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Mineral Oil - Uses? 'Banned in Europe'?
May 21, 2008 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Uses for mineral oil, and (why) is it 'banned in europe'?

I bought some mineral oil (USP) to seal a bamboo cutting board I bought.

The instructions for the board said to use their special oil, but there wasn't any at the store and it turns out to be 'mineral oil (USP)' anyway at twice the price of generic.

When I googled 'uses for mineral oil' I saw several mentions of 'banned in Europe'. But I could find no legitimate references for this. (I did stumble on this and for about two seconds thought I was reading an actual article about baby oil).

'Banned in Europe' is a meaningless statement: is this supposed to mean the EU? If it is actually banned, where exactly, and why? (Looking for links/references to research or news articles)

From the wiki I know it's in a lot of (American, at least) makeup, lotion, 'baby oil', laxative, etc., and the industrial grades have a variety of uses. There are some interesting (household mostly) uses described here.
posted by jjsonp to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Mineral oil is a bi-product of petroleum manufacturing. It has triclosan it in, which produced dioxins, which are bad for the environment.
posted by parmanparman at 7:36 PM on May 21, 2008


Seal your cutting board with vegetable oil. Mineral oil is bad for you.
posted by gum at 7:48 PM on May 21, 2008


Seal your cutting board with vegetable oil. Mineral oil is bad for you.

Cite please? A little googling didn't turn up anything worse than interfering with the absorption of certain vitamins (in much larger than trace amounts)...
posted by advil at 7:58 PM on May 21, 2008


I generally prefer linseed oil for sealing wood, not because mineral oil is inherently toxic (the pharmaceutical grade would certainly not be) but because linseed oxidises fairly quickly, forming a tough layer in the wood surface that preserves it really well.

Don't use "boiled linseed oil" on a food preparation surface, since it will usually contain additives that are probably not food-grade.
posted by flabdablet at 7:59 PM on May 21, 2008


Vegetable oil goes rancid. Bad idea. I treat my cutting boards with mineral oil, and it works great. I wouldn't drink a big glass of the stuff, but it's perfectly safe in the quantities you're using. If you want to get really serious, melt a bit of pure beeswax into the mineral oil, and apply to the cutting board while still warm. Beautiful seal.

Don't know what else you could use it for. Definitely doesn't make the greatest lube. (Smells bad, can't be used with condoms.) But if there's nothing else around...

(Skip the beeswax, though.)
posted by neroli at 8:01 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I use mineral oil to lubricate my electric clippers.
posted by mattbucher at 8:20 PM on May 21, 2008


If it's banned in Europe, it's certainly not banned at my local (U.S.) Ikea. That's where I got my last bottle, to use with an Ikea cutting board.
posted by gimonca at 8:27 PM on May 21, 2008


It's great for keeping your IPG gel strips from drying out while the proteins are focusing. Probably not the most common use but that's what I do with it.

This big list of chemicals known to cause cancer in the state of California puts "soots, tars, and mineral oils (untreated and mildly treated oils and used engine oils)" on the naughty list along with 800 or so other things, but that doesn't really describe the mineral oil you're talking about.

From glancing at your "banned" links, I wouldn't trust any of them. For example:

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) is found in 90 percent of all shampoo. It penetrates the skin very easily and once inside the body, it collects in the heart, liver, lungs and brain.

Apart from the "found in 90% of shampoos part I don't believe any of this sentence. For example, you may see materials labeled "Target Organ: Heart" (e.g. Sodium Chloride) but collects in the heart and not all the other muscle in your body? I'm just going to just say [Citation Needed] and move on.

The Wikipedia Triclosan article is interesting reading, but does not mention mineral oil specifically.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:28 PM on May 21, 2008


Putting used engine oil on your cutting board would probably be a bad idea. I would expect pharmaceutical grade mineral oil to have a rather lower contaminant content.
posted by flabdablet at 8:37 PM on May 21, 2008


Why, looky here! My Swedish is just a little rusty, but it looks like Ikea is selling mineral oil on their home turf as well. That would appear to be a data point against the "Banned in Europe" notion.
posted by gimonca at 8:40 PM on May 21, 2008


Seal your cutting board with vegetable oil. Mineral oil is bad for you.

Mineral oil is sold as a laxative. If you can drink it, you can certainly put it on your cutting board.
posted by ssg at 8:49 PM on May 21, 2008


It's quackery. Pharmaceutical grade mineral oil is also known as...baby oil (sometimes with Vitamin E). Google any combination of "mineral oil msds" (for material safety data sheet) and you'll pull up very little to be concerned about unless you're breathing it. Chalk up another fail to the same evidence-ignoring untrained idiots that brought you homeopathic medicine and colon cleansing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:50 PM on May 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


It is probably banned, because like baby oil (same thing apparently), it can be inhaled into the lungs. It can kill babies and children. It has numerous times.

Baby oil is often kept in children's grasp and can be very dangerous.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:59 PM on May 21, 2008


I meant to add that there is virtually no way to remove baby oil from the lungs. You basically drown in it. Sorry for that downer, but I'm guessing this is why it is banned -- for children's safety.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:01 PM on May 21, 2008


I'm not getting the "banned in Europe" thing. I work with chemical regulatory data, although I am not a regulatory expert. I am not at work so I don't have all of the available data at hand, but from some of my online sources it doesn't appear that the chemical is outright banned by any European regulations. There are some occupational exposure limits, meant to protect workers, but those are for oil mists, not the liquid version.

I am assuming that mineral oil in this context is represented by CAS# 8012-95-1.

If you want, feel free to Memail me and I can do some more research at work tomorrow.
posted by cabingirl at 9:05 PM on May 21, 2008


The Europeans will be waking up in a few hours. I'm sure some of them will be along to tell us what is or isn't available in the stores where they are.
posted by winston at 9:07 PM on May 21, 2008


The closest to anything relevant I found is a claim that

Petrolatum is listed as a probable human carcinogen in the European Union's Dangerous Substances Directive (UNECE 2004), and its use in cosmetics will be banned by September 2004 with the following caveat:“The classification as a carcinogen need not apply if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen.”


(Mineral oil is liquid petrolatum.) I wasn't able to find an original citation on any government websites, but I'm not familiar with EU websites.

Parmanparman, why would mineral oil have triclosan in it? Triclosan is an antibacterial. I don't see any resources backing that up - it looks like triclosan (at low concentrations) is sometimes dispensed in a base of mineral oil or petroleum jelly, but that's a different situation - the triclosan is the active ingredient in that case.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:24 PM on May 21, 2008


when we were younger we had several rhododendron bushes in our yard. for some reason mom made us pull the dead blossoms off. doing this made our hands very sticky. when we were done she would pour some mineral oil on our hands and we would rub them around until they weren't sticky anymore.

now i use it for my bamboo cutting boards.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 9:33 PM on May 21, 2008


Here a link to the msds (material safety data sheet) on mineral oil. It seems rather innocuous. In one lab I worked, I used it to restore an old stone lab bench. It did a superb job of cleaning and shining stone. It was also used as a sealer in PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tubes.

Forgive the spelling out: I'm very acronym challenged and I tend to assume other people are too.
posted by francesca too at 9:58 PM on May 21, 2008


Er... I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that mineral oil is banned in Europe. You can buy normal Johnson & Johnson baby oil anywhere in the UK.

I've never had a reason to buy it myself when travelling in continental Europe for work, but the different uses of baby oil (skin care or body lubricant) are known from Ireland to Poland to Romania, if my vaguely remembered trail of mildly risque or girlie bodycare post-work happy hour conversations serve. Unless there's a black market for mineral oil I don't know about, I'd say that means folks can buy it at their local chemist like any other lotion.
posted by Grrlscout at 11:09 PM on May 21, 2008


Vegetable oil goes rancid. Bad idea.

Bullshit.

Seal your cutting board with vegetable oil if you want. I have been using olive oil for this for decades and have never had a board which got funky or had any issues, and in this time I have been the owner of dozens of cutting boards, some used every day, some used once a year, all seasoned with olive oil, with absolutely zero rancid oil issues. Oil does not go rancid on a wooden cutting board. I suppose if you left a puddle of oil on the board for six months in the heat you might have an issue. Mineral oil, on the other hand, is really nothing to fear. I prefer a food product, but food grade mineral oil seems pretty harmless.
posted by caddis at 11:54 PM on May 21, 2008


If it's banned in Europe, it's certainly not banned at my local (U.S.) Ikea. That's where I got my last bottle, to use with an Ikea cutting board.

I bought mineral oil at the Ikea in Stockholm and baby oil is available in the Apotek so it's not banned in this part of Europe.

Where do people get these ideas? When you hear "Banned in Europe" you should think of handguns, Nazis, Holocaust denial, proper lines at the ski lifts, clothing in the sauna... pretty much everything else goes.
posted by three blind mice at 1:55 AM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bullshit.

Caddis is right. You can also do a nice oil finish on unfinished wooden furniture if you sand vegetable oil into it with fine wet-and-dry paper. Anyone who says the contrary has never done this.
posted by Wolof at 2:11 AM on May 22, 2008


Vegetable oils most certainly may go rancid, especially olive and nut oils. Oils like Canola, though, are not as susceptable. That said, vegetable oils do provide a nice, cozy organic medium for all sorts of nasties to call home. Mineral oil simply does not.

FWIW, foodie (and MeFi) fave Alton Brown strongly recommends against using vegetable oils for treating cutting blocks and any other wooden implements, in favor of mineral oil.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:38 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


My brother had recurrent ear infections as a kid and our pediatrician recommended a couple of drops of warmed-to-body-temperature mineral oil (not baby oil!) in the ear to help soothe the pain of the ear ache. It worked. I keep it around now to deal with my ear aches from sinus/allergy problems. Of course it doesn't do anything to cure the underlying illness, but it does ease the pain so the patient can sleep.
posted by weebil at 8:05 AM on May 22, 2008


For bad constipation - I'm talking about no bowel movements for months, and concreted fecaliths blocking the entire colon - there is nothing quite so good as mineral oil, by mouth and per rectum, 8 oz. each, four times a day until "effect" is achieved.

I treat my own bamboo cutting board with olive oil.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:26 AM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can also use mineral oil to make your own snow globes!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:40 AM on May 22, 2008


A very interesting and now famous study comparing the safety of wooden and plastic cutting boards was done at UC Davis. From a summary by a principal investigator:

Our research was first intended to develop means of disinfecting wooden cutting surfaces at home, so that they would be almost as safe as plastics. Our safety concern was that bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, which might contaminate a work surface when raw meat was being prepared, ought not remain on the surface to contaminate other foods that might be eaten without further cooking. We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used. New plastic surfaces allowed the bacteria to persist, but were easily cleaned and disinfected. However, wooden boards that had been used and had many knife cuts acted almost the same as new wood, whereas plastic surfaces that were knife-scarred were impossible to clean and disinfect manually, especially when food residues such as chicken fat were present. Scanning electron micrographs revealed highly significant damage to plastic surfaces from knife cuts.

In short, wood has potent antibacterial properties; even old, used wood. My concern is that any coating of the wood-- whether animal, vegetable, or mineral-- could insulate bacteria from this beneficial effect.

Some woods can handle not being coated at all quite well, in my experience. I have an old untreated teak board (it was hard to find one that hadn't been tung-oiled) that has only been washed with soap and water for years, and an oak plank. If you go this route, try to find a board made from a single piece of wood, so that bacteria cannot hide out in the joints.
posted by jamjam at 9:54 AM on May 22, 2008


...very little to be concerned about unless you're breathing it...

Yeah, you definitely don't want to breathe it. I once recommended longterm use of mineral oil for a patient with severe constipation. Over a period of months he developed really bad inflammation of the lungs. I eventually figured out that he had an unknown swallowing problem and some of the oil was going down the wrong tube.
posted by neuron at 1:35 PM on May 22, 2008


Petrolatum is listed as a probable human carcinogen in the European Union's Dangerous Substances Directive (UNECE 2004), and its use in cosmetics will be banned by September 2004 with the following caveat:“The classification as a carcinogen need not apply if the full refining history is known and it can be shown that the substance from which it is produced is not a carcinogen.”

Clip that URL a bit and you get links to things like, "Stem Cell Nutrition", which to me looks like parking a liver enzyme work up next to the phrase, "Plus, you're a Virgo with Mars ascendant."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:47 PM on May 23, 2008


You can't park a liver enzyme workup, man, you have to drive it till it runs out of gas.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:14 PM on May 23, 2008


Clip that URL a bit and you get links to things like, "Stem Cell Nutrition", which to me looks like parking a liver enzyme work up next to the phrase, "Plus, you're a Virgo with Mars ascendant."

Oh, that site itself seems to have little credibility, but it was the closest thing I could find to someone explaining what they meant when they claimed mineral oil is "banned in Europe."
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:56 PM on May 24, 2008


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