You’ve probably had to use a small tube of superglue to super-adhere a broken vase, shoe sole that was coming apart, or other odds and ends in your household. If you were around after WW2, you probably heard of brands like Superglue, Krazy glue (which is still in use today) and Eastman 910. What you may not know that “superglue” wasn’t originally invented for its now-useful purpose. In this article, we delve into the origins of this near-indispensable household item and reveal its alternative use when SHTF.
How it All Began
Apparently, superglue wasn’t invented to become the cure-all for broken vases and other damaged items in need of repair around the house. Sometime in 1942 in Rochester, New York, superglue was created with an altogether different purpose in mind – to create a clear plastic material that could be shaped into optical gunsights for the U.S. military. Eastman Kodak commissioned inventor Dr. Harry Coover and his team to tinker with a family of chemicals known as cyanoacrylates to come up with the material. While they did succeed in producing a transparent material, the plastic-like result was a substance that literally stuck to everything – permanently.
Approximately six years later, Coover was working for Eastman Kodak’s chemical division based in Tennessee, where he and his team were doing research to create heat-resistant polymers that could be used for jet engine canopies. Coover decided to see if he could experiment on cyanoacrylates again, but the process only yielded the same annoying results – the cyanoacrylates stuck to everything and did so for good (or worse). Coover then realized that perhaps its “annoying” property of sticking to virtually any material, and binding them with incredible strength quickly and in permanent fashion, wasn’t a flaw, but should be viewed as a desirable trait. Armed with this new perspective, Coover had the sticky substance marketed as a “super-glue” which was first called “Eastman #910” and then went on to market as “Eastman 910”. In 1959, during a TV demonstration on the show “I’ve Got A Secret”, Dr. Harry Coover proudly exhibited the strength of this new “super-glue” by applying a single drop between two steel cylinders to lift the show’s host, Garry Moore, right off the ground.
Superglue in the Vietnam War
Even before Eastman 910 would become a household name and dubbed “superglue”, Eastman Kodak and a company called Ethicon studied whether the glues could alternatively be used to bond human tissue together for surgical purposes. It was the use that ordinary American households didn’t know about, at least until the Vietnam War. In 1964, as the conflict in Vietnam had steadily escalated into a more serious war, Dr. Coover submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cyanoacrylate glues to be used to seal wounds.
Shortly afterwards, in 1966, a specially-trained medical team versed in the use of cyanoacrylates tested the glues on-site in Vietnam and the use of the superglue on the wounded yielded exceptional results. An archived interview of Dr. Coover in the Kingsport Times News reads: “Coover said the compound demonstrated an excellent capacity to stop bleeding, and during the Vietnam War, he developed disposal cyanoacrylate sprays for use in the battlefield. “If somebody had a chest wound or open wound that was bleeding, the biggest problem they had was stopping the bleeding so they could get the patient back to the hospital. And the consequence was–many of them bled to death. So the medics used the spray, stopped the bleeding, and were able to get the wounded back to the base hospital. And many, many lives were saved,” Coover said. “This was very powerful. That’s something I’m very proud of–the number of lives that were saved,” he said.
Ironically, the FDA hadn’t given approval for the medical use of the compound at that point. But the military used the substance, anyway” (Hayes, Sharon Caskey. “Discovery of Super Glue helped land Coover in National Inventors Hall of Fame,” Kingsport Times-News, July 11, 2004).
Superglue When SHTF
Seeing that superglue did have use as a wound sealant during the Vietnam War, can you use superglue to close wounds and stop bleeding today? The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no”. While it’s actually a viable solution in an emergency, using superglue to close wounds should only be done if there are no other alternatives, and simply doing nothing to close the wound could result in infection, sickness or death. Though it is indeed true that medics in the Vietnam War did use superglue to close wounds, this was only as a temporary measure to keep the wounded from bleeding to death as they were transported to a proper triage location or hospital for more intensive treatment. Note that using superglue to close any wounds should be viewed as a temporary measure, and not as standard operating procedure should you or anyone else have any wounds that need to be closed.
The not-so-simple answer to using superglue is this: you can use superglue, provided you take note of the following:
- When applied on skin or any other surface, superglue gives off heat as it cures or dries; this exothermic reaction can cause burns on surrounding healthy tissue, so don’t apply too much superglue.
- As the superglue dries, the process releases cyanoacetate and formaldehyde, chemicals that can seriously irritate the eyes, lungs, throat and nose. Avoid using superglue if the wounds are located on or near these highly irritable and vulnerable sites.
- Use superglue to close a wound if it’s a minor one. Large, gaping wounds and heavy bleeding should be treated with bandages or stitches whenever possible. IF superglue is your only option, apply the superglue carefully and only after you’ve successfully stopped the bleeding.
- Paper cuts and similar minor cuts can be sealed with superglue.
- Never use superglue on wounds that are infected; doing so will only seal off the infection and allow it to spread internally.
- Never use superglue on dirty wounds; doing so will “seal in” the impurities and bacteria and allow it to do a lot of nasty things.
- Never use superglue on puncture wounds or deep wounds.
- Don’t use superglue on wounds that are on joints or body parts that move or flex; the superglue applied to those areas will simply break off and the wound could reopen.
- Don’t use superglue on animal or insect bites as they could get infected.
- Apply only a thin layer of superglue. Overdoing it will only make the curing process take longer and will delay sealing the wound.
- Don’t peel off the superglue yourself, thinking that your wound has cured. Doing so could reopen the wound and again put you at risk of infection. The superglue will fall off completely by itself.
- If you really need to remove the superglue you’ve applied, you can use acetone. Be careful when using the acetone as it can be an irritant and will sting if it makes contact with open wounds.
- Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly to remove any residual superglue. Avoid rubbing your eyes until after you’ve done this.
While you can use household superglue, “medical” superglue that’s made precisely for closing wounds is commercially available. This is called “medical-grade” superglue and is in use by medical practitioners, including dentists and veterinarians. Note that these medical superglues are classified by composition and use:
- 2-Octyl Cyanoacrylate – These are effective in closing wounds and surgical incisions. They’re impermeable enough to serve as a barrier against the invasion of common bacteria that lead to infections. Some brands include:
- N-Butyl Cyanoacrylate – These are similar to 2-Octyl cyanoacrylate and provide just as good a barrier against infection but are less rigid and not as strong. Known brands used by doctors that fall under this category include:
While these listed medical-grade superglues are what you should really be using, they may be difficult to procure as they are mostly used by, and sold to, large medical institutions and practitioners.
Although superglue was not originally intended as a way to close wounds, the common household version can be used for this purpose, but not perfectly or without caveats. If you get in a real SHTF situation and it’s difficult or impossible to find bandages or make stitches to close a wound, a few handy tubes of superglue could fill in as a back-up wound closer. As a rule, you should always have enough bandages and other wound-treating kit, but don’t discount the tubes of superglue that you may have around. Keep a few tubes of superglue in your house, in your bug-out bag and even your glove compartment. Should you sustain a nasty wound and superglue is your only available option, remember that it’s only a temporary measure until you can get the injury tended to in a medical facility. Use superglue as necessary, because bleeding out is not an option!