A Guide to Household Oils & Lubricants


Winter is synonymous with home heating. And for me, in my kitchen, when my kick space heaters crank up, so too inevitably – a squeal.

Now, that story is long, but if you are wondering – a kick space heater is a small hot water radiator, fitted with a convention fan. They are often installed in the toe-kick space of a (kitchen) cabinet. Not enough? Well, me piggies = ‘dem toasty.  And I hope you get the point.

One problem – a fan spinning near the floor, of a relatively high traffic area, and you might guess it – it/they gather dirt. And when a dirty fan is spinning (at a relatively high speed), it can produce, on certain days, a rather high-pitched squealing sound. A squeal, though, that can be effectively silenced with a little lubricant, intelligently placed.

lubricating a kick space heater

“What kind of lubricant did you use, jb?”

And thank you for asking.

Vegetable Oil? Hmmm, and I know stories surrounding its healing power are floating around, but … No, not in this case. (I mean – it ain’t a salad. Right?)
Ummm, well, it probably would have worked just fine, but Wait! There are other options (and sure – I do give that still secret-formula standby its props, later). But WD-40, with its range of uses, may not always be the best product to choose in every single case.

I used instead – a spray-on type lubricating oil made by Liquid Wrench.

“Why’d you choose that lubricant, jb?”

Wow! Well, again thank you.

First, let me start by saying that the oils and other lubricants you’ll find around the house often are proprietary formulas, a blend of oils, solvents and other chemistry unique from product to product, manufacturer to manufacturer. Which lubricant you select for a given task often comes down to the weight of the lubricant – how heavy or how light. Heavier oils of course are more tolerant to heavy use/wear situations, but also unfortunately are more likely to trap and hold dust or dirt.

refillable oil dropper

A Guide to Lubricants Used in Home Maintenance

Now, I teased with “winter” in this post, and maybe I thought about making the case that squeaks are more prevalent in the winter, but … Nah! It was just that encounter with my heaters that got me started >> A Guide to Home Lubrication … and not the kind you’d use in a personal pleasure-type way (go ahead Google it. Ha!).

As with my Guide to Common Screws, I know! … There are a gagillion and one different types of lubes and oils you could utilize around the house, but I focus here only on a select few – the most widely used household lubricants and the most common applications.  With it, another set of graphs (if I missed anything or if you disagree, please speak up – by leaving a comment below.)

I have ordered my arrays from left to right, most recommended to least recommended (but still recommended) and I hope it all helps.

Recommended Lubricant by Application

click to enlarge

Lubricants by Common Application

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How to Use Lubricants & Miscellaneous Fun Facts

“Really, jb?” Ha! well … Yes.

I want to make a distinction right off the bat between say 3-in-1 Oil, which I use to characterize a “dropper” type applied oil, and what I call (General Purpose) Lubricating Oil, which I use here to represent those lubricants coming in a spray can (and in many cases, with a supplied coffee-stirrer type straw.)

applicator straw housed on lid

If your lubricant comes with instructions, and most cans do have instructions written right on them, use them. Generally, for fine work, and if you have the option – use the applicator straw. (Many caps have a slot that allows you to store this tool after first use.) For broader coverage work, where a more dispersed spray is desired, simply use the spray-on lubricant without the straw.

In all cases, come equipped with a rag (you can make one from an old tee shirt). While most manufacturers will swear that their formula will not harm most materials, you never know. Be prepared to wipe up drips and over-spray, quick. Apply some dropper-type oils with a rag. And the method of application, drops or spray, may guide you in what you select for a given task anyway.

My Recommendations for Home Maintenance Oils and Lubricants

* Confession – I love Liquid Wrench and I used a 6-pack sample pack to build out my charts. Their, what they now call – Penetrating Oil has saved my a** many a time. Consequently, I never go near plumbing (especially shower plumbing) without it. If that fails me, B’laster Penetrating Catalyst. (Thank you Granddad!)

* Water Displacement Formulation 40 – WD-40 has their own fun facts page. From it:

– Myth: WD-40 Multi-Use Product is not really a lubricant.
Fact: While the “W-D” in WD-40 stands for Water Displacement, WD-40 Multi-Use Product is a unique, special blend of lubricants. The product’s formulation also contains anti-corrosion agents and ingredients for penetration, water displacement and soil removal.

WD-40 contains 50% Mineral Spirits.

 Crayola® Stain Removal Tips recommends using WD-40 to remove (regular) crayon marks from a variety of surfaces.

Miscellaneous Home Maintenance Lubricants

To date, WD-40 claims more than 2000+ uses for WD-40 Multi-Use and I myself have been known to use it, unconventionally, to moisten my finger in smoothing long caulk beads (sans saliva & … water) … they even have a place to submit your own.

* Like WD-40 and 3-in-1 Oil, most of the products listed also have excellent cleaning, protective and polishing capabilities.

* Plumber’s Grease, like White Lithium Grease, (from what I can tell) also has a base of Lithium.

* Lubricants are used in metal cutting, drilling and sawing. Mineral Oil seems to be a popular option for knife enthusiasts. Petroleum Jelly, aka Vaseline, is described at times as a thick mineral oil and will do in a lot of cases in a pinch.

When I probed some of my friends about what they use to protect their tools, I heard – Johnson’s Paste Wax, as well as fervent cries in favor of WD-40.  Others swear by products from Boeshield (on Amazon here).

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* Building Moxie‘s own Barry recommends Trumpet Valve Oil in some applications because of its lightness.

* Silicone Spray is the lightest lubricant that I list.


That’s it, hope it helps and enjoy. For more on home maintenance and the thrills of Homeownership, visit our top level links. For more useful guides, please visit our category called, well, Guides. ~jb