What is graphite powder?

Updated April 17, 2017

Graphite and graphite powder are a naturally occurring form of carbon that is good at conducting electricity and serves as an industrial lubricant.


Graphite is soft and flexible, but not elastic. It cannot be stretched. It is a black, naturally occurring form of carbon, just like diamonds, which are much harder and transparent. Graphite tends to stain surfaces that it comes into contact with. Although it is a nonmetal with a very high melting temperature, it does have some characteristics of metal. It can conduct electricity just like many metals.

Dry Lubricant

Graphite tends to form in flat layers, where the atoms link together into lattices and stack on top of each other. These layers tend to trap air and water between them, which gives graphite a lubricating effect. Although graphite powder is dry (with air and water trapped inside of it), it is very effective in lubricating joints and machine parts without the need of liquids like grease and oil. Because it holds up in very high temperatures, it is good for lubricating environments that get very hot.

Problems With Graphite Powder

Graphite powder tends to stain the objects that it lubricates, so it isn't ideal for household use where it can make a mess of a home. Graphite powder also tends to cause corrosion in some metals, such as steel and aluminium, when that metal is submerged in water with the graphite. Therefore, using graphite powder to lubricate steel and aluminium machines is not a good idea. For this reason, the U.S. Air Force banned the use of graphite powder for lubricating aluminium aircraft.

In Paint and Epoxy

Graphite powder's lubricity makes it a popular additive to paint, epoxy and other coatings. It can help protect surfaces from scratches and other damage. It also makes a surface less prone to friction, which makes it a popular coating for the bottoms of boats built for speed.


The grey-black material in the core of a pencil that is sharpened to a point for writing is known as lead. But that material isn't lead at all. Instead, it is graphite powder blended with clay.

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About the Author

James McGill is an award-winning, Boston-base journalist and media professional with 13 years of experience in the academic book publishing, magazine, newspaper and web industry. His expertise extends from politics to information technology.