It could be a door hinge protesting when you move it. Maybe it’s a furnace pulley shrieking, or a door lock that stubbornly resists every attempt to get it to turn. Whatever it is in your house that squeaks, squeals, screeches or just plain freezes up, it’s time for some maintenance work with an oil can. But which oil, when and where? Here are some suggestions:

Light Household Oil: This is a petroleum-based, lightweight oil such as 3-In-One, available in a liquid or a spray. Light oils such as this are ideal for squeaky hinges on doors, screens and gates, both indoors and out. This is also the best lubricant for metal window parts, cranks, window latches, home exercise equipment, and many household tools and light machinery.

Use just a drop or two, and then work the part back and forth to spread the oil out evenly. Apply additional drops as needed to work out the squeak, then use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess oil so it doesn’t attract dirt. For maintenance purposes, this should be done one or two times a year. For tools and machinery, refer to the manufacturer’s specific instructions.

Heavy Household Oil:  Basically the same stuff, but with a heavier weight, typically the equivalent of motor oil of SAE 20. You can use regular SAE 20 motor oil, but a product such as 3-In-One’s Motor Oil, which comes in a small can with a spout, is typically more convenient for most household uses. Common uses for heavy household oil would include furnace blower motors, lawnmowers, and other heavier household machinery. Apply as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Silicone Spray Lubricant:  This is also a light petroleum-based oil with silicone added to improve the lubrication qualities. Silicone works well on things like closet door wheels and other sliding or rolling parts, as well as window tracks. Spray, work the part back and forth to lubricate it, then wipe off the excess with a clean rag. Some types of silicone spray lubricants have straw attachments for the nozzle to help minimize overspray.

Penetrating Oil:  Penetrating oils such as Liquid Wrench and WD-40 are basically light petroleum oils with added solvents and other ingredients. They are designed to promote a wicking action, which draws the lubricant into the joint between rusted or frozen metal parts to provide the necessary lubrication to break the joint apart. After application to the frozen joint, they need time to work, and more than one application may be required — follow the manufacturer’s directions for best results. Penetrating oils are available as both liquid and spray.

WD-40:  The ubiquitous household lubricant, this is kind of the liquid equivalent of duct tape. WD-40 is available in a spray can, and is a petroleum-based lubricant that does not contain silicone or graphite (its actual ingredients are a closely guarded secret). WD-40 works well for most of the same household lubrications chores as light oil, in that it cleans, lubricates and prevents the buildup of corrosion. It also displaces moisture, so it can be used to dry out wet electrical systems, and has penetrating properties to loosen rusted and frozen metal parts. WD-40 will even clean sap, adhesive residue, bug splatters, and a wide variety of other hard-to-remove substances. On the downside, the wide spray is not as precise as that of a can of light oil, so it should only be used where overspray is not a problem. (The cans come with a small straw to help direct the spray more accurately.)

Powdered Graphite:  Natural or synthetic graphite is available in a light powder form, and can be purchased in different weights. Since liquid lubricants can attract dirt and dust, dry powdered graphite is ideal for use in locks, fishing reels, gun mechanisms, typewriters, tools, hinges and a variety of other applications where a dry powder lubricant is desirable. It’s especially useful in very dusty conditions. Powdered graphite is typically available in a small tube with a precision spout for application into locks.

Paraffin Wax:  As long as there have been candles, paraffin wax has been around as a low-tech solution to sticky wood parts, and it still works today. Paraffin can be rubbed on wooden doors, drawer slides and other parts to ease movement, and also works well to lubricate screws prior to driving them into wood. Today’s paraffin waxes are commonly available in stick form for easy application, and have additional ingredients to increase both lubrication and durability.

Most or all of these lubricants are available at home centers, hardware stores and many other retailers.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

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