Company Profiles

It’s a can of magic

WORDS BY IAIN CURRY      IMAGES BY WD-40 – for Australian Car Mechanic

WD-40’s original use was to protect the outer skin of a missile’s balloon fuel tanks from rust.

Removing dirt and grease from parts and tools is just one of the many uses a mechanic can do of WD-40.


For more than 60 years WD-40 has been a staple for mechanics around the world. But just how brilliant is this secret stuff in the instantly recognisable can?

It’s the blue and yellow can that could well be the most iconic and instantly recognisable product in your garage or workshop. As a mechanic can you imagine life without some WD-40 within easy reach? You’re almost naked without it.

Some workshops get through gallons of the multi-use penetrating oil and water-displacing spray such is its effectiveness in many tasks, while in your garage at home you may find an oily fingerprinted old can your dad gave you a few decades back, and guess what, it still works.

WD-40 is just one of those brands people seem to swear by because, quite simply, it works.

It’s a cliché, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, as well as literally hundreds of other tasks: more than 2000 if you check out the exhaustive list on the WD-40 website.

Each can is an inexpensive problem solver that probably everyone reading this will have used to get them out of a fix, be it displacing moisture from wiring to finally get a spark of life, or miraculously, when you’d all but given up, finally help lubricate and shift that most stubborn of nuts that had been rusted in place for an eternity.

But how much do you know about WD-40, the little lifesaver with the distinctive and reassuring smell we are all so familiar with?

It was developed in 1953 in San Diego, California, by a chap called Norman Larsen. Its name stands for “Water Displacement, 40th formula”, suggesting it took Larsen 40 stabs to perfect his product. Its original use was to protect the outer skin of a missile’s balloon fuel tanks from rust, but was soon discovered to be handy for numerous other tasks too, so was made available to the general public in San Diego in 1958. Such was its popularity its distribution soon spread, and is now on sale in 187 countries around the world.

Exactly what its ingredients are remain a mystery to all but a few (we did ask, but no joy), but the company do reveal what it doesn’t contain, namely silicone, kerosene, water, wax, graphite, CFCs or any known cancer-causing agents. Oh, and there’s no fish oil in it either, no matter what your mate insists. WD-40 also says although the known uses are in the thousands, they can be broken down to five basic functions: it cleans, protects, lubricates, penetrates and displaces moisture, while it can be used on just about everything safely, from rubber to metal, wood to plastic.

As for its place in the Australian market, Nick Roberts, the country manager of the WD-40 Company (Australia), said we’ve been buying the blue and yellow canned stuff here since the early 1970s. The product has cemented a place on our domestic market ever since, with Mr Roberts mentioning the brand’s recent naming rights sponsor tie-in with V8 Supercars, meaning we now have the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint as well as it being the official multi-use product of the V8 Supercars. “V8 Supercars is a perfect fit for us, we know that many WD-40 users are passionate about what they do, be that in trade, DIY, or sport and that same spirit is shared with V8 Supercars,” he said.

We challenged Mr Roberts to come up with the most common ways a mechanic uses WD-40, and maybe a few others that may be unknown gems. Obvious ones are displacing moisture from electrical wiring; driving moisture from a flooded engine; loosening up stuck spark plugs; preventing car door seals and windscreen wipers from cracking, and making removal of nuts and bolts easier.

Less well known is by spraying WD-40 on the inside of door panels to prevent rust; removing dirt and grease from parts and tools; lubricating tools and helping remove surface rust from them too.

On the aesthetic front, how about trying it for removing tar, bugs and bird poo from painted surfaces, or buffing out scuff marks on bumpers? Or we’re told you can try spraying it on squeaky fan belts, leaf springs and steering wheels; it can remove sludge from the outside of engine blocks, or loosen stubborn zippers on old soft top car covers.

While the original WD-40 is basically a toolkit in a can and the brand’s number one problem solver, there are a few specialist products available featuring the WD-40 shield specifically targeted at mechanics as part of its Specialist range. “These are geared toward trade professionals specially designed for those more demanding jobs,” Mr Roberts said. Included in this range are the likes of its Degreaser, Brake & Metal Parts Cleaner, White Lithium Grease, Silicone, Dry PTFE Lubricant and Wet PTFE Lubricant. Well, you can’t expect the original formula to do absolutely everything, can you?

Most of us can recall at least one instance when WD-40 has saved us from a tight spot, helping us complete a task that otherwise seemed impossible. Maybe that’s why most of us have a very strong bond and respect for the blue and yellow can, and helps explain why WD-40 even has its own fan club with a forum, which is a fascinating place to visit to see some of the wild and varied ways people employ the stuff.

“WD-40 is a household name that has been built on trust,” said Mr Roberts. “Our consumers know what they are buying and they know it will work… that they’ll extend the life of their tools and equipment and this is a positive lasting memory. In 2001 the fan club began online. Our products work, which does lead to strong brand loyalty.”

The forum has helped WD-40 compile its exhaustive list of over 2000 documented uses for this incredible formula developed over 60 years ago, which is still a staple for mechanics working on the most modern of machinery through to those restoring, preparing and protecting classic cars, trucks and bikes.

In your next coffee break take a quick look at some of the 2000 listed uses on the WD-40 website. Some will surprise and some will inspire, but all will reaffirm what a brilliant secret substance it is contained in that familiar old spray can.

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