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So I was spring-cleaning my man-cave/garage over the weekend and came across my assortment of chemical sprays - specifically carb cleaner and throttle body cleaner which caught my eye.

Is there any practical difference between brake, carb & throttle body cleaners?

I go through a lot of brake cleaner and usually don't have enough in stock. Is it possible to substitute it with either carb or TB cleaner? Based on smell alone, I wouldn't imagine so; it seems like the brake cleaner is very dilute in comparison.

Carb and TB cleaners seem quite concentrated. I don't have any carburetors to clean, so could I use the can up to clean throttle bodies instead without any concerns?

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I have seen quite bit of traffic on the internet about the differences. As with what Steve said, there isn't much. A lot of the things which people are saying are things like: "Carb cleaner leaves a residue, while brake cleaner doesn't". I pulled the Data Safety Sheet for both of the CRC cleaners (trying to keep apples-to-apples here):

Carb Cleaner:

enter image description here

Brake Cleaner:

enter image description here

There is a lot less Toluene and Acetone in the brake cleaner than there is in the carb cleaner, so I can suggest there would be less of a propensity for these chemicals to hang around.

According to Google, Toluene is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid with the smell associated with paint thinners. It is a mono-substituted benzene derivative, consisting of a CH₃ group attached to a phenyl group. Acetone is a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid, and is the simplest ketone. I'm not a chemist, but believe either of these could leave a residue behind if left in sufficient quantities. Since the brake cleaner has much less of them, it would seem the parts cleaned with these would have far less of a chance to have a left behind residue. This seems to hold true with the internet gab going on.

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    As a chemist looking at those compositions, it seems like the carb cleaner would be less likely to have a residue as it has no naphtha in it (which can include some bits that might not evaporate as quickly). They're pretty similar though: ALL of those compounds will evaporate extremely quickly at room temperature, let alone instantly the first time you touch your brakes. In practice, however, "residue" is likely to be a result of less-than-pure compounds and/or incomplete cleaning action. – Nick T Aug 3 '15 at 17:00
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I personally use them both interchangeably, some products here in the UK are now labeled "Fuel System Cleaner" and are essentially the exact same thing.

  • I see. Is brake cleaner any different? – Zaid Aug 3 '15 at 9:49
  • I've also used brake cleaner to clean throttle boddies, seems to do the same job but I can't say for certain that it's the same. – Steve Matthews Aug 3 '15 at 9:50
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I have used many CRC products: Brake & Carb cleaner; both chlorinated & non chlorinated and throttle body cleaner. The CRC "green can" brake cleaner works really well for all intents and purposes and can even be used (most) painted surfaces (IE: clean tree sap off of body paint). CRC Carb cleaner tends to remove paint. I have even used CRC brake cleaner to clean fuel injectors and it works really well. As the CRC "green" brake cleaner is the cheapest in cost of the line up, I generally use it exclusively. As far as cleaners go, a good page I found is: http://www.wastemin.com/discuss/index.php?threads/industrial-degreaser-performance-ratings-how-the-top-15-degreasers-stack-up.6/#.V3PsLdQrJko

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I am a former organic chemistry student. This is a thought to ponder upon. We used a three step process to clean glassware in the lab. First, use sulfuric acid (battery acid), rinse with acetone, next sodium hydroxide (pure red devil lye), rinse with acetone, let dry. Notice that pure acetone is used to finish the job. Ponder that thought.

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