Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Asbestos in brakes?

I was wondering what kind of safety equipment or masks you guys use to avoid exposure to asbestos particles in the brake dust, I was reading the warnings in the Haynes manual and now it has me worried.

You must have had an OLD Haynes manual. Asbestos was discontinued for almost EVERYTHING includine brakes over 20 years ago. Are you working on an antique?

Standard issue surgical mask. Now, they spray brake cleaner on and let it drip into a pan, then they don’t worry about it. Sometimes the drum comes off and they wash everything down or pull the front wheels off and wash it down. We even had a drum with a window that we put over the whole assembly with a vacuum attached, put our hands in incubator gloves and operated an air pressure hose to blow the dust around. I liked that one.

There’s no asbestos in brake friction material anymore. But you still don’t want to breathe in brake dust.

Here’s quick way to handle brake dust. Get a can of bathroom cleaner (Scrubbing Bubbles), and spray down the brake components. After a minute or two, spray the components off with an aerosol brake cleaner. The bathroom cleaner foams and prevents dust from becoming airborne when hit with the brake cleaner.


Not all asbestos is created the same. The aspects of the asbestos in automotive use (or used to be )don’t have the same irritating aspects that asbestos use in fire proofing or insulation. This point of view would probably fall upon deaf ears if presented to a jury so it was probably better to just replace them with something less controversial.

It’s a 1989 Honda Accord and the Haynes manual is from 1988. This makes me feel a lot better though knowing they no longer use it.

I did order the pads OEM from the Honda dealership, would those be the same asbestos lined pads used in 1989 or would they have changed the part to non-asbestos?

I worked in environmental consulting for 4 years which included overseeing the proper removal of asbestos. Surgical masks provide 0 protection from asbestos. The fibers that cause health problems are microscopic and pass easily through a surgical mask. If you want proper protection, a half-face respirator with P-100 rated filters would be a start. As for asbestos not used in brake products anymore, I’ve heard of companies in other parts of the world still using them. It’s true that if the brakes are purchased in the U.S., they most likely won’t have asbestos in them. And finally, about not all asbestos being bad. In all the training and information I received, this was never mentioned. They know asbestos causes health issues, although it may not be entirely clear the role different types of asbestos plays.

I was told the asbestos in automotive use does not have the hooks and sharp edges on the fibers,it is a irration thing with asbestos not a chemical reaction.

I’m actually considering paying a mechanic to do my brakes for me now. I did one brake job on a friends '94 Corsica yesterday and ever since then i’ve been super paranoid about possible asbestos exposure I may have had and now i’m too scared to attempt brakes on my own car for fear of additional exposure.

I am gonner if you can get sick working with automotive asbestos. I have worked chain brake shops,blow you nose after one day at work and a ton of assorted brake debris comes out.

Why worry about anything? I fall a lot but I’m not going to quit walking.

It depends on what the asbestons is bound in. The big issue with asbestos is physical damage to the lungs (the small stiff fibers poke holes in the lungs that then are repaired by scarring). Asbestos that is bound in a matrix tends to not be as bad because it has a harder time becoming airborn, and doesn’t have the pointy bits needed to cause the scaring in the lungs that is responsible for asbestos related lung disease. However, if the matrix is something that the body is capable of breaking down, then eventually the asbestos fibers will be able to start doing damage.

That said, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence that small exposure is dangerous. Most people who have become sick from asbestos exposure were working with the stuff in large amounts (One gentleman I knew with lung spots from asbestos used to describe how it would look like it was snowing on the insides of cargo ships, which is where he was exposed).

I remember working in a gas station for several years back in the late 60s. One of my tasks was to get cars ready for the mechanic to do the brake job. I would remove the brake drums and “blow out” all the brake dust. The clouds of dust would linger for a while. Asbestos shoes were the norm back then. It scares me now when I realize what I was doing to my body.

Chrysotile asbestos was used in brake pads. The fibers of chrysotile asbestos were shorter and lighter than the fibers of amosite or crocidolite asbestos which are the carcinogenic fibers. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that chrysotile asbestos does not cause cancer. There are also a lot of doctors who say “asbestos causes cancer, period, full stop.” Either way, it’s not good to breathe asbestos dust. However, the friction process (brakes being used to stop a vehicle) renders the asbestos in brake pads into forsterite (a non-carcinogenic material) so any brake dust you blow out of a wheel well isn’t going to have asbestos in it. But as has been said, it’s still not good for you.

The only time you’re going to release chrysotile asbestos from brake pads that contain it is by engaging in the questionable practice of “roughing up” a new brake pad with an abrasive. Some people believe that doing this will cause the brake pad to grab better, but then again, some people believe in the flying spaghetti monster.

I just bought a brand new Haynes manual to do some work on my father’s truck.
It still has the same asbestos warnings in the brake section.

No company will ever again take the chance of failing to warn about asbestos. If asbestos were to be wiped off the face of the earth, you’ll still see warnings in auto manuals. Doesn’t mean you can even buy them anymore.

Thanks for the info, motorider. I too blew out the brakes before I did brake jobs back in the 70s. Sounds like I can worry less, at least.

Yes, I think they will probably keep printing this warning for years to come as a “better safe than sorry” thing, with all the lawsuits concerning asbestos. The warning is still in the clutch section also.

Non-- you haven’t been able to sell asbestos brake pads for years. I don’t think the original brake pads for an '89 wouldn’t have been asbestos either.