How To Tighten Stretched Canvas

Ahhhh! Nothing worse than opening a fresh pack of pre-stretched canvases from the art supply store (mmm… new canvas smell) and seeing your new canvas is hanging loose on the wood frame! What you need is a quick way to tighten that stretched canvas!


If you aren’t sure what on earth I’m talking about, here’s some context. 

I paint my custom pet portrait paintings on pre-stretched canvas. Instead of spending time cutting cotton canvas, stretching it, and stapling it onto a wood frame myself, I buy my canvases pre-stretched. Who’s got time to stretch their own canvases these days? Not this lady. 

And as a bonus, pre-stretched canvas also comes pre-primed and ready for paint! It’s any working mom’s dream.

But here’s what can happen. Over time, the painted canvas appears to be less taut than it was, or you might notice some sagging. (I’m still talking about the canvas here, people.) This can happen with new canvases, too, as I mentioned at the very beginning.

Either way, don’t panic! Try this little tip on how to tighten stretched canvas. It’s easy, quick, and works for me every time.Sometimes, store-bought canvases come with little wood or plastic keys. If you have these, great! You’ll find instructions galore online for how to use them.


But more often than not, the canvases I buy don’t come with these “keys” anymore. In THOSE instances, try this….



STEP 1: Turn your canvas over, with the raw back side facing up on a flat surface. It’s okay if the front side has already been painted—just make sure it’s dry!

STEP 2: Lightly spray problem areas with water. No need to over-saturate the canvas—a little misting is enough. Feel free to spread the water around with your fingers if needed.

STEP 3: Use a hairdryer to dry the canvas in the moistened areas. Canvas is made from cotton, and as you probably know from shrinking clothes in the dryer, cotton shrinks easily. It’s a bummer with clothes, but it works wonders with canvas!

STEP 4: Repeat the above steps as needed until you reach the desired tightness.

That’s it! Leave a comment below to let me know how it worked for you, or check out more pet portrait painting tips here.


30 thoughts on “How To Tighten Stretched Canvas”

  1. Thanks! Im new to painting and bought some canvases for a specific project only to find they were all loose. I was super sad since my budget couldn’t afford replacements, you’ve saved my project!

  2. Thank you… I received a painting online from Pier1 that was Burlap on a wooden frame. It was loose and I didn’t want to return it. I read your suggestion and tried it. It worked great. The Burlap is now tight and it didn’t hurt the painting. Thanks so much.

  3. Thank you. I have a painting that my mom had painted and somehow during transporting ot it had places that are stretched. I was afraid to do anything because it was painted on. Thank you for saving my mom’s painting.

  4. Excellent tip and it worked perfectly!!! Also turned face of painting towards mirror to view the sagging areas, for where to target a little more during process. Thank you so much!

  5. I thought this little painting was doomed for the garage. I tried your method and sure enough it worked…of course cotton shrinks with heat !!! Thank You Now if this would only work on my wrinkles I would be very grateful….LOL.

  6. I accidentally leant a canvas print against something and it is now a litre saggy in the middle do you think this would work

  7. I have been painting for decades on panel and am just now returning to canvas, so I’m a bit rusty on canvas fine points. I just stretched a linen canvas and found the next day there were ripples all along the centers but not at the edges. I had stretched it pretty tightly with canvas pliers, so I was surprised at this. But I didn’t want to take the staples out and restretch because I had the grain nice and even and stretching just the middles would ruin that. I tried your trick with the mist and hair dryer et voilà! perfectly stretched! I am very pleased to have found such a quick and elegant hack. Thanks!

  8. I’ve done this method several times but it really only works well with smaller canvases. I’ve been painting for over 30 years and now I paint much larger pieces. The problem I’ve had is, I’ve used the water spray method several times and once you spray your canvas it does tighten up but once fully dry it actually becomes worse than what it originally was. Is there any other tricks that work better for larger canvases?

  9. Hi Melissa, I just stretched a massive 8-foot long canvas and didn’t quite have the strength to get perfect tension. This trick completely saved the day. Thank you so much!

  10. Thank you very much. It made my day to see the 6 small canvases become nice and flat. I was not looking forward to restretching them. I researched other online and in books. I tried other things with not success. Truely grateful. Nancy Bonior

  11. Do you have a method to stretch canvas that has been painted. I painted some 12 x 12 canvas’s and now they are sagging in the middle. Thank you for any help you can provide.

  12. I have a Large canvas- my client wants a resin finish on a 3ft x 6ft. I’m worried about the weight. Do you think I should spray and tighten prior to this ?

    • My canvas pulled away from the frame after it dried from being sprayed with water. Any tips on stretching it. It is a finished painting. Any help appreciated. Thx!

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