Chemistry - How can the formula of WD-40 remain a trade secret?

Solution 1:

"How can it remain secret?". Trivial answer is - it can't (it isn't).

WD40 is a Fast Moving Consumer Good (FMCG). It is also a reasonably cheap product - as an industrial chemist this suggests at least two things to me:

  1. It doesn't contain anything rare or expensive
  2. It isn't difficult to manufacture

As an ex-petroleum chemical analyst, with access to a reasonably complete lab, checks to do :

  • Get the Safety Data Sheet (below is composite information from a number of WD-40 Penetrant SDS)

    cas %

  • 64742-47-8 50-70 isoparaffins petroleum hydrotreated HFP

    64742-56-9 30-35 paraffinic distillate, light, solvent-dewaxed

    61789-86-4 <5 calcium petroleum sulfonate

    111-76-2 1-3 ethylene glycol monobutyl ether

    Not Available 1 fragrance

  • Check the SDS info using physical/chemical testing If you have the gear available : Density Distillation FTIR GC (GC-MS if you have it) AAS/ICP - metals (ICP multielement would be best) CHOSNP analysis for hetero atoms

  • Rebuild the product from data. Check to see if it performs the same.

  • Improve on the product (believe me - WD-40 is NOT the be all and end all of penetrating oils - technology has improved since its formulation).

Solution 2:

A fundamental problem in analytical chemistry is that we never analyze a complete unknown mixture simply because of time and money constraints. Finding each and every component of a complex unknown mixture is quite impossible. NMR is good for pure compounds only, mass spectrometer is "blind" to several analytes because they do not ionize very well. It is unable to distinguish the masses of isomers. You may ask what can't we make synthetic gasoline? The reason is that it literally contains thousand and thousands of compounds and people are even discovering more by using million dollar Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometers. So back to the question, is it worth analyzing a completely unknown mixture?