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  Why Mona Never Takes a Bath


Pope John Paul is strolling across the Sistine Chapel, swinging his incense thurible and coughing. He stops, blows his beautiful nose and looks up at the ceiling. “Is it just my imagination, or do those angels need a bath?” He looks over, the choirboys are having their morning practice. Within minutes he's got one of them standing on his shoulders, then another on his shoulders, and up and up and up. The last one is waaay up at the ceiling with the Pope's hanky and some of his holy spit on it. “Now rub, Dominic, rub!” his Eminence lovingly bellows from far below. The choirboy reaches up and scrubs like he's possessed. Not ten seconds later a miracle occurs. A chubby little angel belly has lit up like the morning star. The Pope falls to his knees in praise and twenty-two choirboys fall to the floor. Not one of them is even slightly bruised. He looks around, breathes a sigh of relief, decides he's had enough miracles for one day and goes boating.
The ceiling is soon completely cleaned, everyone in the Vatican is pleasantly shocked, and no one can quite accept the fact that they didn't notice it before.

Your beautiful paintings; how do you clean them? Should you even try? Far too Many people in the world are doing one of two things: not cleaning their art at all or cleaning it in such a way that if art could scream, it would. In a few moments, you will not be one of them. There will be cleaning tips for everything from that painting that still does a nice job of prettying up the back bedroom, to the art you'd take machine gun fire for.
I know there's always a bunch of you who've not much more than a minute to read this, so here's ...

The Short of It:

For any highly valued artworks you want to live a long, healthy, beautiful life, it's all very simple: don't do it, don't clean them, leave it to a professional. It's just too dangerous. It seems like it would be okay; maybe a damp cloth? No. Wasn't that easy? Just like learning how to wrestle a Komodo Dragon: don't.

In the latter stages of this writing you will find links and information that will point you toward skillful people who know how to clean or restore your finest works.

At another level, perhaps you've got some acrylic or oil paintings you quite love but they're not museum worthy and once in a while, they just need a once over. Any cleaning other than dusting with a soft brush is taking risks, please be aware of this; but really, who's going to spend several hundred dollars cleaning a painting that cost eighty and you're not over the moon about it anyway?


  • For most acrylic and oil paintings, many artists say it's okay to use a damp, soft cotton cloth with a small amount of vinegar in the water. Try a small area in the corner first and don't scrub too hard. This becomes more challenging when there is a lot of texture present.

  • For dusting, keep a very soft brush around (ideally an artist's sable brush from an art supply) and gently brush off the dust once in while. Compressed air (available in small cans) also works well. No Mr. Clean, no car polishers, and if your dishwasher has an “art” setting, walk away.

    In a perfect world, all paintings would be coated with a proper, protective finish, sealing in everything that's supposed to be in, and out, everything that's supposed to be out. But unless you're an expert, it's very difficult to tell, so go slowly; you want dirt off, not sailboats.

That's it, that's all — thanks for reading. If you're up for a little more and wouldn't mind learning something truly strange,


Here's the Somewhat Longer of It:


When I began this research, I rather expected it to be a bit dull. You know, spray this special cleaner on and rub like crazy. Not so. Nothing in art is dull! Not even cleaning! Behold:


One of the all time classic home remedies for cleaning a painting is bread. Yup, you read it right, bread. A nice doughy, squishy, spongy bread. Break it open, pull yourself off a nice little piece from the inside, the soft stuff, and gently rub it around the painting. I know what you're thinking. “He never said he was a conservation expert, but I didn't think he was an idiot”. I'm serious. The experts who would have you flogged for such a practice are concerned about bugs and birds — but what home doesn't have bugs and birds?! I'd also be concerned about the oils in the bread. Here is a link demonstrating this delicious technique.


That wasn't weird at all, this is: human spit makes a fine cleaner. Not kidding again. Spit contains enzymes that break down particles of food — and painting grime! Isn't that fun? Before I go any further, I'd like to point out that you'll need your best spit, the kind you usually save for sharing with someone you love.

Gather some 
quality spit in a small cup, dip in a Q-tip, very gently scrub a small area of the painting and be on the look out for anything that looks like it should not be happening. Experts have used this method for a great many years, but again, you're taking chances doing it on your highly valued artworks; it's one thing to own some nice quality spit, quite another to know how to use it. Anybody who ever got a disgusting kiss knows that.

Just so you don't think I've completely lost it, have a look at this:


Finally, please don't clean your art any more than it actually needs. If you have a cleaning person coming to your home, ask them to avoid the art. 

I work mostly in glass, but if I ever do have to clean the paintings in the studio and salon, my choice will be the little bit of vinegar in water on a soft cotton cloth approach. The artists who recommended this to me are veterans. But as I've said, there are indeed risks involved, not all paintings are finished properly.
Dirt can be a sneaky thing.  After all, it got by the Pope, and he looked at that ceiling every day for years! You sometimes never know how much of it there is until you get rid of it. Colours can get dull so slowly you probably won't notice.

So now all you have to do is decide whether you like bread, vinegar or spit. Actually, come to think of it, those three, with a little olive oil and a nice glass of red are the makings of an evening. Throw in a few dirty paintings and you're set!

                                                     *    *    *

So okay, you do have some very nice works and you do want to get them cleaned, or at least looked at. Here are some useful links:

Don Murchison is a cleaning and restoration expert for paintings and sculpture in Calgary. You can have a look at his impressive CV and find out how to contact him here:

For paper art, such as fine books, drawings, prints, watercolours, maps, you have two choices:

Ann Lavender 403 259 0629

Leslie Drisdale 403 463 1384

Ann Lavender is also skilled at cleaning fine art paintings.

Please note that I have not personally employed any of the people mentioned. I found them through my
research and have spoken to them briefly.

If you're lucky enough to own one of my glass pieces, all you need do is lightly spray a microfibre cloth and gently wipe the art. A tablespoon of isopropyl alcohol can be added to the spray bottle if there's any greasy finger prints. No chemicals please.

In future issues of The Painted Lamb, we'll address other important issues, such as how to light your art and art framing. You think your art looks good now? Wait, my friend, just wait...

Jay Roma Lamb

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