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Why you should never use Windex to clean picture frames

You love displaying prints and photos, but do you know the right way to clean decorative frames and the glass inside them?

Jennifer Ickes, head registrar for the New Orleans Museum of Art, sure does. Over the course of her 20 years at NOMA, she’s cleaned her fair share of them. She passes along these insider tips for cleaning like a museum pro.

To clean glass fronts:

Glass fronts are often coated to prevent glare and protect against UV light. Unless you’re a framing professional, you probably can't tell by if glass has coating just by looking at it. Since ammonia-based glass cleaners (like regular Windex) can damage these coatings, play it safe and clean all glass fronts as if they were coated.

  • Remove the artwork from the wall and place it on a flat surface to clean.
  • Lightly spray a ammonia-free glass cleaner on a microfiber cloth (regular or made-for-glass). NEVER spray directly onto the glass as it could leak under the edge of the frame and damage the photo or artwork.
  • Gently wipe the glass in a circular motion, making sure to get into the corners.

E-Cloth Glass and Polishing cloth, $5, Amazon

Amazon

Ammonia-Free Windex, $13, Amazon

Amazon

To clean acrylic fronts:

Ickes recommends cleaning hard plastic or acrylic frames, try Novus cleaner. It doesn’t scratch and it leaves a shine that resists fogging and fingerprints, repels dust and eliminates static that attracts dust.

  • Remove the artwork from the wall and place it on a flat surface to clean.
  • Apply a small amount of Novus cleaner to a microfiber cloth. Don’t use too much — a little goes a long way.
  • Apply cleaner to acrylic front in circular motions, making sure to get into the corners.
  • Buff with a clean microfiber cloth.

Novus Plastic Clean and Shine, $8, Amazon

Amazon

Note: Novus also makes scratch removers for acrylic. If you use it, Ickes advises that you do NOT re-use the same cloths to clean acrylic or glass later on. Debris does not wash out of the cloths completely and leftover bits may scratch surfaces. Re-purpose these cloths for less delicate cleaning chores.

Other products for cleaning acrylic:

  • Brillianize: Alcohol- and ammonia-free, this formula is safe for acrylic fronts and frames. Apply according to directions using a clean, made-for-glass microfiber cloth.
  • Novus Premium Polish Mates: Made for cleaning acrylic, plastic and glass, these disposable cloths eliminate the risk of scratches from leftover abrasive particles in reusable cloths.

To clean modern or antique frames:

  • For relatively modern frames (not antiques), Ickes recommends dusting with a dry microfiber cloth. For stubborn spots, slightly dampen with water, then clean.
  • Older, antique frames or ornate wooden frames (especially those with plaster/wood embellishments) are fragile and should be dusted using a soft, fine-bristle brush (like a makeup brush). When dusting such frames at NOMA, Ickes does not allow the brush to touch the frame. Instead, she rapidly moves the brush over each area “creating air” that lifts and removes dust. This keeps bristles from snagging bits of decorative plaster or wood.

While it’s off the wall, take time to inspect the overall condition of the framed artwork. Mark Rogers, owner of Frame Destination in Dallas suggests checking the following:

  • Look for fading, yellowing or changing colors on the picture/artwork. These indicate either improper framing (in which case, replace the mat with acid-free components) or overexposure to sunlight (move the print to a less sunny area and/or switch to UV-filtered acrylic or glass glazing).
  • Are hooks and wires secure? When replacing wire, use look for vinyl-coated. It’s less likely to cut you.
  • Make sure protective paper backing on wood frames is not in contact with the print/photo. Acid from the paper can cause damage. Also, if there are gaps or tears, have the paper backing replaced.
  • The print/photo should not extend beyond the mat or touch the wood, since it's acidic.
  • Has the artwork shifted out of place? If so, have it re-mounted.
  • Are mats archival? Are spacers in good condition? Both keep glazing from coming in direct contact with the artwork. If they are missing, dried out or cracked, have them replaced.
  • Are frame corners tight-fitting? Are screws tight? Is the frame solid and strong? If not, be sure to fix.

To avoid the above issues, look for CPF-certified picture framers.

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