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How Can You Protect Your Oil Painting?

Oil painting is a fantastic way to express your creativity, but it can also be a costly investment and requires some care. What steps can you take to protect your oil painting?


Before Cleaning: Keeping Art from Getting Dirty

When caring for your paintings, you should be aware of the factors that can lead to dirt accumulation and damage. The most important aspect of cleaning paintings is prevention: protecting your artwork from dirt and damage is far easier than cleaning it.

If you are the original artist of the piece, you can (and should) apply a coat of varnish to protect it from dust. Make sure there is no dust on the piece or in the air around your workspace when applying it – you don’t want to seal those particles onto your painting! In addition to protecting your art from dust, varnishing reduces the roughness of the surface of the painting, increasing color saturation.

Varnish layers are not appropriate for all paintings, and there are different types for acrylic and oil paintings. Just be cautious and read the instructions and label carefully to ensure you’re using the correct varnish and applying it correctly.


Cleaning and Protecting Paintings at Home/In the Studio

Artwork damage and soiling are frequently caused by improper storage and display. Because most paints are light-sensitive, you should avoid displaying the work in front of a brightly lit window. Extreme temperatures and humidity are particularly damaging to oil paintings. If you are storing the work in a basement or attic, you may want to invest in a humidifier or dehumidifier for these areas.

It may be beneficial to have older or more fragile artwork framed with a glass protector – especially if hung in a dusty area, such as higher on a wall. Just be careful – not every painting can be protected by glass. 

Smoking near a painting can cause it to deteriorate. Soot and smoke damage, especially on unvarnished paintings, can permanently alter the tone of the piece. Simply go outside if you or your guests want to smoke. It’s better for you, your home, and your artwork.


When to Clean Your Paintings

First and foremost, consider the piece’s value. If the work is a multi-million dollar Manet original, do not attempt to clean it yourself. Consult a professional. Also, make sure that bad boy is covered by insurance!

Following that, if you have decided to clean the piece yourself, you must determine the type of damaged or dirty your painting is. Is the air dusty? Discolored? Aging?

This is especially true when it comes to age-related damage. It is not advised to try to clean or restore this damage on your own. Painting conservators with years of formal training and practical experience are needed for cleaning. Even the most cautious attempts to clean a painting by an untrained person can result in permanent damage.

You can do simple cleaning yourself for dust or visible particles that have accumulated on the surface of your work, and here are a few methods:

  • Do not use cleaning product

This should be self-evident. Many chemical cleaning products are abrasive or contain color-changing agents. They will, at the very least, stain your painting. They can also erode the materials. Many cleaning products will permanently damage your artwork, so don’t take the chance.

The Marshall Gallery 2

By Dru Bloomfield –, CC BY 2.0,

  • Do not use water, either

Paintings are not the same as kitchen floors and should not be cleaned in the same way. Water can alter the dimension of the painting’s fabric. Some of the additives in acrylic paint may also be washed out.

So how do you clean a painting? Here are two tried-and-true methods that have been used by professionals for years.

Method 1: A soft, dry brush

The most basic way to clean your painting is to lightly dust it with a soft, dry brush. Before applying it to your artwork, make sure there is no paint or moisture on the bristles. Swipe away dust and accumulated soil from the artwork gently.

Method 2: Spit

Some museums and historians clean paintings with saliva. Because saliva does not have the same chemical structure as water, it is less likely to damage the artwork by reacting with or washing away the elements. If you’re going to use this method, don’t just slap a loogie on the canvas. Instead, moisten a q-tip or cotton swab with saliva and lightly swipe the painting’s surface.

Are You Looking for Contemporary Art to Complement Your Home?

The Marshall Gallery, located in Scottsdale’s Historic Arts District, has been the center of contemporary art since its founding in 1998. Boasting a collection of paintings, sculptures, and exquisite glass pieces, the gallery hosts several exhibitions each year plus a biennial glass invitational that attracts top-notch talent. Here you will find exceptional art presented in an open and relaxed gallery space, which is perfect for browsing the ever-changing collection. Explore on your own, or allow our expert art consultants to offer complimentary assistance to find the perfect addition to your own collection. Looking for the perfect piece of art to complement your home’s decor? Visit us in person or browse our online art store!