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Waterborne vs. Solvent-Based Car Paint: Which Is Better?

Waterborne vs. Solvent-Based Car Paint: Which Is Better?

Every vehicle needs a new paint job from time to time. Even if you are careful about taking care of your car’s finish, every coat of paint will eventually go bad. This might involve fading, cracking, peeling, or any number of other unsightly side effects. And so, if your vehicle is suffering from these issues, or if it’s just become entirely too scratched up and ugly, you will need to get a new paint job. You will have to make the choice between water-based car paint and solvent-based paint, and that choice will be our focus today.


Waterborne Vs Solvent Based Paint

Paint consists of a pigment that has been suspended in a liquid. Of course, the liquid used will make a big difference in the properties of the paint. Waterborne paint is obviously water-based, meaning that it consists mostly of pigment and water. A solvent-based paint will generally use toluene, xylene, or some other chemical solvent. For those who don’t know, a “solvent” is any substance that is used to dissolve another substance. In this case, chemicals like toluene and xylene are used to dissolve the pigment. There are a number of reasons why people choose one or the other. Let’s talk a little bit about their pros and cons.


Pros Of Waterborne Auto Paint

First of all, waterborne paints are a lot less toxic. While you certainly wouldn’t want to drink the stuff, it presents far fewer hazards to both humans and the environment. This makes waterborne paints a better choice when painting in confined spaces, as you won’t have to worry about the fumes. Paint fumes are normally not that dangerous, but if they build up in a small garage they could make you lightheaded or even make you pass out.

Waterborne paint also tends to produce a brighter, more vibrant kind of color. Because water is a color-neutral substance, there will be nothing to interfere with the tone of the paint, preventing you from getting the color you want. Thus, if you are looking for a very specific kind of color, waterborne paints are also a better choice. Waterborne paint also tends to have better opacity, meaning that you can cover the same area with less paint. This also means fewer coats, saving both time and money. Speaking of saving money, waterborne paints can be made with less pigment, and that is why they tend to be cheaper.


Pros Of Solvent-Based Paint

Naturally, water-based paint tends to be a bit thinner. Thus, despite its opacity advantages, waterborne paint isn’t the best for cover-up jobs. If you are trying to hide flaws and imperfections (or a previous paint job), then you will have a harder time here. The thickness of solvent-based paint does make it better for certain things. Despite its thickness, solvent-based paint will usually dry faster. Many of those chemical solvents will evaporate more quickly than water.

Waterborne paint also doesn’t tend to produce as durable of a finish when compared to solvent-based versions. A waterborne paint job isn’t exactly fragile, but solvent-based paint will usually hold up longer, especially in harsh weather. Humidity is another factor to consider when repainting your car. The humidity in the air will affect drying times, and high levels of humidity can sometimes keep the paint from adhering properly. Solvent-based paint has the advantage of being less susceptible to humidity.

Regulations Might Play A Role As Well

Because solvent-based paints contain toxic chemicals, certain states have chosen to regulate their contents. Thus, depending on where you live, you might not be able to use the best solvent-based products. California, in particular, has taken steps to limit the toxicity of solvent-based paint by prohibiting certain ingredients. Of course, no one is going to throw you in jail for using the wrong car paint, but you can end up with a hefty fine.


Which Is Better?

When choosing a tool for any job, you have to think about the specifics of that job. Thus, there are some situations in which solvent-based paint is better. However, we find that waterborne paint is a better choice all around. For one thing, you don’t have to worry so much about environmental regulations when you use this type of paint. For another, the lack of toxicity makes it much safer for all involved. Thirdly, waterborne paints tend to be cheaper while still offering the same level of effectiveness.

In the end, solvent-based paints have a slight durability advantage, and their greater thickness can be a slight advantage as well. However, water-based paints are the superior choice for most jobs. You see, the durability advantage enjoyed by solvent-based paints isn’t as nice as it sounds. All vehicle paint jobs will be covered with a layer of clear coat, and that layer is meant to protect your paint from damage. So, since you will always be adding a little extra “armor” to the finish anyway, the waterborne paint jobs will probably hold up just as long as any other.



When it comes to the question of waterborne vs. solvent-based paint, the advantages of waterborne paints outweigh those of solvent-based paints, mostly because they are much more universal. Most people are moving away from the use of toxic chemicals, so it makes sense that solvent-based car paints are now mostly reserved for special purposes.

If your vehicle needs a new paint job, you might be asking yourself: “where is the best auto body shop near me?” If that’s the case, we would recommend calling our experts here at Elmer’s Auto Body. Our shops use only the highest-quality PPG paint and have been proudly serving the community for over 70 years. To find out more, fill out our contact form or give us a call at (856) 218-0202.

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