Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Conserving Historic Buildings with Olive Oil

This slick solution allows limestone structures to repel water and pollutants.

By Mary Beth GriggsDecember 11, 2013 5:25 PM
Dan Bishop/Discover; Shutterstock


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

What does salad dressing have in common with building conservation? Olive oil.

Researchers led by Karen Wilson in Cardiff, Wales, discovered that oleic acid, a component of the food staple, has just the right properties to make an excellent coating to help preserve historic structures.

Some great historic buildings, such as the York Minster cathedral in England (pictured), are made from limestone, a popular material because it was cheap, plentiful and easy to build with. Unfortunately, limestone is also extremely vulnerable to pollution, especially acid rain. 

Previous attempts at creating protective coatings failed because they were too thick: They blocked pollutants, but also prevented limestone from expanding and contracting with changes in temperature, leading to structural damage. 

The new oleic acid coating is inherently hydrophobic, repelling water and any pollutants, and it allows the material to react to temperature fluctuations naturally. In the words of the researchers, it allows the stone to “breathe.” 

The oleic coating is also remarkably thin, just about a nanometer thick, allowing it to conform to even the smallest cracks and imperfections in the structure. Many conservation groups are now interested in putting this historic food supply to use protecting historic buildings.

[This article originally appeared in print as "Condiment Conservation."]

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 50%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In