How Often Should Oil Paintings Be Cleaned?

Cleaning a painting of any kind, whether oil or acrylic, can sometimes be stressful, as you don’t want to cause any damage to your artwork. However, sometimes, if a painting gets dirty, you’ll probably wonder if you can clean it and how to do so. 

So, How Often Should Oil Paintings Be Cleaned? Well, oil paintings should only be cleaned when severely dusty, dirty, or harboring fungal growth. Oil paintings are vulnerable to damage, so cleaning them too often or incorrectly can severely damage your oil painting. 

How To Clean An Oil Painting

Like most objects, oil paintings are susceptible to damage, aging, and filth the longer you’ve had them. You need to take certain precautions if you decide to clean your oil paintings yourself, as cleaning your artwork incorrectly or using the wrong supplies can result in irreversible damage.

Before cleaning your oil painting yourself, note how severe the damage is. Suppose the picture is moldy, warped, discolored, flaky, dull, and has several layers of grime. In that case, it’s best to take the painting to an art conservator instead of risking causing further damage because of DIYs (especially if the artwork is worth a lot of money or holds sentimental value). 

However, if you are feeling crafty, there are a few ways you can clean an oil painting yourself.

Use Your Saliva and a Q-Tip to Clean the Oil Painting

Cleaning a painting with saliva may seem weird and pretty gross, but this technique has been around for ages and is trusted by professionals. This way of cleaning paintings is also the safest way since saliva can get rid of dirtOpens in a new tab. but won’t damage the paint, so bear with me!

Dampen the Q-tip with saliva. Ensure the cotton tip isn’t drenched and dripping with saliva – it should simply be moist. Should the Q-tip be dripping, worry not. Just dab it on some tissue. 

Start swabbing your painting in sections and swap out the Q-tips once the cotton is dirty to prevent transferring that dirt to different parts of your artwork.

Try to prevent eating or drinking anything but water for at least 30 minutes before swabbing, and do a patch test before proceeding to see if this method will be effective. Although it’s tedious and time-consuming (and gross to some), it’s a foolproof way to clean your painting without the risk of damaging it.

Use a Dry Brush To Dust Off The Painting

This method is known as dry brushing, and it’s the most common way to clean a painting at home. Using a clean brush with soft, dry bristles, start dusting and brushing the paint in up-and-down motions instead of left-to-right to prevent the dust from spreading around the painting. It’s crucial to use a soft brush so your artwork doesn’t get scratched.

Dust your painting in sections until the whole artwork is clean, and use a brush big enough for the size of your painting. That way, you won’t spend a copious amount of time dusting your artwork. 

Suppose you notice paint flaking off the canvas while dry brushing. Stop immediately, as continuing can damage your painting. Paint flaking off is a sign of age, and it’d be better to take your artwork to an Art Conservator.

Consider checking out fineart-restoration if you are in the UK and in need of professionals!

There are plenty of at-home methods you can use to clean your oil painting, but the reality is that most of them aren’t effective and can mess up your painting. 

You should never use soap, water, lemon juice, cleaning products, vinegar, baby oil, or alcohol to clean your artwork. The methods mentioned above are the safest and most recommended ways to clean oil paintings. Should they be ineffective, it may be time to take your artwork to a professional.

How to Protect Oil Paintings From Damage

Oil paintings are susceptible to damage if they’re not stored and cared for correctly. Things like heat, humidity, and dust can damage an oil painting, so it’s vital to keep these artworks properly to prevent damage. Oil paintings can survive for centuries if cared for correctly, and you can maintain their longevity with the proper precautions.

Angela BandurkaOpens in a new tab.

Add Varnish and Re-Varnish The Oil Painting

Varnish keeps dust out of the oil painting and evens out its appearance. Think of varnish as a protective layer that will repel moisture, dirt, mold, and other grime.

If your painting is not an expensive masterpiece, you can varnish it yourself and reapply the varnish any time you clean it again. However, varnishing more costly, older paintings isn’t the best idea since it might make your painting less valuable.

It’s, of course, best to consult with an Art Conservator/professional before doing anything to an oil painting, but if you did the oil painting yourself, I believe you’ll know what’s best for your artwork!

Liquitex BASICS Matte Varnish, 250ml (8.4oz) Bottle Opens in a new tab.
  • Permanent matte varnish used to protect finished paintings
  • Matte varnish can be mixed with gloss varnish to vary the final finish sheen
  • Dries to a clear, non-yellowing finish

Last update on 2023-09-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Store The Oil Painting in a Dry, Dark Room

Storing a painting laid flat somewhere away from extreme temperatures is the best way to protect it. 

Exposure to direct sunlight can cause the oil painting to fade and age prematurely, and storage in a freezing room can also hurt the picture. Although you can store an oil painting in your home, the best option would be to keep the artwork in a storage unitOpens in a new tab., where the temperature and humidity can accommodate the painting’s preservation.

Wrap the Painting in Breathable Materials

Wrapping an oil painting in breathable sheets, foam, or tissue paper can prevent moisture from damaging and warping painting supports, which, in turn, protects the paint.

Covering an oil painting in breathable materials prevents moisture from being trapped in the picture and ruining it. For this reason, don’t use bubble wrap for oil paintings. Bubble wrap isn’t breathable and is prone to keeping moisture trapped in the painting, ultimately damaging it.

Final Words

Oil paintings are a stunning piece of art to have, and it’s essential to look after them properly to avoid irreversible damage. Only clean oil paintings if they are genuinely dirtyOpens in a new tab. since many cleaning techniques can thin, crack, or chip away the paint. However, when necessary, use saliva or a dry brush to clean them. If all else fails, visit a conservator to get your painting the care it needs. I hope this has helped you!


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Ines, a self-taught artist from Caracas now based in the UK, explores diverse forms of art, from unconventional materials to sustainable and responsible use of resources.

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