How do I protect my paintings in storage?

Paintings are delicate works of art that require proper storage conditions to prevent damage over time. As an art collector, protecting your painting investment should be a top priority. Improper storage can lead to cracking, yellowing, mold growth, or complete destruction of a painting. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to properly store paintings to keep them in pristine condition for years to come. In this article, we will discuss the threats paintings face in storage and provide solutions to combat environmental risks. We will also overview recommended storage materials, proper handling techniques, security considerations, and steps for preparing paintings for long-term storage. Follow these painting storage tips and you can feel confident knowing your art collection is well protected.

What causes paint damage in storage?

Paintings are vulnerable to several environmental factors that can occur in storage spaces. Here are some of the most common threats:

Temperature and humidity fluctuations – Paintings are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb and release moisture. Too much moisture causes the paint to swell, stretch, and crack. Rapid temperature swings also expand and contract the canvas at different rates than the paint, causing cracking and paint loss.

Direct sunlight – UV radiation from sunlight causes pigments to break down and fade over time. Some cadmium and cobalt pigments are especially light sensitive.

Dust and dirt accumulation – Dust settling on the paint surface can embed into the brush strokes and abrade the paint film. Oil paint is particularly susceptible to dirt accumulation.

Pests – Insects like silverfish may nibble on canvas, paint, and frame materials. Rodents can also gnaw on wood stretcher bars.

Gases and pollution – Paintings stored near garages, kitchens, or industrial areas are exposed to gaseous compounds that may yellow varnishes or alter pigments. Cigarette smoke can also discolor artworks.

Physical damage – Improper handling, falling objects, or accidents during storage and transport can crack paint, tear canvas, or chip frames. Vibrations from nearby machinery or slamming doors can also loosen paint.

To prevent damage, your storage area must control for these threats. Let’s look at solutions for creating a painting safe storage environment.

Maintain ideal temperature and humidity

Fluctuating temperature and humidity are two of the biggest dangers for stored paintings. Here are some tips for maintaining ideal conditions:

– The recommended temperature range is 60-75°F. Avoid extremes below 50°F or above 80°F.

– Ideal relative humidity is 45-55%. Too dry below 30% RH or too humid above 60% RH causes issues.

– Monitor conditions with a hygrometer/thermometer. Upgrade to a thermostat-controlled HVAC system if possible.

– Avoid attics, basements, and garages which are prone to greater climate swings.

– Run dehumidifiers to lower humidity. Use humidifiers during winter months if air is very dry.

– Keep air circulating so moisture levels stay consistent throughout the space.

With proper climate control, you can prevent the expansion, contraction, and moisture absorption issues that damage paintings. Stable conditions also deter pest infestations. For very valuable collections, maintaining 67°F temperature and 50% RH is recommended.

Filter sunlight and UV radiation

Prevent fading by controlling light exposure:

– Store paintings away from windows and direct daylight if possible. North-facing windows have the most indirect, even light through the day.

– Use curtains, shades, or UV filtering films on windows. These reduce UV radiation that damages pigments.

– Look for visible light bulbs or LEDs instead of UV-emitting fluorescents.

– Only turn on lights when accessing stored paintings to limit light exposure.

– If hanging paintings on walls, use UV filtering plexiglass over works to block radiation while still allowing you to view the art.

By filtering sunlight and UV rays, you can keep light damage of sensitive pigments to a minimum. Storing paintings in the dark prolongs their appearance and longevity.

Keep storage areas clean

Diligent housekeeping prevents dust and dirt buildup on stored paintings:

– Use a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuum to regularly clean storage shelves, floors, and other surfaces.

– Wipe down storage racks, cabinets, and furniture with microfiber cloths before placing paintings inside.

– Avoid storing paintings directly on floors where they attract more dirt. Elevate on racks or shelves at least 4 inches.

– Do not store paintings near HVAC vents where air circulation deposits particulates.

– Install floor sweeper strips on doorways to trap dirt from shoes.

– Prohibit smoking, lit candles, or food/drinks which produce airborne contaminants.

Frequent cleaning controls dust that could embed into the paint surface. Maintaining clean storage conditions is critical for preserving paintings.

Use archival storage materials

Paintings interact with surrounding materials, so it is essential to use archival-quality products:

Acid-free paper – Cardboard, matboard, and paper contain acids that can yellow canvases or drawings over time. Use acid-free interleaving paper or rag matboards.

Uncoated cloth – Do not wrap canvases in plastic sheeting or drop cloths which trap moisture. Use uncoated cotton fabric like muslin instead.

Pest-free woods – Opt for aged kiln-dried poplar, maple, or birch woods which are less appetizing to pests. Avoid oak which contains tannins.

Inert plastics – Select storage bins, boxes, and racks made from inert polyethylene, polypropylene, or polyethylene foams. Avoid PVC which releases chemicals.

Vulcanized rubber – Foam wedges should be latex-free vulcanized rubber. Standard foam contains unsaturated hydrocarbons that yellow.

Uncoated metals – Prevent moisture by avoiding galvanized steel cabinets or racks. Use powder coated steel, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel.

Research any materials before they contact paintings. Chemical interactions with mediums can irreversibly alter the artwork.

Handle with care

Reduce physical risks by handling paintings with care:

– Always carry paintings vertically and avoid tilting which strains the canvas. Larger pieces may require two people.

– Do not touch the paint surface so the oil or pigment is not removed. Handle by the edges of the frame.

– Wear cotton gloves to prevent hand oils and sweat from transferring to the canvas edges.

– Avoid doorways or tight spaces where the piece could bump into objects. Clear a wide path before moving.

– Place foam or felt pads at points paintings will lean against walls for protection.

– Lay paintings flat and well-supported when not displayed. Never stack or allow canvases to touch.

– Transport paintings individually wrapped in blankets inside foam-lined crates to prevent shifting.

With careful handling, you will keep your artwork intact without accidental tears, punctures, or chips during storage and transport.

Secure against theft and fire

In addition to environmental risks, also safeguard paintings from theft or fire:

– Install a monitored security alarm system with motion sensors and fire detection.

– Store paintings in non-combustible fireproof cabinets rather than wood shelving when possible.

– Lock storage rooms and restrict access only to those needing to handle the art.

– Maintain an inventory with photographs, descriptions, and ownership records in case of theft.

– Consider concealing high-value pieces in plain crates during longer storage periods.

– Keep combustibles like paint solvents in an isolated and properly ventilated room.

– Position fire extinguishers and water hoses near stored collections.

With the proper security measures, your mind will be at ease knowing paintings are protected from avoidable loss.

Prepare paintings for long-term storage

For artworks that will be kept in storage for extended periods:

– Inspect condition and repair any loosening canvas, flaking paint, or pest damage before storage. Consult a conservator for major repairs.

– Seal frame backs and stretcher bar joints with linseed oil putty to deter pests.

– Install hanging hardware and tighten fasteners so pieces can be displayed immediately when removed from storage.

– Clean paintings by gently brushing away dust and grime before storage.

– Optionally varnish oil paintings with an archival isolation coat for extra stability.

– Wrap larger pieces with acid-free paper secured with polyethylene ties to contain loose paint. Do not tape directly to the canvas.

– Label storage boxes with handling instructions like “Keep Flat” and an identification number that corresponds to a catalog.

Proper preparation helps paintings withstand prolonged dormant periods in storage without deterioration. Maintain detailed records to track stored artworks for easy retrieval.

Inspect paintings periodically

Check stored artworks occasionally for signs of damage:

– Examine both recto and verso for mold, pest activity, flaking paint, or white efflorescence from moisture reactions.

– Look along edges for new cracks from shrinkage or canvas tears.

– Note if varnishes are becoming increasingly yellowed or blanched.

– Touch up losses or replace failing frame glazing as needed.

– Update condition reports and store photos to compare changes over time.

– Periodically air out storage areas and change interleaving papers to refresh environments.

Regular inspections allow you to catch issues before they intensify. Inconsistent climates may necessitate checking paintings as often as once a month. For very stable spaces, every 1-2 years can suffice.

Work with a professional art storage company

For optimal large scale storage, consider working with a professional fine art storage company. Experienced warehouses offer:

– Climate-controlled rooms with 24/7 monitoring and customized humidification/dehumidification systems.

– Industrial fire prevention with argon or halon gas flooding systems.

– High security with restricted access rooms, video surveillance, and guarded premises.

– Customized storage solutions like cabinetry designed for paintings to prevent abrasion.

– Receiving, inspection, photography, and cataloging services when artwork is checked-in.

– Assistance with specialized packing and transportation of artworks.

While an investment, their facilities are designed specifically to provide ideal painting preservation environments with state-of-the-art risk protections.


By controlling for temperature, humidity, pests, dirt, light, and physical damage, you can store paintings safely for many years. Take time to properly prepare and handle pieces using archival materials. Work in suitable spaces with climate monitoring, UV filtration, and security systems. And perform regular inspections to catch any issues early. With the proper storage conditions and care, your artwork will maintain its beauty and value for generations, whether displayed or kept in protected storage.

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