How to repair potholes in asphalt pavement

By Brad Tom

We have been paving roads in the US since the late 1800s and we have had deal with repairing potholes in them ever since. Repairing a hole in asphalt is not difficult but making sure it stays repaired for years can take a bit of planning. Because Hawaii has hot humid weather that can often include rain almost daily in some parts of the island, repairing asphalt is critical. Since we are owned by a local paving company in Hawaii, we found it important to advise local home owners how to care for your property. We will go over the basics of asphalt pothole repair but as with anything, read labels for all products to ensure your products are applied correctly.

Why Is There a Pothole?

Potholes form when enough asphalt material gets dislodged from your pavement to form a hole. It usually starts off as an alligator crack (series of interconnected surface cracks) in the pavement. Once water gets between the aggregate that is “glued” together by asphalt, you will start to lose material and cracks develop. Eventually vehicle traffic will loosen and dislodge chunks of pavement and result in a pothole.If water gets into the subbase, you risk the integrity of the foundation that your asphalt is built upon. Therefore, it is critically important to ensure your asphalt pavement is repelling water to keep intact. Routine sealcoating will help maintain waterproof integrity of your asphalt.

What Material to Patch Your Asphalt Pothole With?

Unless you have access to asphalt road paving equipment you have to rule out hot mix asphalt (what roads are created with). Your choices of asphalt patching material can be divided into two categories. Cold patch and newer rapid curing asphalt patch. Both options are used for different effects. Cold pothole patch has been around for many years. It is aggregate mixed with an oil bitumen-like binder that hardens over time like hot mix asphalt. Hot asphalt oils start to harden when its temperature cools down from around 185°F. Cold patch on the other hand cures over time. Most municipalities use it for quick pothole fixes because it is cheap and easy. But because it needs time to cure, it is not an ideal solution to repair areas that expect immediate slower moving traffic. If turns are made on the newly laid cold patch as it will form ruts.

Newer stronger and faster curing pothole patch has been developed that overcomes cold patch’s shortcomings. The newer instant patches use polymer blends to bind the aggregate together with either air or water to immediately harden. Since the curing time is reduced substantially, you can drive over the patch immediately and continue using the road. The newer patches also will hold its form and therefore can be used on edges and corners. The newer generation of rapid curing asphalt patches also form harder bonds and will stay in place much longer than cold patch mix and can be considered a permanent patch. We sell Instant Road Repair® (IRR) by International Roadway Research. There are others on the market, but IRR can be applied in any weather and even in rain, is non-toxic, doesn’t need to be primed and doesn’t need water or additive to start the curing.

Homeowners Asphalt Pothole Repair Instructions
  1. Prepare hole to be filled. Clear away all loose rock and debris from the area to be patched. Make sure the patch has solid sides that it can adhere to. Remove any crumbling sides to ensure the patchwill stay in place. The hole should be at least 2” deep but no deeper than the original asphalt layer. You may have to fill the hole with rock or dirt and tamp down to ensure a solid foundation to place your patch upon.
  2. If using cold mix or other filler not IRR, the hole must be completely dry for the patch to adhere to the surrounding sides. You may have to wait for a clear sunny day to ensure the hole is completely dry.
  3. Fill with patch mix. For cold mix, follow bag instructions. You should just be able to fill hole directly with mix from bag. If it is a large hole, fill in sections at a time, tamping down to compact the mix. For rapid curing Instant Road Repair® fill in and tamp down. For other rapid curing patch mixes you may need to mix with water or other liquid before filling. Follow container instructions.
  4. With all mixes, fill so that you have a peak in the middle of the hole that is about 1” or for larger holes 2” above the level of the surrounding asphalt. This will allow for spreading during compaction. Compact the mix with a pothole tamper to begin pounding out the asphalt aggregate to flatten it out. Driving over the hole with a vehicle will help the compaction if you do not have a vibrating plate compactor. The better you can compact the mix before it completely cured, the better chances of the patch lasting.

To view a video of someone using Instant Road Repair® or if you have questions, visit our site:

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