Best Practices for Cleaning & Caring for Your Art Collection

Now that you are building an art collection, you need to know how to clean and maintain it correctly to protect the value and condition of the pieces you own. Whether you plan on displaying your pieces at your home or office, or simply want to prepare them for storage, there are some valuable best practices to care for the variety of works you may have in your collection. Art does not have to be cleaned often; paintings are particularly delicate and should be treated tenderly. Dusting every few years is sufficient, under average conditions. However, some pieces require more specific care, and others have elements which are often overlooked.

Cleaning Your Fine Paintings

Acrylics. Acrylic paintings on canvas are best cleaned first with a dry, soft brush. For more stubborn grime, a white cotton cloth, lightly damp with warm soapy water (use mild dish soap) can be used to wipe the surfaces. Where the painting has impasto (thick, textured paint that stands out from the canvas surface) causing crevices, use q-tips to clean gently in those areas. If the painting does not come clean with this process, or if you find the paint begins to flake off, contact an art restorer.

Oil Paintings. Oil paintings are especially prone to damage from temperature and humidity extremes. With oil paintings, use a clean, dry brush to remove dust from the grooves. Like acrylics, you can use water and mild soap to wash the surfaces, and either a soft cloth or brush. Some cleaning products are available for use with artwork, but use extreme care when applying them. Additionally, where dust is heavy, use a vacuum equipped with a clean soft-bristled upholstery attachment; set the suction level low and vacuum the dirt away.

Works on Paper/Watercolor. While paintings in other mediums (water fast) can be cleaned with soap and water, watercolor requires particular care. To determine if a work of art is watercolor, test a small section (preferably behind the matted area). Use a damp white cloth and touch it to the painting. If you see color on the cloth when you pull it away from the painted surface, it is watercolor. You must clean your watercolor art using a dry brush (a clean, soft paintbrush is good for this) to take away the dust and dirt. If you find a stain on the unpainted area, you may take a lightly damp cloth and dab that stain. Do not rub the spot or allow it to become fully wet.

Cleaning the Art “Accessories”

Canvas. Over time, you may find on your paintings that the canvas can become loose.  If you find it loose on the stretcher bars, take a spray bottle of water and spritz the work lightly, then let dry in the sun. As the water evaporates in the warm air, the weave of the canvas will tighten.

Additionally, if you find water stains on the unpainted area of your canvas, you can take a wet soapy toothbrush to clean the surface. However, be sure to clean ALL the unpainted areas so they are cleaned uniformly.

Glass. When you first look at artwork mounted under glass and notice they are dirty, you may believe that the work itself is dirty when, in fact, it is simply the glass. Spend time polishing both sides of the glass when possible, ensuring no spots or streaks are left behind. Be sure that the side of the glass which is against the art is totally dry so not to damage the work itself.

Frames. When cleaning and dusting frames, you need to consider the material they are made from (wood, metal, etc.). Dusting gently with a clean brush is appropriate for all materials, and a lightly damp cloth will likely remove most stains.

Cleaning Your Art–Sculptures

Marble. You can clean marble pieces with a soft cloth and a bucket of soapy water (again, mild dish soap is recommended). After wiping the work down with this cloth, follow up with clear water and a new cloth, and finally with a dry towel. Be careful not to scratch any surfaces. For small crevices, a fine dry brush can be used as well.


Bronze. One of the unique aspects of bronze sculptures is patina, the color variation found on the surfaces due to the natural reaction of bronze to climate conditions and chemicals. Additionally, one of the last steps for artists when creating a piece of work in bronze is to apply a coat of wax, which acts as a barrier to prevent oxidation (causes the work to turn green). Like marble above, mild dish soap is the best cleaner for bronze, and go light on the “elbow grease” to protect the wax coating. Any cleaner with added scents or “extra strength” properties are likely too harsh. After cleaning the piece, rinse it with clear water, and allow it to dry completely.

The next step to protecting your bronze sculpture is waxing. The initial coating of wax placed on by the artist is likely to wear off after a few years, depending on the conditions it is displayed in (humidity level, outdoor or indoor location, etc.).  For bronze pieces stored inside, a new application of wax once a year is probably sufficient, while outdoor sculptures should be waxed twice a year, depending on the severity of the climate (humid or acidic). Use a wax product with no additional abrasives or chemicals; a plain paste carnauba wax is recommended. The method is like waxing an automobile: apply a thin layer, allow to dry, and buff off. A second coat is recommended for outdoor sculptures to enhance protection.

When to Call in a Professional

Of course, it is easier to prevent dirt and damage to artwork rather than try to repair it.  However, you may inherit or purchase a piece at a deep discount somewhere and wish to restore it. When paint is flaking, the build-up of grime is extreme, or you find smoke or water damage on artwork, it is time to call in a professional. With years of experience and tools for the job, an art restoration company is skilled at bringing new life to artwork, to improve your enjoyment, discover aspects hidden under years of neglect, and increase the value. There have been many instances where a valuable piece of art has been virtually lost under dirt and damage, and re-discovered after restoration.

Preserving and cleaning your art collection is not difficult if you keep good records and care for it regularly. Keeping track of maintenance records and condition reports will allow you to stay on top of the care of your art collection, preventing issues from arising in the future.

Sybaris Collection

When establishing or increasing your art collection, let Sybaris Collection show you a variety of works for all tastes and genres.  From our Buyer Protection and free Art Advisory Programs, to our various galleries and exclusive ARTclub offers, we can improve your art buying and ownership experience, so it is well-informed, satisfying and culturally educational.