“You can fix that with just a few drips of lubricant…” Have you ever heard that before? Easier said than done! There are dozens of lubricants available, which one is optimized for what you need? Read this article to find out the 3 most common lubricants for home and auto applications!

Squeaky garage door? Sticky door lock? Rusty hinges? Stiff window or sliding door? Chirping fan motor? The list goes on and on….! Which lubricant should be used to solve these relatively small, but exceedingly annoying problems? You know one exists, but you don’t want to make the problem worse by using the wrong stuff!

This article is meant for deciding between the best lube to use for small jobs, I won’t cover things like engine oil and transmission fluid, even though those are of course lubricants. Here we’re talking common lubrication jobs that don’t already have a standard lubrication.

Also, if you just want to quickly lubricate something and you don’t really care about the perfect solution or ruining some paint or plastic parts, there’s always 3-in-1 oil. It’s drippy and attracts dust and dirt, but hey, it works (and it smells nice!).

Okay, after all that, I know what you’re thinking, “Can’t I just use some WD-40 and be done with it?” After all, some people swear by WD-40 and use it for everything. Well, it might work for a while, but the problem with WD-40 is that it is not really a lubricant. It is a water-displacer (that’s what “WD” stands for). This means that it is more of a solvent than a lubricant. It is designed to clean and then dry out, rather than lubricate. Don’t get me wrong, WD-40 is great for cleaning off the gunk, but it does not work (nor is it intended) as a lubricant.

If you want to take a more optimized approach, check out the 3 main lubricants for the house and shop.

3 Main Lubricants

There are 3 main lubricants that will cover 90% of the lube jobs that you will have. These lubricants are:

  1. Silicon Spray – light lubricant safe for rubber, plastic, and paint. Great for snow shovels and snow-blowers to keep snow from sticking.
  2. White Lithium Grease – medium lubricant for metal-on-metal like hinges.
  3. Penetrating Oil – loosens seized nuts and bolts.

Next we’ll cover which sorts of applications each one is optimized for in more detail.


Silicone Spray

Silicone spray is very slippery and best for applications where you have metal rubbing against something non-metal such as plastic or rubber. Silicone won’t deteriorate non-metalic parts, so it is safe for areas where you need a light lubricant, but don’t want to damage the paint. But beware, silicone spray will create a coating that will make painting impossible! So make sure you block any over-spray and keep it off of surfaces that you will want to paint eventually.

Good applications for silicone spray include: car window tracks, house window runners, drawers with plastic wheels on metal tracks, rubber seals on car doors, lubricating o-rings, closet door wheels, cabinet drawer rollers, spray onto snow shovels and snow blowers to keep snow from sticking, locks and keys, rubber seals, compost tumbler, outdoor patio umbrella, etc…

White Lithium Grease

White lithium grease is a little heavier lubricant than silicone and it repels water. It is ideal for metal-on-metal applications (not ball-bearings where there is a rolling, rather than rubbing action). Tends to spray on as a thick foam. It is great for lube jobs where you need it to stick around for a while, for example, in areas where there may be rain or snow. Lithium is petroleum-based and will deteriorate plastic, rubber, and paint, so don’t use it for those applications. Another benefit of white lithium grease is that it has a high temperature rating.

Good applications for white lithium grease include: garage doors, hinges, vice screws, c-clamps, car door hinges, hood and trunk hinges, car hood trunk and door latches, folding aluminum lawn furniture, patio door wheels (if metal-metal), exercise equipment, bike and motorcycle chains, plow springs, bike pedals,

Penetrating Oil

Penetrating oil is used to loosen and lubricate rusted, corroded and seized parts. The Liquid Wrench version works better than PB Blaster and WD-40. My dad once found an old rusty pocket knife out in the woods. We estimate it had been out there for 30-40 years. Needless to say, it was a big chunk of rust. He applied penetrating oil every day for 2 weeks, and eventually he was able to open the blade! After cleaning off the rust and a little more lubricating, it is now a fully functional knife. Penetrating oil works best when it has time to sit on the part, soak in, and penetrate into the tiny cracks. It may take some time to be fully effective (10 minutes to several hours, more for extreme cases…).

Applications for penetrating oil include: loosening an oxygen (o2) sensor from an exhaust system, loosening rusty automotive nuts and bolts, loosen a shower valve, loosen screws on outdoor light assemblies, loosen lug nuts, seized bicycle parts, brake caliper bolts, seized alternator bolts, rusty fasteners, corroded bolts, rusty license plate bolts, stuck alignment pins, etc…

Want a handy wall-chart of various lubricant uses? Check out this pdf from the Family Handyman.

Hey! I hope you found this helpful!

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