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7 common factors of deterioration for frames

There are 9 agents of deterioration, however this information page is here to assist you in understanding problems specifically for picture frames.


Picture frames have a dual role of protection and display they are both decorative and ornamental, they have a unique role in separating the picture from the surrounding space yet also complimenting both. Over a period of time frames are susceptible to damage and I have identified 7 common factors that can be addressed from a professional conservator 

1. Pollutants. 


Dirt from years of display will build up on flat surfaces, environmental conditions within the home, central heating, wood burners and coal fires all contribute to layers of dirt that detract from the original surface colour and detail. This can be easily reversed by gentle cleaning and or a more concentrated chemical removal.

2. Incorrect temperature and environmental conditions


 Without being scientific, wooden frames move due to the moisture content within the environment they are stored or displayed, too dry (above a radiator) the wood will shrink, the surface delaminate and the mitred corners open. Too damp and the wood will swell causing delamination and buckling. As a conservator the recommended relative humidity is 55-65% and a stable temperature of 18 degrees, which is not always possible in a normal house. These common problems can be reversed but a stable environment should be maintained on completion. 

3. Physical force/impact


Impact damage, physical force and vandalism are catastrophic damages that often require restoration. Sometimes the damage is a reoccurring event due to a design fault or historic restoration. The ethical and cost considerations are proposed with maximum or minimum intervention proposals. The conservator and the client work closely on this type of project with frequent update. 

4. Loss of ornament 


Ornament loss can be caused by all or any of the previous three factors, some frames are more susceptible to loss than others. Late Georgian and Victorian composition frames are particularly vulnerable, but the loss is fairly straight forward. Either a mould is produced from and existing ornament or the ornament is reconstructed and printed out on a 3d printer or for larger pieces  a CMC cutter.

Carving whole frames or sections of moulding can also be reproduced. Insitju also hold a large collection of Georgian and Victorian box wood moulds to reproduce entire frames. 

5. Light and pollutants  


Light damage affects nearly every degradable material; paper, photographs, textiles, watercolours, canvases and wood. The best cure is to prevent it happening in the first place, by keeping vulnerable items in darker rooms and certainly out of direct sunlight.  DAMAGE IS OFTEN CAUSED BY A CUMILATIVE EXPOSURE AND THIS CAN NOT BE REVERESED. Some UV glass offers some protection but preventative conservation is the key.


The wall paper bleached by the light. The board with the “light’ word has protected the original dark colour. 


Backing boards can often seep or off gas causing a pollution within the frame. Oak frames and timber directly onto a paper backing can cause significant damage, a pollution of a different kind.

The far eastern silk embroidered image is shown in the frame, and then taken out and the silk turned over exposing the original bright colours.  

Light 2.jpg
Light 3.jpg

6. Pests 


The effects of infestation of burrowing beetles on timber can be devastating. Here a biological agent is causing physical damage. There are three types of pest in the UK, Borers - larvae of furniture beetles Anobium Punctatum, Shredders - larvae from carpet beetles and cloths moths, Tineola Bisselliea. Lastly, grazers that eat the surface layer, Silver Fish and book lice Lepisma Saccharine.  These can all be treated but prevention is the best course of action, high relative humidity and dampness will attract this type of pest. Restoration is possible when the timber has been completely eaten away the piece affected may have to be replace or injected with a stabilising solution that will repair the internal strength back to the timber.