Nail polish has been around since 3000 BCE when Chinese royalty used silver, gold, black, and red lacquer to adorn their nails. And it's likely that nail lacquer was staining clothes and furniture even back then (though Chinese royalty probably didn't have to clean up their own stains!).
While nail polish looks fashionable on our fingers and toes, it's not very popular when it stains our clothes, linens, couch cushions, and carpet. And unlike Chinese royalty, we have no one else to turn to for removing those nail polish stains from our clothes, furniture, or carpets.
- Working time: 1 hour
- Total time: 2 hours (for fabric to dry)
Before You Begin
Before you do anything about that nail polish stain, find and read the fabric content label of your garment or accessory. If your clothing has a fiber content of acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, do not try to remove the stain at home. Take your garment or bedspread to a professional dry cleaner. No home cleaning method for polish removal is safe for these fabrics. Fingernail polish remover (acetone) will dissolve these fabrics and create a hole that cannot be repaired.
What You'll Need
- Acetone or acetone-based fingernail polish remover
- Absorbent white cloths or paper towels
- Cotton swabs
- Rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solvent
- Hydrogen peroxide (if necessary)
- Old credit card or dull knife
How to Remove Nail Polish From Washable Clothes
For all washable fabrics except acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, you will need an acetone-based fingernail polish remover or plain acetone and absorbent white cloths or paper towels.
Test the Fabric
Find a hidden seam on the item's fabric, then apply a dab of acetone-based fingernail polish remover to make sure it does not change the color of the fabric.
Remove the Excess Fingernail Polish
Do not rub or attempt to wipe up the stain because that can push the polish deeper into the fabric or spread it even larger. If there is a big glob, use the edge of an old credit card or dull knife to lift it up as quickly as possible.
Dab Stain With Acetone
Place some white paper towels under the stain to absorb the acetone (it can ruin some furniture and stone finishes). Dip a white cloth or cotton swab in the acetone. Working from the outside of the polish stain toward the inside to keep it from spreading, continue to dab at the stain as it transfers from your garment to the white cleaning cloth or swab. Keep moving to a clean area of the towel or change to a new swab as the stain is absorbed. Keep working until all traces of the polish are gone.
Remove Traces With Rubbing Alcohol or Dry-Cleaning Solvent
If any color still remains, try using rubbing alcohol or a dry-cleaning solvent. Dab the alcohol or solvent on the remains of the stain with a cotton swab and blot away the color. If the garment is white, use a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to gently bleach away the color.
Launder the Garment
After the stain is removed, launder the fabric as usual to remove the cleaning solution.
How to Remove Nail Polish From "Dry-Clean-Only" Clothes
If the garment or fabric is labeled as dry clean only, the safest bet is to get it to a professional cleaner and point out and identify the stain as soon as possible. If you wish to try it at home, you will need dry-cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol.
Test the Fabric
Find a hidden seam on the garment, and dab dry-cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol on it to make sure it doesn't change the color of the fabric.
Remove Excess Nail Polish
Use an old credit card or dull knife to carefully remove as much of the excess nail polish as possible.
Dab Stain With Solvent
Dab the stain with dry-cleaning solvent applied to a cotton swab or clean white paper towel. Use a fresh swap and additional solvent as the color transfers to the swab. When finished, allow the solvent to fully evaporate.
How to Remove Nail Polish From Carpet and Upholstery
We never think it's going to happen, but bottles spill on carpets and cushions and sometimes even a wet nail ends up making a smear where it shouldn't. You can use the same techniques on most upholstery, but if the material is is silk or a vintage fabric, call in a professional cleaner.
Test the Fabric
On a hidden area, apply a dab of acetone to make sure the solvent will not change the color of the material.
Remove Excess Nail Polish
Use a dull plastic edge to lift away as much of the nail polish as you can. If the stain is still damp, you may able to remove a surprising amount of the nail polish. Be as careful as possible to prevent spreading the stain even larger.
Use an eye dropper or cotton swab to apply a few drops of acetone to a small area of the stain. Take extra care not to overwet the fabric. Immediately blot the area with a clean white cloth or paper towel, but be careful not to spread the stain. Clean cotton swabs may work better if the stain is in a delicate area. Continue applying acetone and dabbing until you've removed as much of the stain as possible.
Finish With Dry-Cleaner Solvent
If color remains, allow the spot to dry and treat the area with a dry-cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol. Keep the room well ventilated as you sponge the stain with a clean white cloth moistened with solvent. As stain is absorbed into the cloth, keep moving to a clean area of the cloth.
When the stain is gone, sponge the area with clean water and blot dry. Allow to air dry away from direct heat and vacuum to lift up the carpet or upholstery fibers.
Fingernail polish is designed to be a hard, durable color finish, so it's no surprise that it one of the more difficult stains to remove. But these chemicals do dissolve fingernail polish, and careful work can remove most, if not all, traces of stains from clothes, upholstery, and carpet. The key is to work slowly and with patience. It may take repeated treatments to remove all traces of the stain, and you need to be gentle to avoid damaging the fabric. Acetone and dry-cleaning solvents are highly toxic materials, so make sure to work with good ventilation and avoid skin contact.
Paepe, K De, et al. Repair of Acetone- and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate-Damaged Human Skin Barrier Function Using Topically Applied Emulsions Containing Barrier Lipids. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, vol. 16, no. 6, 2002, pp. 587–594., doi:10.1046/j.1468-3083.2002.00527.x