Mineral oil

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Bottle of mineral oil as sold in the U.S. Mineral oil bottle, front.jpg
Bottle of mineral oil as sold in the U.S.

Mineral oil is any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of higher alkanes from a mineral source, particularly a distillate of petroleum. [1]

Higher alkanes are alkanes having nine or more carbon atoms. Nonane is the lightest alkane to have a flash point above 25 °C, and is not classified as dangerously flammable.

Mineral Element or chemical compound that is normally crystalline and that has been formed as a result of geological processes

A mineral is, broadly speaking, a solid chemical compound that occurs naturally in pure form. A rock may consist of a single mineral, or may be an aggregate of two or more different minerals, spacially segregated into distinct phases. Compounds that occur only in living beings are usually excluded, but some minerals are often biogenic and/or are organic compounds in the sense of chemistry. Moreover, living beings often synthesize inorganic minerals that also occur in rocks.

Petroleum naturally occurring flammable liquid

Petroleum is a naturally occurring, yellowish-black liquid found in geological formations beneath the Earth's surface. It is commonly refined into various types of fuels. Components of petroleum are separated using a technique called fractional distillation, i.e. separation of a liquid mixture into fractions differing in boiling point by means of distillation, typically using a fractionating column.


The name mineral oil by itself is imprecise, having been used for many specific oils over the past few centuries. Other names, similarly imprecise, include white oil, paraffin oil, liquid paraffin (a highly refined medical grade), paraffinum liquidum (Latin), and liquid petroleum. Baby oil is a perfumed mineral oil.

Most often, mineral oil is a liquid by-product of refining crude oil to make gasoline and other petroleum products. This type of mineral oil is a transparent, colorless oil, composed mainly of alkanes [2] and cycloalkanes, related to petroleum jelly. It has a density of around 0.8 g/cm3. [3]

A by-product, or byproduct, is a secondary product derived from a manufacturing process or chemical reaction. It is not the primary product or service being produced. In the context of production, a by-product is the 'output from a joint production process that is minor in quantity and/or net realizable value (NRV) when compared with the main products'. Because they are deemed to have no influence on reported financial results, by-products do not receive allocations of joint costs. By-products also by convention are not inventoried, but the NRV from by-products is typically recognized as 'other income' or as a reduction of joint production processing costs when the by-product is produced. A by-product can be useful and marketable or it can be considered waste. For example, bran is a byproduct of the milling of refined flour, sometimes composted or burned for disposal but in other cases used as a nutritious ingredient in food or feed, and gasoline was once a byproduct of oil refining that later became a desirable commodity as motor fuel.

Oil refinery industrial process plant where crude oil is processed and refined into more useful products

Oil refinery or petroleum refinery is an industrial process plant where crude oil is transformed and refined into more useful products such as petroleum naphtha, gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt base, heating oil, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, jet fuel and fuel oils. Petrochemicals feed stock like ethylene and propylene can also be produced directly by cracking crude oil without the need of using refined products of crude oil such as naphtha.

Gasoline Transparent, petroleum-derived liquid that is used primarily as a fuel

Gasoline, petrol or gas is a colorless petroleum-derived flammable liquid that is used primarily as a fuel in spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. On average, a 42-U.S.-gallon (160-liter) barrel of crude oil yields about 19 U.S. gallons of gasoline after processing in an oil refinery, though this varies based on the crude oil assay.


Some of the imprecision in the definition of the names (e.g., "mineral oil", "white oil") reflects usage by buyers and sellers who did not know, and usually did not need to care about, the precise chemical makeup. Merriam-Webster states the first use of the term “mineral oil” was 1771. [4] Prior to the late 19th century, the chemical science to determine such makeup was unavailable in any case. A similar lexical situation occurred with the term "white metal".

The white metals are any of several light-colored alloys used as a base for plated silverware, ornaments or novelties, as well as any of several lead-based or tin-based alloys used for things like bearings, jewellery, miniature figures, fusible plugs, some medals and metal type. The term is also used in the antiques trade for an item suspected of being silver, but not hallmarked.

"Mineral oil", sold widely and cheaply in the USA, is not sold as such in Britain. Instead British pharmacologists use the terms "Paraffinum perliquidum" for light mineral oil and "Paraffinum liquidum" or "Paraffinum subliquidum" for somewhat thicker (more viscous) varieties. The term "Paraffinum Liquidum" is often seen on the ingredient lists of baby oil and cosmetics. British aromatherapists commonly use the term "white mineral oil".

Cosmetics substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body

Cosmetics are substances or products used to enhance or alter the appearance of the face or fragrance and texture of the body. Many cosmetics are designed for use of applying to the face, hair, and body. They are generally mixtures of chemical compounds; some being derived from natural sources, and some being synthetics or artificial. Cosmetics applied to the face to enhance its appearance are often called make-up or makeup. Common make-up items include: lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, foundation, blush, and contour. Whereas other common cosmetics can include skin cleansers, body lotions, shampoo and conditioner, hairstyling products, perfume and cologne.

In lubricating oils, mineral oil is termed from groups 1 to 2 worldwide and group 3 in certain regions. This is because the high end of group 3 mineral lubricating oils are so pure that they exhibit properties similar to polyalphaolefin - PAO oils (group 4 synthetics). [5]


The World Health Organization classifies untreated or mildly treated mineral oils as Group 1 carcinogens to humans; highly refined oils are classified as Group 3, meaning they are not suspected to be carcinogenic but available information is not sufficient to classify them as harmless. [6]

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) carried out a risk assessment on the findings of a survey made in 2011 on risks due to migration of components from printing inks used on carton-board packaging, including mineral oils, into food. The FSA did not identify any specific food safety concerns due to inks. [7]

People can be exposed to mineral oil mist in the workplace by breathing it in, skin contact, or eye contact. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set the legal limit for mineral oil mist exposure in the workplace as 5 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has set a recommended exposure limit of 5 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday and 10 mg/m3 short-term exposure. Levels of 2500 mg/m3 and higher are indicated as immediately dangerous to life and health. However, current toxicological data does not contain any evidence of irreversible health effects due to short term exposure at any level; the current value of 2500 mg/m3 is indicated as being arbitrary. [8]




Mineral oil is used as a laxative to alleviate constipation by retaining water in stool and the intestines [9] . Although generally considered safe, as noted above, there is a concern of mist inhalation leading to serious health conditions such as pneumonia [10] .

Mineral oil can be administered either orally [11] or as an enema. [12] Also, it is sometimes used as a lubricant in enema preparations, because most of the ingested material is excreted in the stool rather than being absorbed by the body. [13]

Cell culture

Mineral oil of special purity is often used as an overlay covering microdrops of culture medium in petri dishes, during the culture of oocytes and embryos in IVF and related procedures. The use of oil presents several advantages over the open culture system: it allows for several oocytes and embryos to be cultured simultaneously, but observed separately, in the same dish; it minimizes concentration and pH changes by preventing evaporation of the medium; it allows for a significant reduction of the medium volume used (as few as 20 microlitres per oocyte instead of several millilitres for the batch culture); and it serves as a temperature buffer minimizing thermal shock to the cells while the dish is taken out of the incubator for observation.


Over the counter veterinarian use mineral oil is intended as a mild laxative for pets and livestock. [14] Certain mineral oils are used in livestock vaccines, as an adjuvant to stimulate a cell-mediated immune response to the vaccinating agent.[ citation needed ] In the poultry industry, plain mineral oil can also be swabbed onto the feet of chickens infected with scaly mites on the shank, toes, and webs. Mineral oil suffocates these tiny parasites[ citation needed ]. In beekeeping, food grade mineral oil-saturated paper napkins placed in hives are used as a treatment for tracheal and other mites.[ citation needed ] It is also used along with a cotton swab to remove un-shed skin (ashes) on reptiles such as lizards and snakes.[ citation needed ]


Mineral oil is a common ingredient in baby lotions, cold creams, ointments, and cosmetics. It is a lightweight inexpensive oil that is odorless and tasteless. It can be used on eyelashes to prevent brittleness and breaking and, in cold cream, is also used to remove creme make-up and temporary tattoos. One of the common concerns regarding the use of mineral oil is its presence on several lists of comedogenic substances. These lists of comedogenic substances were developed many years ago and are frequently quoted in the dermatological literature.

The type of highly refined and purified mineral oil found in cosmetic and skincare products is noncomedogenic (does not clog pores). [15]

Mechanical, electrical, and industrial

An electrical radiator that uses mineral oil as a heat transfer fluid Oil heater.jpg
An electrical radiator that uses mineral oil as a heat transfer fluid

Mineral oil is used in a variety of industrial/mechanical capacities as a non-conductive coolant or thermal fluid in electric components as it does not conduct electricity and functions to displace air and water. Some examples are in transformers, where it is known as transformer oil, [16] and in high-voltage switchgear, where mineral oil is used as an insulator and as a coolant to disperse switching arcs. [17] The dielectric constant of mineral oil ranges from 2.3 at 50 °C (122 °F) to 2.1 at 200 °C (392 °F). [18]

Mineral oil is used as a lubricant, a cutting fluid, and a jute batching oil.[ clarification needed ] Spindle oils are light mineral oils used as lubricants in textile industries. Electric space heaters sometimes use mineral oil as a heat transfer oil. Because it is noncompressible, mineral oil is used as a hydraulic fluid in hydraulic machinery and vehicles.

An often cited limitation of mineral oil is that it is poorly biodegradable; in some applications, vegetable oils such as cottonseed oil or rapeseed oil may be used instead. [19]

Food preparation

Food grade mineral oil has an E number of E905a, although it has not been approved in food products in the European Union, and incidental amounts in foods are carefully regulated.[ citation needed ][ dubious ] [20] Because of its properties that prevent water absorption, combined with its lack of flavor and odor, food grade mineral oil is a popular preservative for wooden cutting boards, salad bowls, and utensils. Rubbing a small amount of mineral oil into a wooden kitchen item periodically, will impede absorption of food liquids, and thereby food odors, and ease cleaning. By impeding water absorption, wetting and drying cycles, which can cause cracks or splits in wood, are reduced although some of the mineral oil is picked up by the food and ingested. Outside of the European Union, it is occasionally used in the food industry, particularly for confectionery. In this application, it is typically used for the glossy effect it produces, and to prevent the candy pieces from adhering to each other. It has been discouraged for use in children's foods, [21] though it is still found in many confectioneries, including Swedish Fish. [22] The use of food grade mineral oil is self-limiting because of its laxative effect. The maximum daily intake is calculated to be about 100 mg, of which some 80 mg are contributed from its use on machines in the baking industry. [13]

Other uses

Applying mineral oil to a butcher block counter top Mineral oil treating butcher block.png
Applying mineral oil to a butcher block counter top

Mineral oil's ubiquity has led to its use in some niche applications as well. It is used for treating and preserving wooden butcher block counter tops. [23] It is recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine for use as a fertility-preserving vaginal lubrication. [24] The degrading effect of oils on latex condoms should be borne in mind. [25]

Mineral oil is commonly used to create a "wear" effect on new clay poker chips, which can otherwise be accomplished only through prolonged use. [26] Either the chips are placed in mineral oil (and left there for a short period of time) or the oil is applied to each chip individually, then the chip is rubbed clean. This removes any chalky residue left over from manufacture, and also improves the look and "feel" of the chips.

It is used as the principal fuel in some types of gel-type scented candles. [27]

It is used for cooling, for example liquid submersion cooling of components in some custom-built computers. [28] [29] Veterinarian-grade mineral oil is an inexpensive source for mineral oil and is frequently used by amateur radio operators as coolant in RF dummy loads. Mineral oil is typically used as the insulating and cooling fluid in large electrical equipment such as transformers.

Mineral oil is used as a brake fluid in some cars and bicycle disc brakes.

It is used for polishing alabaster in stonework and lubricating and cleaning pocket knives or food handling tools that use an open bearing, thus needing periodic lubrication. Light mineral oil (paraffinum perliquidum) is used as a honing oil when sharpening edge tools (such as chisels) on abrasive oil stones. Mineral oil USP or light mineral oil can be used as an anti-rust agent for blades.

It is an inexpensive alternative for storing reactive metals (lithium, sodium, etc.).

Horticultural oil is often made of a combination of mineral oil and detergent. It is sprayed on plants to control scale, aphid, and other pest populations by suffocation.

It is used to overlay polymerase chain reactions in biotechnology to prevent loss of water during heating cycles. It is often used to suspend crystals for use in X-ray crystallography.

It is used as a transparent collision material for reactions in particle physics, as in the MiniBooNE neutrino oscillation experiment. [30]

As a relatively low heat combustible with no flavor or odor, mineral oil can be used in firebreathing and firedancing, [31] but there is an inherent risk of injury. [32] [33]

Paraffin oil is also commonly being used to fill Galileo thermometers. Due to paraffin oil's freezing temp being lower than water (approx. 24 °F or −4 °C), this makes them less susceptible to freezing during shipment or when temporarily being stored in a non-climate-controlled environment. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

A lubricant is a substance, usually organic, introduced to reduce friction between surfaces in mutual contact, which ultimately reduces the heat generated when the surfaces move. It may also have the function of transmitting forces, transporting foreign particles, or heating or cooling the surfaces. The property of reducing friction is known as lubricity.

Enema procedure of introducing liquids into the rectum and colon via the anus

An enema, also known as a clyster, is an injection of fluid into the lower bowel by way of the rectum. Also, the word enema can refer to the liquid so injected, as well as to a device for administering such an injection.

Laxatives, purgatives, or aperients are substances that loosen stools and increase bowel movements. They are used to treat and prevent constipation.

Vegetable oil triglyceride extracted from a plant

Vegetable oils, or vegetable fats, are fats extracted from seeds, or less often, from other parts of fruits. Like animal fats, vegetable fats are mixtures of triglycerides. Soybean oil, rapeseed oil, and cocoa butter are examples of fats from seeds. Olive oil, palm oil, and rice bran oil are example of fats from other parts of fruits. In common usage, vegetable oil may refer exclusively to vegetable fats which are liquid at room temperature.

Motor oil lubricant used for lubrication of internal combustion engines

Motor oil, engine oil, or engine lubricant is any of various substances comprising base oils enhanced with additives, particularly antiwear additive plus detergents, dispersants and, for multi-grade oils viscosity index improvers. Motor oil is used for lubrication of internal combustion engines. The main function of motor oil is to reduce friction and wear on moving parts and to clean the engine from sludge and varnish (detergents). It also neutralizes acids that originate from fuel and from oxidation of the lubricant (detergents), improves sealing of piston rings, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.

Hydraulic fluid

A hydraulic fluid or hydraulic liquid is the medium by which power is transferred in hydraulic machinery. Common hydraulic fluids are based on mineral oil or water. Examples of equipment that might use hydraulic fluids are excavators and backhoes, hydraulic brakes, power steering systems, transmissions, garbage trucks, aircraft flight control systems, lifts, and industrial machinery.

Cutting fluid

Cutting fluid is a type of coolant and lubricant designed specifically for metalworking processes, such as machining and stamping. There are various kinds of cutting fluids, which include oils, oil-water emulsions, pastes, gels, aerosols (mists), and air or other gases. They may be made from petroleum distillates, animal fats, plant oils, water and air, or other raw ingredients. Depending on context and on which type of cutting fluid is being considered, it may be referred to as cutting fluid, cutting oil, cutting compound, coolant, or lubricant.

Petroleum jelly chemical substance used as lubricating agent

Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum, soft paraffin, or multi-hydrocarbon, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons, originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties.

Synthetic oil lubricant consisting of chemical compounds that are artificially made

Synthetic oil is a lubricant consisting of chemical compounds that are artificially made. Synthetic lubricants can be manufactured using chemically modified petroleum components rather than whole crude oil, but can also be synthesized from other raw materials. The base material, however, is still overwhelmingly crude oil that is distilled and then modified physically and chemically. The actual synthesis process and composition of additives is generally a commercial trade secret and will vary among producers.

Petroleum product useful material derived from crude oil (petroleum)

Petroleum products are materials derived from crude oil (petroleum) as it is processed in oil refineries. Unlike petrochemicals, which are a collection of well-defined usually pure chemical compounds, petroleum products are complex mixtures. The majority of petroleum is converted to petroleum products, which includes several classes of fuels.

Fecal impaction

A fecal impaction is a solid, immobile bulk of feces that can develop in the rectum as a result of chronic constipation. A related term is fecal loading which refers to a large volume of stool in the rectum of any consistency.

A coolant is a substance, typically liquid or gas, that is used to reduce or regulate the temperature of a system. An ideal coolant has high thermal capacity, low viscosity, is low-cost, non-toxic, chemically inert and neither causes nor promotes corrosion of the cooling system. Some applications also require the coolant to be an electrical insulator.

Baby oil

Baby oil is a skin-care product for infants.

Grease is a semisolid lubricant. Grease generally consists of a soap emulsified with mineral or vegetable oil. The characteristic feature of greases is that they possess a high initial viscosity, which upon the application of shear, drops to give the effect of an oil-lubricated bearing of approximately the same viscosity as the base oil used in the grease. This change in viscosity is called shear thinning. Grease is sometimes used to describe lubricating materials that are simply soft solids or high viscosity liquids, but these materials do not exhibit the shear-thinning properties characteristic of the classical grease. For example, petroleum jellies such as Vaseline are not generally classified as greases.

A silicone oil is any liquid polymerized siloxane with organic side chains. The most important member is polydimethylsiloxane. These polymers are of commercial interest because of their relatively high thermal stability and their lubricating properties.

Tricresyl phosphate group of isomers

Tricresyl phosphate, abbreviated TCP, is an organophosphate compound that is used as a plasticizer and diverse other applications. It is a toxic substance that causes neuropathy through ingestion, and has been the cause of several mass poisonings in history. It is a colourless, viscous liquid, although commercial samples are typically yellow. It is virtually insoluble in water.

Liquid paraffin, also known as paraffinum liquidum, is a very highly refined mineral oil used in cosmetics and for medical purposes. This is a UK definition and the term may have different uses in other countries. The cosmetic or medicinal liquid paraffin should not be confused with the paraffin used as a fuel.

Defoamer Chemical additive that reduces and hinders the formation of foam in liquids

A defoamer or an anti-foaming agent is a chemical additive that reduces and hinders the formation of foam in industrial process liquids. The terms anti-foam agent and defoamer are often used interchangeably. Commonly used agents are insoluble oils, polydimethylsiloxanes and other silicones, certain alcohols, stearates and glycols. The additive is used to prevent formation of foam or is added to break a foam already formed.

Petroleum naphtha is an intermediate hydrocarbon liquid stream derived from the refining of crude oil with CAS-no 64742-48-9. It is most usually desulfurized and then catalytically reformed, which rearranges or restructures the hydrocarbon molecules in the naphtha as well as breaking some of the molecules into smaller molecules to produce a high-octane component of gasoline.


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