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I was being extremely stupid and accidentally applied a little chain lube to my brake pads? I tried to sand them down a little and cleaned the disc rotor with rubbing alcohol, but the performance is still lower than normal. Is there anything I can do to save them?

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    Brake pads are cheap compared to brake failure. Depending what the pads are there’s no guarantee to remove all lube. Replacement is the safest option and guaranteed no lube unless you happen to put lube on the new ones.
    – Dan K
    Jul 30 '20 at 14:51
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I've seen recipes for decontaminating brake pads floated around but the easiest and safest thing to do is simply replace them.

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Wash them with a toothbrush and about a 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol for a set of pads. After a few minutes brushing with alcohol, pat them dry with a clean towel. I then use a butane torch to heat them up pretty good. Oil and other contaminates burn away. Generally I stop burning the pads when they stop putting off smoke. Allow them to cool and after, lightly sand the pad area finishing up with another alcohol brushing.

The rotors get cleaned with alcohol, this time using a clean rag. I use a generous amount of alcohol. After all is clean and dry and the pads are reset into the caliper, I complete another "burn in" period with them--up to 10 hard stops from about 15-20mph to zero without locking up the wheel. I would guess I have a 75% success rate restoring acceptable performance doing it this way.

If you're wary of the torch (I'm talking a handheld, refillable, butane torch. It's fairly tame tempeture wise and it works the best), soak the pads in alcohol taking them out to brush them and refreshing the alcohol soak with clean. Soaking the pads for more than 12-24 hours risks softening the resin matrix and then they will be trashed. Follow the soak with a drying period followed by sanding.

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    Presumably you use metal pads. I wouldn't use that much heat on organic or resin bonded ceramic
    – Chris H
    Jul 30 '20 at 19:04
  • IDK about ceramic but Shimano resin pads with a steel back plate take the heat just fine. Wordy as I am aIready, I don't like to elaborate in areas that should be covered under common sense, but the flaming of the pads is less than 30 seconds with a constantly moving flame. A contaminated pad will almost immeadiately smoke and one should stop when there is a marked reduction to absence of smoke. Using too much yield a pad pimpled with sand grain chunks of metal where the resin matrix was lost to flame. Sanding takes these down or off but there's probably significant wear introduced
    – Jeff
    Jul 30 '20 at 22:39
  • I do use metal pads for the bite and power. Modulation hasn't been a problem with Deore or XT levers. Any other system I've used has had resin pads.
    – Jeff
    Jul 30 '20 at 22:43
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    Well, for cars, this problem is fixed with products like Brakleen, which is "non-flammable and formulated to quickly and effectively remove grease, brake dust, brake fluids, oils, and other contaminants from brake parts, lining, pads." It might work in your situation.
    – nogasbiker
    Aug 7 '20 at 4:09
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    @Carel I don't think it makes much sense to get new rotors. Heavy duty solvents like paint thinner can clean them back to original.
    – An Ant
    Nov 29 '20 at 4:43
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I would recommend trying paint thinner with a cloth and old toothbrush. In my opinion, there is hardly a better cleaner for oil/grease based contaminants, and what's better it evaporates instantly leaving no residue of its own.

Acetone or make-up remover is similar, AFAIK.

Obviously, the best idea is to replace, but if for some reason that isn't possible or ideal and you want to try to remove the lube, I doubt there are better cleaners than thinner.

Keep in mind it is inflammable and the fumes aren't healthy , so take precautions and limit exposure.

I wouldn't suggest sanding them as this is basically wearing them down. And yes, if rubbing alcohol didn't work, thinner just might, its usually mineral spirits.

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