"It it spins, oil it; if it slides, grease it. That's a one hundred and fifty year-old lubrication maxim still taught to people who work on machines."
Educate yourself - Hidden Hazards
Improperly designed lubricants come with risks. It's important to know what some of these root problems are.
When looking at the chemistry and tribology behind the firearms lubricants on the market, a quality tribologist will quickly take note of a range of self-evident shortcomings. Indeed, noting these shortcomings is what began this company. Most obvious on first glance was that the market is dominated by oils - which, as we've noted, are far inferior to greases in the unsealed, sliding machines we call guns. But in even cursory research, it was noted that many were simple, lightweight mineral oils or repackaged industrial esters, with no additive package at all, or a single additive. This in and of itself carries risk for weapons malfuntion and decreased service life. However, what was even more concerning was that an exceptionally high percentage of common gun lubricants contain known toxins that just shouldn't be in guns, or contain components that can damage guns.
While a few of the gun lubricants we looked at were fine, an exceedngly high number of those we investigated had a notable failing which tends to remain hidden, either functionally, tribologically, or health-wise. On the simple end, some just evaporate, or burn off at low temperatures. As mentioned, some had no additive package at all, which is like building a car without a motor. Of those that did have additives, many contained Teflon, the dangers of which we talk about
below. Others oxidize fairly quickly, getting ‘tacky’ and actually enhancing friction, rather than decreasing it. Some required specialized cleaning, metal preparation, and application procedures, which not only seem a hassle but simply do not meet our standards for being fieldable in austere environments. Several had terrible water/rust issues. And yet others can physically damage your weapon.
A key emphasis for our company, and a core value, is sharing operator-level science on keeping a gun running, because people's lives depend on this daily. We want you to know the foundational basics, the why behind things, and core knowledge that will help you determine what is best for you, where you are, with what you have. This even includes providing information on alternative lubricants besides ours that you can use to keep your gun running in a pinch, such as ATF or motor oil, and their limitations. Because of our focus on ensuring you have the information you need to make informed decisions, and because we understand the science of lubricants, in our estimation it would simply be unethical for us to pretend documentable dangers with other gun lubricants didn't exist, or to sit on that knowledge and keep it from you. As a matter of policy at several levels we do not see the need to address other gun lubricants by brand - but we have chosen to let you know key dangers to look for independent of brand, and it will be up to you to determine if you want to track down which ones carry these risks.
Regarding directly damaging a weapon, watch out for graphite-based lubricants. They're known to cause galvanic corrosion in aluminum, and are known to pit steel in some conditions, both of which led to the USAF banning graphite as a lubricant in aircraft. Additionally, Armalite explicitly warns against graphite lubricants in its AR manuals, stating: "Graphite can encourage rapid corrosion to the aircraft-grade aluminum used in your rifle". Yet, graphite-based gun lubricants are easily found in gun shops.
What you need to know is that graphite can cause galvanic corrosion between dissimilar metals, with aluminum being notably prone to it, especially when contacted with steel. And, most modern firearms likely have steel and aluminum parts touching each other. Graphite turns into an electrolyte in the presence of moisture, serving as a kind of electrical pathway that essentially allows one metal to suck ions off the other metal, eating away at the weaker metal. Between steel and aluminum, it's particularly harsh on the aluminum. The USS Independence, a new Littoral Combat Ship, was savaged pretty badly by galvanic corrosion, to the point that whole segments of its hull needed to be replaced, as steel in its propulsion unit had been attached to the aluminum hull without proper insulation, in a saltwater environment. In that case it wasn't a graphite issue, but the saltwater serving as the electrolyte instead.
Galvanic corrosion, caused by dissimilar metals in the presence of moisture and an electrolyte. In this case, sea air. While this an extreme, graphite can cause galvanic corrosion on exposed aluminum in firearms parts touching steel.
If you're running all-steel guns, you're probably fine, given that these parts aren't dissimilar metals. On dissimilar systems, if the parts show no wear, and are anodized, you're also probably fine. They likely won't be conducive for that electrical flow with graphite. However, bare aluminum, as happens with wear in weapons - especially aluminum-framed handguns - will be subject to this galvanic corrosion if graphite is between it and the other metal, AND there's some moisture present. Moisture is the key factor here - graphite on its own generally wouldn't be a problem. But, it does draw environmental moisture. So body sweat, breath, or humidity can be the trigger, but if you're in a very dry climate you might be largely fine as well. And finally, this is a process that takes time, and is dependent on the amounts of each component needed for the corrosion to occur, especially the electrolyte. Consequently, you may have a little space to use it - if you deem necessary - before the rate of corrosion would result in a problem.
While not an electro-chemical danger to your gun, but still a threat to your life, are penetrating oils, which we cover in greater depth at the bottom of the Myths & Misunderstanding segment. Several global gun manufacturers, including HK and Sig, explicitly state in their manuals that you are to avoid any oils marketing themselves as having penetrating or spreading properties, as they may deaden primers. These lightweight oils also tend to crawl and thin out rapidly. This leads to more wear over thicker oils, but also, depending on the specific oil, can also lead to drying out fairly quickly.
Also regarding thin oils, this is an important guideline to remember: if an oil is thin enough to spray out of a can or a bottle, it's too thin for guns. It may work as a protectant, but it is far from sufficient to help with hydrodynamic lubrication. Again, even thin oils are far better than nothing in keeping your gun running, but when you have the choice, you want a lubricant that will be thick enough to provide a complete film of fluid between moving parts, to help get that hydroplaning effect. Not the whetstone effect.
Regarding additive packages, if a gun oil is clear, there's a high likelihood that it does not have any additives. This means there's also a high likelihood that it's simply coming from 55 gallon drums of industrial mineral oils or esters, is being repackaged for shooters, and is being sold at 1000s of percentage points of mark-up. While there are some exceptions, as at least one clear gun oil we're aware of contains Teflon, this point on clear oils is a good rule-of-thumb to start with.
Some of the most concerning problems with many gun oils, however, are hidden toxicities. A very large percentage of gun lubricants on the market contain known and/or government-listed toxins. A notable toxin is tricresyl phosphate, also known as tritotyl phosphate, TCP, TOCP, and several closely related names. It’s used in several well-known gun oils. In all fairness, some have argued that you'd need to drink large quantities of it to be toxic, but a small percentage of the population is also gravely susceptible to it. Additionally, it is a neurotoxin that is bioaccumulative. Given that some of this may aerosolize during cleaning or gunfire, there exists enough likelihood of it getting into the nose, lungs, eyes, and through wounds minor and major for it to be questionable whether a shooter should be using it, especially in a combat environment, or on a copper bore brush that might poke through your skin, even with latex gloves on. It’s a neurotoxin linked to many deaths from direct injestion, as well as well as infertility and possible damage to testes, leading the World Health Organization to label it a "major hazard to human health", with even tiny amounts entering through cuts in the skin or mucous membranes being hazardous.
Along the same lines, fresh Teflon-based lubes are generally good lubricants – but we wouldn't want our friends or family members to risk inhaling even small amounts of the toxins it produces. This is especially dangerous in direct-impingement ARs.
There is substantial evidence that Teflon produces toxins at temperatures as low as 325°F, which includes nearly a dozen known carcinogens, neurotoxins, and fertility disruptors. Pyrolysis of Teflon produces exceedingly potent neurotoxins, one of which is analogous to Phosgene, the WWI nerve gas that was responsible for about 80% of all chemical weapons deaths during the war, and PFIB (Source), a nerve agent 10x more toxic than Phosgene, which is listed under the Chemical Weapons Convention (Source).
Garand grease cups - each about the size of 4 stacked Lifesaver candies. Grease goes a long way.
What’s more, many of these toxins that come from heated Teflon are ‘bioaccumulative’, sticking around and adding up in your body for years. For women in particular, one of the toxins, PFOA, has been shown to notably decrease birthweight and post-natal survival in rats, mice, and rabbits, and can be passed from human mother to infant via lactation. Frighteningly, lactation actually partially drains the mother of PFOA while passing it to their infants - which have been observed to end up with higher bodily concentrations of PFOA than their moms (Source).
Every round out of a direct-impingement AR brings a small jet of 1000°F+ gas briefly into its chamber area and washing over the bolt-carrier group, momentarily spiking well-beyond the flash-point of Teflon. Just google the name of your current lube or CLP and either “Teflon” or “PTFE” to see if your health as either a civilian or warfighter has been at risk. In addition to neurotoxins and cancers, men concerned with fertility may find this issue worth investigating.
We know the science, and ours will stand on its own. Some fads may take longer to burn out than others, but over the long horizon, science is science, and reality always has consequences. o