How to clean an oil painting

Got an old oil painting that needs sprucing up? Learn how to clean oil paintings with bread, linseed oil, and even potatoes!

Updated 23 July 2019

How to clean an oil painting

More and more of us are living with art these days – not just reprints, but beautiful original paintings. Art really brings something special to a house, but of course it also comes with responsibilities and that means learning how to clean a painting.

There are many methods for cleaning paintings on canvas and for cleaning oil paintings but we’ve just listed those you’re most likely to be able to complete using household items.

Always patch test any cleaning method on a small area of the painting first. If your art is particularly expensive or valuable, then go straight to the experts!

How to clean an oil painting

Before we look at the different methods and ingredients to clean your painting, let’s make sure the painting is ready to be cleaned:

  • Gently remove the painting from its frame.
  • Remove any nails and mark where they go so you don’t forget.
  • Lie the canvas down on a clean, flat surface.
  • Remove surface dust with a clean cloth or the soft brush attachment on a vacuum.
  • Start in one corner and check the results before continuing to prevent damage.
  • Do not remove or vacuum flaking paint. These are integral parts of the painting and need to be preserved. Send this painting to an expert instead.

Once you’ve removed the superficial dust you have a few different options for finishing the cleaning process.

Choose from the methods below:

Cleaning oil paintings with linseed oil

Cleaning oil paintings with linseed oil is easy – first mix with turpentine.

  1. Follow the instructions on the bottle to mix linseed oil with turpentine. The concentration is usually five parts turpentine to one part linseed oil.
  2. Dip a cotton wool ball or very soft cloth in the mixture and squeeze the liquid out so it’s just slightly damp
  3. Gently brush over the surface of the painting until the cloth or cotton wool is soiled.
  4. Repeat as required.

Cleaning oil paintings with potato

It may sound unusual, you can also try cleaning oil paintings with potatoes!

  1. Get a big white potato and cut it in half.
  2. Rub the moist part over the painting.
  3. Be sure to move in slow gentle motions so as not to disturb the painting’s surface.
  4. Clean off any remaining potato residue with a clean cloth.

How to clean an oil painting with bread

Did you know you can also clean an oil painting with bread? The spongy, tacky surface of fresh bread is surprisingly well suited to pick up dust and grime.

  1. Cut a large piece of doughy bread.
  2. Make sure both the piece of bread and the painting are dry.
  3. Using the softer part of the bread (not the crust) dab the painting
  4. Keep doing this until the bread is soiled with dirt.
  5. If needed, continue with another piece of bread.
  6. If the surface starts flaking when you do this, stop and take it to a professional.

And that’s it: 3 simple ways to remove superficial dirt and dust from oil paintings using things you have at home. Remember: if you need a more in-depth clean it’s worth taking your painting to an expert.

Key steps

To clean an oil painting follow these key steps:

  1. Remove the painting from the frame.
  2. Dust lightly to remove superficial dirt.
  3. Use one of the techniques above to get rid of any remaining marks.
Originally published 4 June 2019