How to Take Care of Your Vintage Paintings

How to Take Care of Your Vintage Paintings

We all have that beloved vintage painting/s displayed somewhere in our homes. Most of which are something that we consider as prized possessions because they were inherited from our family heritage. Some may even be worth thousands, or even millions of dollars if those vintage paintings came from someone famous like Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko. Overtime, your vintage paintings can accumulate plenty of dirt, stains, and grime. Paintings are treasures that should be treated like investments. Hence, taking care of your antiques, especially artworks, is very important. Methods used to take care of vintage paintings are quite defined, many cleaning solutions cannot be used since they will damage the painting rather than the other way around. As an alternative, you may ask an art conservator to help you clean your valuable paintings. 

Before we get started, you need to assess the value of your painting/s prior to deciding to clean them on your own. It is crucial to know that oil paintings are very tricky to clean on your own. Hence, going to a professional should be a top choice instead to avoid damage to your valued artworks. This is especially important if your vintage paintings are either damaged, in need of restoration or thorough cleaning. However, if your painting does not have a high value, or you simply want to learn the proper ways of light cleaning and maintenance of artworks, then studying how to clean a work of art properly can be worth it. 

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Cleaning Your Vintage Paintings: The Right Way

Things to remember: What not to use when attempting to clean vintage paintings:
- Chemical cleaning products - these will permanently damage and discolor your painting.
- Water, baby oil, and rubbing alcohol - this will damage the structure of the canvas.
- Bread or potatoes - many amateurs believe that using bread and potatoes cut in half can clean the surface of paintings.

Using the Dry Cleaning Method:

This method works really well if your painting only collects a little dirt over time. This can be done if your painting isn’t damaged and/or doesn’t need a thorough cleaning as it only does the superficial cleaning. Thus, this is also a good way of maintaining the beauty of your artworks. For this cleaning method, you’ll only be needing a soft brush. Be sure to follow these steps when carrying out this method:

  1. Place the painting on a stable surface. We recommend that you take the painting off the wall and put it on a sturdy table.
  2. Get a moisture-free soft brush. A sable-bristle paint brush works well for this task. The size depends on the size of your artwork- the bigger the painter, the bigger the brush. Moreover, it is essential for you to know that you CANNOT use feather dusters as an alternative since they can scratch the surface of your painting.
  3. Take your time to clean the artwork’s surface. Do not put too much pressure on the brush during the cleaning process.

Using the Saliva Cleaning Method:

You may think it’s odd or even disgusting, but many professionals and art conservators have been using this technique for centuries. Why? It’s because our saliva has the capability to break down the dirt and grime found on the painting due to its enzymes. These enzymes found in our saliva are strong enough to clean the painting without damaging its surface. To carry out this method, you’ll be needing some high-quality cotton swabs- the ones that have really soft cotton tips. Before starting the actual cleaning process, test out this method first on a small spot of the painting by dampening the tip of the cotton swabs- the tip should be damp and not saturated. It is best to proceed with caution- if a color from the painting shows up on the cotton swab, do not proceed with this method. If it doesn’t, be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Moisten the tip of the cotton swab but make sure it’s not saturated with saliva.
  2. Lightly dab the damp cotton swab on the painting, if the tip accumulates dirt and grime, replace the cotton swab.
  3. Take your time to clean and do not put too much pressure when dabbing the cotton swab on your vintage painting.

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Going to the art conservator:

Even with the most cautious attempt, permanent damage can easily be done hence, it is better to go to a professional. If your vintage paintings show signs of aging, damage, discoloration, flaking, cracking, and warping, it is best to consult a professional to restore the painting for you. Moreover, this is also a good idea if you think that your artwork’s varnish needs to be removed and replaced. Replacing the varnish on your own is very tricky, so having someone with professional knowledge to do it for you is better. If your painting is valuable or has a high price point, be sure that it is insured before allowing it to clean and restore your painting. 

Taking Care of Your Vintage Paintings

  1. Display your artworks away from the heat of the sun as it can easily damage the quality of the painting.
  2. Be sure that the place where you display the painting/s are also away from water. Moisture can easily discolor your paintings. They shouldn’t be in a low-humid temperature room as this can make the painting prone to mechanical damage and may even make the paint brittle. You shouldn’t display it in a relatively high-humid room, either, as it promotes the growth of biological organisms on the painting.
  3. When storing your vintage paintings, take note that they shouldn’t be near ultraviolet light. It is common knowledge that UV light can damage vintage paintings. If you’re planning to display it near a window, consider putting a UV-protected glass over the artwork.
  4. To limit damage to your vintage paintings, consider putting it behind a glass case. The type of glass depends on which location you’re planning to keep and display your artworks.

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