Thanks Ellen for your guest post.

Gregory Van Raalte

Oil paintings are sensitive and unique media. With time, these paintings, especially still life paintings, can accumulate stains and dirt. As such, they should be cleaned regularly. While some people do not know how to clean these delicate paintings, there are several methods that can be used to effectively clean them. Some methods that are commonly used to clean these paintings are: spit and bread cleaning methods. Owing to their delicate nature, these paintings cannot be cleaned using paint thinner, water or alcohol as many would have thought. These items can easily erode the original vibrancy of the painting.

Items needed

The following are the items that are required to clean an oil painting effectively: varnish remover, emulsion Cleaner, neutralizer, surgical cotton, varnish a plastic container, surgical gloves and 6″ wooden handle cotton swabs. To begin with, the oil painting should be placed on a Kraft paper facing upwards. After that, surgical gloves should be worn to protect the hands. As a precaution, while cleaning the painting excessive pressure should not be used on the canvas as it can stretch. Linoleum cut out from a sink may be positioned under the painting to prevent this excessive pressure.

The cleaning process

The next step is applying the neutralizer on a piece of cotton wool. The wet cotton wool should then be used to wipe over the face of the painting gently. This is done to remove the surface dirt from the painting. A cotton swab should then be used on a small area, preferably the corner, to determine which, between varnish remover and emulsion cleaner, works best on the painting. Generally, the emulsion cleaner is used to remove smoke and dirt from the surface of the oil painting while the varnish remover is used to remove yellowed varnish from the face of the painting. While cleaning the painting, a rolling motion should be used rather than scrubbing. The cleaned area is then wiped with a cotton wool that has been dipped in the neutralizer to stop the cleaning action.


When cleaning these paintings, care should be taken to ensure that only the dirt is removed and mot the paint. Therefore after cleaning an area of 2″ square, the neutralizer should be used on the cleaned area. Finally, varnish should be applied in the face of the panting using cotton wool. The varnish brings out the colors on the painting and protects them for a long period. This method is majorly used by professional as it requires a lot of precaution. The other method that can be used to clean an oil painting, that is simple to carry out and can be used by almost anybody is the use of a loaf of bread. When using this method, doughy bread should be used. This method should be used in a controlled area, either inside or outside. While held at the centre, the bread is used to wipe the painting gently. The bread should absorb all the dirt leaving the painting very clean. The bread also removes other imperfections that might have added on the painting with time. When done, a soft brush should be used to remove bread crumbs from the surface of the painting.


Alternatively, the spit method can as well be used to clean oil paintings. Several cotton swabs should be acquired for this purpose. After wetting them with saliva, the swabs should be used to clean the painting using an up to down motion instead of a side to side motion. However, the cotton swabs should not be too wet but only wet enough to pick the dirt. Once one swab becomes dirty, you should use another one for better results.

Photo/Picture Credit: Gregory Van Raalte


Hey there, I’m Tiffany! I’m a work-at-home mom of two rambunctious children (Jasmine, 9 + Sean II, 5) and recently widowed at just 35 years old. I've remarried and currently live right outside of Baton Rouge in Denham Springs, Louisiana with two adoring cats and a dog. Let's connect on Twitter @fabulousmomblog.

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