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Bitumen vs. Tar: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 30, 2023
Bitumen is a black, viscous mixture of hydrocarbons used for road construction and waterproofing, while tar is a dark, thick liquid produced by distilling organic materials like coal or wood.

Key Differences

Bitumen, often referred to as asphalt, is a naturally occurring or refined petroleum product. It's primarily used in road construction and as a waterproofing agent due to its durable and adhesive properties.
Tar, on the other hand, is produced through the destructive distillation of organic material like coal, wood, or peat. It has a long history of use for waterproofing and preserving wooden ships and buildings, though its use has diminished due to environmental concerns.
The composition of bitumen includes various hydrocarbons and elements like sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen. This composition makes bitumen highly effective for paving roads and making them weather-resistant.
Tar contains phenols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic compounds. These components give tar its characteristic odor and make it effective for coating and sealing but also raise environmental and health concerns.
Bitumen is known for its high stability and endurance, making it ideal for heavy-duty applications like highway construction. It is less susceptible to temperature fluctuations, maintaining its form in both hot and cold climates.
Tar, being more temperature-sensitive, is less stable under varying weather conditions. It's more commonly used in roofing, shipbuilding, and preservation of wood, where its protective properties against moisture and decay are advantageous.

Comparison Chart


Refined from crude oil or natural deposits
Distilled from coal, wood, or peat

Main Use

Road construction, waterproofing
Waterproofing, wood preservation


Hydrocarbons, sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen
Phenols, PAHs, heterocyclic compounds


High, resistant to temperature changes
Less stable, sensitive to temperature

Environmental Impact

Relatively lower than tar
Higher concerns due to PAHs and odors

Bitumen and Tar Definitions


A substance with adhesive and water-resistant properties.
They used bitumen to waterproof the foundation of the building.


A viscous liquid containing compounds like PAHs and phenols.
Environmental concerns have reduced the use of tar in construction.


A material known for its durability and stability in various climates.
Bitumen's resistance to extreme weather makes it ideal for outdoor use.


A dark, thick liquid produced by distilling organic materials.
Tar from coal was traditionally used for waterproofing wooden ships.


A viscous, black mixture of hydrocarbons used for paving and waterproofing.
The construction crew applied bitumen to the new road for durability.


A temperature-sensitive sealing material.
Tar was applied to the driveway but cracked in the extreme cold.


A natural or refined petroleum product used in construction.
Bitumen is a key ingredient in asphalt used for highways.


A substance used historically in building and ship construction.
Wooden structures were often coated with tar for preservation.


A hydrocarbon-based substance used in roofing and paving.
The roofing felt was coated with bitumen for added protection.


A product with distinct odor, used in roofing and roadwork.
The smell of tar was evident as workers repaired the roof.


Any of various flammable mixtures of relatively nonvolatile hydrocarbons that occur naturally or are obtained by fractional distillation of petroleum. Bitumens are used for paving, roofing, and waterproofing. Also called asphalt.


A dark, oily, viscous material, consisting mainly of hydrocarbons, produced by the destructive distillation of organic substances such as wood, coal, or peat.


How is bitumen produced?

It's primarily a refined product of crude oil.

Is bitumen natural or synthetic?

It can be both, naturally occurring in deposits or refined from crude oil.

What is bitumen?

Bitumen is a black, viscous mixture of hydrocarbons often used for road construction and waterproofing.

Can bitumen be recycled?

Yes, particularly in road construction.

How is bitumen applied?

Applied hot or emulsified into a liquid form.

What are the uses of bitumen?

Commonly used in road construction, roofing, and waterproofing.

Can bitumen be painted over?

Yes, but requires specific primers and preparation.

What is tar?

Tar is a dark, thick liquid produced by the destructive distillation of organic matter.

What are tar's main uses?

Used in road surfacing, roofing, and as a sealant.

Can tar be used for waterproofing?

Yes, especially in roofing and boat building.

What is the difference between asphalt and bitumen?

Asphalt is a mixture containing bitumen as a binder with aggregate.

Is bitumen environmentally friendly?

It raises concerns due to its petroleum basis and production process.

What are the health risks of tar?

Contains carcinogenic compounds; inhalation and skin contact can be harmful.

Can tar be mixed with bitumen?

They can be mixed, but it's not common due to their different properties.

What environmental concerns are associated with tar?

Pollution from production, toxic compounds, and difficulty in disposal.

What are the safety concerns with bitumen?

Exposure risks at high temperatures and fume inhalation.

How is tar applied?

Typically heated and applied in a liquid form.

How is tar different from bitumen?

Tar is derived from coal, wood, or other organic materials, not petroleum.

Is tar still used in road construction?

Less common now due to environmental and health concerns.

Is tar biodegradable?

No, it's resistant to biodegradation.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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