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Water based vs oil based product

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A very frequent difference in liquid or paste products is the carrier within the product. This carrier can either be a water-based solution, or oil based. The largest quantity of a certain ingredients often determines what the carrier is. Within an emulsion, oil is dissolved into water with the use of an emulsifier. Technically speaking, the oil is still in suspension within the emulsion but is statistically distributed.

Solution or suspension

When substances are mixed together, one can either dissolve into the other, or one can be in suspension of the other. A good example would be the mixture of water and salt. In the beginning, the salt will dissolve into the water creating a salty water solution. The water is considered the carrier in this example. When the carrier is saturated, the carrier will not allow the salt to dissolve into the water. The salt will “float” in the water as tiny particles of grains of salt. The grains of salt are in suspension, with the water being the carrier. When the temperature of the water rises, or the volume of water is increased, the salt in suspension can dissolve into the water.
In many cases, polishing particles are actually in suspension in the emulsion of water and oils.

Water based products

Water based products are products that have been designed with water as the main carrier. The recipe might still contain oils or organic compounds, either in suspension or in an emulsion, but the largest quantity is made up of water. The advantage in most cases is that the product is water-soluble. Cleaning the product is generally more easy as the products is likely more affected by the use of water during application. Although the term is normally not often used, water is still a solvent, which nullifies the incorrect term “solvent based”.
A well know example for a water based product as an emulsion is the QD. QD’s are generally emulsions of water, oils (, wax) and polymers. Because most QD’s dissolve in water, the QD can be used on both wet and dry surfaces. This makes it a popular drying aid because of its affect on the surface tension of water.

A common misconception is that water based products mean that the surface doesn’t need to be degreased. Even the assumption that these are always body-shop safe products might not hold true as the use of polymers that change either the surface energy or the surface tension, can still be present. Both polymers and oils can still be present in water based products.

Oil based products

Oil based products are products that have been designed with a hydrophobic and lipophilic substance. These are normally referred to as “oils”, although the family of substances that can be addressed as an “oil” is very extensive. The type of oil used in the product is rarely discussed, even though this can have a large impact on the properties of the product.
Popular products that are generally oil based are paste waxes, (ceramic) coatings and tar and glue removers. Some polishes can be oil based, although most are either an emulsion of water based with oil particles in suspension. Some heavy degreasers can also be oil based, which can make them difficult to fully remove after use.
The choice to create an oil based product is often a conscious one. Water based products are easier to use, more versatile in its use and generally cheaper to manufacture. It can also be beneficial for the environment. However, the behavior and performance of a certain product, can be vastly different between oil based recipes and water based recipes. Despite the disadvantages, some manufacturers might still choose oil based recipes instead of water based due to the performance or behavior of the product. In some rare cases it can even be determined by the use of advanced polymer that don’t work in suspensions and are insoluble.

Pre-wax cleaners and glazes often have a fairly large quantity of oils in their recipe, even though they might be water-based. This means that they leave an oily layer behind on the surface. This will increase gloss and fill in small imperfections, but might interfere with sealants or coating. The effect on wax can often be negligible.

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