If you read the first article on this blog regarding whether or not FireClean is the same as Crisco, you are aware that people became really, really upset over the results.
Lines were drawn, accusations were made, the science was championed by some and attacked by others.
A second round of testing, conducted at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, sheds more light on the controversy. I submitted eighteen samples for various tests, including gun oils, gun pastes, cooking oils, and gear oils. If you would like to read about the methodology, you may do so here – straight from the horse’s mouth. These tests included IR spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance testing. Click that link to learn more about both.
In addition, separate testing of FireClean and a different brand of canola oil was conducted by a different individual (who has a PhD in chemistry) at a different lab. This testing included HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and two variants of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance). I did not supply the samples for this test, but the results were remarkably similar.
Some of the people involved wished to remain anonymous after they saw the vitriol directed at various parties after the first test, but others did not. Everett, who conducted the bulk of this testing, wanted me to thank the following people:
-Professor Drew Brodeur of Worcester Polytechnic institute for advising the project
-Daryl Johnson, Andy Butler, and Professor John MacDonald of WPI for help with the methods and testing
-Curtis of The VSO Gun Channel for help with the methods
Several of these tests of the eighteen various lubricants will be of interest to those in the firearm sphere, but perhaps none will be as interesting as this one. Summarized in one sentence, here’s why:
According to every PhD who looked at the NMR results, FireClean and Canola oil appear to be “effectively” or “nearly” identical.
This was also the opinion of the chemistry student conducting the testing (Everett) and two other people with similar undergraduate degrees.
Here is the data:
NMR Sample #6 (2015 production Crisco brand canola oil)
NMR Sample #8 (2015 production FireClean)
Here is the NMR data superimposed upon one another:
Here is some additional IR data which also includes sample #16, generic corn oil:
Here is what people with chemistry experience and/or degrees had to say:
“For NMR, you have environment, shift, area and splitting. Presuming these samples were processed identically, I find the NMR spectra to be effectively identical. Each peak in a carbon NMR spectrum identifies a carbon atom at a distinct place along a molecule. Each place reflects its local environment. You can look up the peaks in the spectrum to referenced guides to then identify where along the spectrum the peaks correspond with molecular species in the molecule. For instance, is it next to another carbon atom, or an oxygen or hydrogen, etc… The important part is that the peaks overlap precisely. I made an image attached below that shows sample 8 superimposed in the green channel of sample 6 (see above). The height of the peaks is slightly different reflecting effectively nothing as it is the area under the peak that matters which here is negligible. Sample 6 and 8 are effectively identical.” – PhD (Neurophysiology, BS Chemistry/Biology)
“Height from one spectrum to another is irrelevant and can vary with a slight difference in amount of sample put in the NMR tube. As one of my professors put it “NMR is the gold standard for structural chemistry.” Structural chemists that know the molecular formula of their compound can combine NMR with IR data to figure out what the structure of their molecule is. The chances of two different molecules having the same NMR spectra is almost zero.” – Everett (conducted testing)
“In terms of your data, the two 13C NMR spectra look nearly identical and are expected for a vegetable oil blend. Some differences are apparent in the ‘alkene’ region (~129 ppm), and this is likely due to varying ratios of different unsaturated triglycerides being present in different products. Wikipedia has ratios of the various fatty acid compositions for different oils (here). The minor differences between oleic, linoleic, paltimic, stearic, etc acids will result in slightly different peak patterns in that region of the spectrum.” – Anonymous, PhD (Chemistry)
Here is the second NMR test – two types of NMR, actually, proton (1H) and carbon (13C) done at a different lab, by a different individual, using different samples of FireClean and Costco brand Canola oil:
Here is what he had to say about the results:
“The structure I pasted over the spectrum is not the exact identity of the canola or fireclean, it’s just a representative. These products contain a mix of various compounds, so the carbon chain length, number and placement of double bonds, etc will all vary between various chemical species and vegetable oil blends. The paper sums that up, for your more demanding readers. I haven’t kept up with the press on fireclean all that much, but if they are claiming any addition of anticorrosives or stabilizers, they would likely show up in either the IR or NMR spectra unless in very small quantities. I would feel confident claiming that FIREclean is just a vegetable oil or vegetable oil blend of some sort.
Some differences in the NMR spectra are apparent, but they are relatively inconsequential and easily explained by the complexity of lipids derived from natural sources. In the 13C NMR, we see some variation in alkene peaks around 128 ppm (peak b) that are likely due to di- and tri-unsaturated fatty acids, and similarly in the 1H we see changes in the relative amounts of allyl protons due to additional unsaturation (2.7 ppm, peak c) between fireclean and Costco canola oil. There’s still nothing about the NMR that would indicate that fireclean is anything but vegetable oil.
This means that some of their claims are true. Vegetable oil is certainly nontoxic/biodegradable, and somewhat odor free. However, it would be difficult to argue that vegetable oil possesses “extreme heat resistance” when it is known to degrade in the presence of heat and oxygen. As far as conditioning the metal substrate to resist further carbon buildup, a good comparison might be that of seasoning a cast iron skillet, where oil or fat is heated to the point of degradation, leaving behind a complex layer of polymerized triglycerides. If you are comfortable with this on your firearms’ internal components, then this would be a good product to use, otherwise a more thermally stable product might be in order. The attached paper (Review of Food Lipids 2014) details the degradation of food lipids under conditions relevant to firearms use, so readers may make their own determination.” – Anonymous, PhD (Chemistry)
As I have continued to state since forming an opinion on the product, FireClean works very well as a lubricant for the AR-15. I chose it for the LuckyGunner 40,000 round ammo test because I had used it with good results – I was provided with samples early in 2012 – and wanted to give a fledgling company a chance in a crowded field. I don’t regret that decision – the lubricant worked well for the test. The FireClean folks must have felt the same way, because my work on that test is in almost every sales pitch they’ve made about their product.
That said, even the best lube can’t make a bad rifle or a bad magazine or bad ammunition function 100%. All of those items working together – a good rifle built by Bushmaster, Magpul PMags, Federal brass cased .223, and a good lubricant (FireClean) came together for 10,000 rounds with no malfunctions in that particular carbine. The steel cased carbines didn’t perform at quite the same level, but still performed remarkably well, all things considered.
FireClean is, as stated previously on this blog, a common vegetable oil, with no evidence of additives for corrosion resistance or other features. The science is solid in this regard. Questions or concerns about the limited value of IR testing should be, I would think, put to rest with two discrete tests – tests regarded as “the gold standard in analytical chemistry” – and analysis by multiple sources.
Viewed in this light, FireClean’s recent claims that using cooking oils such as canola oil on your firearm could lead to serious injury or death are simply laughable. They also claimed that it should not be used for cooking due to health concerns – but they also claim that it’s non-toxic. Well, which is it?
I have absolutely no issue with the concept of making money (I applaud those who make money hand over fist), or taking a product from one sphere and introducing it to another. I think a certain amount of “finder’s fee” is absolutely reasonable. If they discovered that the product would work as a gun oil, introduced it to the gun world, etc., then they did people a favor by telling them about something they never would have discovered on their own. There are also marketing costs, packaging, etc. We couldn’t expect them to sell a 2oz bottle of Fireclean for the same per ounce price as a gallon of Walmart brand Canola oil.
That said, I don’t think I could look someone in the eye and tell them that a bottle of vegetable oil was the most advanced gun lube on the planet, but those who can? Well, they’re good salesmen, I guess.
What I do take issue with are attempts to mislead consumers and distort the facts. There is a line between being an aggressive and effective salesman and not being entirely truthful about your product, the way it works, or what it contains. It is my belief that FireClean crossed that line long ago – and that many of their recent statements are simply egregious.