Can you clean original paintings safely yourself?

Here are few ways for art collectors can clean their art without using a conservator...

*All the methods mentioned below begin by placing the painting on a sturdy work surface. Be mindful that all paintings are delicate, and acrylic paintings are incredibly fragile.

  1. The easiest way to clean up an oil or acrylic painting on canvas is to use a white cotton cloth soaked in mild soapy water; preferably, olive oil-based soap.. You'll be surprised to see how much grime comes off, but remember to be gentle with paintings, particularly paintings with thick impasto, as you do not want to break hardened paint.

  2. Blow away any dust with a can of compressed air. Do not touch or physically handle the painting. Use a can of compressed air and squeeze a few spurts of air near any noticeable specks of dust or dirt. Hold the can away from the artwork, so you don't get any residue on the canvas.

  3. Use saliva and a cotton swab to clean the artwork. Using a clean cotton swab swipe along your inner cheek to pick up some spit. Lightly roll the cotton swab over the painting surface focusing on any spaces that look especially dirty. Make sure you haven't had anything to eat or drink at least 30 minutes before cleaning your canvas.

  • Saliva is a tried-and-true cleaning method that' has withstood the test of time

  • Test a tiny corner of your painting with saliva before rubbing it over your entire painting. If the spit seems to clean off the artwork, feel free to continue cleaning with it.

  • Only use moisture to clean your painting as a last resort.

  • If you don't want to use saliva, you can dip your cotton swab in a tiny amount of deionized water instead.

Lastly, these methods aren't the most effective. As an artist and art collector, I have experienced threads from rags and feathers from dusters stuck in the impasto or, even worse, pulling off the tips of impasto. If you think your painting looks dirty or has been affected by smoke/soot or insect activity, take the art off the wall and sending quality photos (both overall and close-ups) to a conservatory, along with measurements and information about the painting's location in your home.


John Obafemi Jones does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site.


About the author: John Obafemi Jones is an American artist residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands. An expressionistic figurative painter, his paintings are rooted in his need for self-discovery and expression. He frequently uses jazz themes and blues icons because he feels these art forms that have historically confronted some of society’s most serious questions. Follow John Obafemi and learn about his art journey visit www.johnobafemijones.


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