Thursday, February 10

The MIRACLE that is WD-40

Popular Uses for WD-40 on Bikes. I Can't Say I Recommend Them All, But There are a Few Good Ones That Hadn't Occurred to Me
WD-40, the popular name for "Water Displacement - 40th Attempt," has a mixed reputation in cycling circles. We're often told that it is not a lubricant, at least not one we should use on our bikes. However, such a statement is not really accurate. In truth, WD-40 is a heavy oil that is mixed up with lighter oils that evaporate easily. That is why it seems thin if you feel some freshly sprayed WD-40. That helps the stuff penetrate everywhere, displacing water and helping to clean and loosen things up. Used properly, it can make bicycle maintenance an easier and more pleasant chore. And I think it smells good as well. I've used it to free up many a frozen freewheel, among many other things.

My first job, after college, was working as an engineer at Rocketdyne. Yup, I was, more or less, a "Rocket Scientist (Engineer, actually). One of the products I worked on was the Atlas engine, which was then near the end of its lifespan. The Atlas Rocket was the application that WD-40 was originally developed for. Convair used WD-40 to coat the external rocket skin (as you might imagine, they needed a LOT) to keep water from corroding things. It worked so well that employees started smuggling the stuff home, and then they started selling it out of car trunks around San Diego. By the time that WD-40 helped John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth, WD-40 had become available to regular consumers. To make a long story short, the company that made WD-40, the Rocket Chemical Company, bowed to the inevitable and BECAME the WD-40 company. And it's still going strong. Pretty good for something we "shouldn't use."

WD-40 Showing a Major Early Application - Sending the Atlas Rocket and John Glenn Into Orbit

While I really don't recommend that you use WD-40 as a primary chain lubricant, it CAN be helpful in getting a wet chain dried off and clean, especially if used in conjunction with an excellent product such as Simple Green. Sprayed on the bottom of the frame, it can help winter splatter and moisture from attacking the metal in a bike frame. And, yes, WD-40 lists BICYCLE U-LOCKS as one of the favorite consumer uses.

So, if someone tries to tell you that WD-40 isn't good enough for your bike, you tell THEM that, properly used, WD-40 is one of the most successful spinoffs of the manned space program - EVER. I'll bet John Glenn keeps some around HIS house.


  1. Huh, it's listed right on the list of uses. I used to use an old Master key lock with an old curly yellow plastic covered cable.

    I know a guy who swears it helps his knees - he squirts it on in the morning and pats it off. I think that's a little far fetched.

  2. Big Oak. About the guy with the WD-40 knees - from the WD-40 company:

    " WD-40 Company does not recommend the use of WD-40 for medical purposes, and knows no reason why WD-40 would be effective for arthritis pain relief."

    So you have it - Doctors should only use WD-40 on the equipment, NOT the patients!

  3. Great story Steve. I've also heard about people using WD-40 on their joints.

    I'd like to hear what else you've worked on throughout your career.

  4. Since Wd-40 is billed as anti-corrosion I usually squirt some inside my steel frames once in a while. I also find that it does work as a good cleaner-degreaser. But on a chain, no.

  5. Cool story!
    "Hey buddy, you! over there!"
    "Uh, yeah?"
    "Check this out. I got some stuff here that displaces water."
    "NASA uses this stuff on rockets."
    "Uh, how'd you get it?"
    "Never you mind that! Want some?"
    "Come around behind the car, step into my office."

  6. Confession: Although I know it is not the best practice, I use WD-40 on my chin all winter. With the amount of crud that gets deposited on the chain almost every day, I don't even try to clean it. I just fire more wd-40 on it every few days and discard the chain when the season is over. I am bad.

  7. I'd hate to have to discard my chin after a hard winter! ;)

    Of course this is the time of year when the chaincase earns its rattly weight. I haven't touched the chain since October! Although I should probably give it a good shot of lube and a bath this weekend when it's above 32!

  8. Until his second comment, I thought Rantwick's "chin" was
    the Canadian way to spell "chain," much as they spell "gray" incorrectly. Seeing Cycler's comments, I wonder if Snopes has another
    medical WD-40 legend to pursue.

    Besides, doesn't everyone replace the chain twice a year or every 4000 miles?

  9. Very useful compilation of WD-40 and its uses!
    Peace :)

  10. I give my u-lock a shot of WD40 in the fall, enough to make the rust run out of it. And when I use it, I'm careful to turn it so the lock is at the bottom allowing any water to run out. And yes, I do that because I found the lock unusable when it was full of ice.


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