How to Clean an Oil Painting
Oil paintings are a unique and sensitive media. They can collect dirt and stains over time, though, and you might be at a loss on how to clean them — you can't use water, paint thinner, alcohol, or any abrasive force. Fear not, though! It's simple to bring out the original vibrancy of your oil painting. All you need is a little saliva or some bread.
Buy several cotton swabs. Using your spit to clean a work of art might seem both crazy and profane, but it's a method museum curators around the world use. Saliva has enough enzymes to break down dirt and grime, but not so much that it will damage the paint. It'll take a lot of cotton swabs, though, so stock up with a full box.
Lightly wet the swab with your spit. You don't want the cotton soaking wet, but it should be wet enough to pick up any dirt particles with ease. Gently dab the wet cotton over the painting. Don't move the cotton from side to side, but instead up and down in small, soft dotting motions. Aim to work around a square inch at a time. Wet the other end of the swab. Once the first end has picked up so much dirt that it's no longer useful, move on to the other end. When that one is dirty, discard the swab and move on to the next.
Professional advice from an art conservator is that the bread method is NOT recommended. The above saliva method is approved and generally safe, but care and caution are recommended. Movement of the cotton should be in the direction of the brush strokes. One shouldn't eat within an hour of using this method, or drink anything but water during the process. Cotton swabs can be used, but making your own from bulk cotton and bamboo skewers is recommended.
Buy a doughy bread. A loaf or two, or more, depending on the paintings and their size. Work on a large white surface outside or inside in a controlled area. Grab the center of the pieces of bread. Lightly dab and brush the bread against the paint. It should absorb the dirt or whatever imperfection that was added over time. Clear away crumbs. Use a soft brush, like a soft house paint brush, to remove the crumbs from the bread and clean the painting of the bread.
Keep up maintenance. Check for anything you may have missed, and do this on a lighter scale on a regular basis to keep your paintings in the best conditions.
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