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

tips for removing nail polish stains illustration

The Spruce / Adrian Mangel

Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Nail polish has been around since 3000 BCE when Chinese royalty used silver, gold, black, and red lacquer to adorn their nails. And nail lacquer was likely 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.

Stain type  Enamel
Detergent type  Any after treatment unless dry clean only
Water temperature Any after treatment unless dry clean only
Cycle type Regular after treatment unless dry clean only

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Old credit card or dull knife
  • Eyedropper (optional)
  • Vacuum

Materials

  • Acetone or acetone-based fingernail polish remover
  • Absorbent white cloths or paper towels
  • Cotton swabs
  • Rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solvent
  • Hydrogen peroxide (optional)

Instructions

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.

Warning

Acetone and dry-cleaning solvents are highly toxic materials, so make sure to work with good ventilation and avoid skin contact.

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.

  1. 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.

    testing nail polish remover on a hidden area of the garment
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  2. 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 as quickly as possible.

    removing excess nail polish off of a garment
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  3. Dab Stain With Acetone

    Place some white paper towels under the stain to absorb the acetone. 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.

    Warning

    Acetone can ruin some furniture and stone finishes so always protect your furniture while working on the stain.

    dabbing the stain with acetone
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  4. Remove Traces With Rubbing Alcohol or Dry-Cleaning Solvent

    If any color 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.

    Tip

    The key is to work slowly and with patience. Dab with gentle motions to avoid damaging the fabric

    dabbing peroxide on the nail polish stain
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  5. Launder the Garment

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

    laundering the garment
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  

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.

  1. 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.

    testing acetone on a hidden area of the garment
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  2. Remove Excess Nail Polish

    Use an old credit card or dull knife to carefully remove as much of the excess nail polish as possible.

    removing extra nail polish with a dull knife
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  3. 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.

    dabbing acetone on a nail polish stain
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

How to Remove Nail Polish From Carpet and Upholstery

We never think it's going to happen, but bottles of polish 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 vintage fabric, call in a professional cleaner.

  1. 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.

    testing acetone on a hidden part of the rug
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  2. 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.

    using a credit card to scrape away extra nail polish
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  3. Apply Acetone

    Use an eyedropper or cotton swab to apply a few drops of acetone to a small area of the stain. Take extra care not to saturate 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.

    applying acetone to the carpet
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  4. 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.

    using dry cleaning solvent
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  
  5. Rinse

    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 the carpet or upholstery fibers.

    vacuuming the rug after letting it air dry
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska  

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. It may take repeated treatments to remove all traces of the stain. 

Article Sources
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  1. 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