How to Clean Oil Paintings
An oil painting can last forever if taken care of properly. And that is the trick, right? To clean and restore a painting properly and not damage a precious family keepsake by taking shortcuts or using methods unwise and actually dangerous to your portrait. There are many ways not to do this properly and end up paying some professional service an arm and a leg to fix what you have ruined.
There is a need for everyone who has an oil painting to utilize proper chemicals and solutions for cleaning their oil paintings, and removing varnish to restore a portrait to its original glory. Many oil paintings can be destroyed beyond repair by use of soap and water, home remedy solutions, linseed oil, glue remover, or other household cleansers.
The process for removing household dirt, tobacco smoke, and yellowed varnish from oil paintings are the same, only the cleaning products are different.
Before beginning you should take a photograph of your painting. If there is any writing or intricate detail on your painting take a close up photo of that area. This will act as a before picture and allow corrections.
Other equipment you will need: Large clean sheet of paper (rolled brown paper used for wrapping works great), rubber gloves, cotton swabs, neutralizer, emulsion cleaner, varnish remover, (more on these three later), wooden Q tips (the long six inch type), and some paint varnish. We also suggest having a large piece or several pieces of a hard linoleum of Formica and then some strips of plastic or wood to place directly under the are of the oil painting you are working on. The idea is to have a small mini table inside the frame of your painting so that by pressing down on the canvas you will not stretch it when restoring your portrait.
The neutralizer is important as it will stop any action of another chemical you are using to clean your oil painting. This can also be used for an initial cleaning of your entire oil painting to clean surface dirt. The emulsion cleaner and varnish remover will be your primary means of restoring your oil painting. Depending on which you use and works better will depend on what is affecting your portrait. The varnish remover will remove yellowed and aged varnish while the emulsion cleaner will remove dirt, dust, and smoke from your oil painting.
We suggest you start in a small corner of your oil painting (with the neutralizer handy to stop any action undesirable) and see which product works best for your oil painting.
Lastly the painting varnish will be used when finished to seal the painting again for display. All of these products can be bought in any art store or craft place. Many can also be bought online
Step 1: Lay the oil painting to be cleaned face up on a clean sheet of paper in a well ventilated area. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the chemicals. Build up your work area using the strips of wood or plastic and the Formica or hard linoleum directly underneath the area you want to start cleaning. Remember to start in the corner of your oil painting to test before working on high detail areas. Be careful not to press down on the canvas too hard or you will stretch the canvas. Using the mini table underneath is the best way to avoid that.
Step 2: Apply the neutralizer to a piece of cotton and delicately wipe over the face of the oil painting to clean off all the surface dirt and dust.
Step 3: Next use a wooden cotton swab to test a corner of the oil painting with emulsion cleaner and a varnish remover to determine which product will best clean your oil painting. Directly after each test make sure you apply some neutralizer on another cotton swab and gently wipe over the test area to neutralize the cleaning action.
Step 4: After determining which product to use, begin cleaning the rest of your oil painting. Use your wooden cotton swabs in a rolling motion being very gentle and precise. Do not scrub back and forth on your canvas when applying the cleaner. Constantly check your cotton swabs for dirt and grime and ensure you are not removing paint.
( NOTE: We suggest cleaning a 3 to 4 inch square area at a time and then using the neutralizer in the same area before tackling another part of your oil painting. We also suggest doing the oil painting in sections. That is do all the hair of a portrait or a persons shirt as working on similar areas will make it easier to monitor change in color. Take your time! This is not a car wash and something to be rushed.)
Step 5: Next step is to varnish the oil painting with a gloss varnish to preserve your oil painting.
Step 6: Lastly take another picture of your oil paining and compare the two. Keep these as a record to monitor the health of your oil painting.
Follow these simple steps and you will have a treasured family keepsake for many generations to come.
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