How To Clean an Oil Painting on Panel

Every week, we receive panel paintings into the studio for treatment. The conservation work we carry out ranges from repairing cracks and holes to treating flaking and lost paint.

For nearly every panel painting we work on, the first stage of treatment is to conduct a clean.

Just like with oil paintings on canvas, the accumulation of dirt, dust and grime can lead to panel paintings needing significant cleaning. Tobacco and smoke residue can also contribute to a layer of dirt settling over the painting. 

Old varnish layers perish and turn yellow over time leading to discolouration of the paintwork surface. These old varnishes can be safely removed in the studio and replaced with conservation grade non-yellowing varnish.

How do you clean an oil painting on panel?

Although the canvas and panel supports are vastly different, conducting a solvent based clean is rooted in similar methods.

The panel painting will first need to be consolidated to provide stability.

This will mean either treating flaking paint to prevent any further losses, or filling chipped or cracked areas.

Once the painting has been stabilised, the cleaning stage of treatment can begin.

The panel painting will have already undergone an initial assessment to determine some important factors, such as the type of paint used, the presence of varnish and the general condition of the painting.

This helps us when making test cleaning patches on painting to uncover the appropriate solvent to use on the painting, for the most effective clean.

As with canvas paintings, each panel painting is different and we therefore tailor the treatment to suit the painting. For the painting in the short video below, we are using a suitable solution of Vulpex with white spirit. Vulpex is a safe and non-acidic liquid soap, which is thinned by the white spirit for a gentle clean.

Once the painting has been cleaned, it will then be retouched where necessary – especially for any areas of lost paint or where filler has been applied to cracks or holes.

If you have a panel painting that would benefit from a clean, and would like us to take a look, please contact us for our recommendations and a quote.

You can find out more about the work we undertake on panel paintings here.

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