How To Clean A Canvas Painting Without Damaging It?

By Mandy Moss

Dirt, dust and grim can always leave your cherished canvas painting with a bit of clean up.  There are many was to clean a canvas, but it’s the “how” that is significant.  

How To Clean A Canvas Painting Without Damaging It?

Cleaning your canvas painting, depends upon the type of painting it is.  Whether it’s oil or acrylic, using a soft bristle paint brush or a soft cloth will help you sweep away the build up and dust.  Be gentle with your canvas and use light strokes to brush the canvas over to ensure that there is not dust left behind.

Artwork is an investment. You want to keep it around in tip top shape for years and years. Keeping your canvas clean is essential to maintain its durability.  Whether it be the million -dollar Picasso or a painting cherished by you, it needs some love and care. 

Important Facts To Consider Before Cleaning Your Canvas

Before you start the cleaning process, keep these few tips in mind to determine how you will clean a canvas.

The good news: it can be cleaned! You just need to understand your canvas.

  1. What is the value of your painting?  Is it worth millions or did you purchase it at a local market? If you are not comfortable handling it, then an art gallery would be your choice. However, if you are comfortable, then make sure to handle with care and do your research before applying any harsh chemicals to the surface.
  2. Is it flaky, warped or yellowed?  Examine your painting thoroughly to see what method of cleaning it needs. This all factors into what you are trying to clean. A simple soft brush like this can do the work for you.
  3. What type of painting is it? Oil, acrylic?  Both methods can work with a simple dusting, but acrylics tend to shrink with water, where oil doesn’t.

How to Clean a Canvas Painting?

When you begin to see that your painting might be flaking or warped, you will need to start cleaning it.  The more you touch the painting the more dirt it acquires.  It is always best to not touch the surfaces with your hands as much as possible.  

Depending on the level of dirt on your painting, there are a few techniques.  To determine the technique, you will need to examine the canvas thoroughly to ensure the treatment method.

Method 1: Cleaning Your Acrylic Canvas With Air And A Brush

Acrylic paintings tend to gather dust and grim more than other types of paintings.

What you will need:

  1. Soft bristle brush or fiber cloth
  2. Compressed air can
  3. Very little water in a bowl (optional)

Cleaning Process: 

  1. Take your painting and place it on a nice flat surface 
  2. Next you will want to place the compressed air can and blow the dust off the painting. 
  3. If you feel that it needs more work, take the soft bristle brush and use soft strokes that flow in the same direction.  
  4. If you still see the need to intensify the clean, using the fiber cloth and as little water as possible you can lightly clean the surface of the painting. Do not scrub the surface as it can cause soapy bubbles to form. 
Pro Tip: It is not recommended to make the cloth too damp, as the wet cloth can shrink the canvas.

Method 2: Cleaning Your Canvas With Saliva

Yes you heard me right- Saliva!  Oil paintings can be cleaned slightly different then the acrylics. You can clean your canvas as mentioned above with the acrylics method or the second method of using saliva.

Here is why, saliva is less harmful than a lot of the soaps used for cleaning. Saliva has a specific enzyme that helps break down foods and infections which has proven to be harmless to paintings.

What you will need:

  1. Cotton swab
  2. Your saliva 

Next make sure that you are doing this all with a set of clean hands, especially in the new normal of Covid-19.

Cleaning Process: 

  1. Dip the cotton swab into a little saliva without making it to wet.  
  2. Now roll the swab over the painting once to clean
  3. Dip the opposite end of the cotton swab in saliva and repeat the process.
Pro Tip: You will want to work in small sections, so this will take a while.  Also, if you see any paint lift up onto the swab, stop immediately.

How to Clean Smoke Residue from a Canvas Oil Painting?

Paintings over time can see the light of cigarette smoke, or perhaps from its resting place  on top of a fireplace.  However, it happened, smoke can leave a rather harsh residue on your canvas.  There are a few methods to consider before taking it down to a professional.

As always use a professional if you feel that you might damage it.

This are steps to follow:

  1. White bread! Yes white bread, if you use the center spongy part of it, it will pick up the residue.  Do not press too hard on the bread as you don’t want to leave crumbs on the painting.
  2. Low air compressor. Be careful here, as you don’t want to lift any paint particles off the painting.  
  3. Water and a mild soap.  Again, don’t make the cloth soaking wet, just damp enough so that you can lightly clean the surface of the painting.  Applying too much weight onto the painting might cause for more damage.

Painting Maintenance Over The Years

Acrylic paint tends to attract dust and grime.  It’s one of the properties. So even though you get a medium that has a quicker drying time then oils, it will get dusty. To avoid the grime and fibers that can attach to your painting, regular dusting the piece will help.

Pro Tip: Do not use a feather duster or any type of cloth that will catch on to the painting, in case of flaking.  Using soft brushes or clothes with even strokes will prevent damage. Being gentle is the key.

Just as you maintain your home artwork should be preserved as well.  If you do not feel comfortable tending to the piece of art, many art galleries or professionals will be able to help you out. 

Your investment will only grow in value as you preserve it. 

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