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Economic Evolution in the Great Lake StatereWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families.On the air and online from WKAR, reWorking Michigan features weekly reports, online resource connections, and more.reWorking Michigan is heard every Monday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on 90.5 WKAR, and is online all of the time at WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan.

reWorking Michigan: Lansing Company Makes an All-Natural Gun Cleaner

This week from reWorking Michigan, our Monday report looks at a small, family-run Lansing business that produces an all-natural gun cleaning product.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl has the story of "Gunzilla."

You might ask yourself why anyone would care that their gun cleaning product is all-natural.

TopDuck Products founder Don Kettles says that aside from being greener, Gunzilla is safer to use than petroleum-based cleaners. He claims that prolonged exposure to other gun cleaners can lead to lung, liver and kidney damage.

“With our product, it’s made from plants," Kettles explains, "so basically, even if you get it on your skin, your body treats it as a plant substance as opposed to a hazardous chemical and it can just get rid of it just as easy as it took it in.”

Before going into the gun cleaner business, Kettles had run a couple of aviation businesses. One sold and serviced airplanes; the other built open cockpit biplanes. An out-of-state chemist helped create the formula for Gunzilla, which has been on the market since 2006. Customers include police departments, hunters, competitive shooters, and even the Secret Service.

Kettles has given Gunzilla to military units in challenging conditions…places like Iraq and Afghanistan…and points to testimonials from our fighting men and women who say it prevents weapon malfunctions.

“There’s a huge problem in combat with the guns jamming," Kettles says. "In 30 to 45 minutes in a sandstorm, every gun will be jammed, and with Gunzilla, we’ve had people, 24 men pinned down by enemy fire for 3½ hours in a sandstorm, and not one weapon malfunctioned. So, it’s considered a life-saving product.”

“It just works,” says Mark O’Donnell, a retired police officer who now is in charge of firearm sales and acquisitions for the Michigan Police Equipment Company. They supply guns, ammunition and other products to police departments all over Michigan and in several other states. Many of those departments buy Gunzilla.

O’Donnell first heard about Gunzilla as a competitive shooter himself. Skeptical at first, he said he’d switch to Gunzilla when shooters from the Army and the Marines started using it.

“The Marines and the Army went to it; the California rifle team won with it, and the reason why it’s so good is because it enhances the reliability of a firearm," O'Donnell states. "It works so much different than a petroleum-based product. It conditions the metal, it conditions the parts, and it cuts down on fouling.”

O’Donnell says all of his friends in competitive shooting now use Gunzilla because they don’t have to wear rubber gloves to clean their weapons, cleanup takes half the time, and there’s no obnoxious smell.

Testimonials like these have not helped Kettles sell Gunzilla to what you might think would be his biggest potential market: the U.S. military.

Kettles would like the Pentagon as a customer, but he’s been told he would have to disclose his formula, and he won’t do that. He fears it would wind up in the hands of competitors, including some who already have ties in Washington. Kettles feels strongly that his cleaner prevents weapon failure and saves American lives, so he’s found other ways to get Gunzilla into combat zones.

“We got no help from our elected officials on the issue," Kettles says. "They told us that it was our fault that we wouldn’t give the military our formula. So basically what we do now is we give the product to troops in combat. Anybody deploying or anybody in combat that needs Gunzilla gets it for free.”

Ironically, Kettles says that if he moved the company to Canada, the U.S. could buy Gunzilla through the NATO purchasing system. He says he might pursue that kind of expansion in the future.

Gunzilla is slowly growing. Kettles has moved the operation from his home into a facility on the west side of Lansing, where he has a 2,000 gallon mixing tank. TopDuck Products also makes a general purpose cleaner and lubricant called Superzilla.

But at this point, Gunzilla is the main focus at TopDuck Products. With hundreds of millions of guns in the United States, it would seem there’s a lot of room to grow.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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