Tires are critical to the overall appearance of a car and yet are often overlooked. Considering the fact that tires are in continual contact with the road and suffer from adverse effects of road tar, dirt, grime, water, salt, brake dust, grease AND ultra violet radiation (UVR), ozone, and oxygen, it is understandable that they require great care. Over time, tire rubber simply degrades. As a matter of fact, vehicle manufacturers recommend, independent of tire mileage, that tires be replaced, typically after six years, as a means of preventing sudden failure!
From a detailer’s perspective, not only do we want tires to look nice (i.e. appear new), but we also want to protect them from the elements identified above. A properly cared for tire will add significantly to the overall appearance of a well-detailed vehicle. With this in mind, let’s first try to understand one of the most obvious negative visual features of a tire: tire browning.
Tire Browning: Blooming
Modern rubber formulas used by tire manufactures contain an ingredient called Antiozonant. An antiozonant is a chemical that tire manufacturers add to the tire rubber to help prevent rubber degradation (cracking, splitting, oxidizing, and overall deterioration) due to the rubber’s interaction with ozone (an odorless gas that is part of the air we breathe). Quite interesting is the fact that tire rubber is designed to constantly work the antiozonant to the outside of the tire as it rolls – in this way, the outside surface of the tire is continually replenished with fresh antiozonant. This process provides the positive result of ozone protection, but the negative result of tire browning – once the antiozonant gets exposed to the ozone in the air, it turns brown due to oxidation. The technical term for this effect is blooming. The next time you are in a parking lot, observe the tires on the vehicles you pass – most likely you will see a brownish film on the surface of the tires. As we will discuss in a moment, you can wash your tires with car wash soap or an all-purpose cleaner (APC), e.g. Purple Power Cleaner Degreaser, to remove some of the film, but it will simply return in a few weeks! Every time you drive your car, the antiozonant migrates its way to the outside of the tires. One thing you might be aware of is the fact that vehicles that sit for extended periods of time (months or years) often have tires that show evidence of cracking and drying (dry rot). This cracking occurs due to the fact that there is no opportunity for the tires’ antiozonant to migrate to the surface to provide protection.
So, how can you successfully clean and protect a tires surface? As mentioned above, using car wash soap or an APC will enable you to remove some of the brown film from tires and this, in most cases, is all you will need. A word of caution. A trip to your local auto parts store will yield a number of products designed to clean tires. Some of these products contain harsh cleaners and detergents – using a harsh tire cleaner may also remove the outer layer of tire rubber and may have the detrimental effect of increasing tire blooming as more antiozonant will migrate and permeate the tire surface during flexing. As with every aspect of a car, use the least aggressive method first! This simply means to use the least aggressive cleaner and least aggressive cleaning method – if this does not work, move on to the next aggressive product and/or method.
As a first step, you will need to gently clean the tire surface. The tire cleaner you use needs to be strong enough to remove existing contaminants but not so strong that it damages the tire or wheel coating. I typically clean my tires using the same soap as I would use to wash my car (Meguiar’s NXT, Meguiar’s Gold Class, Optimum No Rinse, Pinnacle Body Work Shampoo, P21S Total Auto Wash, etc.) along with a soft bristle brush or wash mitt (the type of wash mitt is not crucial). As long as you use a reputable car wash soap, you should not have problems. Keep in mind that completely removing the ‘browning’ may not be possible – that is OK. Once you apply a tire protectant (dressing), the browning will disappear.
Prior to the application of a tire dressing, you need to make sure the tire is cleaned as per above – the tire protectant or dressing will adhere much better to a clean tire. Keep in mind that tire dressings won’t adhere to or create the right shine on a dirty rubber surface.
As is the case for tire cleaning products found on the market, there are also a plethora of tire dressings. There are generally only two ‘types’ of tire dressings: water-based and solvent based. Water-based dressings are often a milky-white liquid and are typically a combination of naturally occurring oils and synthetic polymers that provide a very nice non-greasy, satin-like finish – very similar to the look of a new tire. Some water-based tire dressings also contain UVR blocking agents to help keep tires from cracking, fading and hardening. As an added bonus, most, if not all, water-based dressings are friendly to the environment. I have had good success with Meguiar’s Hyperdressing, an extremely nice all-around rubber dressing that doesn’t ‘sling’ off tires as you drive – it is water-based, however, and will not last very long. All water-based tire dressings are about the same as far as durability goes…you might get a week depending on the environment you are in. Solvent-based are often a clear, greasy liquid and tend to leave a wet, glossy film on the tire surface. Be careful, some solvent-based dressings contain solvents that, over time, may lead to premature drying and cracking of the tire surface. Solvent-based tire dressings are going to last much longer and look better than water-based dressings…and are going to be more expensive. If you stick with a reputable company then you won’t have any issues with ‘bad’ silicone being used to make the dressing. Perhaps the best solvent-based dressing on the market is Ultima Tire and Trim Guard Plus. This is a great product that can also be used on the wheels and trim…it is pricey but a little goes a long way. Meguiar’s All Season Dressing is also an excellent dressing for tires, trim and even wheel wells. If you are looking for economical and durable solutions then I would pick Meguiar’s Hyperdressing (water-based) for the engine bay and interior and Meguiar’s All Season Dressing (solvent-based) for exterior rubber, plastic, vinyl. Keep in mind that the difference between water- and solvent-based dressings is simply in the ‘carrier’ system used. Solvent-based products use a hydrocarbon silicone to suspend the product whereas water-based products use water. Some less reputable tire dressings, especially those used at car washes and quick turnaround detailing shops, use a solvent-based silicone dressing that has extreme shine and the tendency to sling off the tire onto the paint (as shown below) – left on the paint, you may get discoloration from this type of dressing.
While application of a tire dressing is quite easy, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, don’t apply too much dressing. Simply apply some dressing to a dedicated tire rag, towel, or foam applicator and wipe the dressing on the tire to provide nice, even coverage. Be careful not to get the dressing on the car or the wheel – particularly when using an aerosol spray. Meguiar’s Hyperdressing typically comes in a gallon size container and can be diluted depending on need. I generally dilute it 1:1 and have had excellent results. Some other detailer’s dilute it 2:1 (2 parts water, 1 part Hyperdressing). Either way, you will need to find what is best for you and what look you are trying to achieve. A gallon of Hyperdressing will last a long time and is very cost effective. Meguiar’s All Season Dressing is sold ‘ready to use’. Third, a few minutes after you apply the dressing, wipe the tire with a clean rag or towel to remove any residue. And fourth, try to keep the tire dressing off of the tire tread. Tire dressing, either water- or solvent-based, will make the tire tread slippery.
While all of the above may sound a bit complicated, the procedure is actually quite simple and will only take a few minutes per tire. In the end you will end up with a well protected tire that looks like it came out of a show room!