If you're reading this, you might be in a spot of trouble... That ‘spot’ being some spilled or smeared nail polish on your clothes or another piece of fabric you value. Unfortunately, nail polish can be one of the worst things to get on your clothes (or practically anything). It dries fast, leaves a noticeable mark, and nail polish stains can be tough to get out.
However, don't panic; there are ways to remove nail polish from clothes and fabric. You don't need to throw everything away. Here are all the basics you need to know to get you started:
Yes, You Can Remove Nail Polish Stains from Fabric
It may seem hopeless when the stain first appears, or you first discover it, especially if you find that the usual washing methods are not working. Nail polish dries pretty quickly, after all. However, the stains are not necessarily permanent. You just need the correct solvent, the right method, and a bit of patience. Before anything else, take note of the type of fabric that's stained. We promise that much worse has been cleaned from that type of fabric before, but being mindful of the fabric content could prevent you from damaging your clothing or upholstery. The same goes for the type of nail polish. If the will is there, you can remove the stain except in the most extreme circumstances. Keep in mind, though, that to get nail polish out of clothes made from delicate materials like silk or wool, you may be better off getting help from a stain removal professional or a dry cleaner.
Successful Stain Removal Does Depend on a Few Things
You can clean it up, but it's not a perfect science, and you will need to find the right option. If you have regular nail polish, then most standard methods will work, but you should also check to see if there is anything special about your brand. Gel polishes cannot be removed the same way you would remove a regular nail polish stain, so keep this in mind if the stain happened during a gel manicure. If there are instructions on removal on the care tag or on the brand’s website, you should follow those instructions instead of what you will find here, at least at first. Any instructions provided by the manufacturer will likely be safer and more effective than generic removal tips.
What you should do will also depend heavily on the type of fabric and item you are trying to clean. We have some specific notes and tips on what you should do for various items later in the article.
And it can also depend on the integrity of the item of clothing or spot involved. Is the fabric liable to tear or get damaged at just the slightest bit of pressure or chemical interaction? If so, then you might have a tougher time with things. While it is possible to remove stains from delicate fabrics in most situations, you may damage the material in the process. So you'll have to balance your hopes and priorities there.
How to Do It
Ok, so removing nail polish stains is possible, but what do you need to do? What steps do you need to take? Just follow these expert tips, and in most cases, you should be all set:
- Try to remove as much excess nail polish as possible beforehand. You might want to use tweezers, a dull knife, or another instrument that will not damage the fabric. You may even be able to scrape some of the dried nail polish off with your fingernail. You will likely not be able to remove every bit of the nail varnish using this method, but it will make the process easier. If you are dealing with wet polish, give it some time to try before trying to remove it. Trying to wipe it up while setting will most likely just cause it to smear.
- Lay out the article or item as well as you can. Try to put a paper towel or white cloth you don't care about below the article or under the affected layer to prevent it from spreading.
- Check to see if your fabric is color safe or not. If it is, then proceed. If not, then you may want to get professional help unless you want to risk the fabric. Prepare an appropriate solvent for your fabric. This could be a nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide (if the garment is white). If you plan to use nail polish remover, we recommend looking for a non-acetone nail polish remover rather than one that is acetone-based, since acetone is more likely to damage the fabric.
- You can use a cotton swab, paper towel, cotton ball, or a clean white cloth to dab the solvent and then lightly dab or treat the affected area. This may take some time, and you may want to let the solvent work for about ten minutes and then check if it is working.
- In some cases, you can use a mixture of dish soap (or laundry detergent) and water to get the rest of the stain out after you've applied the solvent. You only need to treat the affected area. Alternatively, you may want to use rubbing alcohol at this point to see if that helps the stain. Remember to dab at the stain rather than scrubbing, since scrubbing will push the polish deeper into the fabric.
- If the stain persists, you might need to repeat the process a few times to make progress. Not all stains are equal, and some require more patience and effort. You might need to wait longer for the solvent to work.
- If it is an article of clothing or something you regularly wash, you should launder it as you usually would and check to see that the stain is completely gone. Use cool water and your regular laundry detergent. If the stain disappears after laundering, then you're all set!
Differences for Fabrics
While the above method will work in most cases, with some slight variations, to get the best results, consider the following notes:
- If you are trying to get nail polish out of carpeting or similar, the first thing you should know is that you have to work fast. You also might want to use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to treat the area. Avoid bleach and harsh cleaning products. After treatment, use clean water on the stained area and then vacuum it after it dries.
- Getting nail polish off leather or suede can be a bit easier in that it won't bind to the leather so tightly, but you do have to be extra careful. See if you can get it off without the use of a potentially harmful solvent. It's doable if you act quickly enough or are patient. We recommend blotting the spot with rubbing alcohol and a soft microfiber cloth for the best results.
- For cotton or everyday clothes, you can probably follow the instructions above as stated. Of course, double-check care tags to make sure there isn't something special about the clothing you need to consider.
- Silks and other delicates can be tricky. You may want to have them dry cleaned or get professional help. If you're going to work on it yourself, try to be careful with how many solvents you use, the strength of the solvent, etc. You may not wish to wash the item afterward and instead let the solvent completely evaporate.
You Can Get Professional Help
Unfortunately, not every stain can come out with your own resources. After enough tries, time, and effort, you need to call it a day. That is not to say that you should completely give up.
You can get professional help to clean most fabrics. Depending on the job, it can be expensive, so you will have to ask yourself if it is worth it, but professionals will have tools and methods you don't have access to. Dry cleaning can work wonders on stains, and other services can come to your home if needed. Perhaps they should be a last resort, but they are available.
General Tips for Nail Polish Removal
While cleaning up the problem or treating your clothes as best as you can, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- You should be cautious if you are using nail polish remover, especially nail polish remover containing acetone. It can dissolve some materials and ruin the color of others. It can also be somewhat toxic if you are not careful.
- Double-check to see what materials the item is made of. You can locate this information on the care label. If it is made of modacrylic, acetate, or triacetate, do not use anything containing acetone. If you are not sure, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than risk ruining the fabric. Avoid using acetone and other harsh solvents on delicate natural fabrics, like wool and silk, as well.
- Acetone can also damage some types of furniture and finishes. Try to lay a towel below the item you are cleaning to minimize damage.
- Dry cleaning solvent and rubbing alcohol are nothing to sneeze at either. We encourage safety, and you might want to invest in some gloves to keep your hands safe.
- Remember that you can do a quick spot check on an unnoticeable part of the item if you aren't sure about whether it will ruin the color. Simply apply a small about of the cleaner in an inconspicuous area, and wait to see if it removes the color.
- If you are wiping or blotting the stain, take care when doing so. We recommend doing so from the outside of the stain inward and with minimal pressure. This helps avoid spreading the stain. We also recommend using a clean cloth, so you don’t inadvertently transfer another stain to your garment or upholstery.
- Even with all the above and professional help, there might still be some stains, likely baked in heavily over time, that will not disappear. Red nail polish in particular is notoriously difficult to remove completely. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done, but hopefully, the treatments diminish or minimize the stain. You can always get creative in this situation and use a patch or pin to cover up the lingering stain.
- The best way to deal with nail polish stains, of course, is not to let them happen in the first place. Try to understand the cause of the spill and prevent it from happening again in the future.