Cleaning A Layer Of Nicotine Yellow Off A Painting – Case in Point, Delirium Flesh by David Mann

Giclee by David Mann, Delirium Flesh

Delirium Flesh by David Mann

I’m delivering this back to its owner tomorrow. He’ll be thrilled to see the wonderful colors “back.” He really loves this print/giclee. It goes well with his Harley. This was a case when the love justifies the price even though the value may not.

This painting was a an investment purchase by an art collector. Cleaning the nicotine yellow layer really improved the colors… or should I say returned the colors back to their original appearance. Given the value of the artwork, the decision to restore the painting (clean and varnish it) was a no brainer.

Removing the yellow layer of nicotine from off a painting

Cleaning off the layer of yellow nicotine from a painting

Art conservation questions? 805 564 3438
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About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
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24 Responses to Cleaning A Layer Of Nicotine Yellow Off A Painting – Case in Point, Delirium Flesh by David Mann

  1. Jill L Schneider says:

    Scott – I have a piece of artwork that looks to be yellowed by tobacco smoke. It appears to be a print of an oil painting, but coated with something that makes it look like brushstrokes. I tried the saliva & q-tip method on a small area, and that did seem to get rid of the yellowing, but I do not know if I am damaging the art underneath. If it is really just a print, can I actually damage the image by cleaning it with Dawn or FelsNaptha?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Yes you can damage the print with Dawn or FelsNaphtha. While saliva doesn’t get it sparkling perfect, it will result in a significant improvement. Some of the materials, like the original surface varnish-texture on the paint to make it look like brush strokes, could have yellowed with time and cannot be removed without destroying your print. Thanks for leaving your comment/question. Good luck.

  2. Tabitha says:

    Hello! I’m part of a Redmen lodge over in MN and we have a huge 80 year old oil painting that has many years of smoke layered on top. We have a quote from a lady to clean it but she requested it come off the frame. I don’t feel comfortable with how frail the fibers have become as I see restretching would tear the canvas or crack the paint. We are looking for alternative ways to keep it in house and clean it ourselves or find professional advice. Since we are a non-profit, unfortunately we probably can’t afford the price to get it cleaned professionally when the painting is priceless to us. It is from the late 40s and is about 8ft x 6ft. If you could email me with some direction as to how to proceed, I would love to hear from you!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      It seems that if the artwork is priceless to you, then having the delicate cleaning done properly would be a high priority instead of doing it yourself and risking damage. There are ways to fundraise and get community support at non-profits. I have not found that being a non-profit is an excuse for not doing collection care/maintenance and conservation properly. I will email you with my contact info and then if you call me, I will be happy to consult with you if you are open to come coaching.


    I inherited a painting by a frenchman named astan Knight it was his last painting before he died in 1948. He used to paint lakes and springs.
    My sister in law got the paining from the artist and at two packs a day did cover it wit a nicotine yellow layer since
    I consider it a piece of shit and do not want to spend much to have it washed.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Is there a question somewhere in that comment, Jean, or are you just being an art critique?

  4. doria says:

    hi, I just acquired this oil painting. I have used the q tip and saliva method, but the painting is large and it will take about a week to do this method..I am not sure if the amber tone is the way the artist painted it, or if it’s nicotine damage..can you tell? Even with q tip and saliva I get what looks like so of the paint off with it..I tried using a soft cloth with just warm water to clean the surface..but it looked as if I might have taken some of the paint off..or was it nicotine..regardless, I stopped

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Doria, Let’s talk on the phone and I can try and help you understand what is going on. Call me on my mobile 805 570 4140 TTYS, Scott

  5. Carol says:

    I recently acquired a painting in need of cleaning and has a monetary value. I’m not sure if he used oils or tempera. Is it in my best interest to have it professionally restored?. I’m willing to take the time to remove the nicotine but don’t won’t to risk damaging the piece.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      If you would like, Carol, give me a call so we can talk about the options. If it can be done safely for the artwork, I’m happy to tell you how. Scott 805 570 4140 mobile

  6. Mike Clodfelter says:

    I just acquired several paintings that have been exposed to nicotine. Being an artist myself I thought I would try a couple of things that I thought might work, neither mineral spirits or turpentine had any effect on the test spot, However acetone did work well with a little persuasion, but I am afraid that it will denigrate the paint consistency although the paint is over 50 years old and quite brittle with the small cracks the appear with age. Any suggestions or is it in my best interest to have a professional cleaning? My test spot, though clean, seems to have been stained within the pigment itself, so the true colors have been muted.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Acetone is “famous” for dissolving varnished very quickly, including varnishes and oils mixed in with the paint… which means that it often takes original paint off. Damaging a painting, even a little bit, is a very quick way to impact the integrity and value negatively. Repainting a damaged painting afterwards only adds to the damage and loss of value. Even though I’ve been cleaning paintings since 1975, if you brought the paintings into our lab for me to clean them, I would still do tests to see what processes are safest for the painting technique and does the best removal job. So, venturing a guess without testing is unwise if we’re interested in the ultimate safety of the painting. The only thing I can recommend is a Q-Tip and saliva which will remove some yellow but probably not all of it. At least there will be an improvement and it won’t damage an oil painting. Be careful, even with saliva though, if the painting looks thinly painted!

  7. Chris says:

    Wow, what a difference! I have the same problem with some inherited artwork, including watercolors. Is there any hope for them? Thank you.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Chris,
      Absolutely there is hope… but the ease and therefore the cost depends how sensitive the art is so that is can be removed safely (without damage). Where do you live? Thanks for leaving a comment/question!

  8. Steve Lomske says:

    Can you clean nicotine from a watercolor?

  9. Cleaning the yellow from nicotine always makes me sick thinking that someone voluntarily coated their insides with that stuff. I’m glad it comes off paintings.

  10. Mandy Helgren says:

    That nicotine layer was gross! I can’t believe people don’t see that on their paintings. Thanks for showing us this interesting situation. I’m going to check out “the damage” in my parents home next time I go there.

  11. Chastity Schultz says:

    It grosses me out to see the yellow crud on items around the house of my parents who are smokers and is very evident on our framed things. To think that nicotine layer is in there bodies my me get goose bumps. Thanks for the post.

  12. Payson Sanchez says:

    I never imagined than smoking could be bad for art! Its almost funny. Wow, what a difference from cleaning. I’m supposing that cleaning my art by myself is not an option?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for the comment Payson, You will not be able to get your artwork completely clean. You could go clean a varnished painting with Q-tips and saliva (spit) without damaging the art, if you are careful. But any off the shelf cleaner you would think to use will probably have long tern negative effects on the appearance and preservation of the artwork. This is something that should be done right by a professional art conservator.

  13. Lan Mizer says:

    Interesting paintings! That Harley Davidson one is really cool. I like your profession of restoring art.

  14. Michele says:

    Hello. I am beginning to acquire some oil paintings done by my aunt, painted in the 1950s and sitting in unknown homes before they got to me. The two I have seem a little dull. They’re oils. I suspect nicotine and just old fashioned age. I probably will try and locate someone in the Delaware/Philly area but I am curious what would one expect to pay for a good cleaning.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for leaving your question Michele. There are a bunch of problems in trying to give you an “industry standard” or a per square inch price for cleaning paintings. For example, in the 1950’s, acrylic paints came into use and the potential for damage during cleaning is different than oils. There are many other questions too. So, I would suggest that you avoid anyone that gives you a firm estimate over the phone or otherwise without seeing the artwork first hand. You can get “ball park” guesstimates… we often clean paintings that are about 20″ x 24″ for $300-$400… but a cleaning test must be made and an examination for other problems is required before giving a firm price. Our art conservation company (FACL, Inc.) does not charge for estimates and verbal evaluations in our lab. On your part, you need to decide how perfect you want the artwork to look. There may be options in the treatments that can leave the cleaning or other treatments “less perfect” if you are short on funds. Feel free to call me to discuss further if you like. Call me on my mobile phone at 805 570 4140. Best wishes! Scott

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