Cleaning an oil painting without damaging the surface or detracting from its look is a necessary skill. It goes without saying that oil paintings require special care when handling, cleaning, and preserving. Whether you’ve purchased a new piece or uncovered a historic gem, learning how to care for your oil painting, especially how to clean it, will ensure that it retains its original appearance.

We’ll walk you through the do’s and don’ts of caring for your Art and teach you how to clean and maintain it so that it lasts as a lifelong piece.

Why Clean Your Paintings? 

You may be asking why you should clean the artwork in your home. Life is busy, and it is frequently hard to find time to set aside even for vital work. On the other hand, cleaning oil paintings may be done as required, and exhibiting Art in your house is typically low-maintenance.

So, why should you clean your Art? The answer is straightforward: it is important to you! The works of art you exhibit in your house have meaning and should be preserved. Furthermore, cleaning may significantly improve the appearance of a painting. You’ll be surprised at how different antique oil paintings may look once they’ve been cleaned.

Oil Painting Is Not Going Away

Oil painting has long dominated the painting medium, and it has been used to create some of the most famous works of Art in the world. Furthermore, it shows no indications of abating. Artists continue to be drawn to the perfect precision, color richness, and forgiving approach of working with oils. Today, materials such as acrylic, gouache, and watercolor all provide fast painting results, but no medium can compete with the results of oils.

Clean Painting In 5 Simple Steps

Step 1: Wash Your Hands

Clean hands are essential when handling Art. This will prevent any oils on your hands from causing damage to the painting. If you’ve ever visited an art museum, you’ve probably noticed all of the “do not touch the art” signs. Because the oils on our hands can harm paintings, wash and dry your hands thoroughly!

Step 2: Place the Painting on a Dry, Clean Surface

One of the most important aspects of cleaning an oil painting is eliminating dust efficiently and effectively. Dust can accumulate on oil paintings, giving them the appearance of neglect. Place the painting on a clean, dry surface to avoid this. Make sure the surface you chose is free of dust and dampness, which might damage the painting.

Once you’ve selected a suitable location, the painting should be tilted in such a manner that dust does not accumulate on it. This implies that the picture must be propped up with the top pointed forward so that dust falls off onto the ground rather than back onto the painting.

 Step 3: Dust the Painting

The equipment you use to dust an oil painting has a tremendous effect. Your first inclination may be to grab a dust cloth but do not do so for this activity. Use a little brush with soft bristles that are not too harsh to accomplish the task instead of a cloth.

Dust the artwork from top to bottom using the brush. This will remove any extra dust that detracts from the painting’s attractiveness. It’s time to move on once the dust has been removed.

Step 4: Cleaning Preparation: Know What NOT to Do

There are a number of “don’ts” when it comes to cleaning the paintwork. When it comes to cleaning paintings, there are various fallacies that need to be debunked on the internet. One of the most infamous is the use of white bread to clean oil paintings.

According to the pro-bread argument, white bread is soft and absorbent enough to remove dirt and residue from a painting without damaging it.

Using food to clean a painting, on the other hand, increases the chance of leaving crumbs on the painting. Of course, crumbs attract bugs, and bugs can cause catastrophic harm to beautiful artwork. As a result, it’s better to avoid cleaning your oil paintings with bread. It may appear to be a simple answer, but the danger it entails is just not worth it. Of course, bread is meant to be eaten, not used as a cleaning instrument!

Another thing to avoid in an oil painting is using water or cleaning materials. This is because water and cleaning products can cause major harm to the painting. Thus they must be avoided.

So, what should you use instead? Surprisingly, many art experts advise using saliva to clean oil paintings. Yes, you read that correctly. Spit is the greatest cleaning method for oil paintings.

Saliva can be used on oil paintings because it does not damage them as water or chemicals do. You may clean an oil painting with spit by moistening a cotton swab with saliva and gently rubbing it across the painting to remove any dirt or residue.

Importantly, if you’re not careful, your saliva might ruin the painting! Before using the saliva approach, avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for a half-hour — food and liquids might influence your saliva and cause it to ruin the painting.

Step 5: Using a cotton swab, clean the painting.

You’re ready to start cleaning now that you know what not to do. Using a saliva-soaked cotton swab, gently dab dirt-covered areas of the painting.

You might want to start with a little test before going all in. Dab a corner of the painting with the cotton swab. This will assist you in ensuring that your cleaning does not harm the painting.

Some oil paintings have flaking paint from years of wear and neglect, making them difficult to clean thoroughly. It is advisable to have an oil painting with flaking paint properly stabilized before washing it.

To keep paint from flaking off an oil painting, adhesives are used. It is advisable to leave this process to the experts. If your painting is too flaky to clean, let it alone until it is professionally cared for. Cleaning a painting with flaking paint might cause more damage to the painting and give you a headache.

If your artwork is in good shape and has no flaking paint, gently wipe dirt off the canvas with a cotton swab. Use slow, smooth movements and avoid covering too much ground with each stroke. When it comes to cleaning oil paintings, slow and steady wins the race.

How to Thoroughly Clean Oil Paintings

The majority of the dust should be removed, but if there is still grit on the canvas, resist the urge to scrape harder since this may result in breaking the dried paint. If your artwork has been exposed to the weather for an extended period or has been exposed to smoke that has gradually made its way into the canvas, it may require a more powerful art cleaning tool. Because of the chemical qualities of these chemicals, it is important to consult with an art restorer. No matter how long your painting will last, how much it is worth, or how big it is, it is never worth compromising and maybe damaging it if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Cleaning Paper Oil Paintings

Oil paintings on paper are becoming more popular. When cleaning works on paper, it is critical to ensure that no additional paints, particularly water-based paints, have been used before you begin. If you are not sure, rather than using a damp cloth, it is advisable to be safe and delicately dust the surface of the artwork with a soft, dry paintbrush. Make sure your brush is not too coarse, and sable bristles paintbrushes are considered the best. Other cleaning instruments, such as feather dusters, should be avoided since they are unreliable and may include a bard that will scrape your paintwork.

If you’re certain, your painting isn’t water-based, clean it with a towel and soapy water, just like you would a canvas. On the other hand, cleaning oils on paper is more difficult than on a canvas. Avoid cleaning any place where the paper is visible since you may leave a watermark or dampen the paper, causing it to alter its form. Generally, paintings on paper are protected by the glass of a frame; therefore, cleaning the frame rather than the painting itself is common!

Myths of Cleaning Oil Paintings

Using starchy food to clean

One of the most common misconceptions about cleaning oil paintings is that starchy foods, such as bread and potatoes, should be used. This is ineffective and may wind up ruining your work. They may also leave crumbs or residue on your paintwork.

Attempting to clean with baby oil

Another common misunderstanding is that baby oil would remove all dirt from a painting’s surface. Although baby oil is mild and will not harm the paint, it might dry in a way that gives your painting an unpleasant stickiness and sheen. This sticky texture can subsequently make your painting more prone to filth and exposure to the weather, making it much more difficult to clean because the painting’s surface is no longer dry. Instead of washing, baby oil can be used as a glaze, increasing the colors and modifying the overall aspect of the painting.

Oil paintings are always popular and in high demand in rising Art. Whatever care and attention they require while handling, storing, cleaning, and preserving them, they are well worth caring about if you have invested in a piece you adore!

Feature Image Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash 

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