WD-40 Myths

I received an email with the subject of “WD-40 IT WORKS!” the other day. Anytime I see an all capitals subject line I know I’m in for a bit of craziness. 🙂 I love WD-40 but, it is a chemical that should not be treated as lightly as it seems many people do.

The not so good information in the email seems to be posted at many places on the web including:

Snopes has a version of the email that is very similar to the one I received. They took the time to ask the WD-40 makers for their thoughts about the list and received a revised list with many items removed. This is very good as some of the suggestions for usage in the email contradict the companies usage instructions and are potentially dangerous. The WD-40 company publishes a “List of 2000 Uses” containing the following caution, which is also on their web site.

The uses of WD-40 described on this website were provided to WD-40 Company by end-users of the product, and do not constitute recommendations or suggestions for use of WD-40 by WD-40 Company. These uses have not been tested by WD-40 Company. Consumers should exercise common sense whenever using WD-40. Always follow the instructions and take heed of any warnings printed on the WD-40 packaging.

This caution statement should help keep the WD-40 Co. safe from law suits arising from using WD-40 in dangerous ways. However I feel that rather than just slap up a legal disclaimer they should really have a list of things not to do with WD-40.

Lets take a look at some of the badly wrong statements from the email. The first one that is very misleading is this sentence. “Ken East (one of the original founders) says there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you.” According to the 2003 WD-40 Company Annual Report:

The name WD-40 stands for Water Displacement on the Fortieth Try. That is the
name straight out of the lab book that was used by the chemist who discovered the
compound back in 1953. Norm Larsen was attempting to concoct a formula that could
prevent rust and corrosion  a task that is accomplished by displacing water. Norm’s
persistence paid off when he perfected the formula on his fortieth try.

… the product is still mixed at the corporate headquarters in San Diego by a single brewmaster. His name is Ken East, and he has been with the Company for 9 years.

So Ken East is not “one of the original founders” and didn’t even start working there until 1994, 41 years after WD-40 was created. Considering the ingredients list shown in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) I doubt very much a sane person would say “there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you.” I’m just guessing but, I bet Ken East wears protective gear when he handles the ingredients.

The MSDS shows that its main ingredients are all petroleum distillates:

Aliphatic Petroleum Distillates
Petroleum Base Oil
LVP Hydrocarbon Fluid

This clearly shows the following statement from the email to be completely false.

P. S. The basic ingredient is FISH OIL.

This is an urban legend that is completely false, Like all man made petroleum products there are health affects from exposure and WD-40 ranks a 2 on a scale of 0 to 4 for health hazard on the MSDS. Also from the MSDS health hazard section comes these cautions and first aid instructions.

Symptoms of Overexposure
Inhalation (Breathing): May cause anesthesia, headache, dizziness, nausea and upper respiratory irritation.
Skin contact: May cause drying of skin and/or irritation.
Eye contact: May cause irritation, tearing and redness.
Ingestion (Swallowed): May caused irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
First Aid Emergency Procedures
Ingestion (Swallowed): Do not induce vomiting, seek medical attention.
Eye Contact: Immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for 15 minutes.
Skin Contact: Wash with soap and water.
Inhalation (Breathing): Remove to fresh air. Give artificial respiration if necessary. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen.
Pre-existing medical conditions such as eye, skin and respiratory disorders may be aggravated by exposure.
Aspiration Hazard: If swallowed, can enter lungs and may cause chemical pneumonitis. Do not induce vomiting. Call Physician immediately.

To someone not familiar with MSDS sheets this may look very bad. However by MSDS standards this is a mid-range hazardous substance. If, like me, you aren’t too worried about health problems from things like air pollution, second hand smoke, mercury from thermometers or lead from electronics then WD-40 is not a huge problem, you just simply need to be cautious and follow the instructions on the can.

In addition to not being a good idea to eat, breathe or cover yourself with WD-40, an often overlooked danger is the flammability. Looking again at the MSDS we see that WD-40 has a flash point of 131°F making it rather flammable which is one reason why the company issues this Special Precaution in the MSDS:

Keep from sources of ignition. Avoid excessive inhalation of spray particles, do not take internally. Do not puncture, incinerate or store container above 120°F. Exposure to heat may cause bursting . Keep can away from electrical current or battery terminals. Electrical arcing can cause burn-through (puncture) which may result in flash fire, causing serious injury. Keep from children.

Here are some of the bad and potentially dangerous uses from the email along with my comments why I think they are bad.

3) Cleans and lubricates guitar strings.

Who wants slippery guitar strings?

4) Gives floors that ‘just-waxed’ sheen without making it slippery.

You’ve got to be kidding me, a lubricant that makes almost anything slippery some how magically doesn’t make floors slippery.

5) Keeps flies off cows.

While it may keep the flies off, petroleum distillates aren’t good for the cow’s health and might hurt the flavor of the food products made from the cow.

6) Restores and cleans chalkboards.

I once accidentally got some on a slate board, it left a shiny surface that had to be cleaned with a solvent before the chalk worked well again.

7) Removes lipstick stains.

It might remove the lipstick but depending on the fabric it may leave its own stain or damage the fabric.

10) Removes stains from stainless steel sinks.

As long as you never intend to put food or cooking utensils in the sink it might work. Myself I find that steel wool does the best job of cleaning stainless steel sinks without any chemicals needed. The next bunch are all bad ideas for one or more of the reasons given already, (slippery, stains some materials, bad to eat, bad to breathe, bad to get on skin, flammable).

11) Removes dirt and grime from the barbecue grill.
13) Removes tomato stains from clothing.
14) Keeps glass shower doors free of water spots.
15) Camouflages scratches in ceramic and marble floors.
20) Gives a children’s play gym slide a shine for a super fast slide.
25) Restores and cleans padded leather dashboards in vehicles, as well as vinyl bumpers.
29) Lubricates fan belts on washers and dryers and keeps them running smoothly.
31) Removes splattered grease on stove.
32) Keeps bathroom mirror from fogging.
36) Folks even spray it on their arms, hands, and knees to relieve arthritis pain.
38) The favorite use in the state of New York WD-40 protects the Statue of Liberty from the elements.
39) WD-40 attracts fish. Spray a LITTLE on live bait or lures and you will be catching the big one in no time. Also, it’s a lot cheaper than the chemical attractants that are made for just that purpose. Keep in mind though, using some chemical laced baits or lures for fishing are not allowed in some states.
40) Use it for fire ant bites. It takes the sting away immediately and stops the itch.
41) WD-40 is great for removing crayon from walls Spray on the mark and wipe with a clean rag.
42) Also, if you’ve discovered that your teenage daughter has washed and dried a tube of lipstick with a load of laundry, saturate the lipstick spots with WD-40 and re-wash. Presto! Lipstick is gone!

P. P. S. I keep a can of WD-40 in my kitchen cabinet over the stove. It is good for oven burns or any other type of burn. It takes the burned feeling away and heals with NO scarring.

This last one is really bright, keep a can of a rather flammable substance right by the stove and then spray it on your skin. If you’ve got an electric stove you’ll probably get away with this but if you’ve got a nice open gas flame you could be in for a hot surprise. If you’re one of those people who likes to put grease on burns try something a bit less likely to catch fire like petroleum jelly or butter. Frankly I still follow the burn advice I was taught by paramedics in my Boy Scout first aid course, ice to stop the pain and if a blister pops then use a clean bandage and antibiotic ointment to prevent infection (for 3rd degree burns see a Doctor, no exceptions).

I love WD-40 but it is a chemical that should not be treated as lightly as many people do. Respect chemicals and they can help you greatly, misuse them and you may regret it.

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