Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Removing Coal Tar/Asphalt from shoes

Asphalt and Coal Tar are two distinct substance which are used construction of tarmac roads. Asphalt is used as a binder and coal tar is used as a sealant. And so if you are wearing new shoes (whose soles haven't had yet got coated with fine dust particles and hence become desensitized to sticky substances) and step on an area which has just been resurfaced, you are sure to get this dangerously sticky mixture of asphalt and tar and crushed rock aggregates embedded in crevices of your shoes' tread pattern.



Of course newly laid roads are required to be dusted with certain powder to make them not stick to tires and shoes.. but being India... sigh!
Anyway, so I got them shits stuck to my shoes .. what was I supposed to do?

A cobbler outside my office (and google search: team-bhp), told me that it was possible to remove the guck from my shoes using kerosene... but again, being India, its difficult to get your hands on any kerosene if you aren't classified as being Below Poverty Line and/or don't possess a Ration Card. And fuel stations refuse to sell diesel loose.

So I turned to WD-40 as suggested by remove asphalt from shoes & remove bubble gum (youtube).

So I got a small can of WD-40 (60 Rupees), a brush meant for scrubbing and washing clothes (30 Rupees), a few cotton wipes and a paper cutter and set to work.

I sprayed WD-40 onto the guck. The WD-40 sort of dissolves the tar/asphalt mixture and this loosened up the crushed rock. I had to meticulously and slowly remove all the rock from the treading using the paper cutter blade - all the while being careful not to inflict cuts and nicks onto the soles. Then I scrubbed the remaining guck and small rock off using the clothes brush. I had to spray WD-40 a couple of times while incising the rocks off of the soles as well as while scrubbing. I used the cotton wipes to clean the dripping WD-40 off during and after scrubbing.

40 minutes later, my shoes were as good as new.. of course a little sticky tar/asphalt still remain embedded in the treading - but that I can (and have to) live with.




I wiped the work area (the floor tiles) clean using WD-40 and cotton wipes. Also got some browny liquid (tar dissolved in WD-40) on my hands and feet, WD-40 was good to remove that too.

WD-40 is available from local hardware/electrical stores. There is another brand available in India called Zorrik-88 - the hardware store guy said that this has the same formula as WD-40, but I decided to go with the original.


I had also brought a steel wire brush (Rs.20), which I didn't use coz I was worried about damaging my new shoes.

The whole experience reminded of a similarly harrowing-but-in-the-end-satisfying experience shared by Robert Lucky in IEEE Spectrum : Remote Control
In the end he says:
I take pride in my little achievement that no one but another engineer can appreciate. But I'm an engineer, and I'm supposed to be able to do things like that. 

PS. This Asphalt/Tar mixture is called "Dambar" in Hindi. Also WD-40 is extremely inflammable.. so in case you smoke, don't worry, you are dead either way :P 

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