How to Clean Smudges Off Canvas


Canvas is a fabric that has been used by humanity for thousands of years. It is also one of the most flexible and durable textiles around. Artists have taken advantage of canvas’ natural repellent nature to protect their artwork from pollutants such as dust, smoke, moisture, and light exposure over many centuries.

How to Clean Smudges Off Canvas

However, today this textile has gained a new use in modern-day life – as wall art. Paintings are usually placed on canvases for display purposes, and thus it becomes important to know how to properly clean these surfaces off when they get smudged or stained during usage. This article will discuss ways on how to clean smudges off canvas. So let us get started.

How Do Smudges Occur on Canvas?

Smudges develop on canvas paintings for one of several reasons. First, smudges result from dust particles landing on the surface of the painting and then absorbing oil colors from either fingerprints or paintbrushes during application. Second, since the surface of a canvas is porous, these particles become trapped in the fibers making up its backing board.

A smudge begins forming when color is applied directly to a canvas without first applying a ground coat (such as gesso), which provides an extra layer between your painting’s pigments and its backing board.   This creates a permeable surface that allows the paint to seep into the ground.

If you allow your painting to sit for an extended length of time without adding any layers over your colors, they may dry and become smudged stains on the surface of your work. If left alone long enough, they can begin to form cracks in the layer beneath them.

What is Gesso?

Gesso is a water-based white primer traditionally used as an undercoat on canvas works before oil paints are applied (it also comes in black). It creates an impermeable layer on top of the canvas that prevents pigment from bleeding through onto its backing board and creating smudges or cracks in your work’s later layers.

Clean Smudges Off Canvas

Step-wise Guide on How to Clean Smudges Off Canvas

You can remove the smudges using the following methods:

  • Clean the area you want to work on with a small amount of turpentine or ethanol. You may also use a solvent like a tetrahydrofuran (THF). Work in a ventilated space and avoid prolonged exposure.
  • Use distemper solvent, which is an intermediate between turpentine and oil colors. This kind of solvent has better spreading properties than turpentine or THF but is not as good as oils. You will need to dilute it with some amyl acetate because it is too viscous to be used alone on a painting.
  • Use a mixture of linseed oil and stand oil with 5-10% solvent (turpentine or THF), which means that you use equal amounts of these two oils. Please DO NOT use any automatic transmission fluid, and it may damage the paint film on your painting!
  • When using an extra-virgin quality stand oil, you can also dilute it with lighter, odorless mineral spirits. Note that this will result in a prolonged drying time for the final layer! You should not have any problems if you plan to varnish your paintings later because the last varnish coat will act as a sealing finish. If, however, you plan to use oil paints on the same piece again, this slow drying will result in skinning and cracking of the paint film.
  • Using a synthetic solvent like methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) or acetone is not recommended unless you are sure nothing else could help! MEK has the additional disadvantage of damaging some modern acrylics.
  • Use ultra-fine grade sandpaper or a very soft one. A rougher grade may smudge your painting surface.  Working on a canvas with glued edges is not recommended because you might pull out the canvas if you are not careful. If your painting has a wooden frame, use it for support; don’t let the paint come in contact with the wood—sand from the backside of your painting, towards yourself. If none of this works, get professional advice from an artist or a place that sells art supplies and paints!
Use a Brush

Precautions While Cleaning Smudges Off Canvas

  • Make sure that the cloth you use to clean smudges off canvas is soft. Do not use a rough cloth or any material that may scratch the surface of your canvases.
  • Read the product’s manufacturer/producer guidelines before using any cleaning solution on your projects. This will give you an idea about what kind of materials can be used for cleaning a certain project and what methods are considered safe in doing so.
  • Take extra care when using blea. It may damage some fabrics, especially natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, and toweling, which may shrink after bleaching and tend to discolor easily. If you wish to remove ink stains from your canvases using bleach, try applying it only on a small, hidden area first to ensure that the fabric is not damaged.
  • Always check if your cleaning solution has bleached out the canvas’ color or changed its texture before using it for your actual project. It is better to use a less concentrated cleaner than to bleach out part of or all of the colors in your canvases, especially if you are working on an important project and have spent too much money purchasing these materials.
  • Do not soak wet canvases in cleaners because this may damage them further. Instead, just lightly dab at smudges using a damp cloth and wait for them dry before applying another coat of paint over them.
  • Clean smudges off the canvas as soon as they appear. The longer you wait for them, the harder it will be to remove them without damaging your project.
  • Avoid using products like bleach and ammonia or cleaners containing ingredients like alcohol, peroxide, or acetone, as they can ruin the color of your canvases over time or even lead to discoloration. These chemicals may also leave a terrible smell on your projects that no amount of washing can eliminate.
  • If possible, use cold water when cleaning smudges off-canvas because this is more gentle than hot water and may not damage materials such as fabrics sensitive to heat. However, if you need to employ a stronger solution than just plain soap and water, make sure that the temperature of the cleaning agent does not exceed 40 degrees Celsius.


I hope this article has been beneficial f for providing all the pertinent information on how to clean smudges off canvas. Thank you and have a nice day!

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