What is Coal Tar?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Coal tar is a thick black liquid that's a byproduct of coke production. As an extra product of the cause of action (COA) process that results in the production of coke, this liquid is a versatile product in its own right. There are actually quite a few uses for this viscous liquid, ranging from building and home repair all the way to medical treatments.

Coal tar is used as a waterproof sealant in roofing.
Coal tar is used as a waterproof sealant in roofing.

When it comes to building projects, this material can be used for roofing jobs as a sealant underneath shingles. It is also an ideal way to seal pitches in the roof, providing a water tight seal for all angles of the roof line. In addition to the sealing agents, coal tar also works as an insulating agent, working with the wall insulation to help maintain a comfortable temperature inside the building, regardless of the outside weather. There are also a number of exterior paints that use this material in their finished product. The substance provides an excellent sealed surface once it dries in place; the paint is much less likely to chip and peel over the years with a small amount of coal tar included in the mix.

Coal tar is added to dyes that are used to color drapes and other products that are exposed to sunlight.
Coal tar is added to dyes that are used to color drapes and other products that are exposed to sunlight.

Along with helping to keep your home well insulated and waterproofed, coal tar can also help to keep your space warm. Sometimes referred to as town gas, it can be used with some boilers to create heat that can then be directed to the duct system that runs throughout your home. The end result is a warm space that lacks the distracting scent of many heating liquids. In fact, burning it can leave behind a pleasing scent, owing to the aromatic hydrocarbons that are part of the product itself.

Medicinal shampoos that treat head lice use coal tar as an active ingredient.
Medicinal shampoos that treat head lice use coal tar as an active ingredient.

Another use of this liquid has to do with fabric production. In order to create fabrics that will hold up to constant sunlight exposure and retain their color, coal tar is added to the dye treatments that are administered to the fabrics. For people who own draperies that are guaranteed to not fade in sunlight, chances are that coal tar was used to treat the panels. In like manner, it may be used to treat materials intended for use as furniture and car upholstery.

Dandruff may be treated with coal tar shampoo.
Dandruff may be treated with coal tar shampoo.

Medical applications of coal tar have been around for quite some time. One common use is in soaps and shampoos that are intended to deal with head and body lice. Many shampoos that are formulated specifically to combat dandruff and psoriasis will contain traces of coal tar. This shampoo can also be used to treat sores on any portion of the skin. Medical compounds containing this material are available over the counter and are usually not very expensive.

Coal tar is a byproduct of coke production.
Coal tar is a byproduct of coke production.

While there is some concern that coal tar contains trace levels of carcinogenic elements, there are no immediate plans to remove products containing it from the market. At present, organizations such as the National Psoriasis Foundation promote such products as being a safe treatment for psoriasis and similar scalp conditions.

Naphthalene, which is commonly used to make moth balls, is a hydrocarbon derived from coal tar.
Naphthalene, which is commonly used to make moth balls, is a hydrocarbon derived from coal tar.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

JackWhack

I never knew that my curtains contained coal tar. Since they have been treated, I guess they do. I'm glad that it didn't stain them.

OeKc05

@orangey03 – I did use a shampoo containing coal tar to treat my dandruff, and it did have an odd smell. However, it didn't smell like pure coal tar. The shampoo had other ingredients to balance out the scent.

Nothing was helping with my dandruff. I had tried just about every brand of dandruff shampoo, and I kept having a flaky scalp.

I tried the shampoo with coal tar as a last resort. It worked in one use. Now, I only have to use it about once a month or so if the dandruff returns.

orangey03

I can't believe that there are coal tar soaps and shampoos! This sounds like something you shouldn't touch, much less rub into your skin or scalp. Also, doesn't it smell horrible?

anon275925

Can coal tar be mixed with wax for the purpose of waterproofing a roof?

anon274379

If I have my driveway sealed with coal tar, is there any danger in the dog being on the driveway?

Sh0p20121

Can coal tar be used in building a gravel road?

anon256470

Tynenol (panadol or paracetamol) is derived from coal tar. Um, we are eating carcinogens and that's OK?

anon100266

Try Dawn dish liquid to remove coal tar.

anon59154

lol coal tar over 5 percent is a list one carcinogenic, probably not a good idea.

anon57649

Listerine will cause a sting but works.

anon46461

carburetor cleaner will remove it.

anon29944

I have used a coal tar shampoo 5%. It has caused a build up on my scalp. I can also feel a film on my skin. I have tried so many things to remove it, but I have not found anything that will break it up, or dissolve it.

Thank you for any ideas you may have.

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