We recently took a deep dive into the ingredients in Goo Gone to find out just how safe (or not…) they are. Now we’re going to look at another similar product that’s commonly found in homes and garages: WD-40.
We’ll look at each of the ingredients, answer some of the most frequently asked questions about WD-40 safety, and then give you some better alternatives you can use instead.
Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- What is WD-40?
- Is WD-40 Toxic?
- Aliphatic Hydrocarbons
- Petroleum Base Oil
- Carbon Dioxide
- WD-40 Poisoning Symptoms
- Is WD-40 Toxic to Dogs & Cats? What About Babies & Kids?
- Is It Harmful to Plants?
- Can WD-40 Irritate the Skin?
- Is WD-40 a Carcinogen?
- Is WD-40 Toxic to Inhale?
- Is WD-40 Flammable?
- Is WD-40 Teflon?
- Can You Use WD-40 for Fishing? Does It Contain Fish Oil?
- What Can You Use Instead of WD-40?
What is WD-40?
WD-40 technically qualifies as a “water-displacing spray.” Most people use it as a lubricant on things like door hinges and car parts, but it can also be used as a rust preventative and adhesive remover.
You might be surprised that WD-40 isn’t actually a lubricant though. It’s a solvent (which is something that dissolves other things). The reason it acts as a lubricant is because it dissolves things like rust and dust particles, which is often what’s causing the squeakiness and stickiness.
What Are the Ingredients in WD-40?
The exact formula of WD-40 is a trade secret, and has been since its invention in 1953. So, unfortunately, it’s impossible to determine precisely how safe or unsafe WD-40 is.
However, WD-40 does disclose general ingredient classifications on its Safety Data Sheet (SDS). We can use the information on this sheet to get a good idea about the potential risks of using, inhaling, and ingesting WD-40.
Even though there are several different versions of WD-40, we’ll be focusing on the standard consumer version for the purposes of this article. Here are the ingredients listed:
- LVP Aliphatic Hydrocarbon
- Petroleum Base Oil
- Aliphatic Hydrocarbon
- Carbon Dioxide
Is WD-40 Toxic?
To get a better idea of the health and safety risks of WD-40, let’s take a closer look at each of the listed ingredients one by one:
This is a group of chemicals that’s also referred to as petroleum distillates. Examples include methane, butane, octane, propane, and others. As we discussed with Goo Gone (which also contains petroleum distillates), many of these chemicals are known toxins according to the CDC, OSHA, the EU Globally Harmonized System (GHS), and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
Potential health risks include:
- genetic defects
- respiratory problems
- central nervous system (CNS) impairment
- organ damage
- damage to a fetus or unborn child
- drowsiness or dizziness
- skin irritation and allergy
- death (if ingested)
- danger to aquatic life
In other words: there is plenty of evidence that the first listed ingredient in WD-40 can be toxic. The level of risk, of course, will vary according to the exact ingredient and concentration, which is not information WD-40 is not willing to publicly disclose. Like similar products, acute effects will be more likely if someone ingests a lot of it in a short amount of time, while chronic concerns may be more likely if someone ingests it on a regular basis over a long period of time (such as in a work setting).
Petroleum Base Oil
Again, this could be a pretty wide range of ingredients (for example, Vaseline falls under this category). Despite their ubiquity, petroleum oils are not actually good for you.
These oils and jellies contain high amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—a compound that is naturally found in crude oil and coal. Over time, these compounds can build up in the body and cause adverse health effects to your central nervous system, cardiovascular system, kidneys, and G.I. tract. They’re also carcinogenic and can potentially disrupt hormone function as well.
So even though we don’t know what exact ingredient is used here, it’s likely not a good one since nearly all of these petroleum-based products come with risk.
The main issue here is not necessarily from exposure to WD-40 every once in a while, but the consistent and long-term exposure to these chemicals every day, throughout our whole lives. WD-40 is just one product, but these PAHs are everywhere and that’s part of the problem.
Using compressed CO2 is what makes WD-40 spray-able. While we know that there is way too much CO2 in our atmosphere, spraying a little bit of WD-40 is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s emitted every day by burning fossil fuels. So this isn’t really an ingredient you have to worry about.
WD-40 Poisoning Symptoms
If you use WD-40 as directed in well-ventilated areas, most people shouldn’t experience immediate severe symptoms. (Rather, as stated above, the health risks that come with exposure to petroleum-based products are more likely caused by longterm use, as these chemicals build up in one’s body over time.)
However, if someone ingests WD-40, inhales too much at once, or is extra sensitive to chemical exposure due to a chronic condition, then it may be helpful to know what to look for in terms of WD-40 poisoning symptoms. This information comes from the company’s SDS:
- Inhalation: High concentrations may cause nasal and respiratory irritation and central nervous system effects such as headache, dizziness, and nausea. Intentional abuse may be harmful or fatal.
- Skin Contact: Prolonged and/or repeated contact may produce mild irritation and defatting with possible dermatitis.
- Eye Contact: Contact may be irritating to eyes. May cause redness and tearing.
- Ingestion: This product has low oral toxicity. Swallowing may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This product is an aspiration hazard. If swallowed, can enter the lungs and may cause chemical pneumonitis, severe lung damage and death.
Is WD-40 Toxic to Dogs & Cats? What About Babies & Kids?
As you can see from the above poisoning symptoms, WD-40 can be toxic when ingested. The problem with pets and kids is that they don’t always know what they’re NOT supposed to lick. So if you use WD-40 around the house, you may want to make sure it’s only used in places that pets and small humans can’t reach. Otherwise, we suggest using one of the safer alternatives below.
Is It Harmful to Plants?
Yes. Some people actually recommend using WD-40 in your garden because it can kill and repel pests and weeds. However, those who recommend this method instruct users to only spray around your plant, not on it, because WD-40 can burn plants.
Also keep in mind that WD-40 contains synthetic and petroleum-derived ingredients. That means if you prefer to grow your plants using organic methods, you should keep the WD-40 far away from your garden.
Can WD-40 Irritate the Skin?
Yes, according to the company’s SDS, WD-40 can cause skin irritation. It’s best to use gloves and do not let the product sit on your skin for a prolonged period of time.
Is WD-40 a Carcinogen?
WD-40 states that “None of the components are listed as a carcinogen or suspect carcinogen by IARC, NTP, ACGIH or OSHA.”
This is questionable though, considering that petroleum-based products have at least some potential to cause cancer since they all emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Without knowing the exact ingredients, it’s impossible to get a definitive answer to this question.
Is WD-40 Toxic to Inhale?
Yes, WD-40 can potentially cause nasal and respiratory irritation and central nervous system effects such as headache, dizziness, and nausea—especially when inhaled at higher concentrations. You should always use WD-40 in moderation and in a well-ventilated area.
Is WD-40 Flammable?
Yes, it’s an extremely flammable aerosol.
Is WD-40 Teflon?
You may be familiar with Teflon. Most know of it because of non-stick pans, but the same chemicals (mainly polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE) are also used to make waterproof products, sprays, and coatings.
Although they can have similar purposes, the makeup of the original WD-40 and Teflon sprays are different. Petroleum is the base of original WD-40, whereas PTFE is the base of Teflon sprays. WD-40 (the company) does, however, have their own version of PTFE spray: WD-40 Specialist Dry Lube.
We recommend staying away from all PTFE products, as they are linked to a variety of serious health effects such as kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and pregnancy-induced hypertension. If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out the documentary called The Devil We Know and the movie titled Dark Waters. These two films chronicle the shameful actions by DuPont (Teflon’s manufacturer) to cover up the negative health effects caused by their products, even after they knew about it.
Can You Use WD-40 for Fishing? Does It Contain Fish Oil?
There are some myths out there about WD-40 and fish… Some have said that the main ingredient in WD-40 is fish oil, that it’s great to clean your fishing hooks, and that it actually attracts fish when you use it on your hooks.
Most of this isn’t true. As we’ve already discussed, the main ingredients in the product are petroleum-derived synthetics, not fish oil. As for whether or not it can attract fish, the company debunks this too, saying “While WD-40® can be used to help protect fishing equipment from rust and corrosion, WD-40 Company does not recommend using WD-40® to attract fish.”
We don’t recommend using it for fishing at all, since many petroleum distillates can be toxic to aquatic life.
What Can You Use Instead of WD-40?
There are actually plenty of safer WD-40 alternatives, many of which you probably already have around your house!
Using a natural cooking spray like this olive oil is a great WD-40 substitute that’s easy to apply and will leave your hinges lubricated. Plus, if your dog or cat ends up licking some of it up, you won’t have to worry.
Other Cooking Oils
Although using a spray may be more convenient, you can also just use regular olive, avocado, or other vegetable oil. Simply apply using an old cloth rag, paper towel, or cotton swab. (Coconut oil, however, is not ideal because it can solidify at lower temperature.)
Sometimes lubricant is actually just a short-term band-aid; it doesn’t actually solve the problem. If something is stiff or squeaky, it might just be because it’s dirty. Try washing and rinsing it with dish soap—it might help even better than any oil or lubricant can!
Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV may not lubricate something, but it can help to dissolve the contaminants like dust that are making things sticky and squeaky in the first place.
If you really like the function and feel of WD-40 and would prefer to stick with that, you might want to try Gear Hugger. It’s plant-based and free from petroleum products and PFAS. It does include some synthetic polymers, but the main ingredients are soy and coconut oil. It’s also Prop 65 compliant.
Other Plant-Based & Food Grade Lubricants
Companies like PlanetSafe Lubricants and Renewable Lubricants manufacture lubricants and other similar products that are not only significantly safer for the users and for the environment, but are made to work on heavy machinery and more. If the above household products aren’t going to cut it for you, go with one of these brands instead of WD-40.
Even though we don’t know the exact ingredients or concentrations that WD-40 contains, we do know that it’s mostly made of petroleum-derived ingredients, which come with a host of potentially adverse health effects (especially when they build up in the body over long periods of time). For this reason, we recommend skipping the WD-40 and instead use one of the more natural household products or less toxic industry-grade lubricant alternatives listed above!
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