Editor’s Note: This article was inspired by an idea left in a comment by Left Coast Chuck, one of our most respected readers and opinion leaders.
Cooking oil is one of the key elements in any prepper’s food supply. It’s a great source of energy and essential fatty acids, it adds flavor, and on top of that it just makes a lot of things easier to cook. If you’ve built up a serious food reserve, substantial enough to get you through a winter or the worst of the radiation danger after a nuclear attack, you probably have gallons of oil stored.
Oil stores fairly well, but it doesn’t last forever. Even in ideal storage conditions it’s going to start to deteriorate, and after a year or two you’ll probably notice a decrease in quality. The worst case scenario is part of your oil supply going rancid, which makes it pretty much unusable for cooking – and potentially dangerous if you do cook with it. Usually, rotating your stock will avoid that; older oil will get used up before it has a chance to get rancid.
Sometimes things go wrong, though. A damaged container that lets air in, some mishap that exposes oil to repeated temperature changes or sunlight – there are various ways you could find yourself with a few gallons of rancid oil on your hands. Hopefully, if that does happen, it will be before a crisis hits – that way you’ll have time to replace it with fresh oil. But, whenever it happens, you still have a load of rancid oil to deal with. What should you do with it?
Most people, of course, are just going to get rid of it. It’s cooking oil, after all, and if you can’t cook with it that makes it pretty much useless, right? Well no, it’s not that simple. Even rancid oil has uses that make it valuable in a survival situation. You’ll certainly want to replace it in your food reserves, but don’t pour it away – with a little bit of knowledge, it can still boost your chances of getting through in one piece. Here are a few things you can use it for.
Oil lamps are one of the simplest ways to give yourself light and a bit of heat. At their most basic, all you need is a container and a wick.
That makes them extremely easy to improvise, and if you have a handy source of fuel for them – a gallon of rancid vegetable oil, for example – why not?
You’ve stockpiled some vinegar as well, right? Mix equal quantities of vinegar and rancid oil, and rub it into wood. It makes a great polish and conditioner; rub it in and buff it up, and you can restore old, scuffed wood to an amazingly good appearance. Use it on butcher blocks and wooden work surfaces, too – the oil gives a water-resistant finish that’s easy to wipe clean. Before using the mixture give the bottle a good shake to mix it up, because the oil and vinegar will separate out if you leave them standing any length of time.
Wicker and rattan baskets are useful containers that, in a long-term survival situation, you can make yourself.
They do need some maintenance, though, or they tend to crack and split. Rub some warmed rancid oil into them to give a glossy, water- and dirt-resistant finish.
Cooking oil is no match for modern, high-performance lubricating oils – but then, how often do you actually need high performance? If all you want to do is quiet down a squeaky gate hinge then a few drops of rancid canola will do just fine. Keep specialist oils for jobs that need them, and use spoiled cooking oil on the rest.
If you want your tools to last, they need to be cleaned and oiled after use. That will keep rust from attacking them. It’s a bit wasteful of oil, though. In a long-term crisis refined oils are going to become scarce, and do you really want to be using them to rustproof your shovel? Next time you use it the oil will all end up in the ground and you’ll have to use more once you’ve cleaned it. Slap on some rancid cooking oil instead; it’s just as effective. If you don’t have anything else you could even use it on your guns, although it’s likely to smoke when you fire. What would you rather have, though – a bit more smoke, or rust in the bore?
If you’ve got paint on your hands, don’t worry; cooking oil will help you get it off without painful scrubbing.
Massage some oil into the affected areas, then give it five minutes to sink in. It will loosen the paint so you can wash it off with soap and water.
Oh, you’re out of soap? No problem; rancid oil is an ideal raw material for making your own. The other main ingredient is lye, and you can make that yourself from wood ash. There’s an art to making your own soap and if you’re using rancid oil you need to get it exactly right, otherwise you’ll end up with rancid-smelling soap. Luckily, rancid oil is a cheap resource to practice on.
If you have a diesel engine of any sort, it will happily burn as much rancid oil as you can get your hands on. Cooking oil is pretty much a one for one replacement for diesel fuel; engines will run on it without modification or any noticeable loss of performance. Just filter the oil first to remove any impurities or water. Many people are saving themselves a lot of money by collecting used fryer oil from local restaurants, filtering out any food residue, then using it as biodiesel. Rancid oil works just as well as used.
For many of these uses, you don’t have to wait for oil to go rancid. Got a fryer? You need to change the oil in that regularly, to prevent dangerous chemicals building up in it. Don’t pour away the old oil; it’s still fine for fuel, rust-proofing or lubricant.
You may also like: