Fish-Eye Reducer: Is It Addictive?

Legend has it that if you use fish-eye reducer once, you have to use it forever. Here, finishers argue the point, pro and con. November 27, 2007

Someone mentioned in a post that if you use fisheye reducer through your gun, you contaminate your gun and getting it clean is very, very difficult, since fisheye additive contains silicon. I have never had fisheye occur, so I have never used an additive. Has anyone else experienced this?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor S:
I'm wondering the same thing. I heard that if you put the reducer in a batch of lacquer, you have to continue putting it in if you have to re-spray a piece that had the reducer mixed in the finish. Does that make sense? Also, wouldn't some lacquer thinner run through the gun flush it out enough?

From contributor I:
I have heard that too and have used fisheye killer from ML Campbell in pre-cat through a cup gun (Devillbiss), and then afterward went back to not using it and didn't have any issues. But in no way should you take my word for it, as I don't want anybody coming back at me - it is just my experience.

In my opinion, the best thing to do is to go to your local auto body supply retailer or a site like Harbor Freight Tools, Grizzly, etc. and buy one of their 20 dollar gravity guns, use it and then either throw it away, or put it in a safe place until you need to use it again for the same purpose. A 20 dollar throwaway gun is by far cheaper than a rework in the future due to contamination.

From contributor G:
That is my plan too. I have several Harbor Freight guns, but I just replaced my Fuji HVLP gun and I don't want to put it in harm's way.

From contributor C:
Yeah, it's very true - take it from someone who has been refinishing for 40+ years. Silicone is something you want to avoid at all costs. Yes, you can use smoothie or SW fisheye additive or many others - but once you contaminate your coating, you also contaminate the gun, your shop (due to overspray), and possibly even other surfaces that you need to spray that would not have needed to have treated finish applied! In the refinishing business, it was common practice to add fisheye remover to all the coatings all the time whether they needed it or not, just to be safe rather than sorry. So many people used cleaning products such as Johnson's wax or Pledge that when it came time to refinish, everything was contaminated and the refinisher would contaminate his whole shop with silicone in the process. Once it is in the shop, it is there for good. Try not to use it in your shop at all. Take projects like that to a refinisher instead and keep your shop free of the problem.

Also keep in mind that the sanding of both the finish and wood surface on contaminated surfaces infect the shop with fine particles of siliconized material that can cause future problems. And these may show up sporadically from time to time also. So be wise and keep it out of your shop altogether. Throwaway guns are not the answer unless you do it outside and away from your shop.

From contributor W:
I would just add to what contributor C said... If you have to clean up stuff that is contaminated, use paper towels and Xylene.

From contributor G:
When I have to do serious cleanup, I use acetone. Is there a particular reason for xylene versus acetone?

From contributor B:
I have always had good luck wiping surfaces with toluene, but I think xylene would work just about as well. Fisheye removers are silicone; they create an area of low surface tension so that the coating flows over the contamination area (essentially makes the fisheye so big you can't see it). I don't see any real benefit in using it either. Just make sure your work is really clean and you should not have problems.

From contributor M:
A lot depends on how badly the piece is contaminated. If it's badly contaminated, most solvent will not prevent it from fisheye. Silicone is like a virus, it not only will effect the coating, it will penetrate into the wood very erratically. It's a very unpredictable finishing problem. Never take it for granted, or look for an easy way out. It will burn you.

From contributor W:
We had a problem with some doors a while back that were finished with CV. The customer had used Pledge on them. The only thing that worked effectively at removing the silicone was xylene and a pile of paper towels. We would only use the paper towels for one wipe, then pitch into a trash bag. The acetone probably would work as well, but it flashes off too fast.

From contributor D:
A very small amount of silicone is often added to coatings by the manufacturer, so there is a very good chance the coating you're using already has some silicone in it. I have had no fisheyes that I could pin directly to the silicone additive as a result of using it on an as-needed basis. If it was true the additive caused later fisheyes unless always added from that point on, then if I don't add it, I should be experiencing fisheye trouble with every job down the line after exposing the equipment to the additive. That just isn't my experience. Despite my use of a shot here and there, my fisheye trouble is infrequent. In a refinish shop, the causes of fisheye are too many to list.

Finally, what is the terrible consequence caused by the silicone additive? My coatings manufacturer says in very small amounts there should be no detrimental effect on the coating performance. If you go overboard, it can cause the coating to look a little grayish or hazy. Other than that, I don't understand why the level of alarm against using it?

From contributor L:
Contributor D, your experience mirrors what I have found in my refinishing shop. I use silicone in my lacquer when I need. I have used the same gun on the same piece without cleaning the gun and no silicone added and not gotten fisheye. The contamination of the entire shop by properly used silicone is no doubt a rumor started by the fisheye killer salesman. You've got to admit it's a pretty good line. I hate to think of how many people are scared silly to shoot lacquer without fisheye killer being added to every mix. An 8 ounce bottle of fisheye killer usually lasts me 2-4 years. The best way to eliminate fisheye is to pay attention to getting furniture clean when you strip.

From contributor C:
I was a formulator for several coatings companies in the 70-80's and we never added silicone to the coatings. Please let me know where you got your information from so I can stay away from those companies. As far as I know, outside of Star and Mohawk spray cans, no one else offered a siliconized coating product. And they were strictly for touchup and field recoat work. You feel comfortable now because you have not run into a serious fisheye problem so far, and that is good, but sooner or later if you're refinishing, you will, and your stand on this will dramatically change. In finishing with occasional use, maybe you've gotten away with it, but there is nothing more consternating than getting ready to topcoat a job and then running into a fisheye problem where you have to sand it out or barrier coat or other, and then find where it's coming from, and rid the problem by whatever means necessary. Once you have a serious fisheye problem you will not talk lightly about it again, I promise you.

From contributor D:
I am a full time refinisher of 30 years. Yes, I have fisheye trouble from time to time. I am well along the learning curve in that department. When I do see fisheye problems, they are usually minor and I add just a little fisheye preventer and it usually goes away. If it's crawling all over, time to strip and start over, or sometimes just wash it back down with thinner. Not that big of a deal.

Fisheye preventer is made and sold by all major formulators, so if it is such a bad thing to put in their coating, why do they manufacture and sell it? Are they trying to sabotage their own customers?

I'm just saying I think the assertion that once you use fisheye preventer, you have to use it all the time, is one of those things that I've read a hundred times and not once have I seen details of experience to prove that conclusion. My opinion is based on what I've observed in my own use of the product, which I spoke of in detail earlier.

From contributor C:
I'm beginning to wonder if you're having fisheye problems due to silicone at all. Are you telling me that you put fisheye eliminator in one coat and not in the next, and you don't get fisheyes in that coat? As for sabotage, no, they are not sabotaging themselves or their customers - they have no choice but to offer a way to eliminate the problem.

Silicone additives, both silicone oil type 1 and silicone resin type 2, are here to stay as long as cleaning and polishing products manufacturers continue to use them in their formulas. They do nothing to enhance the coating's performance like other additives commonly used to do so. UV stabilizers, HALS - hindered amine light stabilizers, anti-foaming, anti-blocking, slip agents, and all other performance additives have a good purpose in their use. Silicones or siloxanes do not improve the coating's performance; they are a contaminant, and are only used to combat a problem that exists due to use of others who manufacture siliconized cleaning products.

The reason you have to use it all the time is this... I estimate how long a job will take me before I quote the price. If I don't take into consideration fisheye problems and I end up spending hours taking care of those problems, then I lose money on the job. I don't like losing money, so I make it a habit to add fisheye killer to all my coatings so that time is not wasted combating the problem as the job progresses. It might not have been necessary, but no one wanted to take the chance. You have to remember when you strip a contaminated piece, be it flow over, vat, or other - you contaminate your stripper. If you then strip a piece that was not contaminated, you contaminate it by default! When you sand the piece, the sanding dust contains particles of silicone that can contaminate whatever they land on. When you apply and sand your sealer, the sealer dust contains silicone particles and if you wipe or blow the dust off, it further contaminates your work space. It gets on your clothes, your hands, and in time invades your entire shop. And no matter how well you clean your shop, occasionally it will pop up as a problem, usually when it's least affordable time-wise or money-wise to bite you in the butt.

To me it sounds like you have fisheyes smaller than the heads of pins and have never encountered severe fisheye where an ounce of fisheye additive per quart is needed to prevent or stop it? No matter how clean you strip your work, if it's heavily contaminated, you're not going to rid yourself of its presence. The only sure way to do that is to emulsify the oil with an ammonia wash and scrub and then power wash it off with clean water. I'm glad that you are not experiencing what I've experienced, and I hope your luck holds out. You did not give me the names of those coatings companies that put silicone in their finishes.

From contributor J:
When I was a coatings rep back in Wisconsin, I had an account that would order 5 to 10 gallons of fisheye eliminator every week or two because it got out of control. The customer wanted us to add it to the formula but we had a policy that silicone was only sold as a post additive. We didn't want the problem of cleaning tanks with silicone or having them dedicated solely for formulas with silicone.

From contributor L:
I'll see your 40 years experience and raise you 10 years. Do not assume that only small fisheye has been encountered, unless you consider quarter size small. Yes, I will shoot fisheye killer in one batch and none in the next batch on the same piece and it works. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I don't think so. Mr. Murphy is a full time resident of my shop.

From contributor C:
Next time you get quarter size fisheyes, use your fisheye eliminator in the next coat as you say you do, and then spray the surface with either a gun you've never had fisheye in or a spray can of coating and tell me if it then re-fisheyes.

From contributor O:
I'm with contributor J here. We've had bad fisheye before and were using the remover in every batch. We actually stopped using the stuff suddenly a few months back with no problems, not having to even clear out the lines.

Today is the first time in several months I've had some fisheye, but I imagine it's something with the new girl, being this is her first day as well. I'll probably add a little remover, stop what's contaminating the work, and then cease adding it.

From contributor D:
"A very small amount of silicone is often added to coatings by the manufacturer, so there is a very good chance the coating you're using already has some silicone in it."

I made this statement earlier and there was some question about it, so I contacted another rep I know who represents a world-wide manufacturer of coatings. He affirmed what I was told by my local formulator. In his words, "Silicones comprise a large and varied family of chemicals. Most of them are not the problem we associate with the name. Coatings manufacturers routinely use various silicones to do all sorts of good things for the coatings."

So there you have it. This is not secret information, but I am not going to disclose his name or company. However, please don't take my word for it. I would simply encourage you to you take the time, as I did, to contact the manufacturer of whatever coating you use.

From contributor F:
We use fisheye additive in our refinishing shop on an as-needed basis. Afterward, I break down my spray gun and clean all parts using lacquer thinner. In 20 years I have never had any major issues after I have stopped using the additive.

From contributor J:

I have had to service some of the largest furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturers in the US. And let me tell you, when fisheyes occurred, who do you think they called? Not the finishing foreman or paint mixer, but me. Have any of you that say that a little fisheye eliminator is no problem ever tried to find the source of the problem? Well, that was my responsibility. I had to back track and investigate. Mix and spray out multiple drum and bulk storage systems. The results were many. As stated before, employees were probably the largest contributor. But I also had some unique findings. I had fisheyes when 3 different batches of catalyst were used together. If only 2 of any of the 3 were used, it wasn't a problem. I also found a customer who used the same pump to pump a vinyl sealer and conversion varnish out of bulk storage. When the varnish got low, too much of the sealer would get into the topcoat because they had a circulating line and the sealer would get into the topcoat in small amounts until it contaminated the last 40 or so gallons left in tote tank.

You guys that have the shops and can control your problems without calling your coatings rep, good for you. If adding some silicone takes care of your problem and there are no side affects, good for you also. I wish I had more customers like yourself that were more self-sufficient.