Clever Uses for Olive Oil

s.e. smith interviewed olive oil experts to get insider tips for using olive oil for home and body care.

Posted by S.E. Smith | Jul 04, 2012
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Fresh pasta with lemon olive oil. Pasta and photo by the author, s.e. smith.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. Carol points out that olive oil is ecologically friendly and can be more cost-effective than commercial products. 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.

Beyond the kitchen, here are some clever uses for olive oil.

1. Polish wood and leather

As Carol explains, olive oil makes a great wood furniture polish and conditioner (suggest it to your local carpenter), 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 lightly moistened sponge or towel to remove dust and grime. Allow to dry, and apply a light coat of olive oil, rubbing to allow the oil to soak in fully.

2. Lubricate metal tools

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

3. Care for your body

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 is 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 may 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 or lavender.

4. Care for your pet

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 act as a lubricant (just sprinkle on on pet food), and both cats and dogs can develop lush, healthy coats with a little more oil in their diets. Applied externally, olive oil relieves 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.

5. Add to homemade soap

Enterprising crafters might want to give olive oil soap a try. Storebought 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, homemade soap is a great gift for friends and family.

Store olive oil the right way

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. 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 for

Updated March 4, 2018.

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