How to Clean Metal and Wood Picture Frames

Written by Mark Rogers

Although they are rarely in the spotlight, picture frames play a critical role in making your photo and art displays a gorgeous part of your home or office décor. A good frame, especially when combined with the right matting, finishes the look of a photo or piece of art. It also helps attract the eye to appreciate it, setting it apart from the surrounding space.

When people look at your artwork, they also see your frames, even though the frames are not what they are focusing on – and that means if your picture frames are dirty or dusty, they’re going to see that, too. A dirty, dusty frame won’t do any favors for your home décor or the piece that’s framed, and it can easily distract from the pictures you actually want to be on display. Picture frames need regular care and cleaning to look their best and show off your photos and artwork at their finest.

Basic Cleaning for All Frames

You can keep frames in great shape for a long time with simple, regular dusting. Just like the rest of your furniture and home accessories, dust will collect on your frames and start to distract from your pictures. Giving your frames a light regular dusting every other day with a feather duster, lamb’s wool duster or a similar synthetic product is a quick way to keep dust in check. Just be careful not to knock hung artwork off the wall if you don’t take pictures down for this fast dusting!

If you dust less frequently, you may need to take more serious dusting measures for your frames. Take down hung pictures and wipe them very gently with a slightly damp cloth to remove larger amounts of dust. Do not spray water, wood polish, glass cleaner, or any other cleaning agent onto a frame with a mounted picture to make sure that none of the moisture gets inside the mounting and damages the picture.

If your art is showcased in an ornate frame, it may need a more delicate hand and a few unique techniques due to its embellishments. For tips, view our How To Clean and Ornate Frame post.

Deeper Cleaning for Frames

If you need to take a hung picture down to dust it, you may as well take the time to give it a deeper cleaning and get rid of deeper accumulations of dust and dirt.

  • Take it apart: To start, you should remove the photo or artwork so you can clean the frame without damaging what’s inside it. Start by laying a towel or soft blanket on a flat surface. Carefully lay the frame face down and disassemble the back to remove the photo and any mounting. Put these aside in a safe place, away from where you will clean the frame.
  • Clean the glazing: Take the glazing out and give it a good cleaning to remove any dust, fingerprints, or other smudges. Glass can be cleaned with your preferred kind of glass cleaner. Acrylic glazing should only be cleaned with a gentle soap and water, or a cleaner specifically designed for plastics like our Brillianize® Acrylic Cleaner and Polish. Use a soft, lint-free towel to wash and dry the glazing to avoid scratching the glazing or leaving behind lint particles. Paper towels can scratch acrylic so avoid using them when you clean acrylic glazing. When the glazing is clean, lay it aside in a safe place, too.

Cleaning Wood vs Cleaning Metal

Picture frames need different kinds of care depending on what materials they are made from and what kind of finish they have. When in doubt, clean frames with the gentlest cleaning solutions and techniques to make sure you don’t damage either the frames or finish.

  • Wood frames: Wood picture frames that are finished can be cleaned with a damp cloth or with a wood furniture polish. When using this type of product, spray a small amount onto a cloth and use that to wipe the frame. This way you can avoid spraying too much polish directly onto the frame. If your wood frame is unfinished, use a towel dampened with water to clean the frame. Cleaning products may absorb into the unfinished wood and discolor it. If your frame is ornately carved or has other surface texture, use a soft toothbrush to help get dirt out of the nooks and crannies.
  • Metal frames: Metal picture frames can be cleaned with a damp towel. Use a tiny bit of soap to clean the frame if it is especially dirty. If your frame is made of unlacquered pewter, sterling silver, or is silver plated, use a high-quality silver polish. If you are unsure about cleaning your frame, test it by first cleaning a small, unnoticeable part of the frame.

Cleaners You Should Not 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.

Once your frame is clean, make sure both the frame and glazing are completely dry before remounting your picture. Carefully replace the picture in the frame, seal it back in and rehang the frame. Now your frame is clean, and your photo can take center stage again with no dusty, dirty distractions!

How Do You Clean Picture Frame Glass?

Cleaning the glass of a picture frame is essential to ensure that your cherished photos, artwork, or memorabilia are displayed in the best possible light. Over time, dust, fingerprints, and smudges can accumulate on the surface of the glass, obscuring the view and diminishing the overall appearance of the frame. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to properly clean picture frame glass:

1. Gather Your Materials

  • Soft microfiber cloth or lint-free cloth
  • Mild dish soap
  • Distilled water (tap water can leave mineral deposits)
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Rubbing alcohol (for stubborn spots)

2. Prepare the Cleaning Solution

Mix a few drops of mild dish soap with distilled water in a bowl or spray bottle. If using a bowl, ensure it's large enough to dip your cloth into.

3. Remove the Frame from the Wall or Shelf

Carefully take down the picture frame to avoid any accidental drops or damages.

4. Dust the Glass Surface

Before applying any liquid, gently wipe away any loose dust or debris from the glass using a dry microfiber cloth. This prevents any scratches when cleaning.

5. Apply the Cleaning Solution

If using a spray bottle, lightly mist the glass surface. If using a bowl, dip the cloth into the solution, wring out excess liquid, and gently wipe the glass.

Avoid soaking the glass or allowing the liquid to seep into the frame's edges, as this can damage the artwork or photo inside.

6. Wipe in a Circular Motion

Gently wipe the glass in a circular motion, starting from the center and working your way outwards. This helps prevent streaks.

7. Address Stubborn Spots

If there are stubborn spots or fingerprints that won't come off with the soapy water, dampen a corner of your cloth with a small amount of rubbing alcohol and gently rub the spot until it's gone.

8. Dry the Glass

Using a dry section of your microfiber cloth, wipe the glass dry, again using a circular motion. Ensure no streaks or water spots remain.

9. Rehang or Replace the Frame

Once the glass is clean and dry, carefully rehang or place the frame back in its original location.

Last Updated October 3, 2023