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What is Coal Tar?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Jan 24, 2013

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.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 24, 2013

@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.

By orangey03 — On Jan 23, 2013

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?

By anon275925 — On Jun 21, 2012

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

By anon274379 — On Jun 11, 2012

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

By Sh0p20121 — On Apr 24, 2012

Can coal tar be used in building a gravel road?

By anon256470 — On Mar 21, 2012

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

By anon100266 — On Jul 29, 2010

Try Dawn dish liquid to remove coal tar.

By anon59154 — On Jan 06, 2010

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

By anon57649 — On Dec 25, 2009

Listerine will cause a sting but works.

By anon46461 — On Sep 25, 2009

carburetor cleaner will remove it.

By anon29944 — On Apr 11, 2009

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.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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