Lithium grease is a useful lubricant with a lot of applications around the home and shop. You may be familiar with it if you do your own mechanical work, but even if you’re like me and you don’t, it can make your life easier in a lot of ways.
Where to buy lithium grease
You can buy lithium grease almost anywhere. Auto supply stores have them, but so does your nearest hardware store. The only question is the quantity. It lasts a long time, so for household use even the 8 oz tube that sells at Home Depot for under $7 lasts for years. You’ll probably misplace it before you use it all up.
Lithium grease is a mixture of petroleum with lithium and zinc. The idea is for it to stick to surfaces better than oil does, while decreasing resistance. The zinc gives it its white color and helps the mixture stand up to stress. The lithium acts like a type of thickener and a sponge.
Lithium grease works best on metal to metal application. Its formulation can cause plastic to degrade, so if you need to stop plastic parts from wearing against metal, use a different product, such as silicone grease.
But on anything that slides or meshes, like the tracks on a table saw, garage doors, wheel bearings, or the worm gear or slides in a floppy drive, lithium grease excels. It makes the movement smoother while not attracting dirt to the degree that other greases frequently do.
How to use it
It is always best to clean off any old grease first, since it tends to degrade with age. Mineral spirits is excellent for this. You can usually apply some mineral spirits with a paintbrush or cotton swab and then wipe it down with an old rag.
Then apply a stingy amount to the surface and distribute it by working the joint back and forth. You want a thin layer, not a generous layer. When you glom on too much grease, it is much more likely to get dirt and dust and other contaminants embedded in it and that makes it defeat its purpose.
You can even use it on the terminals used on battery cables to fight corrosion on your car battery. Apply a very small amount to the terminals, just like you would dielectric grease.
Aerosol cans versus tube versus can
Lithium grease comes in three different types of packaging, each with advantages and disadvantages. The aerosol spray can is usually best for automotive use, your garage door and door hinges, and for maintaining your power tools. You can easily spray a thin layer with it to quickly lubricate large surfaces.
It’s not as good for precise applications, such as rebuilding vintage computer parts. In those instances, it is hard to keep the grease from getting into areas you don’t want it. It is much better to use a tube or a can and apply it with a small tool, such as a wooden toothpick.
The can with the lid is generally the most economical, with the lowest cost per ounce, if you will use all of it. The smaller tube still lasts a very long time and costs less upfront. I recommend starting out with the tube, and then buying the big can if you run out quickly.
If you use it on your tools or your car or door hinges most frequently, then I recommend the spray can. If you’re into retro computers or vintage electronics like me, I recommend the tube or the big can.
There isn’t a lot of difference between the brands, at least in terms of how the product behaves. So if you go to buy it and the packaging you need is only available in an unfamiliar brand, don’t worry too much about it.
One thing to keep in mind is WD-40 is both a product and a brand. If the product says WD-40 lithium grease, then it is lithium grease, similar to any other brand of lithium grease. But that doesn’t mean that the familiar blue and yellow can that your grandfather swore by is lithium grease. It’s not. WD-40 sells everything but dessert topping in a spray can these days, so if you’re like me and old enough to remember when they only sold their signature product, you need to be careful to make sure you buy the right thing.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.