How to clean PAINTINGS! Oil, Acrylics or Watercolors - Easy methods
How to Clean Paintings?

How to clean paintings? Oil, Acrylics or Watercolors

Methods on how to clean paintings

Today we learn how to clean paintings. Over time, a painting can get dusty or dirty. Even if the painting is a vertical surface, it still gathers dust on it, pretty much like a TV or monitor. You might think that cleaning a painting can ruin the piece of art that you care about so much. Here I will show you methods of cleaning your paintings without causing any damage. However, not all paintings are the same, so you need to apply a specific method of cleaning the painting for each medium: watercolors, acrylics or oils.


These are methods I used on my artworks, and might not work on any type of art. If you are not sure what kind of medium your painting contains or if a method can be used on your artwork, it’s better to ask for a professional help.


  1. How to clean watercolors paintings?
  2. How to clean acrylics painting?
  3. How to clean oil painting?

1. How to clean paintings made with watercolors?

Watercolors landscape by Cristina Iordache
Watercolors landscape by Cristina Iordache

Watercolors paintings are, maybe. the most sensitive type of artwork to clean. Because the watercolors are easily diluting in water, cleaning a painting the wrong way can ruin the painting forever.
The method of cleaning watercolors is easy and simple. You don’t need expensive things to clean watercolors paintings and you probably you already have them in your home.

Things you will need:

  • fresh bread
  • a clean soft brush

The texture of the bread is gentle with the painting’s surface. As a brush, I use a clean fan make-up brush that I’m not using for make-up. Any brush is good, as long as its hair is soft and won’t scratch the surface. You should perform this cleaning somewhere outside or on a balcony since you might create lots of breadcrumbs.

There are two steps in cleaning a watercolors painting:
  1. First, you delicately rub or dab the piece of bread on the surface of the painting. If the piece of bread gets messy, change it with a new one. Using the bread, clean every inch of the painting, until it’s colors are back to original and there is no dust left on the surface.
  2. Next, using the fan brush gently to remove any breadcrumbs left on the surface of the painting.

Attention! If the painting is stained, you should take it to a restorer to have it cleaned for you. Since watercolors are sensitive, rubbing the stain or washing it will smudge the colors and ruin the artwork.
To prevent building dust or staining a watercolors painting, it’s better to use a glass frame.

2. How to clean paintings made with acrylics?

Jack Russel by Cristina Iordache
Jack Russel by Cristina Iordache

Acrylic paint is more resistant in time and that’s why acrylic paintings pass the time exam with a better score. Like any other object, the acrylic painting suffers decay and possible degradation. Dust can build up and the colors and the overall aspect of the painting can suffer a lot.

Luckily there are methods to clean the acrylics paintings and doesn’t require to spend a fortune. Let’s see the tools you will need in order to learn how to clean paintings.

Tools you will need to clean the acrylic painting:

Follow the next steps to clean your artworks:
  1. If the painting is new and the paint is still wet you should wait at least a week before cleaning it
  2. Be careful not to ruin the painting cause it might make a valuable piece of art lose its value
  3. Use the soft brush to dust away all the potential dust that built up over time
  4. In a large container mix some non-astringent dish soap with water
  5. Damp the microfibre cloth into the water mix
  6. Don’t use chemicals or other types of cleaning supplies
  7. Squeeze thoroughly the cloth before cleaning the painting, because some types of acrylic paints are water soluble
  8. Begin cleaning the sides of the painting to see if the water mix is not affecting the paint in any way. Let the test parts dry and check for any modifications of the paint
  9. Clean the painting with gentle moves without applying pressure
  10. Use a dry soft piece of cloth to remove any moisture spots and let the painting dry naturally. 
  11. Don’t let it dry in direct sunlight or on a heating apparatus, because it might ruin the painting
  12. After the painting is dry, you can apply a coat of varnish especially made for acrylics painting. 

Attention! If the painting is only covered in dust, you can clean the dust and skip to the varnishing step. Use the dish-soap and water mix only if your painting has been stained.

To prevent dust from building up on your painting, try to vacuum the room at least once per week to remove the floating particles of dust. If you need to store the painting in the attic or a garage, wrap the artwork in a cloth or plastic bubble wrap to prevent it from deteriorating. Don’t hang your paintings in direct sunlight, outdoors, in rooms with high humidity (such as bathrooms) or where it can easily be stained (such as a kitchen). Keep the temperature room in normal conditions (between 68° – 80° F, or 20° – 27° C).
Also don’t touch the painting directly because the oils from the skin can transfer on the painting.

3. How to clean paintings made in oil?

Oil paintings resist better in time than other pieces of art. For example, take a look at all the great artworks of the classic painting masters: Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and many more.

They were all made using oil paint. It’s the best time-resistant medium. The look of an oil painting will worsen as the time goes by. The best part is that it can be restored to its initial stage quite easily.

There are several methods of cleaning a painting and some are cheaper than others. You can’t use dish soap and water mix, or any other solvent solutions to clean this type of medium. Don’t even consider using alcohol or you will ruin your art.

The cheapest method of cleaning an oil painting

Tools you will need to clean the oil painting:

  • cotton swabs 
  • your saliva
  • a glass of water

It might sound yucky, but this is one of the cheapest and even the art restorers use it. The saliva contains enzymes that can clean the dust and grime. This method might take up a lot of time and it requires a lot of patience.

Steps on how to clean paintings (oil):
  1. Collect saliva in a bowl and dab a cotton swab in it
  2. Start from a corner of the painting and using gentle moves clean the painting
  3. Try using up and down moves to clean the painting
  4. When one tip of the cotton swab captured some dirt, dab the next tip into saliva and continue
  5. The glass of water will come handy when you will need to make more saliva. 
The second method of cleaning oil painting is bread again
Autumn in forest by Cristina Iordache
Autumn in the forest by Cristina Iordache

Bread can be used in this case too, but the professional art restorers don’t recommend it in this case. If you don’t clean the breadcrumbs, they can attract bugs.

Professional method of cleaning an oil painting

This method is safer if you follow the instructions accordingly since it will require you to use professional cleaning products specially designed for cleaning oil paintings.

Tools to clean the oil painting:

Steps to clean the oil painting:
  1. Using the brush clean the dust of the painting and the back of the painting
  2. Place the painting on a towel on the table you are cleaning it
  3. Use another soft brush with very little water test on the side of the painting to see if the painting suffers any damage
  4. If you see any modification in the structure of the paint: decoloration, cracks, bubbles or any sort of damage, stop immediately 
  5. Using a brush and clean water, gently rinse the painting
  6. Be careful not to overdo it with the water 
  7. Using a dry towel cover the painting and gently-gently press to absorb the water
  8. Don’t rub the towel onto the painting
  9. If the dust and grim disappeared don’t proceed with the next steps 
  10. If the stains are stubborn, distribute the oil painting cleaner on the painting
  11. Using a brush distribute the cleaning agent on the entire painting
  12. With the brush and water, gently clean the detergent off the painting
  13. Repeat step 7 to absorb the water off the painting, using gentle moves
  14. Repeat the cleaning, rinsing and drying steps once more
  15. Leave the paint to dry naturally, but NOT in direct sunlight and NOT on a heating source 
  16. Use a dry brush the dust one more time

Now, your painting is as good as new and you can hang it up again.

Attention! If you are not sure how to clean the painting or any of these steps seem difficult to you, check your local art restorer. it’s better to have a professional clean the painting for you than to ruin a beautiful piece of art. 


Thank you for visiting and I hope these pieces of advice on how to clean paintings will be helpful.