Cleaning Oil Paintings

This is a video blog on how to clean oil paintings. It covers removing surface dust, hairs and minor dirt. It is not intended to cover very old paintings that may have deteriorated surfaces, crazed or cracked, or with old yellowed varnish. These you will need the advice of a conservator. Cleaning oil paintings can be simple but always use care.

This is one of my paintings, which I completed in 1999. It needs a clean and a coat of varnish.

Watch the video and I will give further advice and details below.

Cleaning an oil painting

Cleaning oil paintings – process

  • Make sure it is an oil painting. Get advice on other works. While some acrylic paintings are fine for this as they are essentially dried plastics, others may be mixed media, water colour, gouaches etc that can dissolve in water. If in doubt take to your experience picture framer they will be able to confirm the medium – and can also provided advice on cleaning.
  • Don’t do this if the work is on paper. Canvas, Wood or linen are fine.
  • My paintings have been painted on fine Belgium linen since 1998 so are fine to be cleaned.
  • Use a light duster to dust off any surface dust that is loose. Feather or electrostatic are fine. just make sure they are clean.
  • Check surface for other damage – look for chips, cracking , flaking or crazing. If damage looks significant get advice from someone who has experience or is an Art conservator –
  • Select your cloth – again clean, see video for type. (don’t use disposables)
  • Luke warm water with touch of a mild detergent.
  • DON’T use a detergent that has bleach, oxygen rich(a type of bleach.) brightener’s, any solid particles, abrasives, and while sugar soap is for cleaning your walls – no no no it is strong caustic, never for a painting,
  • Note in my description as I was dispensing my detergent I said this is strong I only need a bit, – I meant concentrated (strong) it is a really mild detergent.
  • A clear wool wash laundry or delicates detergent, even a mild dishwashing – but very little. Or simple soap like a yellow ‘Sunlight’ (Australian brand? ) bar with a quick swish in water. try and have is so weak you have limited bubbles.
  • Dip corner of cloth in solution and wring out well.
  • Small strokes in multiple directions – don’t scrub.
  • Watch for cracking or crazing as you start, old paintings can sometimes be very dry and flexing the canvas can cause this. if this is the case stop and take it to a conservator.
  • Be careful not to soak the painting or let the water pool, you want to clean the surface only not soak the substructure. if in doubt check the back of the canvas to make sure you are not getting water penetration.
  • The water is to help loosen dirt and get it to stick to your cloth.
  • Check the cloth for signs of paint or other material, stop if in doubt.
  • Noticed, as on the video, I had a little bit of blue stain – it was Prussian Blue a Paint I use – (it also is a very staining type pigment) so I double checked and changed what I was doing a bit – slowed down and less pressure. and it stopped. So I was happy to go on. Be vigilant.
  • systematically work over the entire canvas,
  • Let dry and check again for any areas that may need a further clean.
  • If the painting has a lot of matt areas it may need to be varnished. – this is the topic for another post I will post soon.


I am an oil painter with 50 years experience and I am cleaning my own painting so I know what I am working with. Please take the advice given as is but with care – I mean the warnings. Test, get advice, if in doubt don’t proceed. You painting is valuable and if old it will be worth have it cleaned professionally for you if you are in anyway in doubt. Remember you are responsible for your work not me.

About This painting

Painted in 1999 this is one of six paintings I did on location in an unknown rainforest in the Acheron Valley Marysville. Only two remain unsold, it could be yours. – go to the gallery for details.

It is called Oikadespotia – NT Greek for house master. It is number 10 in the figure in landscape series.

Housemasters treasure
House master

Comment below. Contact me if you have any concerns.

  1. Awesome work as usual Russel. Yes. I got Covid this month and it threw me a curve ball. God Bless…