Mineral Oil vs Linseed Oil

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In this article, we’ll take you through the uses and characteristics of linseed oil and mineral oil. After comparing and contrasting, we’ll reveal the major differentiating factor between these two substances. Then, we’ll discuss when to use mineral oil, when to use linseed oil, and which is better. 

What Is Mineral Oil?

Mineral oil is any oil that originates from a non-vegetable source, usually as a byproduct of petroleum processing. 

Mineral Oil Characteristics

Mineral oil has a number of unique characteristics, which is why it is widely used.

Table with wood finish
  • Mineral oils are clear, odorless, and inedible. 
  • They do not conduct electricity, and will displace both air and water.
  • They are not compressible, and have poor biodegradability. 
  • Mineral oils are flammable. 

Learn about the differences in mineral oil and mineral spirits – you don’t want to get them confused!

Mineral Oil Uses

The use and applications of mineral oils depend on how highly refined they are.

Super-pure mineral oil is used in particle acceleration experiments. 

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Medically, purified mineral oil is a mild laxative and can be used in humans, pets, and livestocks. In-vitro fertilization specialists culture oocytes and embryos using mineral oil. It offers a layer of thermal protection that protects the cultures from temperature changes during the observation process. It has the added benefit of holding the oocytes in place. 

When put into capsules, it can be sold as a dietary supplement.  

In the cosmetic industry, mineral oil is used as a base for non pore-clogging ointments and skin creams. The best known of these is cold cream. Fragrance is added to mineral oil to create the product advertised as ‘baby oil’, which is used to protect and condition delicate skin.

Mineral oil is recommended for use as a fertility-preserving vaginal lubricant, and will gently remove temporary tattoos. 

Outside of the European Union, mineral oil is certified for use as a food glaze, and is used to put a non-sticky shine on popular candies such as Swedish Fish. 

In construction and historical preservation, mineral oil is used to gently clean alabaster. This soft, carvable metamorphic rock does not withstand water, so mineral oil is used instead. It can also be used as a conditioner for wooden food service handles. 

In pest-removal circles, mineral oil is known for suffocating scaly mites on the feet of poultry. Horticulturists mix mineral oil with detergent and spray it on the leaves of plants to control pest infestation. 

Mineral oil is also known as transformer oil due to its use as an insulator in electrical transformers, and can be used as a hydraulic fluid. Auto emissions tests are often conducted with mineral oil burned in a special machine. The thick white smoke points to the location of any leaks in a closed-circulation system. 

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It’s lack of odor makes mineral oil popular with performers such as fire-breathers and fire-dancers.

What Is Linseed Oil?

Linseed oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the flax plant. Flax is a flowering plant used to make textiles such as linen.

Linseed Oil Characteristics

There are several different types of linseed oil, ranging from raw to boiled.

Linseed coming out of a jar
  • In its natural, just-extracted state, linseed oil is clear or yellowish. 
  • It contains a fatty omega-3 acid known as AHA. 
  • Linseed oil is a drying oil, which means that it hardens when exposed to air, although the process of drying can take weeks. It can be modified by heating it to high temperatures over several days in an oxygen-free environment. This highly viscous formulation is known as ‘stand oil’ and dries to a flexible, elastic barrier.
  • Stand oil combined with raw linseed oil and drying agents is known as boiled linseed oil (BLO). This formulation dries more quickly than stand oil or raw linseed oil. 

Linseed Oil Uses

Linseed oil is sourced by pressing the seeds of the flax flower. Solvents are sometimes used for additional extraction. When unprocessed, it is known as ‘raw linseed oil’. 

Cricket players have been using raw linseed oil to condition their bats for centuries. Cricket bats are made with willow. The llinseed oil penetrates the wood, keeping it flexible and springy.

When applied to wood or rubber, raw linseed oil increases surface friction. This purportedly gives batsmen better control when hitting the cricket ball. The long dry time is considered an asset in this application. 

In the past, mechanics used linseed oil to reduce slippage of rubber belts. 

When processed according to food safety guidelines, linseed oil is edible and has a savory nut-like taste. This formulation is generally known as flax oil or flaxseed oil.

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Oil painters use stand oil to glaze and protect finished artwork because it forms a flexible and elastic barrier that prevents crackling. Unlike other glaze options, stand oil does not yellow as it ages. 

During the painting process, stand oil is mixed with oil paints to create a painting medium that spreads pigmentation, reducing the appearance of brush strokes. It slows the dry time, giving painters a longer ‘open time’ to work with paint. 

The decreased drying time of BLO makes it useful for conditioning and protecting wood. It is used on exterior furniture, trim, and decking and has mild moisture-repelling qualities. Protection is achieved by wiping the BLO onto the wood, waiting 30 minutes, and removing the excess with a clean rag. In about 30 days, the oil will be both dry and hard. 

Wood treated with boiled linseed oil has a richer appearance. It resists color changes due to weathering and drying. 

Thin layers of BLO applied to metal protect it from the oxidation process that causes rust. 

Mineral Oil vs Linseed Oil

The similarities between mineral oil and linseed oil include edibility, flammability, lack of odor, and application as a wood conditioner/protective finish. 

Paint thinner can, Mineral Spirit can, and wood stain products

They have vastly different applications outside of woodworking. They dry in different ways. One is natural, while the other is man-made. 

Similarities

Certain formulations of both oils are edible, while others are not safe for human consumption. 

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Both mineral oil and linseed oil can be used to condition or protect wood. 

On their own, these oils are both essentially odorless. (Although the solvents in BLO have an unpleasant scent.) 

Linseed oil and mineral oil are highly flammable. 

Differences

The use of linseed oil is restricted to wood protection, painting, and increasing surface friction. 

Mineral oil has a much wider applicability, and is used in the medical, cosmetic, mechanical, and electrical industries. 

Mineral oil is non-drying, and will not form a solid barrier. Linseed oil is a drying oil. Although the drying time i Mineral Oil s long, it eventually forms a film on top of metal or a penetrative barrier beneath the surface of wood. 

Mineral oil is produced synthetically, usually during the processing of petroleum.  Linseed oil is a naturally occurring substance. 

Major Differentiating Factor

BLO is considered a wood finish, as it forms a barrier that prevents water from penetrating the surface. Mineral oil can be used to condition wood, but it does not form a solid barrier. 

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When to Use Mineral Oil

Use mineral oil when you need a mild laxative, to remove temporary tattoos, or to condition the wood handles of food service implements.

If you perform by breathing or dancing with fire, mineral oil is a good alternative to naphtha and kerosene due to the low odor and lack of known carcinogens. 

When to Use Linseed Oil

Use raw linseed oil to condition cricket bats. Use stand oil for oil painting and glazing fine art. Use boiled linseed oil to protect wood and metal. 

Which Is Better, Mineral Oil or Linseed Oil?

There is very little overlap between these two substances. The only use they have in common is as a wood treatment. Mineral oil is better for maintaining interior wood. Linseed oil is better for protecting wood from moisture.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.