Much like any other kind of artwork or decor, eventually, dust, dirt, and grime are going to make your canvas artwork dirty.
There are a few different ways that you can clean a painting, but the method that you use depends on the kind of painting it is.
If it is acrylic or oil or anything in between, you should always be using a soft cloth or soft bristle paint brush to get rid of the dust on the top layer.
Use light touches and be gentle with the canvas to make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind.
Like other expensive items you may own, the artwork is an investment that should be cared for.
Keeping your canvas art clean will improve its durability and allow you to enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed for years to come.
Below, I will offer some tips on how to keep the painting clean.
Things To Consider Before Cleaning a Canvas Painting
Before you begin to clean your artwork, ask yourself the following questions:
1- What is the painting’s value?
Is it a vintage art piece worth a lot of money, or is it one you bought at a local shop?
Either way, if you aren’t comfortable handling it on your own, then you can take it to an art gallery or other cleaning service to do it for you.
If you are comfortable with it, then be sure you are handling it carefully, including spending some time deciding what chemicals you can and can’t put on it.
2- Is it yellowed, warped, or flaky?
Look closely at the painting and determine what kind of cleaning it needs. This will factor into the kind of painting you are trying to clean.
Often, a simple soft brush can take care of it for you.
3- What kind of painting is it & what cleaning materials can be used?
Both acrylic and oil paintings respond well to simple dusting, though acrylics tend to shrink up with exposure to water.
Oil paintings, however, do not shrink up. And they can be easy to clean with water and soap as well.
So, before you start cleaning, check what will be the cleaning materials you will require to get them prepared first.
Cleaning a Canvas Painting
When you start seeing that the painting is becoming warped or flaking, it is time to start cleaning it.
The more often you touch the painting, the dirtier it will get, so try not to touch it with your bare hands whenever possible.
Depending on the amount of dirt on the painting, there are a few ways to take care of the work.
To figure out which technique to approach the project with, you will first need to take a close look at the canvas.
Method 1: Using Air and a Brush to Clean an Acrylic Painting
Acrylic paintings will gather much more dust and grime than other paintings.
So, you will need to clean them more often. Here’s how to do it.
Items you will need:
- The small amount of water in a bowl
- Can of compressed air
- Fiber cloth or soft bristle brush
How to clean:
- Place your painting down on a flat surface.
- Use the can of compressed air to blow away the dust that is on the painting.
- After using the compressed air, if you think that it needs more work, you can use the soft bristle brush paired with soft strokes to remove the dust.
- After this, if you believe a more intense cleaning method is important, you can use a fiber cloth and some water. Barely apply water to the cloth, and then lightly clean the surface of the painting with a gentle touch.
Do not get it too wet, and do not scrub the surface, as this may cause the formation of bubbles. The wet cloth can also shrink the canvas.
Method 2: Using Saliva to Clean the Canvas
Oil paintings can be cleaned in less traditional ways than acrylic paintings.
You could use the method above for cleaning acrylic paints, or you could use the saliva method.
Though unconventional, wikihow.com, in their article, suggests that saliva is much less harmful than many of the soaps out there when it comes to cleaning.
It has a certain enzyme in it that is usually used to break down infections and foods that is actually good for cleaning paintings as well.
Items you will need:
- Cotton swab
- Clean hands
How to clean:
Be sure that you clean in small sections for best results. Since you will be doing this, be prepared that it can take some time.
Stop the process immediately if you notice any paint come up onto the swab!
- Put the cotton swab on your tongue to get a little saliva on it, being careful not to make it too wet.
- Rub the cotton swab over the painting to clean it off.
- Do the same with the opposite end of the cotton swab.
- Repeat this process as often as needed until the painting is cleaned to your liking.
Method 2: Using Olive Oil Soap and Water
Although it is possible to buy specialized canvas cleaners, olive oil soap is a gentle and effective alternative to clean your old canvas paintings and pictures.
You can use this cleaning and caring method for both oil and acrylic paintings.
Items you will need:
- Soft cloth
- Olive oil-based soap
How to clean:
- Simply mix a little soap with lukewarm water and use a soft cloth to wipe down the surface of the painting.
- You may need to use a bit more elbow grease for particularly dirty paintings, but be careful not to scrub too hard, or you could damage the canvas.
- For vintage paintings that have thick impasto, be extra careful and gentle. Using Q-tips might help, but be sure to work gently in crevasses.
- You don’t want them to lose any of their texture or appearance.
- Once you have finished cleaning, leave it to dry. Your painting should now be clean and free of dirt and debris.
How to Clean Smoke Residue from an Oil Canvas Painting?
Over time, it is likely that a painting will be exposed to smoke in some way, whether that is from cigarette smoke, being placed near a fireplace, or after surviving a house fire.
No matter the type of smoke or the source of it, smoke can leave behind bad residue on the painting itself.
If your canvas painting has smoke or mold residue on it, there are a few things you can try to use to clean the painting before taking it to a professional.
Some methods you can use to clean smoke from an oil canvas painting include:
a) White bread
As surprising as it sounds, white bread with a spongy center is good for lifting smoke residue from a painting.
Be sure that you use gentle pressure, as you do not want to press too firmly and cause any crumbs to come off and stick to the painting.
b) Mild soap and water
If you use this method, be sure you use a soft cloth, and you do not use too much pressure.
Make the cloth just damp enough to be able to lightly clean the painting’s surface without soaking it.
It is also important that you do to put too much pressure on it while cleaning.
c) A can of compressed air
You can use a can of compressed air as long as you are careful; you do not want to lift off any paint from the canvas surface.
To clean an oil painting using compressed air, first lay the painting flat on a table or other surface. Next, cover the painting with a piece of clean cloth or newspaper.
Then, take a can of compressed air and hold it upright about 6 inches from the surface of the painting.
Slowly move the can back and forth across the surface of the painting, taking care not to touch the canvas with the can.
After a few passes, you should see the smoke residue loosen and fall away from the painting.
Once the residues have been removed, allow the painting to dry completely before storing it away.
Painting and Artwork Maintenance Tips Through the Years
Over time, acrylic paint tends to attract more debris and dust than others. It is just a fact of the medium.
So, even though this paint dries more quickly than oil paint, it can get dustier sooner and therefore requires you to clean it more often.
To protect and avoid debris or dust sticking to the fibers of the painting and becoming difficult to clean, it is important to regularly dust the painting instead of waiting to do it only once every few years.
This sort of preventative, regular maintenance will go a long way toward keeping your painting clean and minimizing the work you must put in to do so.
Whenever you are dusting the painting, be sure you DO NOT use a feather duster or any other kind of material like a cloth that will catch on the painting.
This might cause the paint to flake. Instead, using soft cloths and brushes in even brush strokes will help you prevent this sort of damage. It is important to work with a gentle touch.
Why is painting canvas so expensive?
Canvas is a high-quality material that is durable and long-lasting. It is also a natural fiber that is breathable, which means it will not yellow or crack over time.
Canvas is also thicker than most other fabrics, so it can withstand more wear and tear.
Because of its many benefits, the canvas is one of the most popular materials for painting. However, all of these benefits come at a price.
Canvas is typically more expensive than other fabrics, and it can be difficult to find an affordable canvas for painting.
But for those who are willing to invest in a high-quality product, the canvas is definitely worth the price.
How can I store my canvas paintings at home?
To store your expensive canvas paintings at home, I would suggest investing in a stacking art storage system that will hold multiple canvases.
These are available in various sizes and can be customized to fit your specific needs.
Canvas paintings should never be stored on the floor or leaning against a wall, as this can damage the canvas and the paint.
Be sure to wrap each canvas in acid-free tissue paper before placing it in the storage system. You may also want to consider using archival boxes for long-term storage.
Archival boxes are made from acid-free materials and provide an extra layer of protection for your valuable paintings.
How much does it cost to have a painting cleaned by a professional?
The cost of professional painting cleaning can vary depending on the size and condition of the painting, as well as the type of cleaning required.
For example, a simple surface cleaning may only cost a few hundred dollars, while a more complex restoration project can easily run into the thousands, especially if they need a premium restoration kit.
In general, it is best to consult with a professional art conservationist to get an accurate estimate of the costs involved.
However, as a general rule of thumb, it is safe to say that professional painting cleaning can be quite expensive.
You should invest only if you are confident that the painting is valuable and worth the investment.
The Bottom Line
Much like you maintain the appearance and state of the other items in your home, it is also important to maintain the artwork there.
Above, I have explained various ways to clean and restore your canvas paintings (both acrylic and oil).
If you do not feel comfortable cleaning the painting on your own, there are art galleries and other professional services that can help you out.
It is always best to seek professional help rather than being unsure and possibly damaging your antique artwork.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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