Fake Science, Bullshit, and Your Favorite Gun Lube

October 23, 2014  
Categories: Op-Eds
Tags: DFM

Freud to Gene Stoner, everyone loves to argue about lube; the symbolism of that lies on several levels. What’s funny is many people don’t have the slightest idea exactly what lubricant does or how it works, other than to make sure the gun goes bang. Today Mad Duo Merrill takes a break from his kegel exercises to weigh in – this should be a good one, because like many of you, lube is something our minions debate constantly.  Get ready to get your learnin’ on. Mad Duo

Fake Science, Bullshit, and Your Favorite Gun Lube

Mad Duo Merrill

Seems like every year there is a new, ‘must have’ firearm lubricant. Off the top of my head going through the years I recall hubbabalo (hullabaloo?) about Militec-1, FP-10, Slip2000, Weapon Shield, Slipstream, Gun Butter, Tetra, Liberal Tears, Frog Lube and sundry others. Now it’s Fireclean, Breakthough, and Italian Gun Grease. Facebook and forums are frequently inundated with praise and reviews and the manufacturers all spout the same claims of superiority and invulnerability. Samples get sent out, blogs throw out reviews and and and…..

Gun cleaning shelf full of gun lube and cleaners

Approximately $70 million dollars worth of lube and cleaners

No doubt next year we’ll have another expensive batch making the rounds.

Raven Concealment Systems banner

How do you cut through the bullshit?

Let’s talk about oils. You know what you never see on the side of a bottle of firearms lube? An SAE or API rating (you know, ‘10W-30’ or ‘SAE 20’). You do find it on bottles of motor oil though. You find it because it’s legally required for engine oil, as outlined by a bigassed government document called Handbook 130, and has been since 1984. Let me give you a quick breakdown on what these numbers actually mean:

The rating on the side of that bottle of oil you find at Autozone is its viscosity rating; how thin or thick it is. The lower the number, the thinner the oil. Lower numbers mean that the lubricant will flow and populate more easily than others. Of course, as you may recall from your high school science class, temperatures usually have a direct effect on viscosity ratings. If you’re looking at an oil with a, ‘W’ rating, it means it was tested at two different temperatures (First one colder, and the second number being 100 degrees Celsius). If it has a single number, it was tested at the 100C operating temperature.

A 5W-20 oil and a 10W-20 oil have the same viscosity at 100C but the 5W-20 is thinner at colder temperatures. The change in thickness between given temperatures is the Viscosity Index (VI). Higher VI = less drop in viscosity at higher temperatures.

Now, thinner oil flows more easily and thicker oil prevents wear and tear better. For your car, there have been boatloads of research done as to what weight is the best for your particular engine. For your gun? Yeah, not so much. There hasn’t even been half of one percent the amount of research done on firearms lubricants compared to motor oil. Even if there had been, it would be specific for any given operating system.

Four charts showing data from automotive oil manufacturers.

A bunch of charts showing science and shit from automotive oil manufacturers

What about Biodegradable Oils?

There are two main kinds of biodegradable oils: vegetable based and synthetics. There are some definite advantages to biodegradable lubricants in some environments, such as in mining where some environmental fouling can occur. Vegetable based oils can be good for cleaning because the crud tends to stratify in them but generally have lower flashpoints unless additives are used.

Six different brands of gun lube

More Lube.

Many biodegradables interact negatively with other lubricants (like turn into a gummy mess). This might not seem like a big deal unless you don’t happen to have your uber-lube of choice when you need it, and instead have to supplement with something else.

The main thing to keep in mind is that biodegradable oils, well, they degrade when exposed to oxygen, water, microbes etc. A key piece of information that’s missing from many biodegradable firearms lubricants: percent of degradability and length of degradation. In the case of oil used for industrial purposes, this information is a selling point; not so for your rifle, apparently.

I understand the desire for something non-toxic. However, you have to remember that no one is asking you to fry your eggs in it or drink it. Remember, the guys who change your oil at Valvoline don’t do so wearing full CDC suits.

Then of course you have corrosion protection. Not all lubricants are great at this (some of them are dismal, in fact) but most of them claim to be. There are some good independent corrosion tests on assorted lubricants out there and I urge you to check them out. There haven’t been any widespread SAE/API viscosity tests or even anything definitive on flash points.

Compare any product or MSDS sheet produced by Mobil1 or Royal Purple with the factory information on your lubricant of choice. The differences are immediately obvious and staggering.

Example of scientific data showing properties of a gun oil

Example of actual scientific information

As seen on TV logo

Why don’t lubricant companies give us this information? Because it’s easier to sell a do-all with dubious claims than to produce actual test results. The fact of the matter is, in the realm of firearms lubricant, one can make almost any claim if it’s worded correctly. Lacking on real science? Use a lot of filler and feel-good phrases. Rely on testimonials. It’s all very similar to what you’d hear on an infomercial for a kitchen gadget or shampoo—like a Tactical Billy Mays.

With all of that in mind, I am proud to introduce an all-natural biodegradable lubricant made from the most proprietary materials in the world:

Photoshopped image of Billy Mays wearing a military helmet and pointing to a bottle of...Unicorn Dick Lube? "All-Natural - The Mane Glitter is Magic"

Hi. Billy Mays here…

Unicorn Dick Lube®

That’s right. Unicorn Dick Lube.

UDL is an odorless and glittery firearms solvent, lubricant, and corrosion inhibitor designed for military operators for use in field operations. It is made from real unicorns. Utilizing advanced technology and the newest materials, Unicorn Dick Lube® shoots out a layer of glistening protection with every application. We at UDL are committed to extensive research, detailed development, and rapid deployment of advanced weapon glittering technologies that will enable all Special Sparkle Operations personnel to effectively and confidently carry out their missions with the knowledge they have the best protection. The secret of UDL is in the magic nano-glitter (MNG). Our proprietary MNG is stronger than military grade glitters—can your lube of choice make that claim? I didn’t think so.

Shot of UDL in use

I’m aware some people will miss the sarcasm; hopefully you’ll get my point. (And hopefully someone will actually make Unicorn Dick Lube®, ‘cuz that shit would be awesome).

No, I’m not saying that you should just drop everything and just buy motor oil or ATF fluid–though I know for a fact there are professional pipe hitters and competitive shooters that do just that. There isn’t a, ‘do-all’ lubricant for your firearm, not really. Usage, weapon configuration, and environment are the major considerations. Guns that run hotter (like a suppressed M4) will do better with a thicker lubricant that doesn’t migrate as much when exposed to high heat and that also has a higher flash point. Your 10/22 may be better off with a different lube.

Wall of various brands motor oils

Approximately $14 worth of motor oil

I suppose the good news is that whatever lube you’re currently using is probably just fine for general use, but you’re likely overpaying for it. Be wary of magic lubes, ask for actual, not anecdotal, proof of claims, and be a skeptical consumer. As Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

Put another way: If it sounds like bullshit, it probably is until proven otherwise.


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About the AuthorAuthor Dave Merrill

A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at)BreachBangClear.com and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).

Author David Merrill

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Dave Merrill

Dave Merrill

About the Author

About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave "Mad Duo Merrill" is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at)BreachBangClear.com and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).


  1. willie

    great think piece… i’ve settled on basic CLP for my wheelguns and rimfire pistols/rifles (no stink in the garage)… however, there is one product that i’d never use on any of my weapons, but am now convinced works really, really well for my rimfire suppressors – that product is…. Frog Lube… yep, i dip a finger in a tub, then slather on a good coat all over the internals and threads… after a 300-round session at the range, the crud just wipes off and i can finish up with a scrub using a nylon brush in warm water and Dawn dish detergent… but i would never use the stuff on my guns… nope, no sir, don’t like it for that!

  2. Capt Phil

    I’ve stopped using anything but MilSpec-1’s 1-Lube-CLP (used to be called Extreme Bore). It’s a non-oil product. Keeps lubrication beyond the point where oils catch fire (flash point around 1200F instead of around 600F). Also keeps working below freezing (-400F), long past the point where oils get sluggish — very sluggish! 1-Lube-CLP cleans down to the micro pores of the metal, lifts and dissolves old oil and sludge, lubricates and leaves a fine layer of nano-particles of some sort of fluorocarbon that I don’t understand, other than to say it works. The product dries and is still lubricating (very little friction between the boundary layers of nano-particles on mating metal surfaces). Dry lube means no attraction for sand, grit, pocket lint, etc. Should still be available at http://www.MilSpec-1.com. Like I said, I’ve stopped using Hoppes or any oils, and oh, yeah, this stuff tends to prevent rust. I always swab the bores and treat the actions before putting my guns away.

  3. Eli

    I use that M-PRO 7 shit. Unicorn Dick Lube sound better though.

  4. cawpin

    2:1 ratio of synthetic motor oil to synthetic ATF is the best lube I’ve found. It’s the same thing as Lucas’s gun oil. 3/4 of a gallon of lube for a max of $25 will last nearly forever and it WORKS. That and some TW25 grease on the heavy load/wear points well get it done.

  5. Fresnel

    You want to talk about sales guys making outrageous claims to sell a product, talk to someone who actually works for FrogLube. They were about ten seconds from telling me the bottle is designed to suck your dick on command to sell me their product. They actually said using FrogLube in your barrel makes your gun run cooler and shoot more accurately, and then backed it with the most unscientific test I’d ever heard, which pretty much boiled down to “we tried it at the range this one time.”

  6. Rick

    There may not be anything magic about it but when running your rifle suppressed it’s quite a bit easier to clean if its treated with FireClean. Blame COWAN for getting me to try that.

  7. Dave Lenzi

    Interestingly, the one thing I see people consistently get wrong with lubricants, gun or car, is to confuse viscosity and lubricity. They are not the same thing. Lubricity, simply put, is the ability of whatever grease/liquid to reduce friction. There is a very important distinction between your automotive engine, generators, turbines, etc. and a firearm. In one of the aforementioned rotational/cyclic applications, the lubricant creates a fluid barrier between moving parts. Anyone that remembers the old Castrol motor oil commercials on TV got to see this in action (auto crank shaft in that case…and what happens when the fluid barrier fails). Firearms? Not so much. The metal parts sit directly against one another and maintain that contact through their operating cyclic. What matters here is the lubricity – the ability to reduce friction – and the ability of the lube in question to take fouling and transport it away from the moving bits (decreases wear, limits ability of fouling to degrade lubricity). So, in an automotive application, you get the viscosity wrong and your pump pressures aren’t correct, you volumetric flow is all messed up, your cooling is sub optimal, your oil ends up at a high risk for viscosity break down and, ultimately, metal shit touches metal shit at high speed and things break catastrophically. In a firearms application, all you really need to do is match viscosity to temperature and ensure the lube stays where you put it (and chemical composition has something to do with that as well). Your firearm isn’t likely to break itself into pieces because you under lubed it, burned the lube off shooting, or just plain picked a bad product for your situation.

    All that said, the lack of actual, no shit, data is sad. Then again, the shooting public generally doesn’t care for data…it’s an industry that runs heavily on emotion and the perceived size of one’s manhood.

    • cawpin

      You actually think there is a difference between how close firearm parts are to one another and how close engine parts are to one another, and that firearm parts are CLOSER? The fluid barrier is still there, that’s how lubricants work. That’s why engine oil/atf mixes work so well for firearms; they keep the crud in suspension off the surfaces of the parts so you don’t get direct contact friction.

  8. CoolTatsBro

    “Vegetable based oils……. generally have lower flashpoints unless additives

    are used.” Proof that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  9. Mat Jay

    Awesome. I need some UDL stat. But you will all recall that I blew the whistle on Italian Gun Grease. I discovered that it was, indeed, hair gel.

    • Filthy_Italian

      Made with real eye-talians.

  10. Adam

    So maybe BBC can demystify this. I’ve been using Rand CLP for a year, and I’ve seen it do things other lubes couldn’t. However, I’ll stop the mouthing and put this on you… http://rand-innovations-2.myshopify.com/pages/test-results/

    Check out the data, as is concerned with Motor Oil, and put some more knowledge on us. Sometimes there is that Unicorn that defies typical skepticism, because it’s not “fake science”.

  11. Eliott Kroll

    Still using Hoppes. Still haven’t had any issues.

  12. Brandon

    Since I’m still new at this the only kind I have used was Otis gun lube so far, however I have run out so I will need to get some more soon.

  13. The Dragon Show

    Whoever this Mad Duo Merrill cat is, he must be a brilliant scientist or wizard. I’m talking smarter than Einstein, Gandalf and Captain Kirk combined. I just wish this Merrill guy could find me a lube that both protected my firearm and added inches to manhood all in the same bottle. ~ The Dragon Show

  14. Doug Crawford

    Hell I’m still using LSA. I ran out of my original gallon that I liberated and have been buying it by the quart for years. I’ve also used ATF and engine oil in an emergency. I use high temperature brake grease from NAPA for stuff that needs it.

    As for solvents I ran out of my original stash of military bore cleaner a long time ago but will pick it up when I see it. I’ve used Hoppe’s #9, 7.62, and a couple of others over the years They worked well. I figure use whatever works FOR YOU and just keep using it.

  15. Anythingshiny

    Walmart red lithium grease.

  16. EN

    The best lube I’ve ever used was Mobil one… I used it once at the recommendation of a Tier 27 operator who drove a Humvee around Afghanistan for a couple of deployments. It worked great, fired several hundred rounds in that range session and cleaned up easily. And easy cleanup is my standard since I can’t think of any lube that has worked all that poorly other than being hard to clean up. I never used Mobil One again… cooler shit won the day. As a reference point to my cluelessness, I haven ‘t even thought about Mobil One until reading this. I’m a sucker for new lube… if UDL get’s made you’ll let us know? Right?

  17. bap45

    Any thoughts on solvents? I’ve used hoppes for years but I’m curious about some of the new ones out there. Do you think it’s the same scenario as the lube where its all pretty even or does one stand out?

    • bap45

      And i would totally buy some UDL. Haha

    • T-RaV

      Non-chlorinated break cleaner. Just keep in mind that it removes ALL oil and grease so you’ll need to reapply your lube of choice appropriately.

      In addition to the 5w20 synthetic motor oil, you may want to try a grease. I like to use spray on white lithium with Teflon. $8 on Amazon…

  18. Chuck

    I just like Frog Lube because it smells like Wintergreen Dip.!

  19. RgrMike

    Most excellent article Sir! After playing with all of these compounds (I have not yet taken the plunge to purchase a plating or sonic cleaning system) I still go back to good old Number 9 for a cleaning solvent, and a light coat of either sewing machine or machine oil (dependent on firearm and temp) for storage and use.

    Sewing machine oil: 10 Weight (4oz $2.51 at amazon) or Light machine oil = 20 Weight (8Oz $7.62). Don’t dump – use a light coating.

    If you want to play with the science between Temp and rotation factor (how fast a part is going to need to go) head on over to: http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/798/grease-selection.

    Remember that Mil-Comm is a lithium grease. I can’t find any information about the underlying component oil (and therefore the weight).

    Interesting math problem to break down bolt cycling and average / maximum bullet velocity into the DN factor for the industrial applications charts from the oil mfg’s.

        • Reise

          Not addressing you, MM, this is just where it occurred to me to post this..

          Sheet stock materials come with a (typically petroleum-base but sometimes water-base) combination rust preventive and machining pre-lube applied. Some with more, some with less. It’s not amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is already in place on the material and in its microscopic subsurface detail.

          If this OEM protectant isn’t removed first, then any material applied on top of it can only try its best to penetrate/merge with it .. and largely the rust test will be of this ability rather than the outright features of the top oil itself. I suspect that the vegetable-based lubes like Frog (i don’t use it, btw) can only sit on top of any remaining factory preventive, never managing its own bond-line .. much less getting down into the subsurface detail .. probably washing off before too long .. leaving only the ‘virtues’ of the factory’s weak preventive to survive the test, its failures then being attributed to the wrong product.

          As a minimum prep for such tests, of all the products .. not just the vegetable offerings, each piece should be be sprayed with brake cleaner and wiped with, say, a coffee filter or blue shop towel while still wet, and resprayed, then dried, and quickly then applying the test lube per each maker’s instructions.

          Better if the cleaner used is actually a metal-stripping acid such as sulfuric. I’d recommend this as it leaves no previous residue intact whatsoever. It can be found at industrial and autobody supply stores. Apply, wash off/neutralize with water, dry, then quickly apply the test lube. Sheet metal without any protection will rust almost immediately from just looking at it wrong. That’s all it knows how to do, and that’s why the maker sprays it with their own stuff at the factory.

          Application should be done with surgical gloves to prevent contamination of the sheets with acidic skin oils, and those gloves tossed for new ones to prevent contamination of subsequent sheets with features of the previous oils. This rigor would give you a real test of the competitors with no confounding factors, for only $15 to $20 for the extra prep materials to get there.

      • Task_Force_Ballsack

        Holy fuck. That motherfucker has no life.

  20. Matthew Henik

    Mil-Comm TW-25B. Stuffs been around since the 80’s and they have ASTM testing data available on their website. Has extremely low evaporation rates 0.21% after 24 hours at 100C, passed FTM-4001 500 hour salt test, has a working range of -90F to 450F, and resists carbon build up.


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