How to clean gilded picture frames

How to clean gilded picture frames

Gilt picture frames, available in a variety of sizes and styles, contain a decorative border and ridges that catch dust, dirt and debris. The frames require regular cleaning to keep the frame’s gold finish from changing colours and grime collecting in the ridges. When cleaning your gilt picture frames, you want to use a chemical that won’t damage the finish or soak into the frames’ backing. Like other frames, you need to clean your gilt picture frame’s glass as well to remove any fingerprints and debris from the surface.

  • Gilt picture frames, available in a variety of sizes and styles, contain a decorative border and ridges that catch dust, dirt and debris.
  • When cleaning your gilt picture frames, you want to use a chemical that won’t damage the finish or soak into the frames’ backing.

Place the gilt picture frame on a flat surface—desk, table, workbench or other surface.

Wipe the frame with an non-abrasive cloth or rag to remove any loose dust and dirt from the frame’s surface. Wear latex gloves to keep your hands clean.

Spray 1 tbsp of window cleaner on a paper towel. Wipe the frame’s glass with the window cleaner-soaked paper towel.

Apply 1 tbsp of turpentine to a sponge. The sponge should be damp and not soaking with turpentine.

Wipe the gilt frame gently with the turpentine-soaked sponge including the sides of the frame and the back. Let the frame air dry—do not wipe the frame dry, as this may smear the frame’s paint.

  • Spray 1 tbsp of window cleaner on a paper towel.
  • Wipe the gilt frame gently with the turpentine-soaked sponge including the sides of the frame and the back.

Use a small paint brush and gold paint to touch up any faded paint on your gilt picture frame.

You can also use a mixture of three egg whites and 28.4gr. of baking soda to clean your gilt picture frames. Apply the mixture using a sponge then wipe off the dirt and grime with a paper towel. Let the picture frames air dry then use a small paint brush and gold paint to touch up any faded paint.

I spend quite a lot of time putting gunk onto frames. People look at me gobsmacked when I tell them I actually buy dust.

Some grime is part of the frame’s character, so try to avoid overcleaning. I wouldn’t go further than a flick over with a stiff brush and a polish with a duster. Preferably one that has been used previously to wax polish something and is nicely saturated.

** Das Pronto modeling clay is great for repairs. On ‘flying’ bits I sometimes fix in a wire armature for support and build around it.

*** The safest way to clean a painting is to get an experienced restorer to do it. There are lots of pet methods used by people and some of them work well on some paintings. But no two paintings are exactly alike and things can go bad very spectacularly.

“If in doubt, do nowt” as they say hereabouts.

Re: cleaning old gilded frames

Post by Dermot » Tue 01 Sep, 2009 9:51 pm

Gainsborough Products have the instructions below on how to clean old paintings on their website.

You may get some idea of what is involved in the task of cleaning paintings from this…..there is a little more involved than a bit of spit and polish…..

Lion stock some of the Gainsborough products.

Good luck with the project.

Re: cleaning old gilded frames

Post by prospero » Wed 02 Sep, 2009 12:31 am

Lion have a disclaimer printed in the catalogue for restoration materials.

I’ll say no more.

Re: cleaning old gilded frames

Post by framemaker » Wed 02 Sep, 2009 10:00 am

can you post a photo of the frame? and ideally also a closeup of the surface.

My belief is that cleaning paintings is best left too qualified restorers, sorry, but the possibilities for things going wrong are endless. You can’t compare cleaning frames and gilding with paintings but there are still various things to consider, and that can easily go wrong.

Re: cleaning old gilded frames

Post by framemaker » Sat 05 Sep, 2009 10:19 am

How are the frames going Mrs C? Your compo should be fine, it keeps well in the freezer, and it is easily the best material for replacing missing ornament.

A basic and easily available cleaner is Vulpex, which can be combined with water or white spirit. Working in very small areas at a time, brushing on and then lifting the vulpex and dirt with small cotton buds or swabs. But be aware that water doesn’t go together well with gesso or water gilding so you really need to be very careful when using any water based cleaning agent. You could also try ‘neutral soap’ (Swarfega), brush it on and then remove and neutralise with white spirit on cotton swabs. Goes without saying that you should test an inconspicous area first. I think another potential problem is that excessive white spirit will lift some oil gilding mordants, but this is just another example of problems that can be encountered. I believe that solutions of triammonium citrate (amongst others) are used by some museums/restorers but I have no experience of using these. If you want to be really old school, saliva has been used as a cleaning agent for ages (as mentioned by Dermot above).

When cleaning it is important to work carefully, slowly and in very small areas (1”) at a time. If you have not done much of this work before, be very cautious about working on a customers frame, and not use them to practice on. Things can easily go wrong, such as the removal of the gilding, weakening and delamination of the gesso.

This then leads on to another issue which is the stability of the gesso and compo ornament in the first place, the glues used to bind these will have weakened and dried out over time and need to be consolidated, often this will have to be done before any cleaning is carried out. You can use RSG (but be very careful of not making it too strong!), gelatin, PVA, fish glues or with experience you can’t beat the wonder adhesive paraloid B72.

How to clean gilded picture frames

Are you looking for ways to make your home look cleaner and feel more sanitary? Consider deep cleaning the objects adorning your home. Think about the artwork hanging on your walls. When was the last time your picture frames were given more than a swipe of a feather duster? How often do you properly clean each of your collectibles and figurines?

Dust and grime accumulation may be affecting your home’s aesthetic (and your health) more than you think.

To help you whip your artwork and collections into shape, we have compiled our very best cleaning tips. For many of these items, you’ll just need warm water, dish soap, and soft cloths to get your objects looking fresh and clean. Learn how to clean art, collectibles, picture frames, and glass from the professionals at Art Restoration Technologies.

How to Clean Picture Frames

When cleaning picture frames, it’s best to carefully remove the artwork and glazing (i.e. glass, acrylic or plexiglass) from the frame before cleaning. If the art cannot be easily removed from the frame (i.e. paper backing, board, etc.), you may want to contact your local art restoration professional. Removing the artwork prevents your cleaning solution from seeping into the paper or getting on the glass. The supplies and methods you use to clean a picture frame will depend on what the frame is made of.

Wood Frames
For smooth wood frames, a microfiber cloth and a little furniture polish will work. If the frame is porous or especially dirty, use a microfiber cloth and a solution of water and wood-cleaning product. Follow the directions on the bottle.

Plastic or Acrylic Frames
Plastic picture frames are hard, non-porous surfaces. A microfiber cloth and warm, soapy water will clean these kinds of frames quickly and effectively. The same method will also work on acrylic frames. Please note, never use paper towels to clean acrylic because this can permanently scratch the acrylic surface.

Silver Frames
It’s only a matter of time before your silver picture frames begin to tarnish. The safest cleaning option is to use silver polish and a soft cloth. If you don’t have any silver polish on hand, there’s an easy and effective home remedy you can try: Mix a few drops of dish soap with warm water and use a soft cloth to rub the soap solution all over the frame. Then wipe the frame clean with a clean, damp cloth, and buff it dry.

Brass Frames
Brass is a tough, corrosion-resistant metal. If your brass picture frames start looking dull, smudged or tarnished, acid is the answer. Mix equal parts salt, flour and white vinegar to create a paste. Spread the mixture all over the frame and let it sit for about an hour. Then just wipe the paste off with a damp cloth and buff it with a dry microfiber towel.

Gilded Frames
Gilded frames are fragile and valuable things of beauty. There are several different methods of gilding, and each one has its own cleaning requirements. Determining which kind of gilding is present requires painstaking analysis, and using the wrong products or tools on a gilded frame can cause extensive damage. That’s why we recommend having dirty gilded picture frames cleaned by a professional.

How to Clean Picture Frame Glass

If your picture frame has glazing that is real glass, it’s safe to clean the glass with your regular window cleaning product and a paper towel. However, if the glazing is made of acrylic or Plexiglass, do not use household window cleaning sprays or paper towels because these products will damage the surface. Instead, use a solution of warm water and dish soap with a clean, soft cloth. Rinse the glazing with fresh water and buff dry with a clean microfiber towel.

How to Clean Ceramic Figurines

To clean glazed or unglazed ceramics or porcelain figurines, dip a soft cloth into a warm water and dish soap solution. Use the soapy cloth to gently clean dirt from the figurine. Use fresh water and another clean cloth to wipe soap residue from the object. Lastly, buff it dry with a microfiber cloth. Don’t soak ceramics in water, and never use harsh chemicals like bleach to clean these items.

Do I Need to Sanitize My Frames or Collectibles?

You may be concerned about the possibility of germs accumulating on your household collectibles or wall hangings, and that is a valid worry. According to the Mayo Clinic, viruses tend to live longer on smooth surfaces like glass (5 days) or plastic (3 days) than porous surfaces like cardboard or fabric (1 day). The good news is that cleaning all those objects with soapy water will kill many viruses that may have been lingering on their surfaces. Plus, germ transfer is a bigger concern for objects people touch regularly, like light switches and doorknobs.

Specialized Cleaning Services You Can Trust

Your local Prism Specialties has art experts who clean art items of all kinds every day, including figurines, artwork and so much more. When you’re ready for an expert’s touch, call Prism Specialties at 800-227-0796, or complete our online Service Request form today and a member of our team will reach out to you to discuss your cleaning needs.

How to clean gilded picture frames

Gilt, or golden colored objects, can be beautiful and unique but also extremely fragile. They can last virtually forever or be damaged or destroyed in an instant. Totally impervious to light, chemicals, and time or wiped away with the briefest exposure to water. They are thoroughly understood by few and compromised by many.

Gilt objects are created by using various karats of gold leaf, metal leaf (primarily bronze), or various types of “gold” paint. They can be plated, water or oil gilded, and painted. Plating can be done using many methods from traditional ormoulu, using mercury and heat, to various electrically induced coatings. Water gilding uses water soluble animal based protein glues while oil gilding can be applied using everything from traditional primarily linseed oil based sizing to a variety of modern sizings that can consist of many different synthetic materials. “Gold” paint can be pigmented with easily tarnished bronze powder, non-tarnishing mica powders, or in extremely rare cases actual gold powder, that are mixed into virtually any type of clear coating.

I hope you are beginning to understand that gilt objects are not a homogenous or easily defined category. Not only are gilt objects made by using many different materials and methods, one object will often be gilt using a mix of more than one of these materials and methods interspersed and overlaid. On top of this, all of these different materials and methods are often damaged by completely different materials and type of exposures. Adding one more layer of complexity is that different gilt coatings will then be covered with a variety of protective clear coatings that can range from the now extremely rare traditional coating of water based animal protein glue sizing, to wax, to spirit varnishes such as shellac, to nitro-cellulose lacquers, to the extremely varied synthetic chemical based modern clear coatings.

Possible Damage Situations

  • Uncoated water gilded gold leaf will not tarnish and is impervious to most chemicals and ultra violet light exposure, but can be scratched by your fingernail and wiped away with one swipe of a water wet cloth.
  • A metal substrate oil gilded with gold leaf will be fairly stable under water exposure, but a gesso coated wood substrate oil gilded with gold leaf will not.
  • Uncoated bronze leaf and bronze pigmented paints can quickly begin to oxidize and tarnish and in the course of a fairly small amount of time go from a golden color to everything from dull brown to a fairly lurid green.
  • Water gilded gold leaf will often not be damaged by the most powerful and crude commercial paint stripper, while oil gilded gold leaf will be quickly damaged or completely destroyed.
  • About the only constant in gilt coatings is that due to their thinness they will be damaged by wear and friction.


These different materials and methods can also be used to achieve very similar looking finishes.

  • A 23kt gold leaf matte coating on gesso can be made to appear very much the same whether it was oil gilded or water gilded.
  • Bronze powder pigments and mica powder pigments can appear the same, especially when new.
  • When you see the patina of grime and exposure time can add, oil gilded bronze leaf coating can be very hard to differentiate from gold leaf coating.

All of this variety, susceptibility, and fragility means that I, as a professional gilder and gilding conservator, spend a great deal of time trying to repair gilt objects that have been improperly and poorly cleaned, stored, packed and transported. These various types of damage are caused by a variety of types of people from the object’s owners and cleaning staff, to very expensive and high profile moving companies, restorers, “artists”, and even other conservators.