WD-40 Q&A

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Dear NH,

I'm dying to know... how did WD-40 get its name??? Also the ball peen hammer... just have to know! Please advise.


According to the WD-40 Company, the name "WD-40" originated in 1953 when the product was first developed. The company, originally known as the "Rocket Chemical Company", was trying to design a protectant for metal parts on rockets to prevent rust and corrosion by displacing water... hence the "WD" for water displacement.

The "40", on the other hand, indicates that the formula (still in use today, by the by) was the 40th attempt to get it right! And they did. Talk about persistence!

Let's 'hammer' down an answer to your second query! The "peen" on a hammer is by definition the end of the hammer head opposite the striking surface. In carpentry hammers, the peen is commonly a claw or wedge. On a ball peen hammer, the peen is ball shaped. To discriminate it from the common carpentry hammer, or "good ol' hammer", it is referred to as a ball peen hammer. This special purpose hammer is used in the hands of a skilled craftsman for shaping sheetmetal, their deft hammering technique curving and shaping it. Others of us just look at this unusual tool and wonder how to pull a nail with it.

Hey, I hope you can sleep again now.

Dear NH,

Excellent site!! Lots of very good information. I wish I had known of your site when I started in business, 'cause it would have saved me a lot of time, trial and error. I am probably at a similar level of skill and knowledge, but there were still gems of info to be found.

The one caveat I would like to share is that WD-40 is NOT a lubricant. Please note that nowhere on the cans bottles and literature does it say lubricate. Although there is an amount of "slipperiness", this is a rapidly evaporating carrier. The primary function of WD-40 is a solvent and rust dissolver. It "lubricates" by breaking stuck bonds, not by making something less "frictionable" for any length of time. Silicone, Teflon and Lithium are better, more longer lasting choices for true lubrication.

For example, Holmes Halley garage door machines call for monthly lubrication and specifically advise against WD-40 and recommend white lithium grease. An initial spray of WD-40 may help dissolve old layers of grease and dirt build up, but needs to followed up by an application of an actual lubricant for best results.

Keep up the good work.


Dear KG,

Thanks for the kind words. WD-40 is in fact marketed as a lubricant. In promotional literature they sent to me upon request, the WD-40 Company wrote, "The five basic functions of WD-40 -cleaning, lubricating, penetrating stuck metal parts, displacing moisture, and protecting against rust and corrosion- translate into thousands of uses."

However, they also minimize the lubricating qualities in another passage, stating that "WD-40's unique ingredients enable it to clean/degrease,... protect metal and provide light lubrication." So, whether you agree or not with its lubricating properties (I have mixed feelings myself... click here to read our full WD-40 article at HERE ), WD-40 is indeed sold as a lubricant and I'll bet that many people who use it use it for that purpose. I think this may be partially due to the fact that WD-40 predates silicone spray by decades and whole generations of home handymen used it to good result before better spray lubricants arrived on the marketplace. Sort of a "legacy lubricant" you could say!

As far as the recommendation to use lithium grease, this is not as much a put down of WD-40 as it is a recognition of the fact that in some type of mechanical devices, a solid grease is just plain better! This is especially true in devices where there is lots of room for the lubricant since greases work best in thick applications. Also, I would wager that the company discourages the use of WD-40 for the very reason that it will too-thoroughly clean the old grease from the part, leaving it vulnerable to premature wear.

Lubricants such as WD-40 or my more favorite silicone spray are not very effective except in tight places where only thin lubricants are effective. This is why no one in their right mind would suggest using a spray lubricant on automotive bearings, for example. Other characteristics, such as a grease's ability to withstand high temperatures and its thickness, are also used to determine the correct grease for any application.

You are absolutely correct and wise in sticking to the manufacturer's recommendations for lubrication on any device... they should know best the lubricant that will keep the machine humming along.