(Oil or Acrylic Paints On Canvas)
- Remove dust with a paint or make-up brush making sure brush is soft, clean, and dry.
- Use your own saliva moistened with a cotton swab.
- Use, with cotton swab, one part of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to 5 parts of water, especially if mold is present; may lighten some pigment colors.
- Use 1 cup denatured or rubbing alcohol to 1 cup water (= to =) with a cotton swab.
- Gently rub painting surface with fresh Italian bread, without the crust. The kneaded bread crumbles away taking most dust and tobacco grime to the floor; use a drop cloth for easy work space clean-up. DO NOT use bread if mold is visibly present & follow with brushing off any remaining crumbs. Then use either the rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide solutions above.
While browsing an estate sale one day it was announced that all marked prices would now be half off, so without even looking I grabbed a $5.00 antique oil painting off the floor; what a crazy bargain! When I got the painting home I quickly realized they should have paid me to take the filthy thing! Having sat on its side for God only knows how long, over the years someone had spilled something on the canvas. In addition to regular tobacco smoke and grime residue, the mysterious substance had created very dark streaks running left to right over the painting. I knew I probably had a perfect candidate for testing out some amateur conservation and restoration techniques.
Shown at left is the painting after two initial quick cleaning sessions. Clean any painting at your own risk! A professional should be consulted for valuable or insured pieces. When cleaning a painting or canvas surface NEVER use bleach or dish soap, and always test a small area first with any cleaning method. If paint color comes off onto the test cotton swab, with only reasonable pressure, you might have to consider using a different method, allowing some paint loss, or trashing the painting altogether!
First thing I did was to determine whether or not the painting had any great financial value; it could be worth a costly trip to a professional for cleaning. Look at the photograph of the entire painting above (click image to enlarge). You're seeing it after some initial cleaning to remove those very dark streaks, and the photo is a bit out of focus, but even in such condition it can be seen that the artist was skilled though probably not a Master Painter. An inspection of the frame and canvas itself revealed common construction methods used at the turn of the last Century, offering a date between 1880 to 1915. During this time period it was common for well-off folks to take the Grand Tour of Europe, and indeed easel painting was considered a fine activity for gentleman and ladies alike. I figured the piece was likely the results of a genteel vacation activity; painted en plein air. A later Internet search of the inscribed word "Eibsee" confirmed this suspicion when I discovered the location is still to this day a popular site for tourists; a lake in Bavaria, Germany (ironically the region my own family immigrated from). Though there are artists named with the other inscribed word "Koch", none of them match this piece in painting style or skill level; those artists are high museum quality. So I determined it was worth my $2.50 investment to try my hand at cleaning this very dirty old painting.
Frame is covered in bubble wrap for protection.
At first I used a simple Swiffer type dust cloth to remove the initial layer of dust debris. I decided not to remove the canvas from the frame, so wrapped the frame with several layers of bubble wrap to avoid any further damage. Placing the whole package onto my artist easel gave me easy access to all areas of the surface, but laying flat on a secure table top works just as well. I then began testing by first using a cotton swab moistened with saliva. It sounds gross, (the painting is gross already anyway), but spit won't soak into the canvas fabric like water and the acids in saliva break down grime without damaging the paint or canvas like a solvent; Do not drink anything other than water if using the saliva method, to avoid transferring food type substances.
Use cotton swabs, not balls, for cleaning any painting. Notice how dirty the swab comes away just from using saliva in a circular rubbing motion; don't over-scrub, being gentle yet firm in stubborn areas of soil. Hold the swab on its side, as shown, for best results. Work a small area at a time with any moist cleaning solution, carefully dabbing and rolling the swab. Working from left to right helps you keep your place to get the whole job done. As soon as a swab is soiled replace it with a clean one. Cleaning a painting takes time, but it can be worth the effort for a beloved piece.
Next, in an area of very heavy soiling I dipped another swab into window cleaner. Though it removed the black streak, it seemed to lift off some of the paint as well, leaving the surface a bit dull and dry looking. The detergents and ammonia in most household cleaners will likely cause cracking of paint or weakening of the canvas later, so just avoid using them at all in your own project. Lastly I used a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water, which did indeed remove the streaks but simply didn't remove the more general grime as quickly as saliva. For cleaning most oil paint art dilute a solution of 1 cup denatured or rubbing alcohol to 1 cup water. Always use care with rubbing alcohol and remember that it is a solvent that can remove or fog a varnish layer on a painting and will dissolve acrylic paint. Use undiluted rubbing alcohol only to clean frame glass, but avoid using it on acrylic or other glazing materials. Don't lean directly over an item you're cleaning with this solvent to avoid hazardous fumes, and apply a good hand lotion after prolonged contact with skin.
BELOW: before and after areas of cleaning.
Below, vertical streaks of soiling can be seen in this photograph, lessened in appearance already by a quick pass over with saliva dipped swabs.
I've decided to finish cleaning the rest of the painting by using two substance methods. Using circular scrubbing motions with saliva and swab, I'll quickly remove dirt, as shown by the clean streaks in the lake area of the landscape. For more stubborn soiling I'll use the alcohol mixture. Then, when all is as clean as I can get it, I'll go over the entire painting again gently with the alcohol mix, using a less moist swab this time.http://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/care_painting.html
Travel Zugspitze http://www.ricksteves.com/tvr/pledge/castles/chap_bavaria.htm