Why sealing your watercolor painting with hairspray will ruin it

What is the best way to ensure your artwork’s longevity and safety after being finished. Will hairspray suffice for this?

You shouldn’t use hairspray if you want to conserve the painting for 5 years or more. Hairspray is really good to fixate, but as it’s water-soluble it will lose its effect over time because of air humidity. Framing a watercolor painting and keeping it out of the sun is enough to conserve it.


When to use hairspray

There is a time and a place for hairspray when trying to conserve watercolor paintings. You can use hairspray on artwork that’s not meant to last an eternity or be sold.

If the paintings will only be displayed for a year or two, you can use hairspray on practice pieces or school projects.

It is not necessary for watercolors, as they are pretty durable as long as they are not exposed to constant sunlight.

For mediums like graphite, hairspray can be quite useful as it helps a lot to fixate it. But similar to watercolors, only use it for practice pieces or ones not meant to be sold or last for long.

How hairspray can ruin your painting

This might come as a big shock to you, but hairspray isn’t made to seal artworks. It’s just meant to fixate hair. But not forever.

Hairspray is water-soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. It’s quite convenient when taking a shower, but we don’t like it when painting with watercolors.

Through air-humidity, the hairspray will lose its effect and only leave the negative side effects behind, which I’ll talk about now.

Since hairspray contains so many different oils and products that can in the long run adversely affect watercolor chemistry, alter the coloration of pigments, and destroy the molecular structure of the binders used, it really can ruin the painting.

When applied, it could cause more harm than good. 

Generally, I would not recommend using hairspray to preserve watercolor paintings, due to the risks involved.

If you’d like to learn how to make a watercolor swatch click here.

How to conserve a watercolor painting properly

In general, you don’t need to seal your watercolor painting with any varnish. It’s not necessary.

To conserve and protect your painting you should follow these steps:

1. Framing it

Buy a frame with UV-protected glass and place your artwork in it. Sunlight harms watercolor paint and watercolor paper, which is why UV protection is so important.

2. How to protect it from molding

It’s very important to space the painting off the glass. Otherwise, moisture will form, which will cause the paper to expand, mold, or stick to the glass, ruining the painting.

A good spacing tool would be an archival mat border. Here you can see what that would look like:

Also see: Does watercolor paint dry quickly?

3.Protect it from sunlight

As mentioned before, direct sunlight can damage watercolors. You should never hang a painting in direct sunlight. Try to hang it in a place where it will be in the shadows for 90% of the day.

It is best to let any light from the sun reflect off a wall before falling on the artwork, even with UV-protected glass.

Essential steps before framing a painting

You should sign the painting before framing it and never touching it again. 

In fact, I would advise you to sign any work you produce, but it’s especially important to sign paintings you frame.

Eventually, a family member might find a couple of your old paintings in the attic, not knowing who it’s from since you didn’t sign it, and sell it for five dollars at a garage sale.

It’s not that they don’t value your art, but that they didn’t even know it was yours. For all they know, it was bought at a garage sale for five dollars.

What I want to say is: Sign your art! Anonymity is rarely a selling point in the art world.

It’s best to sign your watercolor paintings with pencil. Also see 4 Creative Ways to Sign Your Watercolor Painting in 2021.

Perhaps you could even print your name on the back of the paper or at least clearly write it down, so everyone knows exactly who signed the artwork. 

This would only be a small step, but an important one nonetheless.


You shouldn’t use hairspray, if you want your painting to last a long time. It will be sufficient to frame it with a UV protected glass and an archival mat border to protect it from sunlight and humidity. Don’t hang your artwork in areas with too much sunlight, and don’t forget to sign it.

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