How to Clean Nicotine Build-up from Canvas Photos


Mickey asked:  How can I clean nicotine build up from canvas photos?

Cleaning canvas photos is a task best left to the professionals, but if you want to do it yourself, there’s a technique the pros use that can be done at home with proven success. Remember to spot test first, and make sure you are exceedingly gentle as you work so you don’t ruin your photo. If the canvas has been weakened by damage, rips, tears or holes, it is best to leave them untouched. If you choose to clean them, proceed at your own risk.

You Will Need:

  • Mild dish soap
  • Warm distilled water
  • Cotton swabs
  • Bowl
  • Soft cloth

Steps to Remove the Nicotine:

  1. Begin by wiping the surface with a clean, soft cloth to remove any surface dirt or dust.
  2. Make a solution of one part dish soap in four parts warm distilled water.
  3. Moisten a cotton swab with the solution. Squeeze it gently to remove any excess water. You want it to be moist, but not dripping.
  4. Gently move the cotton swab across the canvas to remove the stains.
  5. Work from the bottom to the top and use gentle strokes. Change the swabs frequently so you are always wiping the canvas photo with a clean surface.
  6. Rinse the canvas by working from the top to the bottom with a clean cotton swab dipped in plain distilled water.
  7. Allow the picture to dry completely before storing or rehanging.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Keep a clean, dry, soft cloth handy to blot up any drips should they occur.
  • Vinegar also works well for cutting through nicotine build up. Test a small, hidden area before using on the entire photo to ensure there are no adverse effects. If it goes well, the vinegar can be added directly to the soap and water solution made above.
  • If your canvas photo is more durable, you may use a soft brush in place of the cotton swab.
  • Do not use oil-based products, especially if the photo is painted rather than printed on the canvas. These products will remove the color and damage the photo.
  • When you work, make sure the canvas is vertical. This prevents excess water from soaking into the fabric.
  • This technique works for nicotine as well as general dirt and dust accumulation.


  1. I did exactly what the said ‘tip’ told me to do, and tried it on the reverse side and edges first. I’m glad I did, because it made the cream color canvas more yellowy. I therefore didn’t attempt the front side with the picture on it. Definitely leaving this cleaning to the professionals.

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