How to Clean an Ornate Frame

Written by Mark Rogers

Receiving a piece of art in an ornate frame is both a blessing and a curse. At some point, you’ll have to deal with cleaning that frame with all its embellishments. The frame is beautiful, but, more often than not, it has an intricate design and a delicate finish that requires extra care when cleaning.
The method you use to clean an ornate frame will depend on the style, which can vary according to the country of origin and the material. The ornate art frames we see today are influenced by artists from centuries ago and can be classified by nationality, overall form, decoration and finish. In this post, we’ll cover how to clean ornate metal and wood picture and photo frames. If at any point during your cleaning process you have doubts, stop and seek advice from a professional conservator or a custom picture framer.

What you’ll need:

  • Towels
  • Soft clean cloths
  • Microfiber cloths (for metal frames)
  • Toothbrush
  • Cotton buds
  • Glass cleaner
  • Bowl of water
  • Orange oil
  • Anti-tarnish product
  • Silver cleaner

Set up to clean an ornate frame

Give yourself time to set up a working area by following these steps:

  1. Choose a well-lit area.
  2. On a table or other large, flat surface, lay down towels to cover at least 3 times the size of the picture frame. Keep another two towels handy for use later.
  3. Carefully place the frame face down on the covered surface.
  4. Slowly remove the photo or artwork and place it in a safe, clean, stable place for the duration of the frame cleaning process.
  5. Cover it with a towel for extra protection. Handle the photo or art by the edges or wear protective cotton gloves to ensure no oils are transferred to the face of the art.
  6. Remove the glass and place it on a towel. Using a soft cloth rag, gently clean the glass with glass cleaner (be careful to not get any glass cleaner on the frame body). Place the cleaned glass on the towel out of the way.
  7. You’re now ready to clean the frame itself.

How to clean an ornate wood frame

  1. Remove the frame from the towel.
  2. Wipe dust and dirt off with a clean, soft cloth.
  3. Using a dry toothbrush, gently scrub the frame to get into the crevices.
  4. Wipe the frame with a fresh clean cloth again to get rid of any debris loosened by the scrubbing.
  5. If there are still crevices that the toothbrush didn’t reach, use cotton buds. These may be especially useful for intricate frames with filigrees.
  6. Conduct a patch test with orange oil on an inconspicuous spot. Apply the oil to a soft, dry cloth and test its effect on the frame. Orange oil is safe for most types of wood picture frames.
  7. Apply orange oil to the cloth sparingly and work in small sections to scrub the frame’s surface. Work around the entire frame.

How to clean an ornate metal frame

  1. Metal picture frames are more easily scratched than you may think, so be sure to apply gentle pressure.
  2. Using a slightly damp, clean microfiber cloth, remove any unwanted tarnish or corrosion. You can use either water or an anti-tarnish product for this. If using an anti-tarnish product, be sure to test a small, inconspicuous patch before touching the front of the frame.
  3. For particularly intricate frames you may need to use cotton buds to remove tarnish or discoloration in crevices. However, if you like the aged look of darker embellishments this area can simply be wiped over with a cloth for a gentle surface clean.
  4. For solid pewter, silver plated or sterling silver picture frames, use silver cleaner and follow the directions on the packaging.
  5. For solid pewter, silver plated or sterling silver picture frames, use silver cleaner and follow the directions on the packaging.
    Know the difference between polishing and cleaning. Polishes use abrasives that cause part of the original surface to be removed. Cleaning removes dirt and dust.

Cleaners not to use on a frame

Home remedies and homemade cleaning solutions are usually too harsh for cleaning frames; they can ruin the finish on frames. Home remedies are usually meant to be a quick fix; conservation, on the other hand, requires a slow approach with regular checks on progress to ensure the process is going smoothly and not causing damage. Be sure to avoid the following when cleaning your picture or art frame:

Ammonia – Ammonium hydroxide is harsh and can cause damage to the body of the frame; it may leave a pink hue on the surface of a metal frame.

Commercial polishes – Some products have chemicals that can strip metal or wood. Be sure to check the content on the packaging, because some manufacturers use ammonia in their products.

Too much water – Water can become trapped and cause corrosion or deterioration in the long term, especially in wooden frames. When using water, use it sparingly and only enough to make your cloth damp (not wet).

For a safe bet, select a cleaning product that is labeled as “conservation” or “archival.” These classifications are intended to protect art and frames over time and shouldn’t contain harmful elements.

When you’re finished cleaning the glass and frame, wait until they’re completely dry before placing the art back in the frame because moisture can damage the picture or artwork. Air drying is best to ensure new dust doesn’t get added to the frame. Regular maintenance of your frames will keep them in good condition for years to come.

Share This

4 thoughts on “How to Clean an Ornate Frame”

  • Roger Davis

    Thanks for the tip about Orange oil . Will give it a go on my moulded gild mirror frame

    Reply
  • E. Wood

    Where is orange oil available to purchase?

    Reply
    • Laura W

      Hi - a quick search on Google brought up a few places up like Lowe's, Home Depot or Amazon. Please let us know if you need anything else. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Gillian Nilsen
    Gillian Nilsen March 14, 2020 at 8:45 am

    I’ve got an ornate mirror that belonged to my mum (she died ten years ago). My brother has had the mirror it has not cleaned it and him and his partner have smoked. He has had a bad stroke and now I’m got the mirror back

    It’s years and years old but it’s my mums so how can I clean it

    Reply
    • Laura W

      Hi Gillian - We're more informed on the cleaning of frames rather than mirrors. We don't sell or work with these, but the same steps will apply. You'll most likely want to take it to a professional for advice and to find out the exact contents of the mirror, which will dictate the cleaning process. I'm sorry we can't be of more help, but I certainly don't want to push you in the wrong direction with such a meaningful artifact.

      Reply
  • Stav

    Can I use a less fragrant oil on a wood frame or does it have to be orange oil?

    Reply
    • Laura W

      There are other types of oils made for woods like linseed or tung oil. I would just read through the instructions to make sure that they're acceptable for your type of wood and test a small, non-visible spot first.

      Reply
Add a Comment: