Candle Wax Cleanup

Q. I have an acrylic painting on a matboard that accidentally got almost totally covered by candle wax. How can I remove the wax without ruining the painting?
Michelle Van DenOever
Sioux Falls, SD

A. Candle wax shouldn’t do any permanent damage to your acrylic painting. But, as you’ve probably suspected, a lot of damage can occur in the effort to remove the wax, so you’ll want to be careful. Without getting help from a professional, there are two relatively easy and effective methods of removing wax that you could try at home.

Wax becomes very brittle at low temperatures, so if you cool the wax (perhaps with an ice cube) you might get it to flake away from the painting. This can be risky, however, because if the acrylic paint itself cools to below 40°F it will also become brittle and may flake off along with the wax.

Another option is to take the opposite strategy and melt the wax by gently warming it with a hair dryer or a heat lamp. As the wax softens, scrape it off gently with a wooden tongue depressor, or wait for the wax to liquefy and absorb it into a paper towel. Use restraint, however, to keep from overheating the paint. Just like when you’re cooling a painting, if you take the process too far you’ll remove the paint along with the wax.

Either of these methods will leave behind a wax residue on the surface of the painting. You can remove this with a paper towel dampened with a solvent such as turpentine, mineral spirits or VM&P naphtha. The solvents will only be effective with small amounts of wax, however, so use a solvent only for whatever wax isn’t removed by either the heating or the cooling method. As for the solvent, be sure to use it either outdoors or with plenty of ventilation since breathing the fumes from solvents can be hazardous. Second, if your artwork contains any exposed areas of the matboard, keep the solvent away from them. If those areas are wet with solvent that contains any of the dissolved wax, the wax will enter the board and result in a dark stain.

With any of these procedures, I’d recommend that you first conduct a little test in the corner of your painting. If you find damage occurring or color diminishing, take the painting to a professional conservator.

Victor Martinez began his training with his father, the renowned artist Victor Martinez Malaga, in his hometown of Arequipa, Peru, and later attended the National School of Fine Arts in Lima. For many years he dedicated his career to graphic design and illustration, then in 1988 returned to his first love, fine art. Martinez now lives in California and has had several solo exhibitions in Peru and throughout the United States, and he has won many awards.



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