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What’s The Deal With “Water-Based VS Solvent-Based” Tire Dressings?

By now, I’m sure you all heard about water-based products and the governments push to move away from oil-based coatings as much as possible across various industries. Here is how it is relevant to our niche obsession, and why I strongly agree with the move towards water-based formulas and products.

For the past few years, I’ve been manufacturing my own auto care chemicals for my personal detailing clients and their “specialty” cars. Everyday I would work with products such as Silicones, Emulsifiers, and Low-Odor-Based-Solvents (LOBS), amongst 50 other similar chemicals.

What is a solvent? A solvent is liquid, solid, or gas that dissolves another liquid, solid, or gas. It’s when a substance is dissolved into another substance, creating a solution. (Stay with me here…there is a point coming). The opposite to this situation is when compounds are insoluble, such as sand mixed in water. It doesn’t evenly disperse or dissolve.

What’s the point? I’ve learned is there is a HUGE difference between a solvent-based product and a water-based product, because I was mixing 100’s of gallons of each on a daily basis. The best method for me to explain the difference between the two is with a very specific “car” example. Tire Dressing. (Also see video below)

About 15 years ago, most tire dressing used HEXANE (or Heptane) as their solvents. In other words:

HEXANE + SILICONE = Quick drying shinny tire dressing.   

Each manufacturer used different amounts of hexane and silicone and maybe some emulsifiers and colors etc. to create their own tire dressing formula, but these were the 2 most important ingredients at the time.

So what’s the problem you ask? Lets give Wikipedia the spot light:

The long-term toxicity of n-hexane in humans is well known. Extensive peripheral nervous system failure is known to occur in humans chronically exposed to levels of n-hexane ranging from 400 to 600 ppm, with occasional exposures up to 2,500 ppm. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness. In severe cases, atrophy of the skeletal muscles is observed, along with a loss of coordination and problems of vision. Chronic intoxication from hexane has been observed in recreational solvent abusers and in workers in the shoe manufacturing, furniture restoration and automobile industries, and recently, plastic recyclers and assemblers and cleaners of capacitive touch-screen devices.

In 1994, n-hexane was included in the list of chemicals on the US Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations on the control of emissions of hexane gas due to its potential carcinogenic properties and environmental concerns. [and its flammable!]

I’m not sure what all that means, but it sounds pretty bad. Especially the carcinogenic properties part. I looooove my car, but not enough to even slightly increase my risk of getting cancer because I want SHINNY TIRES! The reason Hexane was so effective as a solvent in tire dressing is that it evaporated quickly, leaving the silicone (aka shinny-ness) behind on the rubber, while lowering the rate of “wheel-sling”. A minute or so after you applied dressing to all 4 tires, it would be bone-dry and shinny as hell. BUT…BUT you might die. Errr.

So the next logical conclusion is to find a new solvent (other than Hexane) because no one wanted to trade nervous system failure for bling-bling wheels. Next, the industry produced a “Low odor” based solvent, we called LOBS. (BTW: if you asking yourself, “why don’t I just use 100% silicone on my tires?” The answer is: Because it’s really expensive, ridiculously wasteful, and doesn’t make a huge difference in tire shinny-ness.

Anyways, after using LOBS for a while, I discovered something interesting about my rubber gaskets used in the storage of the finished “solvent-based” tire dressing. All the rubber gaskets would become rock-hard after a few days of storage (because of the constant contact with the tire dressing inside the container) If you are not completely unconscious by now, I hope you can read between the lines…. Solvent based tire dressing made RUBBER HARD! WTF! It has a tendency to dry out the rubber and cause it to lose its pliability. From that point on, I decided to never use any solvent based tire dressing on any on my cars or my customers’ cars. The “non-hexane” version was safer to use, but dried out the rubber and had the annoying  “wheel-sling” characteristic that is despised by every car guy on the planet.

So, I was on a mission to create a tire dressing that was shinny, no wheel sling, long lasting, gentle on rubber, and most importantly didn’t put the user in the hospital. This is when I switched to water-based dressings and never looked back. I tried close to 40 different ratios of silicones to water to emulsifier, in hopes of creating the best and safest tire dressing. Sometimes it was too thick and sometimes way too watery. Eventually I found the perfect ratio of shinny-ness to long lasting to cost effective to safe for the user. I toyed with making a “sprayable” version (meaning it was thin enough to be sprayed-on with trigger-nozzle) but after hundreds of tests, I decided the GEL formula was the best way to go. Hence, AMMO MUD Tire Gel.

In the next article, I will talk about the water-based paints and what we need to do to keep our cars looking good in this safe and environmentally responsible era.

Check out the video below for a hands-on explanation of our “Tire-Dressing” discussion.

6 thoughts on “What’s The Deal With “Water-Based VS Solvent-Based” Tire Dressings?

  1. You have great knowledge of the tire shine formulas. I have this stuff all over my driveway from previous owners. What can I use to dissolve it out of concrete?!? It seems impervious. Thanks for the article, very informative.

  2. Id like to consider purchasing some of your product to use on my cars and give to my customers. id like some for leather sets, and tiers, and dash boards? does it have a nice smell to it? thanks

  3. I am a distributor of car cleaning products in Toronto Canada. I was searching on how I could make my own silicone/solvent based tire shine and ran across your site. I would love to chat with you further and if you could either call me or I could call you.

    John 416-838-4911
    JSaw8@hotmail.com

  4. Hi so what can I use again besides Hepthane to dilute my clear oil based silicone .I am from South Africa

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