How to Care for Paintings That Aren’t Under Glass

Written by Mark Rogers

Framing art with a protective glazing (glass or acrylic) is usually a good idea. Printed artwork such as photographs are generally fine with glazing, and the right choice of glass or acrylic, along with a quality picture frame, can help prevent the deterioration of photo paper over time. However, glazing isn’t suitable for all types of art.

Paintings are a different story from printed art. With oil or acrylic paintings, sometimes it is better not to use any glazing, regardless of whether it’s glass or acrylic. Art prints or photographs can usually come in contact with glazing with no risk of harm. But the same isn’t true of painted surfaces, where direct contact with any material — including glass or acrylic glazing — can very quickly damage the surface of the painting by smearing, chipping, or sticking to the paint. Besides, one of the wonderful qualities of paintings is the textural surface of the painting itself: think heavy brush strokes, spackled-on gesso, or thick paint troweled on with a painting knife. Such details are an integral part of the artwork. Worst-case scenario, glazing can damage the art; best-case scenario, glazing can obscure the painting, creating separation between the viewer and the art.

For these reasons, when you frame an acrylic or oil painting, it’s generally better to avoid glazing. This means you have to take special care of the artwork to keep it in the best possible shape and to avoid damage.

Care of Framed Paintings

Look with your eyes, not with your hands.” To keep a painting in beautiful condition, make sure that no one touches it with their fingers or any other implements. If you have an occasion such as a dinner party or another event where there will be a sizeable group of people in attendance, you may want to hang a small plaque besides the painting asking people to look but not touch, or even create a clear plastic “shell” that can be temporarily installed over the picture frame. If the gathering is going to be especially crowded or could potentially get rowdy, you may even opt to take the painting down and store it in a safe place.

Dust and Dirt = Dulling and Damage. Dust and dirt can become attached to the surface of a painting, dulling the colors and damaging the artwork. Careful dusting prevents dust from accumulating and sticking to the surface of the paint. A soft artist’s brush is the best tool to use. Look for a flat brush that is about two or three inches wide with soft, springy, gentle bristles. Inspect the painting before dusting. If there are any chips or cracking paint, it’s not safe to dust the painting because you may further chip the paint and brush it away from the painting. If the surface is intact, very gently dust the painting. A strong light will help you see where there is dust or quickly catch any flaking of the surface paint so you can stop before causing damage.

Where to Hang Paintings

Location, location, location. The spot you choose to hang a painting can help protect your unglazed artwork. If you have children or pets in your household, hang your painting where they can’t touch or brush up against it. Oil and acrylic paint are both sensitive to temperature (although the specific range of temperatures that affects each is different). Warm temperatures can soften the surface of a painting, making it more susceptible to damage by touch or by collecting dust and dirt in the paint. Avoid hanging paintings near heating vents, fireplaces, or any place that receives a lot of direct sunlight or heat. Also, dust paintings on cooler days to avoid causing brush damage.

Painted artwork can be a wonderful addition to your home, adding charm and vitality that printed artwork cannot match. Although most paintings are not protected by glazing, some careful work and the right location can keep a unique piece of artwork in beautiful shape for many years to come.


Feature image artwork by Artie's Eight Artist – Megan Rowley Stern. Read more about her here.


Last Updated June 26, 2021

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4 thoughts on “How to Care for Paintings That Aren’t Under Glass”

  • Louise Rose

    I have a 10 by 12 inch watercolour painting, look fo a white frame

    • Heather

      Good morning Louise,
      If this is just a flat sheet of canvas, you can choose from any of our frames and select customize frame and put in your artwork dimensions and choose your frame contents.
      Let us know if you have any questions at all and we will be happy to help you!
      Have a wonderful day!

  • Lexa

    You mention a temporary SHELL to protect an unglazed art. Can you go into more detail.

    • Joely Rogers

      Lexa, it's an acrylic display case you can put over canvases. Museums and galleries sometimes have them. They are typically for really expensive/valuable art displayed in high traffic areas.

  • Shammy Peterson
    Shammy Peterson June 17, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    You got my attention when you said that you must hang your artwork where they can’t be touched by your children or pets to protect them. My husband and I are interested in shopping for an 8x10 Father and Son painting. We want to place them where people can see them as we think of this artwork as a symbol of love between my husband and our son. We will do all your tips to keep the artwork from any damages.

  • Shammy Peterson
    Shammy Peterson June 22, 2021 at 8:38 pm

    It sure was nice that you mentioned that artwork must not be touched anyone by fingers or any other implements to keep a painting in beautiful condition. This has been something that I have been reminding myself of since my late father gave me artwork and paintings that I displayed at home. Since I am moving to a smaller apartment unit, I am planning to sell them by having them appraised, first. Thanks for sharing this.

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