Cleaning an Antique Wood Picture Frame

9th Jan 2017

Antique picture frames remain highly popular, even during this modern time. Their ornate carved medallions, elaborate (and even lavish) flowers, beading and scallops are a thing of beauty. You can even opt to pair a vintage picture frame with convex lenses to achieve an antique portrait look.

Indeed, the elaborate carvings are fabulous – but a headache to clean. This is especially true if you have an authentic antique picture frame. You do not simply take a wood cleaner spray and wipe away. Picture frames this beautiful (and this delicate) need a little bit more tender, loving care during cleaning.

Here are the steps to clean an antique picture frame:

  1. Do your cleaning in a well-lighted area. You will want to see all the nooks and crannies so that you know that you have cleaned all the spots.
  2. Never lay the picture frame flat without providing sufficient cushioning. You may risk scratching or breaking the glass, as well as the finishing of the frame. Place some towels or thick blankets on the table where you will be doing your cleaning. The coverage of the blanket should be thrice or four times the size of the frame.
  3. Never clean the frame while the photo or artwork is still inside. Rather, carefully lay the picture frame face down on the towels or blanket. Then, remove the backing and mounting board where the photo is held in place.
  4. If the photo or artwork is something you want to take special care of, wear cotton gloves. Remember, your hands will have oils that may transfer on to the surface of the photo or the matting. If you do not have gloves, be sure to hold the photo or matting by their edges.
  5. Now, it is time to clean the glazing. Gently remove it from the frame. Set the frame aside. You do not want the frame to be splashed with glass cleaner or water. Cleaning the glazing depends on the type of material. If the glazing is made of glass, you can use glass cleaner and a soft cloth rag. If the glazing is made of acrylic, harsh cleaning formulas can damage the glass. Use a gentle soap (like baby soap), warm water and a soft cloth. Once the glass is cleaned, set it on the towel and let it dry. It’s best to keep this out of the way while you are cleaning the frame.
  6. Blow away any accumulated debris using a hand pump. You can also use a mini-feather duster or a soft-bristled toothbrush to get rid of dust buildup. Gently brush along each of the nooks and crevices.
  7. Use a piece of soft clean cloth to remove any loosened debris.
  8. There may be some crevices that have hardened dust buildup and that are hard to reach. You can try using cotton buds to reach these areas.
  9. Perform a wipe down with wood oil. Before wiping everything, do a test to see whether the oil will have harmful effects on the wood finish. Look for a not-so-obvious spot to do the test. Wait a few minutes to check that the oil is safe for use on the entire frame. The wood oil will give the frame an extra glow.
  10. Allow some drying time for both the glazing and the frame. Then return the glazing, any matting layers, the mounting board and the backing board.

Some notes on cleansers:

  • Water. There are some who use a little amount of water to give the wood frame a more thorough washing. If you want to do so, mix a bit of mild soap and use sparingly. Using too much water may cause warping on the wood. Be sure to thoroughly wipe with a clean, dry cloth.
  • Polishes. Wood polishes may contain harsh chemicals that can eat up and create streaks on the wood.