Myths, Secrets And Lubrication: The Chemicals Behind WD40

There’s a can in every home… almost! It’s probably one of the most recognisable brands, used to lubricate, prevent corrosion and clean, to mention just a few. It truly is the multi-purpose universal problem-solver around the house. If something is stuck, get the WD40!

The Chemicals Behind WD40

There’s a can in every home… almost and it’s probably one of the most recognisable brands

But, have you ever wondered what chemicals are in it? You may be surprised to know that, although the company markets the product as a special blend of lubricants and anti-corrosion components; as well as water displacement and soil removal ingredients, the exact composition remains a 50 year old secret. The company is quick to add that any information available indicating composition is completely inaccurate, as they never actually patented the product. This clever tactics means no competitors have access to vital information and WD40 reigns supreme in the lubrication department!

Naturally, inquisitive minds started wondering what may be in it and how can it be used. One of the most popular myths is that it contains fish oil. This started after some fishermen swore by adding WD40 to their fishing gear as a trick to get their catch, and assumed one of the ingredients was fish oil. This is not so. Stoddard solvent (also known as white spirit) is another frequently cited ingredient. From the minimal information required in the MSDS sheet for their product, we can see that the formulation does contain 50% mineral spirits, but the products used have been refined and purified beyond recognition, to achieve various chemicals with specific properties, and don’t fall under that umbrella any more.

The term Stoddard solvent may no longer be appropriate, but at least it tells us that a mixture of C6 to C12 hydrocarbons is responsible for many of the products’ characteristics. For example, decane (C10H22), ensures WD40 stays liquid in freezing temperatures (decane’s freezing point is – 53 degree Celsius), whereas nonane (C9H20) gives WD40 its water repellent properties (nonane cannot bind to hydrogen or oxygen) and dimethyl naphthalene (C12H12) is used as a solvent. One final chemical disclosed by the company is CO2, used as a propellant. The company swapped from the standard propane and butane in an attempt to protect the environment, although CO2 can be just as devastating.

WD40 manufactures boast over 2000 uses, but some “extra” interesting applications have developed over the years, including questionable medical uses. Although completely refuted by the company, a popular headline keeps coming back to the papers relating how some patients maintain that WD40 can be used to reduce pain in arthritis when applied directly to the skin. Suffice to say, we do not recommend that you try this at home.

Alex Reis
Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biological sciences. She has several years experience in scientific writing and research, with various scientific manuscripts published in high impact factor journals, including Nature Cell Biology, as well as articles promoted in more mainstream publications.
Alex Reis
Alex Reis
Alex Reis

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