Lab Tip: Mineral Oil Source





Introduction: Lab Tip: Mineral Oil Source

About: NurdRage is a dedicate group of science nerds trying to further amateur science with direct how-to instructions in video format. We saw what was already online and we thought "we could do better".....

Mineral oil or Paraffin oil is a useful oil for making oil baths and storing reactive metals. It also has a huge number of uses for the DIY community such as an odorless fuel for certain lamps, rust protection, sealant, lubricant, an inert coolant and many more. It is composed of high boiling inert hydrocarbons distilled from commercial crude oil.

While it is VERY cheap to obtain, sometimes the random DIYer might not find a convenient source. Luckily a very pervasive source available almost everywhere is baby oil. Baby oil is mostly composed of highly purified paraffin oil. It's best to use oil that is unscented and hypoallergenic as that oil is purest and has no reactive additives.



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    You can still find some in Pharmacy stores ( the laxatives section...). It's paraffin oil USP, probably cleaner and as cheap as baby oil.

    5 replies


    Although most people probably don't want to be seen buying large quantities of laxatives ;)

    One time i bought two boxes and i got a funny look from the cashier.

    I bought a case of it with 10 lbs of epsom salt from a drug store to teach some kids about how to make oil lamps (oil) and to fertilize my tomatoes (epsom salt). The lady at the cash register was worried I was making a bomb or something.

    ha ha, that happened to me a LOWE'S!
    I bought stump digester (potassium nitrate) , drain cleaner (sulfuric acid), and some pipe for my desk. Funny thing is, that stuff could be used to make nitrocellulose which is a high explosive used as a rocket propellant in WWII.

    I get weird looks all the time though. Once I rode home on my bike with a 4x8 sheet of dry erase board on my back. Everyone at LOWE'S thought I was nuts (and proud of it). I'm a cheapskate on a budget so I frequently need to hack things to get it done. One more reason I LOVE NURDRAGE!
    I thought the 100' glow-stick was epic!

    If you buy a nitrate (any nitrate), be careful what you buy with it. You may already be on someone's List. That goes triple for nitric acid, if you can still find it.

    Pretty sure I am already on a couple of lists. I don't care. Anyone watching me is probably as bored as I am.

    Thanks for the tip! One question would this be a ok source of mineral oil for cooling a PC? Would you a have to dilute it (and how would you dilute it)? Anyways I have been a subscriber to your folk's Youtube channel, but I didn't know you have an Instructables! Do you have most of the stuff you show in your Youtube videos here also in 'Ible format? Cause for me following a (well-written that is!) 'Ible is ,at times, easier than trying to follow a Youtube video.

    3 replies

    It should be fine. However, you can verify this by using a multimeter (preferably digital) to measure resistance/conductance. Simply get a cup of your oil, heat it in a glass pan till it's about 130-120 degrees F and insert you probes. You're looking for an extremely high resistance value (or non at all depending on model). if you have a good enough multimeter you will detect a small current leakage simply due to quantum effects. However, this is completely unimportant since it is small enough that it would take decades to do any appreciable amount of damage. Your biggest enemy is specific heat and viscosity. The oil is there to conduct heat away from you components, but if your container is too small, or there is no convection you will slow fry your computer. I would recommend attaching a radiator to you container with an inlet near the top, and an outlet near the bottom. Still no noise but heat transference to air will be much greater and you internal currents will be much stronger. Remember... glass IS an insulator.

    Glass is an electrical insulator. Not a thermal one. Glass has a high thermal conductivity, that's why they make baking pans out of it. And test tubes and other lab ware. The problem comes when people don't have enough oil to achieve a high enough heat capacity. The oil absorbs heat, it doesn't dissipate heat. Not on its own, anyway.

    Thermal conductivity can be engineered to fit the situation. Aerogel for instance is chemically indistinguishable from ordinary glass, but it is one of the best insulators in the world. Glass is an insulator compared to metal, et al. My point is, if you don't provide a way for the oil to exchange the heat with the surroundings you will either need a ridiculously large aquarium with lots of surface area (and lots of oil), or you need a heat exchange. Without it, you are essentially building a giant thermal capacitor, and it will overheat at some point. Also, the hotter your computer runs, the shorter it service lifespan.

    I can second the pharmacy and box stores as a great source for mineral oil. It's great for wooden cutting boards and utensils and should be applied often.

    Just curious, but you don't happen to be from Montreal do you?

    Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the captions!

    Great video about mineral oil, perfect for the amateur chemist!