How to Clean Canvas Paintings

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Over time, a beautiful art collection can lose some of its visual impact due to dust, cobwebs, dirt, water stains and other wear and tear. Fortunately, there are a few strategies for cleaning paintings on canvas that will not damage the paint and will keep an art collection looking its best.

Things You'll Need

  • Dust cloth
  • Emulsion cleaner
  • Varnish remover
  • Cotton swabs
  • Varnish
  • Remove the painting from the wall. You can also remove the painting from its frame, but it is not necessary. Tap the painting to remove any loose dirt and dust. Then, take a non-shedding light cloth or a soft bristle brush and gently dust the surface of the painting. This may be enough maintenance to give a painting its original sheen.

  • Consider the value of the painting. If the piece is a treasured heirloom or of high value, do not attempt to clean the painting beyond a light dusting. Instead, hire a professional cleaner to restore the painting. An owner of a reputable gallery or quality antiques shop will have recommendations for professional art restorers.

  • Check the medium of the painting on canvas. Watercolors and acrylics do respond inconsistently to liquid cleaners. For an acrylic painting, try blowing the surface with a can of compressed air to remove embedded dirt. For watercolor paintings, use slices of soft white bread, with the crusts removed, to press against the surface of the painting and absorb dirt.

  • Try the liquid method for oil paintings. Art supply stores sell emulsion cleaner (for dirt and smoke) and varnish remover (for yellowed varnish) for cleaning oil paintings. Using a cotton swab, test a corner of the painting with the cleaner of your choice. Gently roll the cotton swabs across the surface of the oil painting, ensuring that you are removing only dirt or vanish and not paint.

  • Add finishing touches. Varnish the oil painting if necessary. Polish wood frames and clean the glass. Clean the area where the painting will hang, making sure to vacuum or mop at the end to reduce the chance of dust particles rising in the air and sticking to the surface of the painting.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use rubber gloves while cleaning.
  • Do not clean paintings with loose paint.

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