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One day in 1859, a young chemist named Robert Chesebrough visited Titusville, Pennsylvania. He noticed that oilfield workers were using something they called “rod wax” to dress minor skin wounds.
Rod wax was an oil-drilling byproduct. Chesebrough was intrigued enough to start studying and refining the goop. By 1865 he had a lighter, transparent product, a mix of mineral oils and natural waxes, that he marketed under the name “Wonder Jelly.” It didn’t become Vaseline until 1872. (Fun fact: The name was derived from the German word for water, wasser, and the Greek word for oil, oleon.)
Although other companies now manufacture the stuff, some people still use the word “Vaseline” to mean petroleum jelly, the way they use “Xerox” for copy machine or “Band-Aid” for adhesive bandage.
Whatever you call it, you likely grew up with a jar of the old Wonder Jelly in your home. And what a wonder this emollient continues to be: Consumers use it in dozens of ways both inside and outside the home.
Take a look at this slide show, and you’ll never see petroleum jelly the same way again.
1. All-over baby care
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Apparently it’s not just for baby’s backside: Citing an article from JAMA Pediatrics, the Mayo Clinic announced that a daily application of petroleum jelly on a newborn’s skin for the first six months of life can reduce the risk of irritating eczema.
2. Remove candle drips
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Did the tapers from last night’s romantic dinner wind up dripping onto the tabletop? Apply petroleum jelly around the edges, let sit for a minute and then wipe away with a soft cloth.
Also, rub some jelly inside the candle holder before placing the candles. That will make it easier to lift the candle out if the holder becomes coated with wax.
3. Guard your garden tools
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After the yard season ends, wash and dry your trowel, hand rake and other implements, then coat metal parts with a thin layer of jelly. Mary Hunt of the Everyday Cheapskate website suggests doing this – and also to paint the handles a bright red, to make them easier to find if you’ve left them outdoors. Smart!
4. Condition a baseball glove
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Nothing like that new-leather smell, but an unconditioned glove can be pretty stiff and hard to use. Apply petroleum jelly, rub it in well, and then tie up the glove with a baseball inside, both to condition and shape the glove and to get it thinking about the next game.
5. Remove stuck stickers
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No matter how often you tell them, kids may “forget” and put stickers on doors and furniture. Rub on a little petroleum jelly and, after a few hours, use the edge of a credit card to remove the goo.
Note: This also works for stubborn price tags. No one has to know that gift cost you only 50 cents at the thrift store.
6. Light it up
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For a fast fire-starter when camping, saturate some cotton balls with petroleum jelly and put them in a small paper bag. Set the bag on fire, then add wood.
7. Remove makeup
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Gently massage a little jelly onto your face, then wipe with a soft cloth.
8. Make your own cosmetics
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For homemade lip gloss, blend a bit of petroleum jelly with presweetened Kool-Aid powder. Cherry flavor is the obvious choice but why not play around with some other colors? (Tip: Apply with a lip brush, as it will stain your fingers.)
Prime your eyelids with foundation and translucent powder, and then mix a small amount of jelly with your powdered eye shadow. The result is a much more intense look.
Use fingertips or a makeup sponge to dab a small amount of petroleum jelly across your cheekbones. The resulting shine will create the contoured look of a runway model’s bone structure. You can also do this across your brow if you like.
Blend a small amount of lipstick with some jelly to make a cream blush.
Or just use petroleum jelly as makeup. My mom wouldn’t let us wear mascara until age 16, so my sisters and I rubbed a little petroleum jelly on our eyelashes to make them look darker.
9. Tame flyaway hair
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Flyaway hair or split ends? Dryness is likely the cause, and petroleum jelly can be the solution. Instead of a wax or pomade, use a very small amount of petroleum jelly rubbed into your hands and smooth down frizzy flyaway hairs.
When there’s no time for a trim and your ends are fraying, rub a teensy bit of jelly on split ends to make them behave until you get to the salon.
Finally, you can use it to get obstreperous eyebrows to behave themselves: Put a dot of petroleum jelly on a clean mascara wand or the tip of your finger, then sweep from the beginning of the brow line to the end.
10. Deter pesky squirrels
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Use petroleum jelly to keep squirrels away from the bird feeder. Apply it to the pole, and the squirrels won’t be able to climb up the slippery surface.
Similarly, you can ant-proof a hummingbird feeder. Rub petroleum jelly on the hook, the top of the feeder and around the tip of the feeding cup. “It also keeps the syrup from dripping out,” according to the One Good Thing By Jillee blog.
Are ants swarming your dog or cat dish? Rub petroleum jelly around the outer sides of the container, right down to the floor or ground.
11. Protect chrome
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Coat the metal parts of bikes, strollers, mowers and other equipment with petroleum jelly to protect them from rust during winter storage.
12. Roll, baby, roll
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Use jelly around the cylinders on roller-skate and skateboard wheels, to keep them spinning freely.
13. Painting tricks
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Planning to paint a door but don’t want to take off hinges and doorknobs? Use a cotton swab to rub jelly on the metal. If any paint does get on, you can wipe it right off, according to Reader’s Digest.
Along the same lines: If you’re painting a window frame, first rub a thin line of jelly on the glass next to the frame in case your brush slips. That way you can wipe off any oopsies, rather than have to take a razor blade to chip paint off the window.
Finally: Once you’re done painting, apply petroleum jelly to the inside edge of the paint can for an airtight seal.
14. A better mani-pedi
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Similar to the painting trick: Rub a little jelly all around your nails before you apply polish. It will keep the color off your skin.
15. Protect pooch paws
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Before going for a walk in the snow, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests putting petroleum jelly on the tender pads of your dog’s feet. This will protect against salt or snow-melting chemicals.
When you get back in, dog trainer Cesar Millan suggests using a warm washcloth on the dog’s feet to remove any chemicals or salt — and then applying either Bag Balm, Vaseline or other petroleum jelly to moisturize.
16. Smooth your own rough edges
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Got super-dry skin on feet or hands? Coat with petroleum jelly just before bedtime, then put on socks/gloves. (It feels weird at first but you get used to it.) In the morning, marvel at your skin’s softness.
17. Save that fishing knife
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Do you fish? Rub petroleum jelly on your fishing knives before storing them, and they’ll be rust-free next season.
18. Glitter when you walk
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Want to look super-shiny when you go out dancing or dress up for Halloween? Mix a little bit of craft glitter into petroleum jelly and apply it to face, neck, arms or wherever you want to sparkle.
19. Love your leather
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Shine leather or patent leather shoes, or revive a leather jacket, belt or bag with a dab of petroleum jelly, rubbed in with a soft, lint-free cloth.
20. Trap the cold inside
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Soften a dried-up refrigerator door gasket with a thin layer of jelly. You’ll get a better seal until you can replace the gasket (or the fridge).
21. Keep that grin ghoulish
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Have you ever carved pumpkins a bit too early, only to have them shrivel before Halloween arrived? Next time, try a light coat of petroleum jelly around the carved areas to keep the gourds in good shape.
22. Vanquish flying insects
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Do flies get into the house every time someone opens a door? Make your own flypaper. Heat petroleum jelly in the microwave (be careful!) until it melts, then dip strips of paper into the liquid. Hang up strips in strategic spots.
23. Lube your lobes
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Rub on a bit of petroleum jelly for easier earring insertion.
24. Keep things sliding
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Rub the shower-curtain rod with a thin coating of jelly, to help rings slip freely when you open or close the curtain.
Use a craft paintbrush to apply petroleum jelly to medicine cabinet runners, window sash channels or the sliders of sliding shelves. Things should move right along.
25. Prolong car battery life
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Is your car battery corroding? Disconnect the terminals, and clean the terminals using a wire brush with a paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. For more detail on cleaning, check out this page on HowtoCleanStuff. After cleaning, wipe the terminals with petroleum jelly to stave off future corrosion.
26. Pamper your nose
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Bad cold + generic tissues = sore, sore nostrils. Gently rub on some jelly to protect the raw skin from moisture and rubbing, and reapply as needed.
27. De-gum hair
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Once again, Junior fell asleep while chewing gum. Work jelly into the lump of hair and goo until the gum can be slid off of the hair.
28. Grease is the word
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Apply some jelly to a stiff bicycle chain, then ride it around to coat the entire thing. The product can also be used on bearings, wheels, pedals and other bike parts.
29. Keep rust away from hardware
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When assembling things, coat the individual bolts, nuts and screws with jelly before using, to help prevent rust from developing.
30. Wrench off a ring
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If your finger swells, trapping a ring in place, you can coat your finger with petroleum jelly and keep tugging, gently.
31. Silence those squeaks
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Got noisy and/or stiff hinges on cabinets or doors? Petroleum jelly works just as well as WD-40, without the smell.
32. Cool down razor burn
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If you’re prone to itching and rawness after shaving any part of your anatomy, keep a container of petroleum jelly in the refrigerator. Smooth it on gently. (And maybe use a new and/or better razor next time.)
33. Open a lock
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Got a rusty padlock that won’t accept a key? Rub a very thin coating of jelly on the key and ease it into the opening.
34. Pipe dreams
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Rub some petroleum jelly on pipe threads to make joining them easier. Don’t use it on any rubber or latex elements, however, as this will cause their material to break down over time.
35. A smoother zip
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Zipper a bit stiff? Apply a small amount of jelly to the teeth.
36. Exfoliation aid
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Lips dry and flaky? Create an exfoliating scrub by mixing petroleum jelly with sugar (brown or white).
You can also make up a big batch of the stuff and give yourself a good rubdown, to remove dead skin. (Or better yet, have someone else massage you with the stuff.)
37. Keep suds out of eyes
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Before shampooing a baby or child’s hair, apply a thick line of petroleum jelly across the forehead above the eyebrows. If any suds dribble down, they’ll be directed away from the eyes.
38. Rescue furniture
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Have you noticed stains, water rings or little scratches on a table, bookshelf or other wood? Slather on some petroleum jelly, leave it for a day, rub it in well and wipe away what’s left. Then polish it the way you usually do.
39. Secure a pastry mat
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Does the pastry mat slide around while you work? Use a small dab of jelly on the undersides of all four corners.
40. Blister buster
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Apply a little bit of jelly on the parts of your shoes that rub against your feet, to prevent blisters.
41. De-stick a lid
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The lids of glue and nail-polish bottles can get stuck good and tight. After use, rub petroleum jelly on the insides of the lids or the necks of the bottles.
42. Waterproof a new tat
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Got fresh ink? Rub jelly on it before showering to protect it — after all, a tattoo is an open wound. But wipe it off carefully afterwards, because petroleum jelly also can affect the quality of the ink.
43. Dye without staining
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Coloring your own hair? Rub a layer of petroleum jelly all along your hairline, to prevent staining the skin.
44. Smell sweeter for longer
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Before you spray on perfume, rub a little jelly onto pulse points. It will preserve the fragrance all day.
45. Blot away those kisses
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Did a dinner guest’s lipstick come off on your cloth napkin? Reader’s Digest suggests blotting the marks with petroleum jelly before laundering.
46. Be-ribbon your baby
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Want to put a hair bow on the head of your mostly bald infant daughter? Fix it in place with a dab of jelly. Sure, you could use one of those ribbons with an elastic band, but this way people will wonder how on earth you did it.
47. A more even tan
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According to All You magazine, areas of dry skin will take in more tanning lotion than they should. The result: color blotches. Rub jelly onto your skin before applying tanning products.
48. Prevent rust rings
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Those who shave in the bathtub may find rings of rust on the bathtub rim or shower shelf, put there by shaving-cream cans. Rub some petroleum jelly on the base of the can to keep out water.
49. Make your own lip balm
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Creating your own lip balm can be as simple as melting petroleum jelly in the microwave and adding a flavoring such as vanilla, honey or a candy-flavoring oil. This article from WikiHow.com explains it all.
Of course, you could also just carry plain old Vaseline in a small vial or jar. It won’t taste as nice, but cheer up: The blech flavor keeps you from licking your lips, thus preventing further dryness. Win-win!
What uses have you found for petroleum jelly? What do you think it the single most useful product? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.