Oils whose primary use is for lubrication.
Machine oils are a class of thin light petroleum oils used for undemanding lubrication, such as small machinery, hand tools etc. They are also widely used to thinly coat steel tools before export, preventing rust.
Sewing machines and many other appliances use machine oil.
Some machine oils are edible, such as for use on food processing equipment, some are not.
Baby oil is a highly refined petroleum oil, much like a food grade machine oil, with a little mild perfume added. Its a very convenient way to buy a machine oil for many DIYers. (The method of its extraction from babies remains a closely guarded secret.)
Engine oils are excellent lubricants. They are highly stable petroleum derived oils, with additives to enhance their stability even further.
20/50 was once the most common engine oil grade, but 10/30 took over as the dominant grade a couple of decades ago. 10/30 is less viscous, and pumping it uses less energy. Engine oils are much more viscous than machine oils.
Used engine oil
Used engine oil is blackened by engine deposits and assorted burnt matter. It still lubricates, but there is potential for toxicity of a contaminant. Used oil is also believed to be carcinogenic to some degree, and garage staff are advised to use gloves when changing oil. These issues plus its gross dirtiness make it very unpopular for DIY use.
50/50 used engine oil plus paraffin or diesel has long been used to preserve exterior woodwork. Its cheap, but is dark in colour and the engine contaminants are an issue. New oil and paraffin/diesel at least avoids these issues.
Used or new engine oil can be used for steel hardening.
Castor oil was the original engine oil, and the source of the name Castrol. Its still available for historic vehicles designed to use it. Its a fixed grade of oil, unlike today's multigrades, so its viscosity varies more with temperature. Its much more prone to gumming than modern engine oils, and is not suitable for modern engines.
Gear oils are designed to survive higher shear forces than engine oils. Engine oil is not recommended for gearboxes (with the exception of the original Mini, which was designed to work with engine oil).
2 stroke oil
Another petroleum lubricating oil. Designed to produce minimum smoke and residue when burnt.
Silicone oils and greases are much more expensive than other (carbon based) oils. They have fewer DIY uses, but are particularly effective for applications with plastics and rubbers which may be damaged by more traditional oils.
- insulate well electrically
- conduct thermally.
- are not flammable
- don't degrade plastics and rubber compounds - and so are commonly used in some plumbing applications with plastic fittings and rubber O rings.
- remain stable at high temperatures (over 200C)
Silicone oils are also found in anti-flatulence products, though this is possibly more 'don't do it yourself' than DIY.
DOT 5 Brake Fluid
Brake fluid is used in most automotive brake and clutch systems. While Dot 3, 4, and 5.1 are glycol ether based, DOT 5 is actually a silicone oil based fluid.
An anti-fling oil. Wrongly specified oils should not be used as substitutes, in some circumstances this can lead to an accident.
Drip-fed automatically into compressed air feeds for lubrication. Not recommended for lubricating air transport companies.
They have other uses too.
Diesel, 35 second oil
Red diesel and 35 second oil are the same product.
- Also known as gas oil.
Red diesel is only legal for non-road use.
Its occasionally used as heating oil for old installations. 35 and 28 second oils aren't interchangeable, 35 second requires a larger burner jet and causes more heat exchanger fouling.
Red diesel has 2 markers, one visible (red), one not. These stain filters. It also has added perfume that gives engine exhaust a distinctive smell.
Diesel filled tankers are labelled UN1202.
Despite being a petroleum fuel, diesel is not highly flammable. Applying a naked flame to a pool of diesel is unlikely to light it.
Diesel makes a cheap release agent when casting concrete in wooden forms.
Best known as a fuel for heating & old blowlamps, paraffin has several other uses too:
- mix with oil to make a penetrating oil
- engine oil flushing additive
- cleaner especially effective for all types of vehicle & road dirts, oils, tars, bitumen, etc
- insect repellant - sometimes a little was applied to window frames to discourage insects
- softens scalpings to make it cold layable
Paraffin can be used neat for cleaning car parts, or it can be mixed with water & a detergent.
Paraffin is now also known as:
- premium kerosene
- kerosene C1
- premium burning oil (PBO)
Paraffin has been dyed with several different colours over time, including blue, pink, yellow, green.
Heating oil, 28 second oil
- 28 second heating oil,
- kerosene C2
- Tankers are labelled UN1223
Widely used for central heating. Its a less refined grade of paraffin, so the 2 are interchangeable for many uses.
Since it can run an engine it contains a yellow dye plus a 2nd invisible marker to detect illegal on-road use. Its not the same grade as road diesel, its thinner, but it can run a diesel engine. The long term effects of this vary widely depending on the engine design, some engines tolerate it long term, some don't.
Supply of 28 second oil is a competitive market that tracks crude oil prices. Its worth phoning around and pitting the suppliers against each other.
Deodorised dyed paraffin, avoids creating the famous oil heater whiff.
High Viscosity Oils
Very thick treacle like oils are used on their own in dashpots, such as used to slow the opening of cassette deck doors.
They're also sometimes added to car engines to thicken the engine oil and reduce the blue smoke output of a worn engine. These oil thickeners are available from car accessory shops.
Penetrating oil is a mix of thin oil and a cutting agent such as paraffin which cuts the oil's viscosity.
If no penetrating oil is to hand, a mix of oil and a viscosity cutter (eg paraffin) works. Thin oil and paraffin are best.
Solvent oils are mainly used for cleaning off difficult deposits, like waxes and ballpoint pen ink. Orange oil is used in commercial cleaners, and olbas oil is often to hand.
Mostly used in decorative finishing
- Thins oil based paints, but greatly extends drying time
- Enables water based paints to adhere to a greater range of surfaces (mix in 1-2% linseed oil)
- Makes a range of putties & mastics
- Thins linseed putty
- Makes tack rags
- Used in some finishing oil mixtures for wood
- Distinctive strong pleasant smell
Raw & boiled Linseed
Raw linseed oil is just linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil is nowadays linseed oil with added chemical dryers. Boiled oil sets to a gum over a few days, raw either doesn't set or takes an extremely long time. Boiled should be used in all the above applications except tack rags.
Wood finishing oil. A very variable mixture.
A furniture oil with around 30% varnish, creating a sheen on drying.
Additives & alternatives
Engine oil & paraffin
A 50/50 mix is useful for
- penetrating oil
- corrosion inhibitor - but can become slightly sticky
Diesel may be used instead of the paraffin.
Graphite is a solid lubricant. Graphite powder is sometimes added to oils to improve lubrication, and in some cases can even be used instead of oil. Its electrically conductive, which rules out some uses.
Graphite is used to lubricate locks, as unlike oil it doesn't attract muck.
PTFE aka Teflon is another dry solid lubricant.
PTFE produces toxic products if overheated, and should not be used in tasks where this is a possibility.
PTFE is a good electrical insulator.
A white powder used to lubricate locks. Less liable to stain than graphite.
Although not often used to reduce friction in DIY, it can be used as a temporary very low friction barrier between materials, such as when moving heavy items into place. Bin bags, rubble bags & dust sheets are suitable supplies.
Can be added to oil to cut its viscosity temporarily. It eventually evaporates.
As paraffin, but even slower evaporation.
Several plant derived oils are used for cooking. These lubricate, but over time they gum up badly. This greatly limits their use, but they're fine for jobs such as lubricating screws. Feeding the DIYer is the main use.
Vegetable oil is also occasionally used to clean oily, greasy or bituminous muck off hands. The veg oil is then washed off with soapy water. This sometimes works with clothes too.
Most margarines are plant oil (sometimes fish oil) based, with a large percentage of added water. These can sometimes be used as a last ditch lubricant, but they gum up eventually. The water content gradually dries out, but can cause corrosion until it does.
Hair conditioners are normally oils, and produce gloss and increased control. Oils are used in 2 ways: mixed in with shampoo for mild conditioning, or applied on their own after washing for stronger conditioning.
Commercial hair conditioners tend to use thick oils such as palm oil, castor oil, jojoba etc. Thin oils give less result. Lanolin grease produces stickiness.
Oil in shampoo
A little oil added to shampoo makes a conditioning shampoo. The percentage of oil is small enough not to produce any oily feeling or stickiness.
A spoonful of oil added to a litre of shampoo makes a very mild conditioner, or less than one drop per application. Oil content can be increased, but oil in shampoo gives an inevitably mild result.
The oil separates out on standing (commercial conditioners include an emulsifier to prevent this.) The mix needs shaking before use.
If a 2nd small container is used for the conditioning mix its easy to control how much conditioning you use each time, for better results than using the same conditioner strength regardless.
Oil after washing
A little oil is applied all over the hands, and rubbed into hair. The result is much glossier than oil in shampoo.
When using margarine, ensure its all spread over hands before applying, you don't want lumps!
Palm oil is a thick semi-solid natural oil, and a widely used hair conditioner in some countries. Its available from Asian grocery stores, and in low cost supermarket baking margarines.
Castor oil is another effective conditioning additive, but availability of the oil is poor, and allergic reaction to the castor bean is a known, albeit rare, phenomenon.
A good choice for sore skin that might rub & hair conditioning.
Vegetable cooking oils are thinner than the more usual conditioning oils, and less effective. Sometimes its adequate for mild conditioning.
Margerines are oils emulsified in water, and make a convenient way to apply hair oil. Palm oil margerine is sold as low cost baking marge.
A few branded products are well known in DIY and deserve their own mention. The well known brands have their uses, but all can be replaced with other good products at a fraction of the cost.
3-in-One is a brand of oil, marketed for lubrication, cleaning of metal and protection against rust. It is prone to becoming gummy, which limits its usefulness for lubrication. Nevertheless, it comes packed in a small can with a spout, so it comes in handy for all sorts of jobs.
At least one manufacturer of air conditioners recommends 3-in-One for use during making-up of flared pipe connections, because it does not contain unwanted additives.
WD40 is usable as a lubricant, penetrating oil, water displacer, rustproofer, cleaning solvent, and even as a cocaine use preventer according to the manufacturer. For each task there are better & cheaper options, but WD40 is one widely available product that can do all these when needed.
There are complaints online of Appliances that have been ruined by the indiscriminate application of WD40. Opinions are mixed on whether there are common products and materials to which it should not be applied, such as some rubber & plastics.
From the manufacturer:
- Rubber - OK with most rubbers on light surface spraying, some rubber will swell with prolonged exposure or immersion.
- Plastic - Mostly OK, but polycarbonate and polystyrene may stress craze or crack in contact with WD40.
WD40 used to contain white spirit and a little mineral oil, replicating which is simple. Now it contains a different mix of solvent petroleum fractions.
WD stands for 'water displacer.' Water displacers are of limited use in DIY today, primarily used
- to reduce rusting of tools in damp storage
- to start wet engine powered tools & mowers by displacing water from the high voltage electrics
Machine oil is the temporary coating of choice for preventing rust, and is widely used as a temporary rust prevention coating on imported steel tools.
WD40 also acts as a weak penetrating oil, though there are cheaper and better options out there, such as automatic transmission fluid.
WD40 is not a great lubricant as it contains mainly solvent, and tends to strip out existing lubricant, sometimes causing premature failure of motor bearings. And it can become gummy. But it's good enough for less demanding lubrication jobs.
WD40 can be used as a cleaner in some situations since it contains petroleum solvents. Paraffin & white spirit are much cheaper alternatives that don't leave an oily residue.
Test for plastic compatibility.
Paraffin, dry washing powder on wetted hands and vegetable oil all tackle the types of dirt swarfega is used for.
Inevitably opinions vary on this, so this list is just intended as a quick starting point guide.
A good kit of oils for DIY may contain:
- Machine oil (thin lubricant, rust prevention)
- Engine oil (thick lubricant, car)
- Paraffin (cleaning, insect repellant, additive)
- Penetrating oil (frees corroded fixings)
- Linseed oil (paints, putties, polishes etc)
- Graphite or boron nitride (lubricating locks)
The following might tempt the occasional DIYer, but are not usable for DIY.
Petrol deserves a brief mention simply because it is not usable for any DIY use outside of running engines, but occasionally someone decides to try it as a substitute. It's highly volatile and creates an explosive cloud of gas/air mixture, which is liable to ignite from a flame or spark feet away. Poeple have been severely burnt this way.
Inhaling the amount of fumes caused by painting with it can cause anything from migraine to death.
Petrol contains benzene, a known carcinogen that is absorbed through the skin. data
Petrol is occasionally used to treat hair lice, with sometimes tragic results.
Petrol tankers are marked UN1203.
Glow plug engine fuel
Glow fuel is intended to power small 2-stroke internal combustion engines used in model aircraft, boats, and cars. Its typically a mixture of industrial caster oil (or a synthetic substitute), methanol, and a percentage of nitro methane (typically varying from 5% to 40% depending on the formulation). There are various different formulations, but the methanol and nitro methane can be very dangerous (even fatal) if significant quantity of fumes are inhaled. While far less explosive, the toxicity can make it more dangerous to handle than petrol.
So while it contains a significant quantity of lubricant, its not suitable for use as a general lubricant, and would be dangerous to use in most circumstances.
Viscosity is measured in cs (centistokes), seconds, W or WT.
Centistokes are a standardised measure.
Seconds ratings are timings made in various ways, such as how long a given cup with hole takes to empty, or how long a ball takes to fall through the oil.
W and WT are not standardised measures, and the same viscosity oil could receive a different W rating by different manufacturers.
The viscosity of oils varies widely with temperature. Higher temperatures produce a thinner oil. This is of course undesirable for some applications. Multigrade oils (ie 10/30 and 20/50) are designed to vary in viscosity less over temperature change.
While there is more than one possible cause, vehicles with smoky engines are usually suffering from wear, which either allows tiny amounts of engine oil into the cylinder, or allows oil past the valve seals into the hot exhaust gases. Either way the oil burns, producing exhaust smoke with a blue tint. This gets past worn valve seals more often than piston rings.
Replacing 10/30 with 20/50 is often done to reduce smoking. Adding an oil thickener can reduce smoke output further. These are of course not proper cures and not manufacturer recommended, but have got a lot of cars through MOTs.
Many people bemoan the difficulty of finding a keyboard with a good key action. Almost any keyboard can be made to work well by oiling the stems of the keys. A screwdriver and knife are used to lift each key upwards, force is required and the key must remain level. A tiny fraction of a drop of machine oil is applied all round the key's stem, and the key pressed back in. After a few key presses the stem is then lined with a film of oil, and even unusably stiff keyboards are transformed into gooduns. Obviously don't use vegetable oil, it congeals over time.
Any type of oil or substitute can be used on screws, including margarine, a drop of oil from last night's curry, frying pan grease, candle wax, even chocolate. Plant derived oils gum up in time, sticking the screw firmly in place.
Oil lines should use only compression fittings.
New oil tanks must now be bunded to prevent contamination in case of leakage.
Storage of large amounts of flammable fuel oils is strictly regulated by law.
Cleanup methods include:
- Applying an absorbent, such as wood powder or cellulose. This is standard in industry.
- caustic soda
- hot pressure washing
- burning the contaminated materials
Re-using the oil for something else is sometimes an option. Otherwise oils should be disposed of at the local tip, where it's recycled.
It's also possible to buy commercial workshop heaters that run on used engine oil. This is cheap to run, but there are concerns over contaminants.
Heating boilers have occasionally been modified to burn used engine oil. The relatively viscous oil must be preheated before a boiler not designed for such fuel can fire.