Detailing Water Based Paint

by Jeremy Goodspeed

In the past twenty years, environmental and occupational safety concerns have put great pressure on the oil-based EPA Complient Waterborne Paintcoatings industry. Many industries have seen the migration of coatings toward water-based formulations. These changes moved approximately 20% world's automotive industry to water borne coating by 1999. Since this change, there has been a lot of talk about the durability of these automotive paints.

For Auto Manufactures such as Daimler/Chrysler Corporation, General Motors and BMW, the advantages for moving to water borne finishes are aimed at reducing VOC emissions during application.  Waterborne coatings also reduce risk of fire, are easier to clean up (creating less hazardous residues) and result in reduced worker exposure to organic vapors.

However, water borne paints have some drawbacks:

First: Water borne paints are softer than acrylic oil based paints. The quick forced dry process using higher curing temperatures causes the paint to dry fast, but not as hard. As a result, these paints scratch more easily.

Second: Water borne paints also have difficulties with increased orange peal and production line runs and sags. The increased orange peal causes a reduction in overall smoothness and gloss.

Third: Water borne paints are also more porous than conventional acrylic finishes. This accelerates a process known as drift. Drift is the process of waxes and sealants soaking into the pores of the finish. Because the finish of a painted surface looks similar to the surface of the moon, peaks and valleys etc., as sealants heat and cool, they soak into the finish. Drift occurs in every known finish, however the water borne paint allows this process to occur much more rapidly, in some cases, even as short as a two week period of time. As drift occurs, the paint is left susceptible to the outdoor elements. This leads the paint to loose gloss and be susceptible to water spots, acid rain, industrial fallout and many other forms of foreign particles.

Maintaining A Water Borne Finish:

Maintaining water borne finishes isn't dramatically different than caring for a conventional acrylic finish, however there are a few things to keep in mind.

First: Because water borne finishes are softer than conventional finishes, it isn't recommended to use either automated car washes or sponges if hand washing. Doing so will diminish gloss and create surface scratches. It is however recommended to use a soft acrylic wash mitt to reduce the chance of scratching.

Second: When either hand or machine polishing the finish, use a polish that contains a diminishing abrasive, Such as Meguiar's Body Shop Professional (BSP) line. Meguiar's developed this line of products under the direction of PPG and GM. It provides the ability to remove stubborn defects without scratching the delicate finish.

Third: Because water borne paints are more porous, it is more important than ever to keep the finish sealed from environmental pollution and to maintain gloss and protection. A more regular routine of sealing the finish is required to achieve proper protection and achievement of gloss. As the finish stops beading, apply more protection to the surface. The time will vary along with outdoor exposure and temperature. It is also a good idea to remove all polishes and waxes with a microfiber cloth to reduce the amount of friction on the finish.

Water borne finishes are becoming more and more popular among industry leaders. These finishes will improve with time, however until they perfect this process, it will just take a bit more care to maintain these delicate finishes.