How To Clean An Oil Painting Step-By-Step For A Great Décor

Oil paintings are amazing additions when it comes to decorating your living room, bedroom walls, or any room! Cleaning an oil painting without damaging the surface or detracting from its look is a crucial skill. It’s no secret that such paintings require a little more attention when it comes to handling, cleaning, and maintaining their condition.

Woman hanging an oil painting to decorate her living room

Knowing how to care for an oil painting, specifically how to clean it, helps ensure that it remains true to how it was designed to look. We’ll walk you through the dos and don’ts of caring for your painting and show you how to clean and maintain it properly so that it can last a lifetime.

When should you clean your painting?

The answer to this question varies depending on the painting and the environment in which it was presented. If a painting has spent many years above a fire or in a room with a smoker, it is almost certain that it will benefit from a thorough cleaning.

Look closely at the lighter colours of the picture on the painting, such as white clothes or blue skies, if you feel it needs to be cleaned. If these colours have been muddled or somewhat blurred, it will be simpler to tell. 

Examining the back of the painting is also a good idea. If the front of the painting appears to be fine, but the back is quite dark, the front is likely to need cleaning as well.

How to dry clean an oil painting

You can clean oil paintings yourself by removing light dust, airborne pet hair, and even soot. You will extend its lifespan by following these simple maintenance steps:

1. Position the painting on a stable, firm surface

If the picture is sturdy where it is already hung on the wall, you can clean it while it is still there. However, for the greatest results, the painting should be taken down and placed on a flat, firm surface or propped up against a sturdy easel.

Removing the painting from the wall also allows you to examine it in various lighting conditions and see the dirt on the surface more clearly. This is particularly the case if the surface has a thick impasto.

Paint brushes in a jar

2. Choose a soft, dry paintbrush

The brush size should be proportional to the size of the painting. Otherwise, you could spend hours dusting a large item with a small one. Before you start, feel the bristles to make sure they’re soft and free of dampness, no matter what size you choose.

Paintbrushes with elegant sable bristles are noted for their suppleness and are deemed safe for this task. Although feather dusters appear to be soft, they are not suitable for this project. 

Feathers have barbs that can harm the painting’s surface. If you don’t have a soft brush, you can clean it with a static-free microfibre cloth.

3. Lightly dust the first section with the paintbrush

Swish it back and forth across the surface, working on several parts at a time, starting at one of the top corners. 

Then, as you get closer to the bottom of the painting, steadily work your way down that portion. Working top-down guarantees that the dust is removed instead of being simply shifted around.

4. Continue dusting until all sections are covered

Move on to the next portion and, starting at the top and working your way down the painting, lightly brush back and forth. Continue in this manner until the entire item has been dusted.

5. Be patient and avoid using too much pressure 

This procedure just cleans dust and debris on the painting’s surface. No matter how hard you push the brush into the surface, ingrained dirt, stains, and colour pigments will not be removed. For the best results, work slowly, gently, and patiently.

How to clean an oil painting with saliva

You just need some cotton swabs, saliva and you are good to go:

1. Dampen the cotton swab with your saliva

Brush it across your mouth lightly until it is wet but not saturated. While it may seem strange to use your spit to clean a work of art, museum curators and other professionals all around the world have been doing it successfully and securely for ages.

Cotton swabs in jar

Saliva contains enough enzymes to break down dirt and grime without damaging the paint. High-quality ones are preferred because they feature the softest tips.

2. Swipe one of the corners first to see how the painting will react

It’s recommended to do a spot test in one of the corners before washing down the entire painting with a Q-tip to ensure that the saliva isn’t ruining the surface. 

Saliva is generally seen to be safe and effective, but it’s always a good idea to be cautious. Do not proceed if any of the paint colours show up on the cotton.

3. Dab the damp cotton swab over the painting

Because it’s preferable to work on 6 square centimetres of the surface at a time, this method can take a long time. 

However, do not move the swab from side to side. In little, gentle, dabbing motions, swipe it up and down.

4. Once one end is dirty, switch to the other clean one

Swipe the other end over your tongue to moisten it, then continue swiping. When the swab on that end becomes soiled, toss it out and get a new one. 

Depending on the size of the painting and how dirty it is, you may need to use a lot of Q-tips to finish the job. To avoid swiping the surface with a dirty tool and just be on the safe side, switch to a fresh swab on a regular basis even if it is not very dirty.

How to clean an oil painting with lemon juice

Glass of lemon juice on wooden table

1. Prepare the solution

To get the solution ready, mix a few drops of lemon juice with lukewarm water, and let it sit for a few minutes until the solution is complete.

2. Start cleaning using the solution

Dampen a cotton ball in the solution to clean the painting with it. Squeeze most of the water out of it before dabbing it on the panting. 

Continue dabbing until a section of the painting is damp, then wipe the cotton across it lightly. Make sure the painting is not flaking off. If it is, stop immediately.

3. Give it time to dry

To remove the lemon solution, dampen a soft cloth in plain water and gently wipe it away. Then, allow time for the painting to dry.

How to clean an oil painting with sodium carbonate

You just need to have few basic materials and to follow these simple steps:

1. Prepare the solution

In a cup of warm water, dissolve half a teaspoon of sodium carbonate crystals, then put a cotton ball into the liquid and dab it onto the painting from top to bottom.

2. Allow it to dry

The painting should not be stretched. Give it some time to dry. Then, dampen a clean soft sponge in lukewarm water and carefully wipe away any sodium carbonate left on the painting. 

Remember to properly wash your hands after cleaning the painting because sodium carbonate is hazardous to the body.

Maintenance tips 

1. Avoid the use of potato and vinegar

Rumour has it that wiping a surface with vinegar or a chopped potato is an excellent way to remove the surface dirt and grime. This is simply a very bad idea, especially if you have an old oil painting. Food-based cleaning agents and solvents can leave crumbs and residue behind. 

Consider using food-based cleaning methods if your painting is exceptionally dirty and you’re ready to take the risk on your own.

2. Alcohol, baby oil and water should all be avoided

The appearance of the painting can be changed with water, and the surface can be totally removed or damaged using rubbing alcohol.

Some people think that using baby oil on the surface of the painting can restore its suppleness and make the colours appear brighter, but baby oil actually makes the surface sticky and more prone to grime. Using any of these items to clean your artwork can cause irreversible damage. 

Conservator with old painting wearing suit

3. Get any precious or old paintings to a conservator

The surface of such a painting is delicate, and the home cleaning process might sometimes permanently alter or harm it. 

Cleaning oil paintings at home is not recommended if they are very old, valuable, or have sentimental value. They should be cleaned by a competent conservator or a restorer.

Before employing a professional to clean up your costly and valuable paintings, make sure they are insured. If you insist on cleaning the painting yourself, practice on a non-valuable painting first to see how your methods work.

4. Be mindful of removing the varnish from your painting

Varnish is a clear protective covering applied to the surface. If the varnish appears to be dirty but the painting itself appears to be clean beneath it, you may be tempted to remove the old varnish and apply a new layer. 

Do not attempt this unless you have been instructed or have prior experience doing that. If done incorrectly, the painting might be permanently destroyed, impacting both the aesthetic and monetary worth of the painting. 

Use professional cleaning products that are specifically designed for varnished paintings if you opt to do it yourself.

Set of oil paintings

So, we have presented many methods for you to consider and all of them are low-cost, effective and have been used by specialists for many years. Oil paintings have unique and sensitive surfaces that you should always treat with special care. Avoid the use of water, alcohol and typical home cleaners so that your painting maintains an amazing appearance that can last forever! Find next: How to clean your chandelier without damages!

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