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Shiny or Natural? Tire Dressings 101 for Beginners

Want that glossy, wet tire look…or something more natural? The right tire dressing matters. If you’re wondering what the differences are (and how to achieve the look you want), you’re in the right place.

There are a few different types of tire products out there, so you need the right one to give you the look you want.

Type of tire dressings

Tire dressings come in two basic forms: solvent-based and water-based dressings and both normally contain what’s called silicone fluid which make your tires look super slick, moderately glossy, or just shiny and natural.

You’ll find tire dressings in 3 basic forms: aerosol, liquid (sprays), and gel. Foam can be applied directly to the tire; liquid dressings should be applied with a foam applicator or applicator brush to avoid overspray.

Differences in solvent-based vs. water-based dressings

Water-based dressings are typically a milky-color when applied, and produce a more natural-looking shine when dry. Water-based tire dressings aren’t as durable as solvent-based dressings in general, however, some water-based gels can last several weeks.

Solvent-based tire dressings can come in either aerosol, spray, or sometimes gel form; solvent-based dressings gives tires a glossier, slicker appearance than water-based ones. A solvent like Hexane mixed with a solute (silicone fluid) creates a solution that lasts a while on tires.

Some detailers shy away from solvent-based dressings today due to adverse health or environmental effects. In the early days, many solvents used were very flammable…today they are a bit safer.

The role of silicone in tire dressing

Silicone gives tires some level of protection, and that shine everyone loves. Silicone fluid made of Polydimethylsiloxane (in water-based tire dressing) doesn’t carry petroleum solvents as the cleaning agent. This silicon fluid creates a more-natural looking shine after being applied.

Solvent-based tire dressing, on the other hand, uses Dimethylsiloxane (dimethyl Silicone oil) along with non-biodegradable petroleum solvents; these solvents tend to dry out tires over time when they evaporate and are more flammable due to a low flash point.

Once the solvents evaporate, the silicone oil is left behind, producing a high-gloss shine.

Most water-based and silicon-based tire dressings (as well as many other products in detailing) contain silicone fluid.

3 steps to apply tire shine to your vehicle

Quick Tip: before you apply tire dressing, it’s a good idea to use a bug and tar remover with a microfiber towel. This can help remove stuck-on substances you can’t remove with degreasers and tire cleaners.

1. Let the tire dry completely

Make sure the tire is completely dry before you apply any type of dressing. Water-based dressings can wash off quite easily when wet, so be sure to ensure the tire is dry AND you wait until the dressing has had time to dry before driving.

Sand and grit can easily stick to tires that are the slightest bit wet…and who wants that?

2. Apply the tire shine to an applicator sponge

I recommend using an applicator if you don’t want overspray when using liquid sprays. Yes, you can technically apply a spray-on tire product to the tire, but proceed with caution.

Wheel well plastic is notorious for showing droplets of overspray from either tire dressings or another tire cleaner.

3. Apply product to the tire sidewall

With a foam applicator loaded up, apply the product as recommended, evenly coating the entire surface of the tire. Even though tire foam is designed to be applied directly to the tire sidewall, always use an old microfiber towel to clean up any excess before it dries.

How to avoid sling 

Make sure any tire dressing applied is completely dry before hitting the road to avoid sling. Solvents evaporate faster, so sometimes you’ll see manufacturers that market these products as ‘no sling’. But any product can sling when wet. 

As always, follow the recommended application instructions for the best results!

Tire dressing vs trim dressing

Some tire dressings are designed to be used on vinyl, rubber, and plastic…including trim. Since solvent-based tire dressings are pretty oily, they make trim look unnatural in my opinion. Some gels like Chemical Guys Tire + Trim Gel is multi-purpose if you prefer an all-in-one solution.

Chemical Guys Tire + Trim Gel

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Check out our post on how to clean and restore car trim for beginners once you finish tires…since there are a few different tools you may need. 

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