What You’ll Need?
While it's still wet, acrylic paint is water-soluble, but after it's dry, you can only remove it from canvas with a solvent. Whether you want to strip an entire canvas for reuse or correct a painting mistake, the task is tricky and doesn't guarantee perfect results. With a suitable solvent and the proper techniques, you can usually remove acrylic paint from a canvas that has been dried with success, but keep in mind that some staining is likely to remain. Also, be aware that you need to be careful when using chemical solvents to remove acrylic paint from the canvas.
If you have just painted a canvas with acrylic paint but are not satisfied with the results or want to change a part of it or correct a few mistakes, you need a suitable solvent to remove acrylic paint from your canvas.
Solvents commonly used to remove acrylic paint from a canvas include rubbing alcohol, turpentine, and mineral spirits. These are all inexpensive and readily available household products. Another option suitable for paint removal is hand sanitizer but be careful to use an aloe-free formula; otherwise, it will stain the canvas.
You can also try some artist-grade solvents that are specifically formulated for acrylic paint removal. Such solvents are readily available at an art supply store.
Whatever solvents you choose, just be careful to work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside and away from any heat source or open flames. It is recommended to wear glasses and protective gloves.
Before You Clean, You Need To Understand What Acrylic Paint Actually Is & Isn’t
Acrylic paint is water-based paint blended with pigment, synthetic resin (plastic), and alcohol. Those ingredients help the acrylic paint adhere to almost any surface while providing flexibility. That versatility makes acrylic paint so widely used, which can also lead to mistakes and mishaps.
Painters use oil-based paints for a couple of reasons. One is that oil is thicker than water and will seal surfaces better. Oil paints also have a longer shelf life and dry to a harder finish. Just as important is that oil paints are easily removable. All oil-based paint comes off with a solvent that vapors to soften the oil-based paint, making it much easier to scrape off the surface.
Unfortunately, acrylic paint doesn’t have this "easy to remove" feature. Unlike oil paints, acrylic paints also won’t dry to a hard finish. How acrylic paint dries depends on the temperature of its environment.
As acrylic paint dries, it leaves a film over the surface, which may be smooth or rough. It all depends on how quickly it dries and how saturated the layer of acrylic paint is.
Safety While Using Solvents
Solvents work best to remove acrylic paint from a canvas but should be used with extreme care. Whatever type of solvent you choose to use, follow some caution to avoid encountering any safety hazard.
When used correctly, they can be instrumental and safe. Do not work with these substances when you are drunk or if you are feeling tired or drowsy.
- Follow Instruction On The Label
Read the labels on the solvent bottle thoroughly and follow the instructions while using them.
- Keep Away From Flames
Never use a paint removal solvent near heating elements or open flames.
- Do Not Inhale Solvents
It would be best if you can work outdoor, otherwise avoid closed spaces and ensure there is enough ventilation.
- Use Protective Gears
Always use gloves and protective eyewear when you are dealing with solvents to minimize exposure.
- Don't Mix Solvents
Always use the solvents separately and avoid mixing them.
Wear protective gear, including chemical-resistant gloves, goggles, a protective apron, and even a mask to avoid inhaling the solvent fumes and keep some paper towels handy.
Keep in mind that some brands and types of solvents are safer to use than others. Always read the label and follow instructions.
How to Proceed?
Before you can get to cleaning, you'll need to decide what part of canvas you want to clean, how much is the area you need to apply the solvent to, and what is the condition of the paint, is it wet or is it dry.
Full Canvas Cleaning
We know that acrylic paint is water-soluble only until it's wet, so keep in mind that you can't use soap and water to get rid of the paint on the canvas once it is all dry. If the paint has spilled on the entire canvas, or you have messed up your entire painting, you’ll need to remove the paint from the entire surface.
Start by moving all the essentials you need to remove the paint from the canvas in an adequately ventilated outdoor space. Equip yourself with protective gear like gloves, an apron, and a face mask.
Find a large enough container in which your entire canvas can be placed. In that container, you should use any solvent at hand. It can be turpentine, mineral spirits, ammonia, or rubbing alcohol but don't ever mix two or more solvents. Add enough solvent to the container so that it can adequately cover the entire canvas surface. Soak the painting in that solution for at least an hour.
Once the time is over, you can see that most paint has dissolved in the solvent, and the canvas is almost clean. Take the canvas out of the solvent and start scraping off any remaining paint with the help of a putty knife. If the remaining paint doesn't come off easily, that means you need to soak the canvas in the solution again till it either gets dissolved, or you can easily scrape it off without much effort. Eventually, you will have a clean canvas to start all over again with something amazing.
If you have made an amazing painting on a canvas using acrylic paint, but you made a few mistakes that are bothering you, there is good news for you. You can easily correct your mistakes by spot cleaning the canvas. To do so, use a small container and put a small amount of solvent in it. You can use any solvent of your choice.
Never mix two or more solvents, it won't improve the cleaning properties, but it can cause serious problems. Grab a clean and soft piece of cloth, preferably cotton, as your cleaning tool. Dip the cloth into the solvent and then place it over the spot where you want to remove the paint.
Let the cloth stay on the canvas as long as it dries. Now remove the cloth and see if the paint from the spot has lightened. Again dip the clean part of the cloth into the solvent and place it again on the spot; let it dry before removing it. Keep repeating this exercise until you see no more paint transferring to the cloth and the spot is visibly clean.
You can even try scraping the paint for greater precision. Use a smaller palette knife and gently chip away the portion of acrylic paint you intend to remove.
In case of full canvas cleaning, for final touches, you can try cleaning the canvas with a dish soap solution. Set your chemical solvent aside and grab a bottle of dish soap. Take a bowl filled with clean and warm water and add a few drops of dish soap to it. Stir well to make bubbles. Get your hands on a soft brush and dip it in the soap solution.
Now use the brush and rub it on the canvas gently. You will see traces of paint still coming off the canvas staining the brush. Wash the brush and again dip in the soap solution and rub it over the canvas. Keep repeating this until no more paint is coming off the canvas.
Once you are done with the soap solution, now rinse the canvas with clean running water. Do it carefully and thoroughly until no more soap bubbles are coming off the canvas. Leave the canvas to dry overnight before using it for a new project.
Let’s Be Honest, Staining Will Occur
The truth is, almost every canvas will get spots and stains after you are done with the best possible cleaning. Even though you completely covered the canvas with a base coat or made some designs in a thick layer of acrylic paint, there will be some residual staining that occurs on the surface even after you are done cleaning the canvas using a solvent.
In such a situation, you will need acrylic gesso to hide any acrylic stains from seeping through and spoiling your next painting as well. This will help you seal the canvas, and once you are done with the initial wash for the next painting, you will have a clean canvas with no residual stains.
Painting Preparation For The Fixed Canvas
Most canvases come pre-primed, no matter where you purchase them from. Almost all online stores or art stores sell canvases pre-primed with gesso.
When you soak your entire canvas in the chemical solvent for an hour or so to remove the undesired acrylic paint, you not only let the paint dissolve in the solvent, but the initial primer is also likely to be stripped from the canvas threads. You must re-prime it before starting a new painting on the canvas.
Fortunately, re-priming the canvas surface is relatively easy by following these three simple steps:
1. Buy a High-Quality Gesso
Do your research to find a good quality gesso to re-prime your cleaned canvas.
2. Large Paintbrush
Get a large brush from an art supply store or order online. The quality of the brush isn’t that big of a deal, and any standard paintbrush can work.
3. Apply Gesso in Crossing Layers
Apply multiple layers of gesso to the surface using the large paintbrush in crossing layers. Use vertical strokes to cover the canvas and then let it dry. Now paint the canvas with gesso using horizontal strokes and again stop to let it dry completely. Now repeat the process until you get a solid base to start a new painting project.
The number of gesso layers you apply to the canvas depends on personal preference. We recommend applying at least three or more gesso layers.
Gesso provides ample texture and tooth for your paintbrush to latch onto the canvas effortlessly.
If you feel you have coated the canvas surface with way too much gesso, don't worry. By using simple fine-grit sandpaper, you can thin down the surface to your desired level.
Other Ways To Clean Dry Acrylics Off Canvas
One can apply other methods with relative ease and with a reasonable amount of success.
Use Artists Specialized Products
Use special products having a unique unlocking formula to remove paint from the canvas. Spray the section of the canvas from where you want to remove the paint. The spray will rehydrate the paint and make it easy to blend in like fresh paint and make desired corrections.
Pour a generous amount of any good quality hand sanitizer that doesn't have Aloe in it. Let it sit on the canvas and wait till the paint becomes soft, then wipe it off with a damp cloth.
Nail Polish Remover
Any good nail polish remover without having additives can also work to remove acrylic paint from the canvas.
If you have a botched canvas and want to remove some lighter acrylic paint stains, you can use laundry detergent. Use a rough bristle brush such as a regular toothbrush dipped in laundry detergent to effectively clean the paint stains from the canvas.
Liquid Dish Soap
You can also try using a liquid dish soap instead of laundry detergent to penetrate the acrylic and canvas deeper.
Know When To Cut Your Loses
Making mistakes while painting a canvas is not a big deal. You just figured out many ways to correct your mistakes by spot cleaning a canvas, or if you messed it up, you could even clean the entire canvas and re-prime it to start an afresh project. But at times, discarding a canvas is the only solution left.
Good quality stretched canvases are expensive items, and throwing away one is not a pleasant feeling. If you are new to painting and not very efficient with acrylic paints on canvas, then your mistakes may cost you an entire canvas. We recommend that in the beginning stages of your painting career, you should avoid buying and using expensive high-quality traditional stretched canvases as they may not be the best surface for you to experiment with.
Instead of spending a high price per surface, you should consider alternative surfaces such as a simple canvas pad or canvas panels as they are much cheaper while still giving you the same texture to practice on and become an expert.
Luckily, even with a fast drying time of acrylic paint, you can still remove it from a canvas if you make any mistake. We have discussed several ways to conveniently clean the canvas, including some chemical solvents and simple DIY solutions.
Whichever method you intend to try, always remember to take precautions while handling the chemical solvents and do this process in a well-ventilated space.