Abstract The transient wear process on the frictional interface of two elastic bodies in relative steady sliding motion induces shape evolution of the contact interface and tends to a steady state in which the wear develops at constant contact stress and strain distribution. Such a steady state may be attained experimentally or in numerical analysis by integrating the wear rate in the transient wear period. An alternative method of analysis was proposed in previous papers [Páczelt I, Mróz Z. On optimal contact shapes generated by wear. Int J Numer Methods Eng 2005;63:1310–47; Páczelt I, Mróz Z. Optimal shapes of contact interfaces due to sliding wear in the steady relative motion. Int J Solids Struct 2007;44:895–925] by applying a variational procedure and minimizing a response functional corresponding to the wear-dissipation power. The present paper provides an extension of this approach and new applications to the analysis of steady states in disk and drum brakes. The wear rule is assumed as a non-linear relation of wear rate to shear stress and relative sliding velocity. The specification of steady wear states is of engineering importance as it allows for optimal shape design of contacting interfaces in order to avoid the transient run-in periods. The extension to cyclic translation cases can be generated by considering steady cyclic states of wear processes.