Whether you have acquired an oil painting at an art fair, from an antique dealer, a yard sale or inherited it from a maiden aunt. Chances are if it isn’t already dark and dirty, it will eventually need cleaned. So do you attempt this delicate operation on your own or take it to a professional? You have probably seen the story of the 19th century fresco in a church in Spain that was rather inexpertly restored by a hobbyist in the neighborhood. Here is the story with before and after pictures. This is an extreme example of DIY restoration gone horribly wrong. But let’s keep it in mind as a cautionary tale.
If you haven’t been trained as an art restorer , a painting of any value be it sentimental or monetary should be taken to a professional for its cleaning. They will carefully clean the dirt caused by smoke and air pollution from your painting with a chemical cleaning agent most likely alternated with a neutralizer on one very small section at a time. Then your restorer will apply a fresh layer of varnish to help protect your painting for years to come.
If you still want to try to spruce up your paintings on your own there are a few simple methods you can try for a light cleaning. Squish up a piece of doughy bread and roll it across your painting changing to a fresh piece often. Some also recommend lightly rubbing a cut onion over your painting. One thing to be careful of is applying too much pressure to the canvas. It is best to support the canvas underneath with something that is the same depth as the stretcher bars on the canvas.
For tips on repairing a torn canvas please see my post entitled “Can This Painting Be Saved“. So the decision to hire a professional or do it yourself is entirely your own, but choose wisely! Let me know your experiences with art restoration in the comments.