Rust prevention with Lanolin - It's better then oil

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May 23, 2013
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I've recently stumbled upon a "tip" that I'm pretty excited about.

Ever since the lathe has been put together I've been battling rust on all the handles and bare metal surfaces that don't get way oil or some type of lubrication. After a couple days light surface rust shows up. Marvel's Mystery Oil and Nevr-Dull have been working well at removing it, but I can see very quickly where this will be a constant PITA on a regular basis as I will not be using the machine every day. (Well, that remains to be seen, actually.)

Recently, while researching solvents and lubrication for my recently acquired M1 Garand, I quickly stumbled upon a recipe on the internet known as "Ed's Red." One of the ingredients that caught my eye was anhydrous lanolin. After more research, I found out that lanolin has been used as a rust preventative for a very long time by mariners and machinists. The thing that attracted me in particular to use of lanolin was that it is a natural product derived from sheep and an ingredient used in various skin creams and products. If it works, it should be particularly good for the lathe and my various hand tools.

I read somewhere (didn't bookmark) that 1 part lanolin can be mixed with 5 parts mineral spirits to be used as a rust preventer. The idea is the mineral spirits thins the solution, evaporates, and leaves behind a coating of lanolin on the metal.

I picked up the bulk anhydrous lanolin from Amazon. One of those plunger type measuring cups made easy work of measuring out 4 fl oz which I then put in a quart paint can.


In this terrible image you can see I used a double boiler type arrangement to melt the lanolin. I then took it outside and stirred in 20 fl oz of mineral spirits.


I found a white paper online that I did not have access to download that discusses use of lanolin as a rust preventer. I was able to read the introduction, however, and it stated that the minimum percentage by weight that is needed is 12.5%. Since I used a volume based measurement to mix my solution, I weighed the lanolin and mineral spirits and determined 1 part to 5 parts comes in around 22%.

I put a rag in a pint paint can and thoroughly soaked it with some of the solution. I wiped all the non-oiled lathe parts down with it. I also decided to run a test to see how well it works in comparison to other stuff.

I took an old saw blade, wire wheeled it, and gave it a coat of naval jelly to get all oxides off. Going from left to right: untreated metal, lanolin, oil film, WD-40. We'll see in a week or so how the test turns out.

I am already pleased with how the lanolin treated surfaces feels to the skin. It doesn't feel oily at all, and you can handle other objects without getting oil over them. Probably less chance of cancer too. :p


The test coupon has been outside for two days. It started raining last night. The untreated portion has clearly rusted up quickly. So far there are no signs of rust on the other three quadrants. What I find particularly interesting however is look at how the water has created a film over top the untreated area, oil film area, and WD-40. However on the lanolin treated area, the water has apparently beaded up and is largely "dry". (Still no rust on the lathe :) )

Going from left to right: untreated metal, lanolin, oil film, WD-40.

As an interesting side note to your post----I once bought the frame for an antique car from a sheep farmer. The frame had sat outside for 40 years on a rockpile, in one of the sheepyards. The sheep had used it for a convenient "scratching post" and rubbed up against it wherever it was accessible to them. Although areas where the sheep couldn't reach were deeply pitted with rust, the areas where they could rub their wool against it had no rust whatsoever, preserved by the lanolin in their wool.---Brian,
Have a product here called "Lanotec", comes in an aerosol can. It's the best rust preventative that I have used, only down side is that you smell like sheep wool after using it. Have some garden tools that are left outside, an occasional spray with Lanotec keeps the rust away. Great for tools in the workshop that are used only occasionally, give them a spray before putting away to keep moisture away.

yep lanolin [ & Lanotec ] is great product. Take note though that it does leave a slightly sticky residual, which is not a problem on non bearing surfaces. Also great for chain drives etc.
I live in the hills - bit damp & misty particularly this time of the year. I spray the underside of a woolen blanket with lanotec once a year & my machines are covered with the blankets. Never have a problem with rust.
Watch out for those Kiwis Rusty.
been using lanolin for some time now, for small tools.

it works great indeed.
I use lanolin for all my machines, and next to light machine oil I've found it the most practical for the rails on my cnc machines. No bad fumes, no stickiness, works well. I use Fluidfilm a lot from H&F but that's expensive, Supercheapauto in OZ has equivalent bulk bottles for a fration of the price, and I find they work just as well!

Cheers, Ian
That spray on lanolin is good stuff for leather jackets too. Except you walk around smelling like a shearing shed the first two days.
When I was a young boy, my Pop-Pop taught me to get a coffee can, pour a good bit of oil in the bottom of it, and take a clean rag and stick it in there to fully soak it. That was the "oil can" and the rag stayed in there with the lid on. He wiped down all his tools with it on a regular basis. He added oil to it occasionally to keep it wet.

So with that tradition in mind, that is one reason I particularly like this method. Instead of a coffee can I'm using a paint can, and instead of oil I'm using lanolin/mineral spirits.

I will have to grab a spray bottle, however, and see how this solution works as a spray.

Lately I've been very interested in both solvents and lubrication as a result of my metalworking, restoration, firearm, etc. activities. I also drive vehicles and usually do all my own maintenance and repair. There are so many special purpose products out there it is mind boggling.

I'm finding with a little bit of research, they are all basically made the some basic ingredients we as consumers can get, and mix ourselves at a much cheaper price, often even surpassing the quality or effectiveness of the commercial stuff. Also, it can also sometimes have positive effects for the earth as well. Less product packaging, aerosol sprays, friendlier chemicals, etc.

There are also practical considerations as well. For example, that Ed's Red solution makes use of ATF, Acetone, Mineral Spirits, and Kerosene. All things I already keep in supply anyway. I guess I've added lanolin to that list. :)

I'm rambling, but all that being said, for kicks and giggles I did attempt to find where I can purchase some Lanotec. Cursory internet searching did not yield any USA suppliers. I'm curious if it's marketed under a different name here, or simply not available.

While not very suitable for machine and hand tools, I have also seen a multitude of recipes for vehicle undercoating protection which seem worth trying for that purpose. Some people use them on chainsaw chains too. While varied, they consist of a mixture of some type of solvent (kerosene, diesel, mineral spirits, or a combination thereof), paraffin wax, non-detergent oil (or detergent based oil!), with sometimes the addition of lanolin and/or beeswax.

OK, time to stop rambling for the moment.


Ok maybe, not.

Although areas where the sheep couldn't reach were deeply pitted with rust, the areas where they could rub their wool against it had no rust whatsoever, preserved by the lanolin in their wool.---Brian,

That's neat! I also heard stories about 100+ year old iron fences on sheep farms in Scotland in a similar situation.
That spray on lanolin is good stuff for leather jackets too. Except you walk around smelling like a shearing shed the first two days.

Tell you what though, smells way better when machining than when using WD-40! Not to mention the absence of the associated chemicals!

cheers, Ian
The lanolin we have in Australia called lanotec is good stuff , but I find when it dries out a bit, it dries gets pretty tacky. I have changed tack and buy the 5 litre (gallon) and half and half with auto trans fluid . This mix I use for everything, my machinery, my guns, my boat stuff.

I am a bit surprised that Australia has a product that America doesn't have as available in local stores. I know Lanotec is Australian, but I thought there would have been a parallel product over there.

Cheers, Trev.
Lanolin on leather jackets, I wonder how Lanotec will work of leather work boots, will give it a try soon.

Lanolin on leather jackets, I wonder how Lanotec will work of leather work boots, will give it a try soon.


As long as you want it supple it will do the trick!

cheers, Ian
10+ years ago I was working for a company that was becoming a major stockist/distributor of Lanotec. As part of the training we were shown many case studies and testimonials from successful trials. The one I remember most was a ferry company that treated the outside of their hulls to prevent barnacle growth. According to the literature, not only did it keep their hulls clean, they had measurable savings in fuel, supposedly due to less drag though the water.

It was touted as a miracle product. I can say firsthand that working with sheep gives you nice soft hands at least.
Can you post a link to the lanolin you bought? An amazon search brought up many products and I'm not sure which one you used.

This is the one I got. If you want a smaller amount, this one looks like it'd fit the bill.

I picked up a canvas tarp to put over the lathe. I think I'll mix up more lanolin and mineral spirits and spray down the canvas with a cheap paint sprayer.
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LPS-3 is mostly Lanolin if smell and looks mean anything.
This could also be a useful property of lanolin (for modellers).

From Lanotec website:

  • Stops electrolysis due to dissimilar metals
While Lanolin's water repellent properties have been well known for centuries, it's demise as a commonly used substance is in part due to the fact that many people are allergic to it, or have allergies that can be aggravated by it and even after thorough hand cleansing, it's not unusual for family members and other third parties to become affected by simple skin or clothing contact...

Those close to RAF maintenance personnel often experienced problems in the days when it was used almost exclusively in unpressurised aircraft until not so many years ago due to it's uncanny anti-rust and anti-freezing properties which were so highly prized.