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Clean Oil Painting Instructions - Refresh Yellowed Oil Paintings

  • Clean oil painting
    • 1st step: remove dust
    • 2nd step: remove varnish and dirt
    • 3rd step: new sealant
  • Protect the oil image

You can even take the cleaning of oil paintings into your own hands. But keep in mind that wrong remedies or excessive pressure could irreparably damage the painting. The more precious and older the oil painting is, the more cautious you should be when cleaning. Therefore, in this manual, we show you how to clean an oil painting and carefully remove dust and yellowed layers of dirt yourself.

Oil paintings generally endure more than other paintings, for example, painted with watercolors. But even a varnish seal, which is common for oil paintings, does not keep dirt and dust away forever. The colors lose their luminosity and the image gradually yellows. Nicotine is just one reason why oil paintings quickly dull and lose their shine.

Before you make any arrangements and cover yourself with cleaning supplies, you should know the value of the oil painting. The older and higher quality the painting, the more prudent the cleaning must be done. Really expensive and rare specimens should definitely be cleaned and restored by a specialist!

Note: We at Talu.de in this post one of many ways on how an oil painting can be cleaned. If you are not sure about the value of your painting, as well as when doing the cleaning just this, then always consult a professional, for example, for restoration, for advice.

Also regarding the use of different chemical solvents. Because not all colors react immediately to the use of solvents, please have this in mind when you want to carry out cleaning or the like on one of your murals. We at Talu.de do not replace a professional, but are first and foremost a guide magazine.

Clean oil painting

The painting to be cleaned has a value of about 150 € and is about 100 years old. The value is rather low that a cleaning would be expensive by the skilled person compared to. Therefore we do the cleaning ourselves.

An oil painting is cleaned in 3 steps. You need:

  • Anacrosina or ox gall
  • feather duster
  • sponge
  • paper towels
  • Varnish and flat, soft brush
  • Stack of old cardboard or books

Anacrosina: ... is a soap-like liquid for cleaning oil paintings. The agent consists of various, sometimes aggressive solvents and can be used by laymen. A bottle of 250 ml is already available for 12 €.

Ox gall: ... is a natural wetting agent derived from the bovine bile. In liquid form, it is ideally suited to remove greasy layers on oil paintings. 200 ml cost in the trade around 9 €.

Varnish: ... is the protective layer on an oil painting, which is subsequently applied after painting. It protects the image from the influence of light and aging. For this, linseed oil varnish from the hardware store is suitable. This linseed oil is golden brown in liquid form but dries transparently. It forms a water-repellent protective layer. 1 L of varnish you get in the hardware store for less than 9 €.

Important: Although oil paints are very resistant, you should never use aggressive or chemical agents for cleaning. Water alone can do a lot.

1st step: remove dust

The picture can be left in the frame for cleaning. But we recommend - for a proper and complete cleaning, also for the better cleaning of the frame - that you take out the picture. Be very careful with old and delicate oil paintings.

Before you start the actual cleaning, the painting has to be removed from the dust. Especially old pictures may have formed small cracks over time. If you would then go over the color with a rag, you could get caught on it and tear off paint. Dust removal should therefore be done with a feather duster or a delicate brush. Walk with the frond over the entire image area, to the corners on the frame.

2nd step: remove varnish and dirt

The varnish serves as a seal. However, it will become brittle over time, may turn yellow and even come off. The varnish must therefore be removed immediately before the image can be cleaned. Products for the removal of protective varnish of this type usually contain similar ingredients, such as solvents, alcohol and ammonia. Anacrosina is a soapy liquid that is ideal for removing dirt and varnish. Ox bile can also be used to clean oil paintings.

The picture is "jacked up" for cleaning. That is, the image is placed on a stack of books, boxes, or another surface. The frame height must be balanced with the stack of cardboard so that the screen rests on a firm surface when cleaning and does not resonate. If you did not do this, the canvas could come off during cleaning.

Then apply the agent Anacrosina (or Ox Ox) to the entire surface of the picture with a brush or sponge so that it is completely saponified. Allow the agent to dry and act for about 15 minutes.

After this exposure time, the image is cleaned. Dip the sponge in warm water (it should not be hot), squeeze it out and gently wipe the painting. The crust of dirt, varnish and anacrosina must now be completely removed. Wash out the sponge and repeat the process until the oil image is completely clean. You can do this process with a simple Küchenpapiier. But this must always be changed.

Note: If you are unsure of the effect of the remedy, we recommend that you first perform the process on one corner of the image.

Now the picture has to dry completely. Make sure it is completely dry on both the front and the back.

3rd step: new sealant

The old seal has been removed - this means that the oil painting has to be protected again with varnish. Carefully apply the varnish with a flat brush. Paint the varnish both horizontally and vertically on the image. This ensures a uniform seal.

Caution: The application of varnish with spray cans is not recommended. The seal will not be even.

After that, the oil painting has to dry out for a good week. If you are out of the ordinary, you should always observe this waiting time so that the protective layer is not damaged by possible contact.

You see a clear difference. The yellowish deposits are gone and the picture shines in new splendor. The colors shine more and the picture has more depth again.

In retrospect, you can also clean the frame. This works best with a simple, wet cloth.

Note: Often one hears of home remedies such as saliva, potatoes or even bread, with which one can clean oil paintings - we advise against these quick alternatives. The cost of ox gall, Anacrosina, as well as varnish are so low that you can invest the money quite. So you are definitely on the safe side.

Protect the oil image

Protect your precious oil paintings from dirt and discoloration. For this you should consider a few of these points:

  • protect from direct UV radiation
  • protect against high humidity (do not hang in the kitchen and bathroom)
  • Avoid smoke
  • hang the pictures from time to time
  • dust paintings regularly with a feather duster
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