How to Remove Paint Stains From Clothes, Carpet, and Upholstery

Blue paint removed from white clothing with dull knife next to paint set

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Paint stains can involve water-based paint (latex, acrylic craft paint, and finger paints) or oil-based paint (enamels, art oils, or model craft paint). Unfortunately, these stains are usually harder to get rid of than paint fumes in a room. With either type of paint, follow these steps to remove the paint from clothes before it dries. If you can't treat the stain right away, keep the area wet until you can. These techniques are for washable fabrics. For dry-clean only garments or home accessories, take them to a reputable dry cleaner immediately.

Water-Based Paint

If there is a big blob of paint, use a dull knife or spoon to remove as much of the excess paint as possible. Do not use a rag or paper towel because you will push the paint deeper into the fabric fibers.

As quickly as possible, flush the paint from the fibers from the wrong side of the fabric with a forceful stream of warm water. Next, work a solution of liquid laundry detergent and water into the stain, soaping and rinsing until the stain is removed. You may need to repeat this several times. Then wash the garment as usual.

If the paint has dried, you may be able to remove the paint with a bit of rubbing alcohol. Use a cotton swab and work from the outside of the stain toward the inside. Use a dull knife or the edge of a credit card to gently scrape away the paint as it loosens from the fibers. This works best on "new" paint stains that have not been set by heat. Or try a commercial paint remover such as OOPS! and follow the instructions carefully.

Water-based paint scraped off white shirt with dull knife closeup

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paint must be removed from clothing while it is wet. If it dries, it is nearly impossible to remove, so keep it wet until you can start cleaning.

If the paint label lists a specific paint thinner to use, start with that or some turpentine. Working from the back of the fabric, place the stain over a thick pad of paper towels or old white rags. Wet the area with paint thinner, and tap the area with an old spoon or scrub brush to force the paint out. Keep changing the paper towels underneath to a clean area as the paint is absorbed into the towels. Be patient, as this will take time.

Once the paint is removed, saturate the area with liquid detergent and work it in well. Submerge the stain into the hottest water temperature recommended for the fabric and let it soak overnight. Scrub again with some detergent and launder as usual.

Oil based paint stain on gray sleeve soaked with paint thinner and spread by spoon

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Paint Stains on Carpet

It's a bit more difficult to remove paint from carpet because you can't toss it in the washer. Again, the key is removing the paint as soon as possible.

Water-Based Paint Stains on Carpet

For fresh paint stains that are still wet, use a dull knife, edge of a credit card, or spoon to lift any excess paint away from the carpet fibers. Then use a clean wet paper towel or white cloth to blot—not rub—away the remaining paint. Keep moving to a clean area of the towel and don't stop until the paint is gone.

For paint drips that have dried on the carpet, mix some hot water and bit of laundry or dish detergent into a solution. Use a toothbrush or soft brush to apply the mixture to the paint stain. Let it sit for five minutes to soften the paint. Grab the dull knife and begin to scrape away the paint. Blot with a clean cloth often and apply more hot water and detergent as you go. Don't rub, or you may smear the stain and make it worse.

If the paint is still not softening, consider using a handheld clothes steamer to add a boost of heat. Do not use an iron because it can be too hot and actually melt the synthetic fibers. Just be patient and keep working. Allow to dry thoroughly and then vacuum to lift fibers.

Oil-Based Paint Stains on Carpet

Oil-based paint is much more difficult to remove. If the drip is wet, blot with a clean white cloth or paper towel to absorb as much paint as possible. Use a light touch and try not to push the paint deeper into the carpet. Use a handheld steamer to keep the paint damp and soft. Use a heavy needle or straightened paper clip to separate carpet fibers as you keep blotting, blotting, and blotting.

Next, dip a clean white cloth in acetone, paint thinner, or turpentine to blot away the remaining paint. Be sure to test the cleaner first in a hidden spot to be sure that it doesn't remove the color from the carpet. Work slowly and be patient.

As a last resort, let the stain dry and use tiny sharp scissors to trim away stained fibers. Cut as little as possible, or your carpet will look bare.

Red oil-based paint stain on gray carpet wiped with paper towel and paint thinner

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Remove Paint Stains From Upholstery

Start with the same dull knife to remove the drips of paint. Keep in mind that you must know what type of fabric you have on the sofa before you can move to the next step. Take a look under the sofa cushions or the fabric skirt to locate a tag with letter codes that indicate how to clean the furniture. Here's how to decipher the code:

  • W: Sofa can be cleaned with a water-based detergent.
  • S: Sofa must be cleaned with a solvent-based cleanser (such as denatured alcohol) or dry-cleaned.
  • WS: Sofa can be cleaned with a water-based or dry-cleaning solvent.
  • X: Sofa can only be cleaned by vacuuming or by a professional cleaner.
  • O: Sofa is made from organic materials that require cleaning with cold water methods only. Do not use heat.

These codes will tell you what you can and cannot use to remove either type of paint stain. Obviously, you need a solvent to clean up an oil-based paint on any type of fabric. If you have any questions, it's best to call a professional—especially if you need more stain removal tips.