How to Clean Your Rims and Brake Pads

If your bike is anything like mine then after a couple of bike rides in the rain, the rims and brake pads will be fairly caked in road muck. This greatly reduces braking performance and speeds up the wear on the rims and the pads.

Dirty rim surfaces caked in road muck

To get them clean, the best method is to use surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) and a clean rag. Ideally, you’ll also use a small spray bottle to spray it on to the rim surface. Surgical spirit is sold in pharmacies.

Surgical spirit used for cleaning bike

Spray the cleaner on to both sides of the rim and gently apply your brakes. This will start to work it in to the brake pads and the rims. As the cruds starts to loosen and run down the rim, use a clean cloth to wipe it away.

Wiping away muck from bicycle wheels

Alternatively, if the wheel is on the bike then simply dab some surgical spirit on to a cloth and wipe your brake pads and rims.

This is also a good time to check your brake pads to see if that are worn. Look for an indicator line or if that is lacking check that there are still grooves in the pads.

On your next bike ride you should notice an improvement to braking performance.

See also:

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

25 Responses to How to Clean Your Rims and Brake Pads

  1. Big Softy 02/07/2012 at 11:13 am #

    I used to use isopropyl alcohol, but now I use vinegar. It does the same job, but it’s a lot cheaper, and it’s always in the cupboard anyway.

    • Andreas 02/07/2012 at 1:31 pm #

      Interesting – not tried vinegar – that’s a great tip!

  2. Andy Triggs 02/07/2012 at 12:15 pm #

    This also applies to disc rotors – isopropyl alcohol works great for cleaning them up and improving braking. Don’t do what a friend of mine did and use tequila! It ruined his pads.

    • Andreas 02/07/2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Had a good chuckle to someone using tequila – brilliant!

  3. bob 02/07/2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Hey ! Schwalbe LONDON ! Apparently these are special edition tyres. Can you give us a review about them ?.

    Excellent tip for keeping rims clean. I would also use fine sand paper to lightly rub down the faces of the brake blocks to get rid of imperfections and road grit followed by cleaning them with a rag.

  4. Barton 02/07/2012 at 1:36 pm #

    related/unrelated question for all re: brakes:

    I got my rear pads changed a month ago. They were great. Yesterday the brakes started squeaking horribly. The pads are fine, the rims are clean (I am a bit anal about cleaning/lubing my bike). Any suggestions on adjusting? Or, is this something you all think I’ll have to put up with until the 70% humidity leaves my area? Which would mean squeaky breaks until September.

    • Andreas 02/07/2012 at 1:42 pm #

      Are we talking rim brakes or disk brakes?

      • Barton 02/07/2012 at 1:45 pm #


        • Andreas 02/07/2012 at 3:02 pm #

          Could try toeing them in? Where the front of the brake meets the rim surface first. Also – could simply be the pad surface – was it a good pair that the bike shop swapped them with?

  5. gordon 02/07/2012 at 7:44 pm #

    toeing in is more likely to be the cause of sqeaking while braking, checking that the pads are equally spaced from the rim so you always get even contact is the best way to keep your pads running longer, also toeing in will dramatically lessen the life of the pads (and rims if your not careful, remember there is a metal bar inside brake pads except for ones that use replaceable shoes).

  6. gordon 02/07/2012 at 7:48 pm #

    if you find that doesn’t work take the pads off and look to see if there’s any metal embedded in the pad this is a common problem, especially if there was no squeaking when it left the shop and started occurring a few weeks later.

    • Barton 03/07/2012 at 1:31 pm #

      thanks Andreas & Gordon. The toe in was in fact off. Problem sorted, and squeaky brakes this morning due only to the rain coming down!

      • Andreas 03/07/2012 at 1:42 pm #

        Pleased to hear the problems been solved!

  7. Nigel 03/07/2012 at 5:02 pm #

    I use alloy wheel cleaner with a toothbrush and rinse off. It also deglazes the pads, but you need to take pads off to do it properly (deglaze that is).

  8. raymond 06/07/2012 at 10:49 am #

    A dry rub with a clean cloth and that once a week, that’s good enough for me.

    Greetings and keep on biking


  9. Cafewanda 06/07/2012 at 10:51 am #

    Not thought about using vinegar. Will give that a go tonight.


  10. Andrew Ebling 06/07/2012 at 12:51 pm #

    I have a can of Muc Off disc brake cleaner which I bought for use on the hydraulic disc brakes on my mountain bike. However I’ve since discovered it works very well on the rim brakes on my folding bike and road bike.

    I find it works best if I clean the rims with first with detergent solution to get rid of the worst of the dirt, then use the disc brake cleaner to get the rims really, really clean.

    It also has an agent in it which is supposed to re-hydrate your brake pads which can help them from crumbling under excessive use.

    One can of Muc Off disc brake cleaner has lasted me over a year. Always good to have the best tools for the job.

  11. Phil Russell 06/07/2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Er….brake blocks. The pads are on the car.

  12. David Cohen 06/07/2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Been cleaning my brakes this way for several years – I tend to use kitchen roll instead of a cloth. It’s really surprising just how dirty the rims get too. I also use white spirit in my Park chain clean tool – does a great job.

  13. Angelina White 13/07/2012 at 9:52 am #

    haha, great tips! You got me with vinegar, too – I had no idea. And it works like a charm, too, first hand experience 😀 was a little afraid of the smell anyhow, but the stench went away in a matter of minutes. thanks!

  14. Rob Elliott 11/08/2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks guys!

    Used this one to clean my rims today, sick of pulling my brakes and getting nowhere!

    Hopefully this will fix that, and give me more responsive braking.

  15. David Dancy 04/01/2013 at 1:09 pm #

    I’ve recently switched from black compound brake pads to white or salmon colour pads as I thought I’d give it a go after spotting them on sale while shopping.

    You’d be amazed at the absolute lack of filth on my frame and tires even in extremely wet conditions. I cycle daily, at least 25 miles in all conditions.

    It would seem most of the ‘gunk’ that was collecting on my bike/tires was actually from the black compound of the brakes and the rain, which tended to attract all the other road mess to it.

    I rarely have to clean my frame or tyres anymore, beyond a quick rubdown with a wet cloth.

    I was genuinely surprised by the difference this made.

  16. Annabel Edwards 18/08/2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Can someone tell me if glass cleaner with vinegar ok for cycle rims? Thanks.

  17. Olu 29/04/2015 at 8:22 am #

    If you dont have isopropyl alcohol then hand sanitizer gel (which is largely alcohol based) or even spirits such as rum or vodka work a treat.
    I rubbed hand sanitizer all around my rims with a cloth then went for a bike ride, after about 10 minutes of riding and braking…. SILENCE!

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