Clever Uses for Olive Oil

Fresh pasta with lemon olive oil -- an excellent use for olive oil. By s.e. smith, Networx

Have an old bottle of olive oil sitting around the house? Don't throw it out! I talked to Carol Firenze, author of The Passionate Olive - 101 Things You Can Do with Olive Oil, about some creative ways to use this versatile product around the house. She points out that olive oil is ecologically friendly and can be more cost-effective than commercial products, and she's especially fond of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), although she does have a caution for consumers: "Since the US doesn't have truth in labeling laws, many people buy what they think is EVOO only to find out that it is not good, fresh, tasty, etc., and it is refined."

Rich Colwell of Thundering Herd Ranch in California adds that consumers looking for high-grade oils might want to consider buying locally. Many olive oil ranches allow people to visit to take tours and taste their products, allowing people to meet the farmers, test oils, and find a flavor they like. Colwell explains that olive oil can actually be made from several varieties, and includes a range of flavored products pressed with lemons, oranges, and other ingredients. For those who think olive oil is boring, a farm tour might be a taste bud-opening experience.

As Carol explains, olive oil makes a great wood furniture polish and conditioner (though your local carpenter might not even know about it), and you can also use it on leather shoes to help bring back their shine, restore suppleness, and protect the leather. In both cases, start by wiping the surface down with a sponge or towel to remove dust and grime. Allow it to dry, and apply a light coat of olive oil, rubbing to allow the oil to soak in fully.

It also makes a great lubricant and protectant for metal, which means you can use it on hinges, gardening tools, and kitchen knives. Make sure to remove rust and grime before applying the olive oil, to ensure the surface is as clean as possible. You can also use olive oil as a lubricant while sharpening knives; just wipe the blade down afterwards to remove any metal fragments!

Carol notes that olive oil has a lot of body care uses as well, for both adults and babies. She recommends using EVOO for olive oil taken internally or applied to the body. It's gentle and natural, which makes it good for people with sensitive skin or environmental concerns.

Olive oil can make a great hair and skin oil, and it can also be combined with salt, sugar, or ground coffee to make an exfoliating scrub. The olive oil will smooth the skin while the exfoliants clean out the pores and remove debris. It's also a great treatment for diaper rash, and can be used to remove makeup as well as paint, chewing gum, and other sticky substances. Colwell says that flavored olive oils can also be used for massage and bodywork, where people may enjoy the pleasant aroma of added ingredients like lemons, Mandarin oranges and lavender.

People aren't the only ones who can benefit from a little more olive oil in their lives, Carol told me. It can also be used for some basic pet care, including hairball prevention; a few drops of olive oil on pet food can act as a lubricant, and both cats and dogs can develop lush, healthy coats with a little more oil in their diets. Olive oil can also relieve skin irritation caused by fleas or dry skin, and it's a great lubricant for sore, cracked paws; a common problem for dogs walking on sidewalks in the summer heat.

Enterprising crafters can also give olive oil soap a try. Store-bought soaps can be expensive, and may contain unwanted additives. At home, soap makers can control all the ingredients and the production conditions for a bar of soap perfectly tailored to their needs. Lots of tutorials are available and a local crafts store may offer soap making classes to allow people to learn how to make their own olive oil soap. In addition to being useful at home, it makes a great gift for friends and family.

How can you tell when it's time to rotate a bottle of olive oil from the pantry shelf to the cleaning closet? Remember that: "the four enemies of olive oil are heat, light, air and time, which all contribute to rancidity."

Carol says that olive oil should always be stored in glass, tin, or stainless steel, not plastic, so products sold or stored in plastic bottles shouldn't be used for cooking or personal care. She also notes that dark containers are better, because they prevent light damage, and that olive oil should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent damage. Furthermore, approximately 60-90 days after a bottle is opened, it can start to go rancid, which means it's not usable for conventional purposes-but it still makes a perfectly serviceable lubricant and cleaning product!

s.e. smith writes about Bay-area plumbing and home maintenance issues.