How Not to Clean Your Oil Paintings

April 26, 2018

Illumination is a miniature oil painting by Clifford Bailey of a sunset

Over the years there has been a number of myths concerning how to clean your oil painting.  You can only imagine my surprise to see that these myths have survived and are now appearing on websites as being legitimate ways to clean your art. Here is some of the advice that you need to avoid.

Ocracoke Island Rescue is an oil painting by Jean Cook of a horseFor some reason, food items appear to be a popular cleaning agent. It was recommended that bread, sourdough being the preferred, should be bunched up and rubbed all over the painting to pick up dust and grime. The other option is to cut a potato and rub the raw end all over the art. The results of both of these methods is bread crumbs and potato residue. The bugs will thank you.

Baby oil was championed for years as an excellent option to put the oil and suppleness back into the art. You were instructed to use a soft cotton ball coated with baby oil and gently rub it in a circular fashion over the painting. This initially makes it shiny and the colors look bright. The problem is that it does not rehydrate the oil paint.  It just sits on the surface of the painting being sticky. It does not dry but it does attract dirt and dust which becomes embedded into it.  The only way to safely remove this layer of sticky grime is to hire a professional.

Another big "No No", is rubbing alcohol. Yes, it may clean a spot or smudge but it will also take the paint right off.  I remember my mother trying this when I was a little girl. She was shocked when the seagull disappeared from the sky along with the smudge!

Even a feather duster can be harmful to your painting. The barbs on the feathers can cause tiny scratches over the surface.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to take care of your art. The best way to clean it is just to use a soft, dry sable brush to get the dust off. Anything beyond this usually needs a professional.





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