Without being directly informed about wet and dry carbon fiber, any normal individual may overlook the differences. Although the desired look is purely personal preference, the design, manufacturing, and care of wet and dry carbon fiber differ greatly.
The term carbon fiber is widely used to describe these similar looking panels that are effectively lighter in weight than their metal or plastic counterparts. There are differences in the way in which the panels are made, the ingredients used to make the panels, and the structural design that effect each panel’s strength, weight, and inevitably their cost.
What is Wet Carbon Fiber?
Wet carbon fiber is the carbon fiber that has that overall glossy finish to it that you might see on a high end Mercedes, for example. Generally cheaper than dry carbon fiber, wet carbon fiber can be produced mainly in one of two ways: painting or infusion.
No matter how carbon fiber is made, there are certain quality controls in the manufacturing to ensure that it doesn’t just fall apart. However, the painted method for wet carbon fiber seems to be the loosest on those quality controls. On the other hand, it’s also the cheapest option for the manufacturer and consumer.
This process involves painting an epoxy onto the woven carbon fiber structure and curing it with an exterior heating source. This is the least effective way to cure and properly bond the epoxy. This process results in a finished product that has a varied consistency in the epoxy distribution, weight, and strength. Even the slight imperfections in the epoxy during this curing process can result in drastic drop offs in structural strength.
This particular method involves using high amounts of pressure and a vacuum (clearly not a cleaning vacuum, but a vacuum in which there is absolutely no air). While the carbon fiber is weaved, an epoxy is applied to the surface and with the high amounts of pressure and a vacuum, the epoxy is pushed through the fibers until the consistency of epoxy throughout the fibers is measurably accurate. The structure is then cured and tested for approval.
Dry Carbon Fiber
Dry carbon fiber is quite a bit different. It costs more but is roughly 70% lighter than wet carbon fiber and is just as strong. The reason that dry carbon fiber looks “dry” is because it’s the most strict in terms of quality control.
Dry carbon fiber is made by coating each specific weave with a appropriate amount of epoxy while it’s being made, before it has set or cured. This optimizes its strength and limits the amount of unnecessary epoxy in the structure. This is how it significantly cuts down on weight. Because the epoxy is not coated on the surface and baked in, it has that dry look to it.
Because dry carbon fiber is so much more expensive, you’re most likely to see it only on performance cars that are enhanced for the track.
How to Clean and Protect it:
Wet carbon fiber, as you may have guessed it, looks wet and glossy. This makes it perfect for a nice poly sealant to protect from water spots, hazing, and other blemishes. If these blemishes do occur (as they do sometimes straight from the factory), use a carbon glaze or polish to remove them.
With dry carbon fiber, because it doesn’t have that gloss, you surely don’t want to add one to this finish. So using a matte cleaning kit would do a great job in protecting that look. This matte kit refers to the soap to wash it as well as the sealant for long term protection.