Dirt and Dirt Removal | Paintings Conservation

This is the first of six brochures in the series Paintings Conservation created for conservators of easel paintings, wishing to keep up with current knowledge, and learning how to apply new techniques in their field. The brochure Dirt and Dirt Removal contains information on the following: what dirt consists of; how dirt bonds to the surface; the ethical reasons to remove surface dirt and the procedure for how to do so; and will provide an overview of selected methods and materials commonly used to remove surface dirt.

Knowledge exchange

These six brochures were compiled to serve as a reference, bringing together current practices and new knowledge regarding materials and methods for practical use. The content provided can be used by professional conservators, who are aware of the ethical and contextual aspects and complexity of conservation decision-making.

Conservation knowledge and practice are developing at an increasingly fast pace. In many countries, this knowledge is often concentrated within a relatively small group of conservators and other professionals in larger institutions with the resources to take major steps in the development and application of new methods for preservation and treatment of paintings. New publications on focus topics are often issued through journals or editions that are costly and not easily available to the conservation field. Thus, accessing such knowledge and integrating into practice can be challenging. These brochures are designed to help bridge this gap. They are also a tool for mid-career professional conservators seeking to refresh and update their knowledge. The content is intended as a snapshot of up-to-date developments in these six focus areas and should not replace academic training in the field of painting conservation.

The need for this reference material became apparent during a series of masterclasses and conferences, organized in the period 2012-2020 by Cultural Inventory Foundation (SCI) in India, Russia and Cuba. These gatherings, focusing on mutual exchange and deepening knowledge in relation to the local contexts, were organized in association with SRAL - The Conservation Institute, the RCE, and Dutch embassies in the partner countries of the International Heritage Cooperation programme.

The brochures in this series on conservation are:

  1. Dirt and Dirt Removal (download above)
  2. Varnish Removal
  3. Consolidation of Paint and Ground
  4. Filling Losses in Paint (expected)
  5. Structural Conservation of Canvas and Panels (expected)
  6. Varnishing and Inpainting
Cover met daarop een schilderij van een straatje met huizen en een straatlantaarn
Image: ©RCE
Cover van de publicatie Dirt and Dirt Removal


Authors: Julia M. van den Burg (MA PD. Res.; Private conservator), Kate Seymour (MA (Hons, MA; Head of Education and Senior Painting Conservator, Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg)
Editing: Klaas Jan van den Berg (RCE), Lia Gorter (Foundation for Cultural Inventory, SCI)
Series Paintings Conservation: six brochures on conservation of works of painted art

Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, 2022.

The brochures have been written under the auspices and financial support of the International Heritage Cooperation programme of the RCE.. Have you discovered an error in this brochure? Please let us know through this form.