Bicycle maintenance is an essential part of riding safely and efficiently. Learning how to clean your bike brake pads is a great time investment!

Last updated:

Close up of bike brake pads

For me, I love knowing I’ve got great performing brakes, as I’m sure you do too! 

When you start to hear a few squeals or judders it could be a sign that you need to clean your brakes.

So how do you clean bike brake pads?

Fortunately, it’s straightforward. If I can do it, you can do it! 😀

I’m going to take you through the steps on how to clean your brake pads and get your braking power back up to speed.

3 Easy Steps To Clean Your Bike Brake Pads

Tools Needed

  • Disc Brake Cleaner
  • Paper towels
  • Sandpaper
  • T25 Torx Tool
  • Torque wrench with T25 Torx bit
  • 2.5mm Allen key – the size may vary depending on your brake
  • Long-nose pliers
  • Disposable Gloves

Related article – How To Maintain Your Bike – Essential Maintenance Tips

Removing The Brake Pads

Before you start doing anything, you should put your gloves on. This prevents contamination of your pads and/or rotors. You need to avoid getting the oil on your fingers onto any of the brake pads as this can affect your braking performance. 

Start by removing the rotors. You will need the T25 Torx tool. 

It could be that you have center lock rotors and if this is the case, then you’re going to need a center lock tool. When you have removed the rotors, place them onto a piece of paper towel.

Now you will have access to the brake pads so that you’re able to remove these. The method will vary based on what type of brake you have. However, they are all relatively similar so here we go!

  • Start by removing the circlip retainer
  • Then remove the pad retaining bolt. It’s likely that you will need the 2.5mm Allen key for this
  • When the bolt is removed, you’ll be able to slip the pads out. As you’re doing this, you want to ensure that you keep hold of the pad spreader
  • Once free, pop the pads onto another piece of paper towel
Bike maintenance with brake pads

Inspecting & Cleaning The Brake Pads

It’s important to check the pads for wear as you may need to change them, rather than clean them.

If your pads have less than 1.5mm of braking material left, then they need to be replaced.

However, if they have more, then keep riding! 

TCP tip for you – don’t press the brakes at this point. Once the disc rotors have been removed, pressing the brakes can cause the pistons to go beyond their limits and compromises the hydraulic system. This means you’ll need to bleed the brake unit.

Using the disc brake cleaner, give both the rotors and pads a good spray. This is on both the front and back. Then using a paper towel, remove the surface dirt and brake pad residue. 

When doing this, it’s important to use a fresh piece of paper towel for every rotor and pad. Just like wearing gloves, it helps prevent contamination. 

At this point, your pads and rotors should be looking cleaner and shiny. ✨

Once you’re happy that they’re clean, it’s time to think about creating a rough surface on the rotors. The reason for doing this is that it creates more friction. You want to create more friction as this gives you better braking power. 

Take your sandpaper and rub it over the braking surface of the pads. You’ll know when you’ve done enough and the surface will look quite rough. 

The next step is to apply some more of the disc brake cleaner onto the pads, where you have just sanded and give them a clean, using a paper towel. The reasoning behind this is to remove any loose bits from when you were sanding down. 

Grab some more paper towels and spray some brake disc cleaner onto it. Using the paper towel, clean your calipers. This will help to remove brake dust in there. Also, clean the hub where the rotors fit to remove any dirt from there too.

Related article – When Should I Replace My Bike Brakes?

Bike mechanic cleaning and repairing bike

Installing your Brake Pads

Now everything should be clean, you can start putting it all back together.

Firstly, install the rotors. For this, you will need the torque wrench to tighten the bolts. On the rotor, you will find a torque setting. This will tell you how much you will need to tighten the bolts. Follow this!

Ensuring that you have the pad spreader, reinsert the brake pads back into the calipers.

Take the Allen key to fix the brake pad retaining screw back into place and reattach the circlip.

Job done!

You should notice an improvement in your braking performance and overall your brakes should be running quietly now. One thing I would recommend before setting out on a big ride is having a ride around your neighborhood.

You don’t want to get several miles from home to find out something isn’t right, this is a sense check and one I always do!

Red bike and close up of brake pad

Should I Clean Or Replace My Brake Pads?

It’s not always possible to tell just by feeling if your brakes need to be replaced so the best thing to do is to inspect them every now and then. When you’re inspecting your brake pads, you’re looking to see if the pad material is at or around 1.5mm. If it’s under then it’s time to change them.

If there’s a fair bit more left, then you can give them a clean and relish the additional braking power your cleaning efforts have just given you!

To check your pad wear levels, you can have a look into the caliper. This will allow you to see how far the piston has pushed out or it could be easier to take out the brake pads and inspect them this way.

If you are at the point where you can hear the metal on metal scraping, then it’s definitely time to change! 

Another good indication of brake pads needing changing is when your brakes start to feel quite spongy.

Why Are My Bike Brakes Squealing?

Squealing brakes can be a sign of a few things. Grease or oil on the rotor, brake pad, or wheel rim is a common one and the most likely reason. For this I would recommend that you give them a clean, you can follow the step above! 

If you have recently changed your brake pads and they are squealing, it could be that they haven’t had time to bed in so spend some time riding casually and not going very far until you feel like they’re more responsive.

Vibration can be another sign that your brakes haven’t been set up correctly. I would strip them down and inspect if this is the case.

Related article – Common Reasons Behind Why Your Bike Chain Is Slipping

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you clean brake pads with alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol is recommended within the industry as an excellent way to clean your brake pads as it won’t leave any residue on your rotors.

If you opt to use a specific brake cleaner, do make sure it’s designed for bicycles and not car brakes as it’s common to find oil mixed into car brake cleaners. 

Can you spray WD40 on brake pads?

No, do not spray WD40 onto your brake pads. 

WD40 is a lubricant and is designed to reduce friction. Using WD40 can also damage some of your brake components.

Spraying WD40 onto your brake pads may initially get rid of the squeak, but it has the potential to stop your brakes from running correctly also.

Final Thoughts

That’s it! Are your brake pads clean as a whistle now?

Remember to watch out for signs that your brakes aren’t performing as well as they should be and if you need to change them, don’t be shy!

Related article – How To Remove Rust From Bike Chain

Leave a Comment