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Answered: Is Tire Shine Bad? A Simple Guide to Dressings

Don’t know what type of tire shine to use? There are several different types of tire shine products—also referred to as tire dressings—that can give you that wet tire look or a more natural-looking matte finish.

Tire dressings fall into two distinct categories: water-based and solvent-based. These two bases carry silicone to the tire surface; depending on the type and amount of silicone used, your tires can look unnaturally glossy or natural-looking.

In this blog, I’ll break down what to know about these products, a few products I recommend depending on what you prefer, and end with some FAQs you may be wondering about.

Is tire shine bad for tires?

Neither water-based nor solvent-based tire dressings (with petroleum distillates) will harm the tire sidewall any more than driving will. Road salt, UV rays, and other external factors do more to degrade tire tread than a dressing. If anything, many tire dressings offer decent UV protection which helps to extend the life of your tire.

The best way to accelerate cracking and aging is never to wash your tires and park your vehicle in the sun for an extended period. Believe it or not, driving is a good thing to prevent dry rot. 

Solvent-based vs water-based tire dressing

Solvent-based tire dressings leave behind a very glossy finish, while water-based tire shine products deliver a more natural look or satin finish. This rule has some exceptions, as it depends on what the manufacturer adds to the bottle. 

Both solvent and water-based tire dressings leave behind a type of silicon oil to produce this shine, but they carry the silicone to the sidewall in different ways: either a solvent or water.

Solvent-based tire dressing

Many solvent-based dressings use petroleum distillates to carry and release what’s called dimethyl silicone oil (or Dimethylsiloxane). This silicone oil can easily mix with the petroleum solvent to form a greasy gel that doesn’t wash off as easily as water-based dressings. The result is a high-gloss film that can last a long time—over a month depending on the product.


Solvents used in detailing are petroleum products that contain VOC or Volatile Organic Compounds, such as hexane or heptane. VOCs are emitted into the air as the solvent evaporates and can be harmful to health in enclosed areas.

Water-based tire dressing

Water-based tire shine products suspend silicon in water droplets which dries on the sidewall. When applied, water-based dressings can look milky and may wash off if it rains.

You’ll need to re-apply water-based tire dressings every few weeks compared to solvent-based products that can last for months. After all, petroleum is highly hydrophobic and doesn’t wash off easily!

Forms of tire dressing: liquid, gel, and aerosol

You’ll find tire dressings in 3 basic forms: foam (aerosol), liquid spray, and gel. You can apply foam directly to car tires; liquid or gel-based dressings are best applied with a foam applicator to avoid overspray.

Image of a foam tire shine applicator.

If you choose to apply traditional aerosol-based tire shine that comes in a can, always clean up around the rims using a microfiber towel and let the product fully dry to prevent sling.

5 of the best tire shine products for any look

The best tire shine type depends on your preference and factors like durability, level of shine, form, and cost. we created this simple table to help you find the right product for your tire maintenance regimen.

Meguiar’s G7516 Endurance Tire GelLasts up to 3 monthsSolvent-basedHigh glossGel
303 Aerospace ProtectantLasts up to 4 monthsWater-basedNatural satinLiquid Spray
Ammo NYC Mud Tire GelLasts up to 2 monthsSolvent-basedHigh glossGel
Chemical Guys Natural Shine DressingLasts up to 1 monthWater-basedMatteLiquid
Meguiar’s Ultimate Insane ShineLasts up to 1 monthSolvent-basedHigh GlossFoam

If you want a tire shine product that holds up but still delivers a good semi-gloss shine, I recommend AMMO Mud. I like this tire shine because it can be used on trim and tires, and it was created by a true auto detailing pro (Larry).

On the other hand, sometimes I do go with cheaper options like Black Magic Tire Wet or Turtle Wax Wet’n Black. For older vehicles I just want to shine up and give that wet look, I’d rather use cheaper products. But you do you!

How to apply tire shine

Step 1: Clean your tires and let them dry

To start, clean your wheels and tires with a multipurpose cleaner or degreaser and a tire brush. Remove all brake dust or previous tire coatings if necessary.

For best results, never apply tire shine until your tires are completely dry. Excess water on the tire can easily dilute water-based products and make them less effective. 

Check out our post on how to wash wheels and tires for an in-depth tutorial for beginners.

Step 2. Spread evenly with a foam applicator pad 

In the next step, apply the tire shine directly to a clean foam applicator instead of the tire; these devices help spread the product evenly over the entire side wall.  For vehicles with large tires, I prefer to use a tire shine applicator with a handle.

Foam Tire Shine Applicator With Handle

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foam tire shine applicator with handle.
Quick Tip

Always allow tire shine to dry before you drive, since tire sling can occur and potentially transfer chemicals designed for rubber onto clean paint.

Step 3: Clean up any excess and wait until dry

In the final step, grab a microfiber towel to touch up rims or other areas that may have overspray. The drying process typically takes 15-20 minutes depending on the type of dressing.

Dirt and sand can easily stick to wet tire shine if you drive your vehicle right away.

Frequently asked questions

Can tire dressing cause cracking?

Depending on the kind of tire, small cracks may emerge…but not as a result of tire dressings. Over time, the anti-ozone and anti-oxidation layers that tires are built with begin to degrade.

Prolonged use of degreasers and other harsh acids can contribute to premature cracking more so than dressing.

So…it’s nothing to worry about.

Will dust and dirt stick to my tires if I apply tire dressing?

Dirt and dust are more likely to stick to any silicone-oil-based tire dressing product if not completely dry. It’s a good idea to use water-based products if you’re concerned with dust, sand, or dirt particles because they are more likely to be visible on shiny tires.

Can dressings cause tire browning?

A common misconception is that tire shine causes browning of the side wall. Tire rubber is made with anti-ozonate chemicals that gradually rise to the surface over time, causing them to turn brown. This process—called tire blooming—is a normal part of the aging process and not a negative effect of dressings.

Sometimes the trapped dirt can also cause tires to appear brown, so always use a tire brush to dislodge these particles.

Learn how to wash wheels and tires like a pro

Ready to see better results and always end up with clean tires and wheels? Check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners.

This course covers the interior and exterior wash process from start to finish and is jam-packed with tips and tricks that have taken years to acquire.

Use code BLOG for 15% off. Happy detailing!

Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?

This video course unpacks the fundamentals of washing and detailing. From exterior cleaning and blemish removal…you’ll learn the secrets that will give you spotless pro-level results!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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