So, the big question is – can art prints be cleaned? The short answer is yes! Art prints can be cleaned to maintain their appearance.
You can clean your art prints as a preventative measure or as a reaction to a stain, spot, or something else that appears on the art print.
Know how to take good care of our art prints.
But there is no one simple solution that can clean any print. You need to know what you’re cleaning.
For Superficial Dirt
The first step in cleaning your art print is to identify the type of paper or canvas it’s printed on.
This is important because different materials require different cleaning methods. For example, if your print is on glossy or semi-glossy/satin paper, you can use a damp cloth to gently remove any dirt or dust.
However, if it’s on matte paper, it’s best to use a soft-bristled brush like a new soft/gentle toothbrush to sweep away dirt and debris from the tooth in the paper.
You can even make a small ball with white bread crumbs and use it as a mild eraser.
White bread crumbs can pick up loose dirt quite easily and it is not abrasive enough to damage the art print paper.
Also note, if you see the bread is picking up a lot of dirt and grime, roll up some fresh pieces as they become dirtier.
The last thing you wish to do is start spreading the dirt around and actually making your art print dirtier!
For Stubborn Dirt
If you’re dealing with more stubborn dirt or grime and depending on the print surface you can use a solvent like a spirit, alcohol, or bleach.
For this next step, I would first try on a small section of the print or learn how to do it on a cheaper print that you don’t mind risking damage.
For best results, take a cotton bud and apply several drops of the solvent on it before carefully dabbing it over the art print’s surface.
The solvent will interact with the dirt, allowing the cotton to absorb all of the filth from the print.
You need to keep in mind that some printing ink no matter how old, can react with chemicals such as solvents or spirits, so always test the solvent on a small section of the print such as in a corner before you start working on the rest of the art print.
Before you go ahead and try your hand at cleaning your art print, what kind of cleaning is required? I have listed a few common reasons why you would need to clean a print below.
How to clean a yellowed print
Age and exposure to sunlight, acid originally used in the paper-making process can cause the yellowing of an art print’s paper and can be present in prints that have been around for a while.
Even art prints that have been carefully preserved and stored can yellow over time.
Cleaning a yellowed print is much harder to do without risking damage to the print as it sort of involves ‘washing the paper’ to remove the yellowing.
This process can also remove other things on the art print such as inks and any hand embellishments such as paint.
I actually like seeing some yellowing on art prints, especially old ones. In the watch world and antiques collecting world, this is called a ‘patina’ and some collectors actually look for it and want it.
Cleaning a yellowed print involves 5 key steps:
- Washing – this literally involves using a solution of lukewarm water, mild detergent, and some sort of bleach (not chlorine) to gently wash away the yellowing. Since I am too scared to try this on any of my art prints I have linked to a video showing how it is done below. This is the main way to remove the yellowing of art print paper.
- Drying – The best way is air drying before any further treatment is applied.
- De-Acidification spray – Also known as Bookkeeper Spray (see image link below), this can help to neutralize any acids in the paper that can cause further yellowing or degradation. It can help extend the lifespan of paper by many years. It is not cheap so it is only worth buying if you intend on preserving many art prints.
- Treating with stain-reducing agents – can help to reduce the appearance of stains and discoloration. I would not bother with this step, the first and third steps should be enough and the bleaching agents that are needed are a little hard to find.
- Sealing – This can prevent further yellowing or damage from occurring. Use an archival paper sealant such as Krylon.
Video – Surface Clean & Wash of Art Print
This video from the LA County Museum shows prints given a surface wash, duration is about 9minutes and discusses the bathing solution (Sodium Citrate Dihydrate – similar to Citric Acid which can be purchased over the counter) and the process used.
How to clean a framed print
This can be a little tricky, especially with delicate frames or where the glass or perspex on the frame is sticking to the art print.
If you can get the frame off then you can use some of the techniques I described above to clean it but if not, I would recommend just using a soft cloth such as microfiber and gentle soapy water.
If you cannot remove the glass from the frame without risk of damaging the art print I would either leave it alone or speak to a professional conservator for advice.
Without seeing why the paper and glass are sticking it is a little difficult to provide a solution.
How to clean a poster
Cleaning a poster can be a little more straightforward. As posters are usually printed on strong, flexible paper then you can use the same techniques outlined above in terms of using water and gentle soap to remove dirt and grime.
Again, if the poster is framed with glass or perspex I would leave it well alone as it can be difficult to clean without risking damage to the paper.
How to clean canvas prints
Canvas prints can usually be cleaned to a certain degree with the same method outlined for paper prints.
However, I would always err on the side of caution when it comes to canvas and use a very soft cloth with just water and no soap or cleaning product.
Canvas prints are usually printed using waterproof ink but this is not always guaranteed. Using a quick wipe down with a moist lint-free cloth or bread crumbs can help to remove dust and grime but can also be used in conjunction with a specialist canvas cleaner.
Canvas can be particularly sensitive to water and can become misshapen or lose its vibrancy if exposed to too much moisture, so it’s important to take extra care when cleaning.
If you do choose to use a specialist product designed for canvas art, I recommend testing it out in a small area first and then proceed to clean the canvas with caution.
When it comes to acrylic prints, the best method is usually a combination of a soft cloth, water, and gentle non-abrasive soap.
Never use cleaning products that can be abrasive or contain solvents, as these can damage the acrylic surface.
Always make sure you dry the print thoroughly after cleaning so no moisture collects on the canvas.
Help, the Ink or Media is Flaking Off!
If in the unfortunate event that while you are cleaning your art print or the reason your print looks so dirty is that the media is flaking off then you should stop what you are doing and see if you can try to restore it or if it worth having a professional look at your art print to restore it.
Do not try to re-draw or paint the damaged sections yourself unless you are a skilled artist with the appropriate tools.
While art prints are generally not too expensive, some like mine can cost over $1000 and you do not want to risk further damaging the art print.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
He also loves all things watches (ok it’s an addiction) so show him some love and visit his other website https://expertdivewatch.com