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What is Linseed Oil?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Linseed oil is an oil that is pressed from dried flax seeds. It has a number of uses, ranging from furniture finishing to oil painting. Hardware stores and art supply stores often sell it, and typically there are several options available, all of which behave slightly differently when used.

It is important to distinguish between linseed and flaxseed oil. Although both oils come from the same seed, they are treated differently. Flaxseed oil is raw, cold-pressed oil, and it is often sold as a dietary supplement. Linseed oil is heated and subjected to chemical treatment, and it is not safe to consume. People who use flaxseed oil as a dietary supplement want to take advantage of the rich nutritional value of the oil in raw, cold-pressed form. People who are interested in consuming this oil should make sure they buy a product that is clearly marked as “food grade.”

One of the classic uses of linseed oil is in furniture finishing. Raw oil not intended for human consumption can be rubbed into unfinished wood to create a rich, glowing finish. Typically, several coats are required, and it takes a long time for the finish to dry between coats, so this finishing process requires some patience. So-called “boiled” linseed oil, which has been treated, dries much more quickly, allowing people to make several coats in a short period of time.

Treated oil is also added to things like paints, resins, varnishes, and inks, because it dries quickly, promoting rapid, even drying. Painters use it as a carrier oil for their paints, prizing the rich glow that it creates. Depending on the amount of oil used, a painter can also vary the thickness of the paint, from very dense and clumpy to thin and ephemeral.

Linseed oil that has been treated tends to be a dark amber color, and it has a distinctively sharp smell. The smell and color are a tip off that the oil is not safe to consume. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, is a pale golden color, and it is virtually odorless and tasteless.

When using linseed oil for home improvement projects, people should be aware that it is highly flammable. As it evaporates, the oil can sometimes spontaneously combust, causing a fire. For this reason, cloths that have been used to apply it should be allowed to dry flat outside before being discarded or washed; they should also not be run through a dryer, as they may catch fire.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon314397 — On Jan 17, 2013

What are the chemical and physical properties? What is the chemical formula? Is it a compound, element, or mixture?

By anon266437 — On May 05, 2012

Once you use linseed oil on wood walls, do you ever do it again?

By anon150015 — On Feb 06, 2011

flaxseed oil is the best oil to use to season a cast iron pan or cookware. it is due to the polymerization that happens once it reaches its smoke point.

By wesley91 — On Jul 11, 2010

@cmsmith10: I also use linseed oil around the house. I use the same concoction you do except that I use equal parts of pale boiled linseed oil and mineral turpentine. It works great on car trimmings, household taps, etc. It will keep your chrome clean longer and help prevent rust.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 11, 2010

I make my own furniture polish with linseed oil. You mix two parts of pale boiled linseed oil with one part of mineral turpentine. The polish is wax free and it dries by oxidation, not evaporation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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