Breaking the walls down on how to properly clean carbon ceramic brakes

Tailored for high performance cars, carbon ceramic brakes are more fragile to chemicals. Here's how you clean them, avoiding potential damage.

The black wheels of an Aston Martin during the cleaning process, the car is equipped with carbon ceramic brakes.

by Aaron Hussain |
Updated on

If you're the slightest bit interested in top-end performance cars, not only will you be conscious of using the best car cleaning products on them. But you'll be acutely aware that if you spend the extra cash, you can equip a car with carbon ceramic brakes. How many times have you spotted a modern Porsche 911 and bent down to peek between the rims? We suspect many because it's a common necessity among car people to ask ourselves, "has it got ceramics?"

But it was the other Stuttgart manufacturer that properly brought the technology into road cars. The ultra-rare F1 Edition of the 2000 Mercedes CL55 AMG was the first car to come as standard with ceramic brakes, and only 55 were ever produced.

Allegedly, those Brembo monsters could slow down a car packed with up to 2,000hp. This puts into perspective of just how effective ceramics are to a performance car. But as they don't produce anywhere near as much brake dust, the need for fallout removers is massively lessened.

But as the technology has only been around in road cars for a little over 20 years, the information of how to care for them is relatively scarce. With that in mind, how should you clean them, and what should you look out for in your chosen wheel cleaning products?

Things to avoid when cleaning carbon ceramic brakes

carbon ceramic brake cleaning

For the bulk of advice and a step-by-step process, we arranged a visit to the Midlands base of Topaz Detailing to sample a pre-PPF clean on a Titanium Green Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, fitted with carbon ceramic brakes and the 21" gloss black 5-spoke wheels.

The visit was hosted by Ben Atkins, the social media manager of Topaz's Midlands centre, who alongside the team of pro-detailers on site, talked me through the process of washing down and detailing the Aston. The key advice is:

Avoid using wheel cleaners that are either acidic or alkalic. Carbon ceramic brakes are quite delicate compared to steel discs and don't react to products in the same way. So, it's always best to opt for wheel cleaning products or fallout removers that are pH neutral.

When applying the wheel cleaner or fallout remover, allow it to set into the wheels before agitating with a brush and a set of barrel brushes as you usually would. Whereas you can leave the product for a while on steel brakes, you should ensure it's rinsed as quickly as possible (after agitation) to prevent any staining or potential damage.

Don't neglect them. Carbon ceramic discs are filled with little holes where dirt can clog and reduce their effectiveness.

How to clean carbon ceramic brakes: step by step and top tips

Step 1: Rinse

Use a hose or pressure washer to rinse down the wheels, as you would normally when starting to wash a car. Topaz and other high-grade professionals prefer a diesel/biofuel-powered pressure washer that generates hot water, but anything from a Karcher K2 or any other domestic pressure washer will be fine for the job.

Step 2: Cleaning products

Opt for a pH-neutral shampoo or wheel-cleaning product. This can discolour or damage the calliper or rotor which can either lead to refurbishment or a scary invoice to replace all four sides. Grab a soft wheel cleaning brush and gently brush your way around each spoke of the wheel.

Step 3: Using wash mitts and barrel brushes

When using a barrel brush, go for the softest ones you can find. This reduces the chances of scratching or chipping which can lead to a massive nightmare. Topaz use its own brand of ultra-soft barrel brushes and wash mitts when prepping a car. Ceramics can chip more easily than steel brakes if you're not careful, so do your utmost to avoid an expensive bill. And bear in mind that even if said car is under warranty, some policies don't cover brakes.

Step 4: Brushing the pads

You may choose to get a soft brush and start cleaning the ceramic pads. A simple, water-based degreaser will be the best bet. As mentioned before, the product needs to be as simple as possible without acids, alkaline, or extra additives. Apply the brush gently onto the pads and whisper away like you would a fine duster on an Airfix model. Afterwards, make sure to rinse it off as soon as possible.

Step 5: Rinsing off

carbon ceramic brakes clean
carbon ceramic brakes clean ©CAR

Once you're satisfied with the wheels, brakes, and even tyres and wheel arches, grab your pressure washer again to rinse off the remaining soap. This will lift all remaining dirt and light brake dust.

Step 6: Drying

If you have one handy, apply a car dryer to blow away the standing water and dampness. Make sure to guide it within your wheel spokes and around your arches.

Step 7: Protecting your wheels

carbon ceramic brakes clean
carbon ceramic brakes clean ©CAR

You can choose to apply a ceramic coating or a dedicated wheel protectant to your wheels. However, you should never spray this stuff directly onto the wheels. To avoid contact with the brakes, spray the product onto the applicator and work it into the spokes of the wheels from there. The detailers at Topaz employ this move every single time.

Step 8: Get out and enjoy the drive

If you're following this guide word-for-word, chances are you have something pretty spicy at your disposal. Carbon ceramics are serious brakes for serious performance cars, so the least you can do is book a track day and enjoy them. Furthermore, Ben confidently informs me that ceramic-equipped cars have been around track days and because they don't generate brake dust, the wheels still looked amazingly clean when they came in for work. The story is very different on cars with steels.

Additional top tips

Celebrity detailer, David Walker, a master of car cleaning and owner of YouTube Channel, Epic Automotive Detailing, has partnered with car finance app, Carmoola, to share his advice on things to remember when cleaning carbon ceramic brakes;

"Before you start throwing any old chemical on your wheels, it's important you understand the risks involved when it comes to carbon ceramic brakes, especially the chance of corrosion.

Some chemicals can make the brakes slowly break down, like rust on metal. This could weaken the structural integrity of the brakes and make them less effective over time. Because carbon brakes don’t actually produce brake dust there is no reason to use a heavy-duty wheel cleaner."

He goes on to say that you should consult your manufacturer's instructions when approaching the job. Using the wrong chemicals can go against their guidelines and could void any warranties that you signed. He also reinforces the importance of pH-neutral cleaning products, and advises the best way to use them.

"Put car shampoo through a snow foam cannon and spray the wheels. It will look like your typical snow foam but won't have the cleaning power, but it will give you better lubrication for cleaning your wheels, meaning less risk of scratching."

Meet the experts

Ben Atkins is the social media manager for Topaz Detailing. He has a professional eye on photography and social reach for the brand, and has an immense passion for prestige and high-performance machinery.

David Walker is the host of the YouTube channel, Epic Automotive Detailing. He has 15 years of experience in the valet and detailing industry and samples products to test as well as weekly videos on car cleaning content.

Aaron Hussain is a commercial content writer at Bauer Media writing for Parkers and CAR. He is obsessed with classic cars and anything with a fascinating story to tell.

For verdicts, scoops, news and analysis from the team, delivered direct to your inbox, subscribe to the CAR newsletter.

You can enjoy CAR in its traditional print format, or one of the swelling number of digital editions, optimised for Apple iPhones, Android devices, iPads, tablets and desktop computers.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us