Cleaning an oil painting can include surface cleaning or alternatively varnish removal. Surface cleaning refers to the removal of surface dirt and grime from your painting without affecting the varnish layer. Treatment aims to aesthetically improve the painting. It removes dirt to prepare the surface for the solvent action of varnish removal. It is crucial that prior to surface cleaning, the paint layer is secure and does not present loose or flaking paint.

A soft bristle brush and vacuum is used to remove further surface dirt from the canvas. This is where dust becomes trapped behind the stretcher bars. You may then apply a Chemical Sponge or Groom/Stick to the canvas and stretcher to remove more ingrained surface dirt. Following surface cleaning, varnish removal seeks to address the discolouration (often yellowing) of the varnish from the painting surface. Yellowing of traditional resin varnishes is not uncommon and can affect the legibility of the piece as it obscures the details of the painting.

To return it to its original condition and colours originally intended by the artist, you can remove the varnish layer. The use of free solvents, solvent mixtures or alternatively gels (aqueous or solvent) will complete this. They control the application of a solvent to the painting to reduce risks of swelling, leaching and solvent residues in the paint layers, extensive testing is done first as each painting is different.

Crucially, the method of varnish removal must successfully remove the varnish layer without affecting the stability of the paint layer beneath.

Can I clean my painting with bread?

Contrary to methods widely circulated across internet searches, you should never clean paintings with bread. The risks associated include mechanical damages to the painting as well as residue that attracts bacterial activity including pests and mould.


If the paint surface is stable, without flaking and areas of extensive cracking, it’s possible to dust the paint surface with a clean, soft brush. Avoid feather dusters and sheepskin dusters. They are prone to catch on the surface and it is imperative that household cleaning items are NOT applied to the painting.

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