How do I Care for Antique Picture Frames?

Nick Mann

Antique picture frames can serve as aesthetically pleasing accents that give rooms a vintage feel. Taking proper care of picture frames is a vital part of prolonging their lifespan and keeping them in good condition. Common methods of care include dusting, cleaning out crevices, periodically wiping off grime and occasionally sanding. Properly employing these techniques should help most people preserve antique picture frames for years to come.

Linseed oil mixed with denatured alcohol can be used to clean antique picture frames.
Linseed oil mixed with denatured alcohol can be used to clean antique picture frames.

Dusting off antique picture frames is one of the easiest and best ways to keep them in optimal condition. Typically the best way to dust is to use a soft, dry cloth to thoroughly wipe down all four sides of the frame. This process should be completed approximately once every two weeks or so because dust tends to build up rather quickly.

Antique picture frames should be frequently dusted.
Antique picture frames should be frequently dusted.

Cleaning out crevices and other hard to reach places on picture frames is another good way to preserve them. This is overlooked, but it is still an important aspect of keeping frames in good condition. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to use a small, dry toothbrush to carefully remove any gunk that has accumulated. If the frame has extremely small crevices, then using a toothpick can help to reach those areas. This process only really needs to be done about once every six months or so because it takes a while for gunk to build up.

Wiping down antique picture frames to get rid of grime is also a good idea. An effective technique is to mix together a small amount of 50 percent denatured alcohol and 50 percent linseed oil into a small bowl or cup. Then dip a soft, clean rag into the mixture and wipe down all four sides of the frame. Keep in mind that it's usually best to first remove the picture from the frame to prevent any damage to the picture. This process also only needs to be done approximately once every six months.

Caring for antique picture frames may also require occasional sanding of chips or other abnormalities that might develop. Before sanding, it's wise to consider how modifying the frame might affect its value. Using a fine sandpaper of around 200 grit, stroke lightly on each side of the frame to eliminate any imperfections. Afterward use paint, stain or lacquer as needed to restore the finish in the sanded area.

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Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- If you are very lucky, you might be able to get some dipping solution made for jewelry and silver. That stuff works quite well and can kind of automate removing the tarnish.

The problem, of course, is getting everything but silver such as backing boards and such off of the frame so they won't be harmed by the solution. Also, you might have trouble buying a container of solution large enough to fit a picture frame.

Still, that is a good solution if you can work it out somehow.


If you have one of those silver antique picture frames, consider yourself lucky as they can be valuable and are not that hard to keep in good condition. Yes, silver does tarnish like crazy but there is silver polish out there that is very good at removing such imperfections. That stuff is easy to use and does a great job cleaning.

It is a lot easier than going at it with a toothbrush, at least.

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