{ In the End, the Question Becomes Not, 'Can a Can of WD-40 Be Used Up Completely in a Week?' but Rather 'Can it Be Used at All?' }
Heidi McDonald
photograph by Jen Urich

WD-40 - jen urichIntroduction
A press release from the WD-40 Company issued 14 January 2003 marked the beginning of "The Great State Debate", a promotion whereby people determine which use of WD-40 best represents their home state. Examples like "keeping lobster traps rust-free in Maine" are found at www.wd40.com. Thus is formed the scientific question, "What are the best uses for WD-40 in Pittsburgh?"
   This experiment involves finding a subject unfamiliar with the product WD-40 and its uses, and requiring the subject to expend an entire eleven-ounce bottle within a week's space. In order to keep subject's minimal knowledge of the product intact and truly test the subject's resourcefulness, subject is not allowed to visit the WD-40 Web site for suggestions, but may ask friends and family members for advice.

The Subject
The subject is a thirty-two-year-old white female who works full-time in an office and resides in Pittsburgh's East End with a husband, a seven-year-old daughter, a five-year-old son, and a beagle. Subject resides in a one-hundred-fifteen-year-old Victorian home and has no aptitude in matters of automotive maintenance, home repair, or engineering. Subject has never purchased or used product, and has previously referred to it solely as "some sort of lubricant," proving that subject is perfect for this experiment due to her demonstrable lack of knowledge.

The Product
The product is WD-40, manufactured by the WD-40 Company in San Diego, Calif. The product's label states that it "lubricates moving parts, cleans most surfaces, protects against rust and corrosion, penetrates to free stuck parts, and displaces moisture to wet or flooded equipment." The product avers usability "on the job, at home, on the farm, and in recreation," and is sold in the automotive section of most department stores. Product is officially licensed by NASCAR, and while the propellant of product is listed as CO⊂2, nowhere in the directions, uses, or warnings are the ingredients of the product listed on its label.

The Preparation
Taking her husband's advice, subject traveled to K-Mart. Subject erroneously looked for product first in the sporting goods section, then finally finding it in the automotive section. Subject purchased one eleven-ounce bottle for $2.49. (After having scanned the entire store for product, subject also emerged with an eyeliner, nylons, a greeting card, a paperback novel, one bag of peanut M&M's, and one bottle of Aquafina water.)
   Subject had previously thought of product as a lubricant. Upon reading the product's description as "flammable, under pressure, and harmful or fatal if swallowed" on the label, subject deleted the following product uses from her list:

  • coat cake pans
  • clean gas oven
  • beagle deterrant
  • detangle daughter's hair
Subject sent an e-mail to her friends and family:
I am required for an experiment to purchase a bottle of the lubricant WD-40 and find uses for it, so that I use up one entire bottle of it in the course of one week. I have been encouraged to ask my friends and family for help and ideas, but NOT to visit the wd40.com website. So, artists, engineers, mathematicians, computer people, and the rest of you with a sick sense of humor....What better crew to ask for advice on the uses of WD-40...and nothing sexual, please. And Dad, while you may see this as an opportunity to promote your business, I'm NOT mentioning Tupperware anyplace in the article, so please think of something else.

Responses to subject's e-mail were varied:

My favorite use is fixing squeaky stroller wheels. I have also used it to get sticky stuff off things...like the pesky price stickers they stick on picture frames etc. Not real original, but it works.
WD-40 is NOT a lube!! I met the guy who invented it and the WD stands for water displacement. It is a good rust buster also but the lubricant properties evaporate quickly. WD-40 is great if your distributor on your car gets moisture in it or if your spark plug wires are arcing when it is damp out. Keep it away from your drums though.
Use it to make things smell like diesel fuel.
The "40" part comes from the fact that it's the 40th version of the Water Displacement product. It took the scientists 40 tries to get it right, if that tells you anything...so just please be careful, OK?
Recently, my key wouldn't turn easily in the front door. So I dug out the WD-40, but the 'straw' had disappeared. I don't know if you've tried spraying WD-40 into a lock without the 'straw', but it goes everywhere *except* into the lock....
Can you add a sheen to fake fruit with it? Give Malibu Barbie that freshly-baby oiled look? Would it waterproof canvas? Does it kill bugs?
Armed with the above responses and the uses suggested on product's label, subject proceeded with experiment.

The Experiment
Day One: Wednesday (in which subject finds a use for the product, "on the job")

  • Subject's co-worker experiences computer shutdown due to Klez virus; subject good-naturedly offers product to the co-worker to fix her computer and receives a cold reception.
  • Subject hears her boss's office chair squeaking and offers to fix the squeak with product; boss seemingly ignores her.
  • Subject amuses herself on the workplace elevator by wondering if the elevator would be quicker if she squirted product on the cables.
  • While on the phone, subject sees a bug of significant size walking across her desk and remembers her friend's question: "Does it kill bugs?" Subject finds that product kills bugs quite effectively. Co-worker sticks her head into subject's office and says, "Ugh. What the heck is that smell?"
  • Subject, mind wandering during a Board Meeting, realizes that the best "truly Pennsylvanian" product uses probably involve the trailer hitches on Amish buggies in Pennsylvania Dutch country, or cleaning the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Day Two: Thursday ( in which subject finds a use for the product, "for recreation")
  • Subject removes small red straw from product and attempts for 15 minutes to get the straw successfully inserted into the product's dispenser. Subject telephones husband and asks, "Is the straw supposed to just stick there, or am I supposed to hold it there with the other hand?" Subject's husband tells her "the straw fits right in there." Subject and husband then proceed to argue for ten minutes about whether or not the straw fits.
  • Subject decides to steady the straw with her left hand while spraying with her right. Subject decides to test the water displacement theory by going home at lunchtime and squirting product on her snow-covered front porch. Subject sprays her name onto a corner of the porch. Subject is mortified to realize that no water displacement has occurred, and in fact, the yellowish color of her name written in the snow has caused her porch to resemble a certain Frank Zappa song. Subject decides that's enough for today.
Day Three: Friday (in which subject attempts to find a use for the product, "in the home")
  • Subject uses the e-mails she has received from her friends and relatives to draw up a list of possible product uses around her home. Subject decides that while the smell of her husband's one pair of shoes bothers her, the "smell of diesel fuel" would not be an improvement. Subject also decides that while product would fix her five-year-old son's squeaky bedroom door, she'd really rather still hear the child sneaking out of bed at night. Subject realizes dejectedly that she is at a loss for any other immediate uses of the product in or around her home.
  • Subject's mother calls, having just received the e-mail about the product, and sings a Joe Diffey song to the subject over the phone because it mentions the product. Subject is deeply disturbed.
  • A friend's husband, a rifle enthusiast in Virginia who belongs to the National Rifle Association, emails subject with product uses involving the cleaning and maintenance of guns. Subject, someone who harbors anger toward the NRA and who does not own firearms or allow violent toys in her home, begins to have philosophical difficulties...not about whether she can use the product, but about whether she should.
  • Subject squirts product on a rusty railing, outside. Rust does not appear to disintegrate in any way, and subject is distraught once she realizes the strong smell of the product is now embedded in her brown leather Isotoner gloves which came from her now-deceased grandmother. Furthermore, during this use, the strong scent triggers a migraine in the subject, who spends the remainder of the day heavily medicated and curled under her bedcovers in the fetal position.
Day Four: Saturday
  • Subject sits on her couch, eyeballing the product from across the room. The product is sitting on the coffee table, mocking the subject. The product is questioning the subject's resourcefulness, her level of persistence, and her ability to maintain her home. Subject begins to yell at the inanimate bottle sitting on her coffee table. "You are a toxic substance, dangerous to children and bad for the environment. You clean guns, which are bad. You are associated with a stereotype in society that includes NASCAR and country music and the NRA. You gave me a migraine. You ruined my gloves. You suck, okay?"
  • For her own sanity, subject gives up on using the product but comes to understand why a PR promotion for this product is necessary.
Day Five: Sunday
  • Subject, paused at a red light at Fifth Avenue Uptown, notices a Chevy pickup truck in front of her with American flag bumper stickers and a rusty trailer hitch. Subject, determined to rid herself of product for good, leaves her vehicle, knocks on the truck's window, and offers free bottle of product to the driver. Driver gives subject a concerned look, rolls his window back up, and runs the red light. Subject can't even give the product away.
  • Subject realizes that the perfect "Pittsburgh" use of the product is to toss it from the Fort Pitt Bridge.
The Results
Experiment was a failure. Subject was unable to use the appropriate amount of product in the time frame specified. Subject emerged with a greater understanding of product but also with greater hostility toward product. Subject noted the only effective product use she found was killing insects, for which a pesticide is more appropriate and less expensive. Subject—while able to recommend product to those proficient in vehicular maintenance, Joe Diffey, and the NRA—cannot recommend product to working mothers with small children and a low tolerance for highly toxic substances.

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