How to Remove Nail Polish Stains From Clothes, Carpet, Upholstery

Mom and daughter at home

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Nail polish has been around since 3000 BC when Chinese royalty used silver, gold, black, and red lacquer to adorn their nails. Of course, it is now available in every color imaginable. While it looks fashionable on our fingers and toes, it's not as popular as a stain on our clothes and linens, couch cushions, and carpet.

Before You Tackle Stains

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 the fabric and create a hole that cannot be repaired.

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 clothes or paper towels. Be sure that the acetone does not change the color of the fabric by testing it on a hidden seam.

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.

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, keep dabbing as the stain transfers from your garment to the white cleaning cloth or swab. Keep moving to a clean area of the towel or a new swab. Keep working until all traces of the polish are gone.

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. After the stain is removed, launder the fabric as usual to remove the cleaning solution.

If you have a disaster with acrylic nail glue, follow the recommended steps to remove the glue.

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 choose to try to remove the stain at home, first test the dry cleaning solvent on a hidden seam to be sure that it does not change the color of the fabric. Slowly follow the steps for removal from washable clothes.

tips for removing nail polish stains illustration
The Spruce / Adrian Mangel

Carpet and Upholstery

We never think it's going to happen, but bottle spills happen on carpets and cushions and sometimes even a wet nail ends up making a smear where it shouldn't be. 

For nail polish stains on the carpet, if there is a blob, use a dull plastic edge to lift it up and away from the fibers. 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. Have a clean, white cloth or paper towel ready to blot immediately. Keep repeating the steps until no more stain is visible or can be removed. As long as the color is transferring from the carpet to the paper towel, there is more cleaning needed.

If color remains, allow the spot to dry and treat the area with a dry cleaning solvent. Keep the room well ventilated and sponge the stain with the solvent on a clean white cloth. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the stain is absorbed into the cloth to prevent transferring the color back to the carpet.

Finally, 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 carpet fibers.

Use the same techniques on most upholstery. Take extra care not to overwet the fabric. If the stain is small, use cotton swabs instead of a larger cloth to prevent spreading. Always test the acetone or dry cleaning solvent on a hidden spot to make sure that the fabric doesn't change color. If the upholstery is silk or vintage, call in a professional cleaner especially if you need more stain removal tips.