Lime plaster is a mixture of calcium hydroxide and sand (or other inert fillers). Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes the plaster to set by transforming the calcium hydroxide into calcium carbonate (limestone). Whitewash is based on the same chemistry.
To make lime plaster, limestone (calcium carbonate) is heated above approximately 850 °C (1600°F) to produce quicklime (calcium oxide). Water is then added to produce slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), which is sold as a wet putty or a white powder. Additional water is added to form a paste prior to use. The paste may be stored in airtight containers. When exposed to the atmosphere, the calcium hydroxide very slowly turns back into calcium carbonate through reaction with atmospheric carbon dioxide, causing the plaster to increase in strength.
Lime plaster was a common building material for wall surfaces in a process known as lath and plaster, whereby a series of wooden strips on a studwork frame was covered with a semi-dry plaster that hardened into a surface. The plaster used in most lath and plaster construction was mainly lime plaster, with a cure time of about a month. To stabilize the lime plaster during curing, small amounts of plaster of Paris were incorporated into the mix. Because plaster of Paris sets quickly, “retardants” were used to slow setting time enough to allow workers to mix large working quantities of lime putty plaster. A modern form of this method uses expanded metal mesh over wood or metal structures, which allows a great freedom of design as it is adaptable to both simple and compound curves. Today this building method has been partly replaced with drywall, also composed mostly of gypsum plaster. In both these methods, a primary advantage of the material is that it is resistant to a fire within a room and so can assist in reducing or eliminating structural damage or destruction provided the fire is promptly extinguished.
Lime plaster is used for frescoes, where pigments, diluted in water, are applied to the still wet plaster.
USA and Iran are the main plaster producers in the world.