How to remove yellowed varnish from oil painting – 3 reliable ways

Varnishing is very important to protect oil paint from dirt and dust. I wanted to find out why this varnish layer gets yellow over time and how to remove this yellowed varnish from oil painting.

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The varnish layer plays the same role as a protector of a mobile screen which also gets dull after some months, and we finally take that off and replace that with a new one. So, removing varnish is something every artist should know to correctly restore oil paintings without paying high fees to art restoration companies.

Use the following methods to remove the yellowed varnish from oil paintings:

  1. Use Gamsol to remove old varnish
  2. Use artist white spirit or full-strength mineral spirit to remove old varnish
  3. Use distilled turpentine to remove old varnish

Before beginning the procedure, I want to clear some misconceptions about removing varnish. Some people might advise you to seek the guidance of professionals, but this is not such risky work if you properly use the solvents correctly.

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1. Use Gamsol to remove old varnish

How to remove yellowed varnish from oil paintings - Gablin Gamsol to remove yellowed varmnish

Gamblin Gamsol Oil Color, 16.9 Fl Oz (Pack of 1), Clear, 16

  • Safe and easy to handle
  • Solvent for oil medium
  • 16 oz size
  • Amazon’s choice
  • Best for blending also
  • Multiple uses
  • Known as the best thinner
Important to know!

When working with solvents, you must have good ventilation and follow safe studio practices by wearing a face mask to protect yourself from toxic fumes.

About Gamblin Gamsol

Gamblin Gamsol is an excellent solvent for thinning oil paints and cleaning oil paint from other stuff such as paint brushes but here it can be used to remove old yellowed varnish from an oil painting. Not just oils but any other varnished layer can be removed as well. The product is also free from any kind of hazardous fumes but in fact, it is odorless like water.

At the time of publishing, Gamblin Gamsol had a total of 854 Ratings with 4.8 Stars average rating out of 5. The product comes in a 16.9 fl oz transparent bottle that is airtight and also leakproof. Most commonly, artists use Gamblin Gamsol with oil paints for underpainting and glazing.


Color: Clear | Size: 16.9 Fl Oz | Volume: 500 ml | Age-range: Adult | Dimensions: 6.9 x 2.5 x 2.5 inches | Item Weight: 14.9 ounces

Our Ratings: 5/5 Stars

Price at the time of publishing: 16.62$

What we Like!

  • Value for money
  • Easy to use
  • Adhesion
  • Amazon’s Choice
  • Safe

What we Don’t Like!

  • For only professional use (Adults only)

How to use it?

Gamsol is critical in dissolving any dried varnish from an oil painting. For this method, you gonna need a bottle of Gamsol, a couple of rags, and cotton buds.

Gently clean all the dust from the surface with a rag. Dip a cotton bud in Gamsol liquid until it soaks some liquid. Observe the painting and point out all the parts with excessive varnish.

Use a cotton bud to rub over the surface. Make sure that oil paint may not pull out from the surface. It might be time-consuming, but using Gamsol for removing yellowed varnish is the safest way.

After rubbing the Gamsol liquid with a cotton bud, use a rag to clean the whole surface and let it dry in a good ventilation area. Also, protect the surface from dust as no varnishing surface is there to protect the oil painting.

Now you can revarnish your oil painting.

2 – Use artist white spirit or full-strength mineral spirit

How to remove yellowed varnish from oil painting - Winsor & Newton Artistic white spirit to remove yellowed varnish

Winsor & Newton Artists’ White Spirits, 75ml

  • Extra savings
  • For Encaustics, Oils, and Acrylics
  • 75 ml in quantity
  • Made in France
  • Special for cleaning old oil paintings
  • Can clean paint from any stuff

Artists White Spirit from Winsor & Newton is just a fine paint-thinning solvent like Gamblim Gamsol but is way better at cleaning stuff. Although Gamblin Gamsol provides value for money if you want to clean your stuff like paint brushes or palettes. The product comes in 4 packings up to 1 liter but purchasing just a small quantity is a wise decision as it lasts for a long time and a little quantity is enough to remove yellowed varnish.

Artists White Spirit is a volatile and flammable paint thinner that is specially made for oils but can be useable for acrylics and encaustics. At the time of publishing, the product had a total of 1492 ratings with an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. The results of artists’ white spirit may be a little bit different from Gamblin Gamsol but it is also a great choice to remove varnish.


Volume: 75 ml | Paint type: Encaustic, Oil, Acrylic | Item form: Solid | Age Range: Adult | Manufacturers: ColArt Americas

Our Ratings: 4.5 Out of 5

Price at the time of publishing: 14.25$

What we Like!

  • Easy to use
  • Value for money
  • Suitable for oils, acrylics, and encaustics
  • Effective in cleaning dust and dirt

What we Don’t Like!

  • Volatile & Flammable

How to use it?

Artists white spirit also acts as a solvent to dissolve the old varnish from the oil painting. This procedure is only for those oil paintings which are completely dried.

For this procedure, you going to need the following things:

  • Artists white spirit
  • Gloves
  • Thin plastic sheet
  • Clean rags

Wear hand gloves for protection. Cut a clean cotton cloth piece to the exact size of your canvas. Now dip the cloth in white spirit to let it soak some white spirit liquid. Make sure to squeeze out any excess liquid from the cloth.

You don’t need to rub the cloth over the surface. Just place the wet cloth over the painting surface and try to plane the cloth over the surface by removing all the bubbles.

Now, lay a thin plastic sheet down over the surface where you put the cloth piece. Leave it for 2-10 minutes.

Make sure to check it repeatedly so that it cannot damage the paint. Pull out the cloth piece a little bit from the corner to check. If the varnish is still sticky, then wait for more time.

Remove the thin plastic sheet and cloth piece over the surface in the final step. Make sure to be gentle so that no oil paint gets damaged. Use white spirit again if you still see any damp areas.

3 – Use distilled turpentine to remove old varnish

Winsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine, 250ml - How to remove yellowed varnish from oil painting

Winsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine, 250ml

  • Glossy finish
  • 250 ml
  • Suitable for removing varnish
  • Amazon’s choice
  • For oil paints

About Distilled Turpentine

Winsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine is obtained from steam distillation of turpentine. It is a mineral spirit and a solvent that is effective to remove any varnish and dirt from the surface of oil paintings. As compared to ordinary turpentine, distilled turpentine contains lower toxic fumes but it is still not safe to inhale it directly. It is highly recommended for removing old varnish including Dammar Varnish.

At the time of publishing, there were a total of 1492 ratings with a 74 percent 5-star score. The main purpose of distilled turpentine is to clean oil paint from brushes. The solvent properties of distilled turpentine can easily break down the oil paint.

Note: Keep the ditilled turpentine out of the reach of children and pets. 


Finish Type: Gloss | Paint type: Oil | Age Range: Adult | Weight: 7.7 Ounces | Manufacturer: ColArt Americas | Volume: 250 ml

Our Ratings: 4.5/5

Price at the time of publishing: 23.99$

What we Like!

  • Value for money
  • Multiple uses
  • Affective for removing varnish

What we Don’t Like!

  • Toxic fumes

How to use it?

Using distilled turpentine is a good practice to remove any old yellowed varnish.

It would be best to be careful while working with turpentine because it is toxic. You can use Winsor & Newton distilled turpentine for this procedure, which is quite efficient.

Things to need:

  • Hand gloves
  • Face mask
  • Distilled turpentine
  • Cotton buds
  • Clean rags

I prefer a well-ventilated area where you cannot smell turpentine directly. Take a rag and gently clean the surface to remove dust and dirt.

Pour some turpentine into a jar so you can easily use it.

Wear a face mask and dip cotton buds inside the distilled turpentine. Rub the cotton bud over the surface.

Start from the corner and do the same with the whole painting surface. Now, take out another clean rag and clean the entire painting.

Prevent the surface from dust, as no varnish is there for protection. Please leave it to dry for half an hour. Now you can revarnish it.

Why does varnish turn yellow on an oil painting

The oxidation of alkyds causes yellowing, which is a natural procedure that cannot be stopped. As the color of a human gets dull when he gets older, varnish also gets pale and dull when it gets older.

There is no method to stop a varnish from getting yellow, but it depends on the quality of the varnish which you have used. Some varnishes get yellow after some years, but some stay longer and get dull after 20 to 30 years.

After how much time varnish turns yellow?

The varnish of any brand becomes yellow and dull over time. On average, a varnish can turn yellow after 25 to 30 years.

Why would you want to remove varnish from the painting?

Most often, varnish needs to be removed to restore the old paintings on which the varnishing layer is getting dull and yellow. Many restoration companies also remove varnish when cleaning oil paintings.

But there can be another reason if an artist is unsatisfied with the painting and wants to create some changes. In that case, he may also remove varnish.

Final Words

Varnishing has been of great importance in preserving oil paintings for decades. They not just protect the oil paints from dust but also protect them from UV rays of son which can make the whole painting looks permanently dull.

Solvents such as turpentine, white spirits, and other mineral spirits are often used to remove a yellowed and old varnishing layer. But working with them is risky for health. To protect yourself, always prefer a face mask and gloves. Don’t try to smell these solvents because they are toxic.


Does Damar varnish yellow?

Yes, any varnish including damar varnish turns yellow. This is quite a natural procedure that can take up to 20 years to get dull. Within this time period, you can create thousands of artworks. So why care for the time because this doesn’t matter?

Does all oil painting varnish yellow over time?

Yes, all the varnishes including expensive and cheaper get yellow over time as it is a natural procedure that cannot be controlled.

Does spray varnish turn yellow over time?

Of course, spray varnish also turns yellow because any varnish will get dull and yellow over a period of time.

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