Everything You Should Know About How To Clean An Oil Painting

How To Clean An Oil Painting At Home PortraitFlip

If you have ever wondered how to clean an oil painting, here are some things you need to know.

Oil paintings, whether heirlooms or collector’s pieces, less valuable garage sale finds, or as a gift require cleaning after a while. 

Cleaning oil paintings without damaging them is a difficult and time-consuming task. 

We’ve outlined how to clean old oil paintings below, as well as why you should do it in the first place.

Always remember never to clean an oil painting that is less than a year old.


Because it is still drying and if it is painted in the impasto technique—I’d give it a good five years—even if it’s dirty.

To all the clueless chaps out there…here’s how you clean an oil painting.

But first…

What Are the Possible Reasons To Clean An Oil Painting?

a dirty and a clean oil painting with the words what are the possible reasons to clean an oil painting?

If you haven’t figured out why you should clean an oil painting, there are reasons to look out for.

Family painting from different photos

Firstly, if you are smart and hang your painting in a glass frame you have already won.

Secondly, many airborne particles, such as dirt, dust, or nicotine, will settle on the painting’s surface over time—one which is not framed—obviously. 

This will accumulate over time and form a dirty layer on the surface of your oil paintings. 

This dirty layer is extremely stubborn and needs professional oil painting cleaning to get the job done!

So, if your oil paintings appear dull, faded, or discolored, they are most likely dirty and aged. 

As previously stated, this type of work is best left to professionals, but there are a few ways you can try to clean a painting on your own and save some money. 

These procedures can be dangerous and time-consuming. 

So, if you’re wondering how to clean an oil painting, make sure you have the patience to do it right.

|You must also be willing to accept the risk of unintentionally damaging your painting in the process.|

How To Keep Your Oil Painting From Getting Dirty
In Advance?

two men hanging a painting on the wall with the words how to keep your oil painting from getting dirty in advance?

Oil paintings on canvas frequently get dirty as a result of how and where they are stored. 

There are ways to keep dust and other particles from accumulating on your paintings. 

These methods serve as a preventative measure for caring for your paintings, eliminating the need to hire cleaners or attempt to clean them more directly yourself at a later date. 

The most important things to remember when attempting to preserve a painting and prevent dirt accumulation over time are light dusting, proper handling, the use of protective glazing, and appropriate placement.

(Suggested: Become A Maestro With These 6 Oil Painting Tips)

Routine Dusting

a lady shown dusting an oil painting to prevent it from getting dirty in the first place.
Image source: widewalls

If you are not using a glazing layer, one of the best ways to prevent dust accumulation on your painting is to simply dust it off on a regular basis. 

First, you’ll wash your hands and make sure they’re completely dry. 

Tilt the top of the painting towards yourself and begin lightly dusting the surface with a fine-haired brush. 

Work your way across and down the painting, being careful not to flake off bits of paint as you go. 

Pay close attention to the finish of your painting and make certain that no abrasive movements are used to alter it.

For example, if your painting has a matte finish, make sure that your dusting does not leave any shiny patches on the surface of the artwork.

|If you notice that you are removing paint while dusting, stop immediately and investigate properly sealing the painting with varnish or adding a protective glazing layer.|

Protective Glazing

a painting being glazed shown to prevent it from getting dirty.
Image source: willkempartschool.com

Ideally, your oil paintings should be framed with a glazing layer made of glass or acrylic. 

When adding this layer, leave at least 0.5cm between the glazing and the artwork’s highest point. 

You can accomplish this by inserting a spacer bar or an inner frame liner between the painting’s surface and the frame itself. 

There are anti-static and glare-reducing glass and acrylic glazings available.

The glazing will guard against dirt, dust, nicotine, and other forms of damage. 

Depending on the type of dirt that has accumulated, you can clean the glazing with a dry or damp cloth and gently wipe down the surface.

When using a dampened cloth, avoid touching the frame or allowing liquid to run under the frame, beneath the glazing, and onto the artwork’s surface.

(Also Read: Acrylic Painting Tips For Beginners: 5 Proven Steps To Master Your Skill)

Correct Placement

a woman hanging an oil painting at a suitable spot in her home to avoid it from getting dirty
Image source: bestlifeonline.com

It is critical to keep your painting away from direct sunlight and sources of moisture. 

Avoid placing your painting, for example, across from a window that receives direct sunlight or near a kitchen or bathroom. 

If you smoke indoors, it is best to keep the painting in a room where smoking is minimal. 

It’s also a good idea to keep the painting away from areas with a lot of open and moving air, like near an open window. 

The concentrations of dust and dirt will be highest in these areas. 

It is also preferable to keep a painting away from a kitchen or dining room because the steam and grease in these areas can damage paintings. 

Oil paintings with a protective glazing layer do not need to be kept as far away from these areas as exposed oil paintings on canvas.

Proper Handling

a pair of gloves shown to indicate that you should handle an oil painting wearing gloves
Image source: pexels.com

Make sure you are wearing gloves if you handle an artwork that does not have protective glazing. 

Your hands’ filth, oils, and secretions can leave stains on your painting and harm exposed paint. 

These might not be apparent right away and might not become apparent for some time. 

When handling the painting, you should ideally use medical gloves. 

You should also make every effort to prevent youngsters or visitors from touching the painting.

Accidental Damage Management That Works

a person retouching a painting shown to avoid it from looking bad
Image source: bestpaintbynumbers.com

If a liquid is spilled or splashed against the surface, place it face-up to prevent it from running down the painting. 

Try not to rub the liquid off the surface. 

To gently wick up the liquid, use the corner of a paper towel or a thin cloth.

Now that you know what you should have done—let’s get down to what you can do.

If your inquisitive genius rises and wants to get things done at home here are…

What Are Some Possible Challenges When Cleaning Oil Paintings?

a man looking at an oil painting very carefully with the words what are some possible challenges when cleaning oil paintings?

Improper cleaning methods can permanently damage paintings. 

Even if the paintings have not been damaged to the point where it is peeling or cracking, it is very likely that the majority of DIY methods will have unintended consequences on the painting. 

This frequently refers to paint removal or color fading caused by excessive abrasion or the use of harsh cleaning agents. 

It can also refer to canvas warping or stretching caused by a lack of support and excessive pressure during the cleaning process.

After some of the dirt has been removed, the oil painting will often have a layer of varnish on it. 

Varnishes yellow over time, giving your paintings a washed-out, dull appearance. 

If you want to fully restore your painting, the old varnish must be removed and a new coat applied. 

The removal of old, yellowed varnish requires meticulous and delicate work. 

It is extremely difficult to separate varnish from paint. 

Specialized products are frequently required to accomplish this effectively.

If the paint’s surface is no longer properly preserved, the cleaning process becomes more difficult. 

When you begin the cleaning process on a poorly preserved surface, cracks, fissures, and gaps may appear. 

Before proceeding further on the surface of the painting, it is always a good idea to perform a spot test somewhere along the edge of the painting.

What To Never Use To Clean An Oil Painting?

many items shown in the image and the words things to never use to clean an oil painting

If you read a lot of blogs about how to clean an oil painting, you’ll notice some dubious claims about what you can do at home to revive an old oil painting. 

We’re here to tell you that these techniques come with some serious risks that you should think about before embarking on a fun DIY cleaning project.

Many of the suggested at-home methods can cause serious damage to your paintings and are not the time-saving hacks they appear to be. 

If you are cleaning your oil painting at home rather than hiring a professional, you should consider investing the extra time and money required to do it properly. 

If a method appears to be too good to be true, it usually conceals some drawbacks. 

We’ve listed a few of the most common cleaning myths you might come across while researching how to clean old oil paintings at home.

1. Cloths Or Paper Towels

cloth and paper napkins shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting

Cleaning an oil painting with paper towels is not a good idea because the pieces can rip off any texture the painting has. 

These small pieces may cause damage to the painting as they snag, or they may make the painting appear even dustier or dirtier than it was before you attempted to clean it. 

They could even rip the painting. 

Cloths have the potential to catch on to your painting and pull some of the paint away. 

If you must use a cloth, make sure it is a dry, anti-static microfiber cloth.

2. Dusters Made Of Feathers Or Stiff Brushes

dusting with a feather duster shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting
Image source: fluid-painting.com

You may believe that a feather duster is ideal for lightly dusting your paintings, but feathers contain sharp barbs that can scratch your work. 

This scratching can occur no matter how careful or gentle you are. 

For the same reasons, you should avoid using stiff brushes to clean your oil painting. 

Stiff brushes can scratch and damage your oil paintings. 

If you want to dust your painting with a brush, use a fine, natural-haired paintbrush to lightly clean the surface. 

Below, we show you how to clean an oil painting with a fine-haired paintbrush.

3. Water

washing a painting with water shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting

“Can I Use Water For Cleaning An Oil Painting?”

No, sir you cannot—I mean “is the surface of your oil painting a bathroom floor?”

Water or water-based solutions should never be used on paintings. 

Using water in any form on oil paintings can be extremely damaging. 

Some of these effects will be visible immediately, while others may not be visible until later. 

Water, for example, can weaken the bond between your paint’s medium and pigment, resulting in pigment loss. 

It can erode the paint’s adhesion to the canvas. 

This can result in paint flaking and peeling, either immediately or over time. 

If enough water gets to the canvas, it can shrink and cause the paint to separate from the canvas.

4. Rubbing Alcohol, Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Or Household Detergents

various cleaning supplies shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting
Image source: openpr.com

Any household detergent can cause damage to your painting by removing the paint. 

This also applies to vinegar, lemon juice, and rubbing alcohol, which has been promoted as DIY cleaning solutions for oil paintings. 

creation of adam reproduction

Acidic substances can smear the paint on your canvas as you clean it, or even remove it entirely.

5. Baby Oil

baby oil shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting

Another DIY paint cleaning myth is that you can use baby oil without repercussions. 

The idea is to apply baby oil to the surface of a painting to clean it and make the colors appear brighter and more vibrant. 

In reality, the baby oil will add a sticky layer to the surface of your painting, attracting even more dirt as time passes. 

This method appears to work well at first but will result in an even dirtier painting in the long run.

6. Bread Or Potatoes

potatoes and bread shown as a method to not use while cleaning an oil painting

Using bread or potatoes to clean dirty paintings is a popular do-it-yourself method that you can find all over the internet. 

These methods are extremely dangerous because they can attract unwanted mold growth or leave dust-attracting residue on the painting’s surface. 

Bread can leave crumbs on your paintings or cause moisture to be deposited in the paint. 

Mold can grow on crumbs, and moisture can distort the colors and texture of your painting. 

Dabbing the bread onto the canvas can also damage the painting because the pressure can stretch the canvas. 

Potatoes will leave a starchy residue on your painting that, over time, will attract airborne particles and mold growth.

A Summary Of Don’ts:

  1. Avoid using starchy foods like bread or potatoes to clean an oil painting.
  2. On the painting’s surface, avoid using baby oil.
  3. Avoid using water to clean.
  4. Never clean a painting with a commercial cleaning product.
  5. A big no-no on using rubbing alcohol.
  6. Never use vinegar.
  7. While cleaning, avoid stretching the canvas to avoid warping the artwork.

3 Foolproof Ways To Clean An Oil Painting At Home

3 ways to clean an oil painting shown with the words 3 foolproof ways to clean an oil painting

Prepare before beginning to clean an oil painting.

  1. Collect your tools: a soft brush, hand gloves, cotton swabs, lights, a magnifying glass, and an easel (optional).
  2. If the painting is framed, you must carefully remove it from the frame.
  3. Choose a flat and stable surface to keep the painting on.
  4. It will take time to clean the painting. So find a quiet place where you can concentrate.
  5. Use plenty of lighting or a natural light source.

1. Dry Brushing

dry brushing an oil painting shown as one of the best methods to clean an oil painting

Dry brushing is the most commonly used method for cleaning paintings at home.

It entails dusting the painting to remove dust and other particles that may have accumulated on its surface.

Take the following steps:

A. Position The Painting On A Flat, Stable Surface.

It is not a problem if the painting is attached to a sturdy position, such as a wall, but it is advantageous to keep it on a flat surface for cleaning.

The reason for this is that keeping the painting on a flat surface allows you to see it from a different perspective.

This will allow you to discover any other flaws in your painting and give you more room for cleaning.

A stable surface is preferred because it allows you to work more efficiently. Use plenty of lighting to get a clear view of the painting.

B. Select A Soft Brush

The key to effectively cleaning oil paintings is to use a soft brush. Otherwise, you risk causing damage to the artwork.

When selecting the brush, run your fingers over the bristles to ensure they are soft.

Sable brushes are an excellent choice for this job.

Feather brushes should be avoided because they have the potential to scratch paintings.

Also, ensure that the brush is completely dry.

A general rule of thumb: the larger the painting, the larger the brush should be — unless you want to spend your entire day brushing the dust off the painting!

C. Dust A Small Area Of The Painting

Now that you’ve decided on the best brush for cleaning an oil painting, it’s time to get started!

Begin dusting from the top left corner. Work on a small section of the painting with soft up-and-down brush strokes, a few inches at a time.

Move down the painting slowly until you reach the bottom.

Other brushing motions, such as left-right and circular, can be used, but we recommend going up and down. This ensures that dust is collected rather than tossed around.

When dusting, always start with a small section. This will allow you to distinguish between a cleaned and uncleaned part.

D. Continue Dusting Intentionally

Complete the procedure now!

Begin by cleaning in small sections until every centimeter of the painting has been cleaned.

You can benefit from using a magnifying glass.

Remember that soft and light strokes are essential or the painting will be damaged.

Warning: Stop if the paint starts flaking off! It’s a sign of aging, and the only thing you can do is take the painting to an art restorer. If you attempt to clean an oil painting yourself, it may be damaged.

Interested readers can read our oil painting for beginners guide.

2. Cleaning With Saliva

cleaning an oil painting with saliva shown as one of the best methods to clean an oil painting

I know it sounds strange, but cleaning oil paintings at home with saliva is a safe and effective method.

It may seem strange to think that your saliva can be used to clean an oil painting, but professionals have been doing so for centuries.

Our saliva contains enzymes that are strong enough to break down dirt and grime but not strong enough to break down paint.

If you’re curious about how to clean an oil painting with saliva, keep reading!

A. Moistening a Cotton Tip With Your Saliva 

Roll a cotton swab across your tongue until it is damp with saliva.

Check that the cotton tip is moist but not dripping with saliva. Dab it with a piece of cotton if it is leaking.

High-quality cotton swabs are always preferred because they are softer than regular cotton swabs.

Pro Tip: For about 20 minutes before you begin cleaning an oil painting with saliva, avoid eating or drinking (except water), as food can interfere with the enzyme activity of your saliva.

B. Perform A Patch Test

This goes for all the techniques without saying.

It is always preferable to conduct a test on a small area before moving forward.

Swipe a small portion of the painting with the dampened cotton swab. Wait a few moments to see how the painting reacts to saliva.

You’d be able to tell whether the saliva is cleaning or damaging the painting.

C. Using Small Sections

When you’re certain that this method is working, swab the entire painting!

Working inch by inch, use small gentle up-and-down dabs. You must be careful not to apply too much pressure.

D. Change The Tips!

Be careful!

If the tip of the swab becomes worn or dirty, flip it over. You don’t want to ruin your artwork by using a dirty cotton tip.

Using a fuzzy cotton tip can also smudge the dirt back onto the painting’s surface.

Tip: For this method, avoid using a cloth or other soft material, as the cloth can be abrasive and scratch the surface.

This method is time-consuming, but it is one of the most effective ways to clean an oil painting at home.

3. Seek the Help of Experts

Always seek the assistance of a professional art restorer when cleaning an oil painting.

When cleaning a painting, the surface is delicate, and there is no room for error.

One wrong move and your prized painting will be ruined for good.

That is why, before attempting to clean an old oil painting at home, you should consult a professional conservator or restorer.

There are two approaches.

A. Take The Painting To An Art Conservator Or Restoration Specialist

If you notice flaking paint or cracks, it’s a sure sign of aging. It means that you should not attempt to repair or clean the oil painting on your own.

Take the painting to a professional.

Painting conservators or art conservators are experts who understand the chemistry of paintings and materials.

As a result, they can precisely restore and recreate damaged or old paintings.

These experts are knowledgeable in their field. For each artwork, they use high-end equipment, chemicals, and different conservation processes.

So, once you send your painting to an art restorer, you can rest assured that it is in good hands.

B. Contact the Experts

So you don’t want to take the oil painting to a conservator and instead want to work your own magic?

Cool. You absolutely can! You can use the methods mentioned above, or you can seek assistance from experts.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Ask an art conservator or restorer how to clean an oil painting at home. You can ask them for advice on how to clean a canvas painting.

Keep in mind: Many art conservators will advise you to bring the painting to their studio for restoration. An art conservator can clean or restore your painting without causing any damage to it.

  • Many art restoration companies sell cleaning products designed specifically for cleaning paintings. You can get those items for a few dollars.

Suggested: All Types Of Paintings, Styles, And Techniques.

When Should You Hire Professional Oil Painting Cleaners?

a professional oil painting restorer shown cleaning a Jackson Pollock painting with the words when should you hire professional oil painting cleaners written

If an oil painting is improperly stored or displayed for an extended period of time, it will become dirty. 

If your painting is damaged as well as dirty, it is best to take it to a professional oil painting cleaner rather than attempting to clean it yourself. 

It is considered damaged if your painting has any warping, cracking, or flaking. 

Any attempt to clean a damaged painting, no matter how careful or gentle, could cause significant damage to the piece.

You will need to find an art conservator if you want an old and valuable painting repaired, restored, and cleaned. 

If you only need your painting cleaned, you can look for companies that provide services in your area online. 

Professional oil painting cleaners are fairly easy to find, but it is best if you find a company or individual who has a good reputation working with oil paintings on canvas.

If you decide to clean your painting on your own, you must accept the risk of causing damage to it. 

It is best to conduct a pre-cleaning spot test to see how your cleaning method interacts with the painting. 

If you notice that you are removing paint or causing damage, stop immediately. 

Choose another method of cleaning or have the painting cleaned by a professional instead, as continuing with the same technique may result in the painting being ruined.

Bonus Tip: Oil paintings are the best.

Oil painting is the most adaptable media there has ever been. It makes sense why the majority of artists in the world favor it.

No aging is seen in the oil painting. An oil painting, unlike artwork created in other media, will always be in existence!

Therefore, I advise purchasing an oil painting if you’re thinking about getting a portrait painting.

Remember This:

Each painting is unique, and each will require a distinct cleaning procedure. 

Despite your best efforts, there is always a danger that you could ruin instead of cleaning the oil painting.

Therefore, taking the painting to a qualified art conservator or restorer is always the wisest course of action.

Suggested reads: Traditional Art vs Digital Art.

That’s all she said…

Hey Fellow People!

These were our best tried and tested advice on how to clean an oil painting at home. Thanks for sticking till the end 🙂

I hope you found the perfect method for cleaning your oil paintings.

You might have seen that we’ve mentioned some common cleaning techniques that are absolutely shunned.

Have you tried any of the mentioned techniques? How did it turn out?

Let me know down below.

au revoir pour la dernière fois❤️

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, you can clean a canvas painting at home. All you need to do is gather the supplies, choose a canvas painting cleaning technique and start working.
To clean the dust off the oil painting, you have to use the dry brushing technique. In this technique, you slowly brush off the dust from the painting using a soft brush.
You can clean an oil painting with water only if you wish to destroy the painting. Water can change the size of the fabric and remove the paint if the painting is old.
Cleaning the painting with saliva is considered to be the best way to clean a painting. This technique has been used by art conservators for centuries.
The only way to clean a painting without the risk of damaging it is to take the painting to an art conservator or restorer.
Old oil paintings are easily vulnerable to damage and so you shouldn’t attempt to clean an old painting at home. Old paintings can have cracks, warps, discoloration, or flaking paints. So the best way of cleaning an old oil painting is to take it to an art restorer.
Do not attempt to clean an oil painting with bread. It will cause molds to grow on the painting. Still, if you’re a daredevil, here’s how it goes: Take a loaf of bread and gently wipe the surface of the painting (and spoil the painting forever).
Take a cotton bud and damp it with your saliva. Now, cautiously swap the surface of the painting. Start with smaller sections and move until you’ve covered the whole painting. Keep changing the cotton buds after they become dirty. (For a detailed guide, scroll up to the section: Cleaning with saliva.)
A small oil painting that needs average restoration work can cost $800- $1000. For a larger painting, the cost can go from $10,000 to $15,000 if there’s a lot of restoration work involved.

11 thoughts on “Everything You Should Know About How To Clean An Oil Painting

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  4. Barbara Jones says:

    I was about to use the soapy water technique until I read your article. I have dry brushed it and figures are showing that I couldn’t see previously. However, there are stains that may never come off and I certainly cannot afford professional cleaning. However, I have been glad to do what I have accomplished. Thank you for your advice.

    • Jinx says:

      Hello Barbara,
      I’m glad that you didn’t use soap water.
      Cleaning an oil painting can be a task! If you’re not confident about cleaning it at home, we advise you to take it to the experts!

      • Stacie says:

        The oil painting I want to clean was painted on a piece of flexible metal, not on canvas. Would this open the door for more stringent methods of cleaning other than saliva?

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  7. Max Jones says:

    Thanks for explaining how oil paint is one of the most versatile mediums. My friend recently obtained an old oil painting from a thrift store, and it looks a little worn out. I’ll tell my friend to find an art restoration service that can restore his versatile oil painting.

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