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How to Clean an Oil Painting

How To Clean an Oil Painting

Have you ever found an old oil painting and wondered what it would look like if you cleaned it up a bit?  Maybe you found an oil painting at a consignment store or a garage sale and thought it might be a treasure in disguise.  Or, maybe you are like me and you can’t throw anything away, not even your grandmother’s old art work from the 60’s.  Well, here is how to clean an oil painting, in case you find a treasure at a garage sale or your grandmother’s attic.

My grandmother bought this painting in the 1960’s at a starving artist sale in Little Rock, Arkansas.  As far back as I can remember, she had it hanging over her couch.  After she died, my mom had it in her attic.  Recently, I got it and decided I would clean it up and see what it looked like.  Here is how I did it.



Before you start scrubbing, you better take a look at your painting and see if it’s valuable or not. I started by googling the name of the artist, J. Baldridge.  I got nothing.  I asked my mother what she knew about the painting and she knew it was from a starving artist sale in the 60’s.  Based on that information, I knew it wasn’t valuable.  I inspected the painting, front and back, and sure enough, there wasn’t a hidden canvas under the picture – no hidden Picasso.  This painting was strictly of sentimental value.  If you have a painting that has some monetary value, you don’t want to do what I did.

How To Clean An Oil Painting How To Clean An Oil Painting


I elected not to remove the painting from the frame before I started cleaning, but you might consider doing so if it will make it easier. The first thing I decided to clean was the frame.  I used Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner to start.  Now, I forgot to mention that both of my grandparents smoked in the house.  This painting had been exposed to smoke for thirty to forty years.  (Another reason it wasn’t valuable.)  It didn’t take me long to find out that the frame wasn’t brown like I thought it was, it was actually blue and gold.

How to Clean an Oil Painting How to Clean an Oil Painting How to Clean an Oil Painting

How To Clean An Oil Painting


It looks pretty yellow, I know.  Forty years of smoke will do that to a painting.  Based on my result with the frame, I was super excited to get started on the actual painting.  I didn’t think the canvas would be white after I cleaned it, but I was thinking I could clean that yellow sheen off the paint.  For my first try, I used Winsor & Newton Artist’s Picture Cleaner.  I used cotton swabs and cleaned very gently small sections at a time.  You could not even tell I had done anything.

So, stay with me here.  I decided to use my Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner on the actual painting.  I used a towel and sprayed the cleaner on the towel, not the picture.  Then I cleaned in a circular pattern with the towel.  I put the painting on my lap and had one hand underneath where I was cleaning with the towel.  I am pretty sure that was the wrong thing to do, but it made a difference.

Then I went back over it with the picture cleaner because it was oily and seemed to sort of “hydrate” the painting.  Here is my half and half picture.  If you try this, I would take a half and half picture just for the fun of it.

How To Clean an Oil Painting

Here is my 3/4 picture.

How To Clean an Oil Painting How To Clean an Oil Painting

Here is what it looks like completely cleaned.

How To Clean an Oil Painting

As you can see, the overall effect was quite dramatic on the frame.  When I thought the frame was brown, I had all kinds of ideas about how I was going to update it.  But, after all that hard work, I think I’ll let it be for now.

As far as the actual oil painting, I can see the results there as well.  I did clean that yellow sheen that was on the painting and I think I lightened up the yellowish canvas a bit.


Finally, if you still love your painting, find a place to display it.  When I thought my frame was brown, I was considering hanging this in my bedroom.  Now that It’s much lighter than I expected, I’m still thinking about it.

How to Clean an Oil Painting


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