In recent years, the DIY, or Do-It-Yourself movement has transformed from a weekend crafting attitude to a lifestyle pursued by some with religious fervor. With a seemingly infinite number of YouTube tutorials, Pinterest posts, and online How-To articles, the advanced DIY-er now can learn to reshingle a roof, build a sustainable tilapia farm, or install their own reclaimed pallet-wood floors. The satisfaction that comes from completing a process that starts with asking yourself “How hard can it be?” and ends with “I really impressed myself,” is undeniable, but where are the DIYer’s limitations? It is possible to bite off a bit more than you can chew.

As specialists in conservation treatments for fire and water affected collections, Carolina Conservation encounters numerous clients who have attempted to clean their own paintings. From using rubbing alcohol, to slathering on a layer of greek yogurt, the internet is filled with “tips” and “tricks” for those seeking to clean or repair their own artwork. Sometimes these clients are people who have attempted to clean artwork that does not belong to them. Many times, the resulting condition of an item will be far worse than when the individual set out to start the cleaning. Unfortunately, for disaster restoration and contents cleaning companies, the adoption of a DIY approach is far too common, and usually ends badly.

For instance, as the air temperature increases during a house fire, the materials comprising a painting relax and expand, allowing soot and particles to become imbedded deep within the surfaces of a painting and its components. When the temperature cools and materials contract, soot and particles can become trapped, unable to be simply wiped away from the surface with a sponge. In addition to sponges, we have had restoration contractors who have asked if it is ok to use Lysol wipes, Dawn dish detergent, or industrial strength degreaser when cleaning their customers’ artwork. The answer is no, no, and no. When they try it anyway, it can get ugly…and expensive. Last week, a family heirloom damaged by a contents company cost over $1200 to fix.

When it comes to DIY, stick to personal projects that provide you with a sense of accomplishment, but don’t put you at risk of doing more damage that you can’t reverse. When you call in a professional to fix that botched job, chances are it will be more expensive than if you had called an expert in the first place. The same goes for art conservation- Dont-Do-It-Yourself.