When it comes to restoring and preserving oil paintings, one of the most important steps is removing the varnish. Varnish is a clear, glossy coating applied to oil paintings to protect them from dirt, dust, and other environmental elements.

Unfortunately, over time this protective layer can become discolored or cracked, creating an unsightly appearance that takes away from the beauty of the painting. To keep your artwork looking its best for years to come, it’s essential to remove old varnish and replace it with a fresh coat.

In this ultimate guide to removing varnish from oil paintings, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this important preservation step. We’ll discuss why you should remove varnish from your artwork and how it can be done safely without damaging the painting underneath. We’ll also provide tips for choosing a new type of varnish for your art piece so that you can ensure its protection for years to come.

Why Remove Varnish?

Varnish is designed to protect oil paintings by forming a layer between the artwork and environmental elements such as dirt and dust particles that could cause damage over time. Unfortunately, after many years this protective layer can start to discolor or crack due to age or exposure to sunlight or other sources of light.

This discoloration not only detracts from the beauty of your artwork but also causes dirt particles and oils in the air to become trapped under the surface which can further damage your painting if not removed properly. Therefore, it’s essential that you remove old varnish before applying a new coat in order maintain optimal protection for your art piece over time.

How To Remove Varnish Safely

Removing old layers of varnish requires a delicate approach in order not damage any paint underneath during this process so take extra care when handling your artwork during these steps:

• Start by cleaning off any dirt or dust particles on the surface with a soft cloth dampened with distilled water – never use soap as this could interfere with later steps in the process;

• Next, use cotton swabs soaked in mineral spirits (such as turpentine) or paint thinner (such as linseed oil) gently rub off any remaining bits of varnish;

• Work carefully around any areas where paint has been damaged – use extra caution here as these areas may already be weakened and more prone tearing;

• Once all of the old varnish has been removed allow enough time for both sides (front & back) of your painting dry completely before proceeding with other restoration processes;

• After drying is complete apply one thin coat of fresh clear acrylic gloss spray sealant on both sides – make sure you follow all safety precautions listed on product packaging when using aerosol sealants!

Choosing The Right Varnish For Your Painting

When selecting a new type ofvar nish foryour artwork there are several factors you should consider including:

• Durability – choose an acrylic-based sealantfor maximum longevityand protection against cracking & fading;

• Sheen/Gloss Level – different types of varnishes are available in different sheens and gloss levels, depending on what look you are trying to achieve– low-gloss matte finishes are bestfor older pieces while higher-glosssemi-gloss of full gloss finishes are more appropriate for modern works.

• Color Protection – some varnishes may offer additional UV protection which can help prevent colors from fading over extended periods of exposure to sunlight or other light sources.

• Application Method– aerosol spray systems are generally easier & faster than brush applications but may not provide as even a covering depending on painting size & shape.
• Drying Time–most aerosol spray speed up application time by allowing you to tack dry each coatin just a few minutes but you will still need to make sure the painting is completely dry before moving on to the next step,  so allow plenty of time for proper drying!


Removing old layers of varnish exposed oil your artwork to risk of damage but can be done safely by following these steps outlined above and electing the right type of v arnish each time you revive your painting surface! If you don't feel confident in your ability to complete this process, consult with a professional restorer who can assist you with this important preservation step!