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LIME WATER CONSOLIDATION

STEN PETERSON

Restorer and member of the Nordic Group of IIC


August 1981

SUMMARY
The article describes the method of consolidation with lime water. This traditional method has
been used by restorers and craftsmen for centuries with good results.
The method works by replacing calcium in brittle or friable plaster or mortar, or in flaking or
powdering paint layers. In other words, the binding medium in mortar, plaster or pigments is
regenerated.
This consolidant is not an addition of a compound of a different character into the original
materials. This means that the consolidated material retains its original properties and behavior.
HOW TO MAKE THE CONSOLIDANTS

Lime water
Lime water ( Ca(OH)2 ) is a clear saturated solution, containing 1700 mg Ca per liter of H2O at
20degC, the pH is about 9. In the atmosphere it will form calcium carbonate ( CaCO3 ), the
reaction is slow. For the mixture, 1 part of lime putty and 6-8 parts of pure water (proportions by
volume) are taken. The mixture must be well stirred and then left to rest for at least 24 hours.
After this time the excess of time will he deposited on the bottom of the vessel, with the clear
lime water solution over it. On the top of the lime water a hard skin, a crust is formed. This crust
is calcium carbonate, resulting from the reaction between the Ca(OH)2 and the CO2 of the air.
For the consolidation treatment, the clear lime water must be carefully drawn out front the
vessel in order to avoid mixing of the clear solution with the deposit of lime. Before pouring the
lime water into a pressure sprayer, used for the consolidation, the newly formed crust has to be
filtered off.

Calcium bicarbonate
Calcium bicarbonate ( Ca CO3 + H2O ) is a saturated solution, containing 1,100 mg Ca CO 3
per liter of H2O at 20degC, the pH is about 6. The solution is not stable in contact with the
atmosphere, a quick reaction will occur.
To make calcium bicarbonate it is necessary to inject CO2 gas into lime water kept in a well
closed vessel. The transition can be followed by control of the pH, which falls from 9 to 6
(Denninger, 1958).
Calcium bicarbonate could be good for consolidation of tempera parts in paintings, which can be
too sensitive .,to the alkaline action of Lime water. Care must be taken when calcium
bicarbonate is used, because the rapid reaction will prevent a deep penetration and too strong
consolidation of the surface might result.
THE METHOD OF LIME WATER CONSOLIDATION
Consolidation of brittle or friable plaster and mortar, flaking or powdering paint layers in lime
technique could be done by spraying with lime water. The spraying is carried out with a pressure
sprayer, which gives an even layer on the surface.
Before the consolidation starts, a dry cleaning of dust and loose dirt on the surface must be
done. If the surface needs a wet cleaning it could, in many cases, be done by lime water
application, which has a caustic character.
The cleaning with lime water is carried out by plentiful spraying the dirty surface, and the dirty
water is then quickly absorbed from the surface with the help of a natural sponge. It is extremely

important not to have flowing water on the surface. A test before the cleaning starts, on a less
visible and less important part should be made.
When the cleaning operation is completed, the consolidation procedure starts by gently spraying
on the wall surface with pure tap water to improve the capillary action; the spraying is only done
when the wall surface refuses to absorb the lime water solution. In such a way, the pure water,
with lower surface tension, will ease the entry of the lime water into the pores and allows further
penetration.
When the surface begins to absorb the water, it is time to start the lime water spraying. The
treatment goes on until the surface is starting to show glossiness. The excess of consolidant is
immediately removed with a sponge, in order to avoid superficial carbonation, which causes
efflorescence.
To reach a deep penetration of the consolidation, the spraying is repeated as long as the wall is
able to absorb the lime water, 30 - 40 times or even more. The rate of a spraying cycle is
depending of the water transport into the wall, which is directly connected with the porosity of
the used building material and the physical forces for the water movement inside this material.
After a certain number of spraying cycles the absorption of the lime water by the wall decreases.
At this point it is necessary to stop the consolidation, before efflorescence and closing of the
pores will occur. Heat, humidity and the presence of carbon dioxide in the air will promote the
process of carbonation.
Problems with salts, loosening of plaster from the wall structure, calcium sulphate, etc., must be
solved by special treatments.

FORCES SUPPORTING THE PENETRATION OF THE CONSOLIDANT


Building materials, as stone, brick and mortar, are porous and water moves easy into them,
supported by physical forces. These forces act separately or in combination (Torraca, 1981).
Forces as attraction by hydrophilic surfaces, capillary action, electro-osmosis attraction, heat
and cold, water diffusion and evaporation could be employed by the restorers. These forces,
when well known by the user, could be a valid support to reach a deep and homogeneous
penetration.
The characteristics of those forces can be studied in Porous Building Materials by Dr. G.
Torraca, 1981, where they are well described. Furthermore, collaboration with chemists and
scientists is a need for the restorer.
To help the penetration of the lime water, suitable climate should be created, or seasons with
proper weather have to be chosen. For example, in winter the vapour pressure is generally
higher inside a building wall than outside. It depends on the fact that the indoor air is warmer
and can hold more water vapour than the colder outdoor air; it means that the water will move
outwards through the wall, except in the walls with vapour-proof barriers. This water flow could
be utilized to acquire deep penetration.
Attention should be paid that damage by salts or frost will not occur. Thus, the lime water
method should not be used outdoor the last two months before, or during the frost period, in
areas where the temperature periodically falls below 0degC because the risk of frost damage.