How to Remove Nail Polish from Clothes – Earth Breeze


How to Remove Nail Polish from Clothes

nail polish spilled on sleeve

Source: HalynaRom/Shutterstock

Nail polish can really make your look pop. It comes in a variety of shades, strengths, finishes and can even have glitter in it. It looks great on your nails and can help you make a statement with your outfit, but you certainly don't want it on your outfit. Having nail polish on your clothes is not a statement you would like to make. 

Yet nail polish can get on clothes, and it can be a nightmare to deal with. It's not exactly a basic stain, and it's not like a lot of the other things that can get on your clothes. Removing nail polish from clothing is one of the most challenging stain removal tasks,  so you might need a unique strategy to deal with it. Fortunately, we are here to help with that.

If you need some help getting nail polish out of clothes, keep reading to discover some helpful suggestions. 

Types of Nail Polish and Nail Polish Stains

Not all nail polish is the same. There are plenty of different types. While it all works in roughly the same way, nail polish might have different ingredients, have different viscosities and bind differently to different types of clothing. Sure, most of them are fundamentally the same, but there might be slight differences worth noting. Also, glitter gets everywhere, so be careful with glitter.

To this end, you should probably do some research to see if there are instructions that came with the nail polish, or you perhaps can find them on the web. It might be a slim chance, but there might be specific instructions. In this case, we generally suggest you follow those instructions before any of the methods here. 

Some types of nail polish will be easier to remove than others, and that's fine. What might be more important is how quickly you can catch the stain on your clothing. More often than not, wet nail polish is easier to remove than dry nail polish that's effectively been caked in. Worse yet, in some instances, nail polish can stain a piece of clothing, and then the clothing goes in the dryer. As with many stains, it might "bake in" to the garment, making it worse.

Note that we are generally talking about nail polish that is still wet or was wet when it came into contact with the clothing. If it is just tiny flakes of nail polish that chip off after time, just wash your clothes as usual. That's normal and not all that different from dust or small debris that is cleaned up all the time. 

Be Careful About Using Nail Polish Remover or Acetone

While it might seem intuitive, do not use nail polish remover without thinking first. While nail polish remover might very well get rid of the nail polish, it might not be so good for your clothes. In removing the nail polish, you might remove color or a finish in the case of a jacket, ruining your clothes in the process. If you have already exhausted all of your other options and the stain still persists, you can always turn to nail polish remover as a last effort. 

Additionally, nail polish remover can be pretty potent. In general, we recommend that you treat nail polish removers that contain acetone with caution, though you might need them to help with your accident. They can potentially eat holes in your clothing, destroying them for another reason. This is almost certain to happen if your clothing contains acetate, acrylic, triacetate or modacrylic. Check the care label, and if you still are unsure what the item is made of,  err on the side of caution.

How to Get Nail Polish Out of Clothes 

There are a few ways you can get rid of nail polish on your clothing. Unfortunately, simply tossing it in the washing machine won’t do you much good. Instead, you will need to select a specific washing option based on your situation and level of comfort.

Regarding what to use, it might depend on the clothing in question and what type of nail polish you are working with. Overall, the method will remain the same, as described below. Please note that if you are unsure and don’t want to risk damaging your garment, speaking with a dry cleaner or laundry professional is the best and safest option.

Dab Nail Polish Stains Away Using Nail Polish Remover

While we want to warn you about using it, nail polish remover can work in some circumstances and be the best solution. You might want to reserve it for your more durable clothes that can handle the harshness of the remover. Avoid using it on acetate and other delicate materials. If you’d like to try removing the polish with nail polish remover, we recommend the following:

  1. Start by trying to remove as much of the nail polish as possible by collecting it using tweezers, a dull knife or whatever you have on hand that won't damage the fabric or spread/press in the nail polish. Knowing how fast nail polish can set in, try to work quickly if the polish is still wet. The more nail polish you can remove before it dries, the better.
  2. Prepare your nail polish remover and double-check whether it contains acetone. Non-acetone nail polish remover is safer, but it can still cause damage. Additionally, check to see if your clothing is color safe and will not fade with the use of nail polish remover. If you don't know, dab a paper towel or cotton ball in nail polish remover and test it on an inconspicuous area. Give it some time to sit to make sure it doesn’t remove the color or eat holes in the fabric.
  3. Dab at the affected area with a clean cloth or paper towel dipped in the solvent. For smaller areas, use a cotton swab. You may wish to have some extra rags or paper towels under the garment to absorb the extra liquid. Do not just pour the nail polish remover onto the stain, as it will likely be too much and go everywhere, increasing the risk of damage.
  4. Bright cosmetics, like red nail polish, often leave a stain even once the excess product is removed from fabric. If there is still a stain on your garment but the nail polish is gone, try treating the area with hydrogen peroxide (assuming the garment will not be adversely affected) or, alternatively, rubbing alcohol. A stain remover may work as well. Bleach may be an option in some instances, but it is usually not the best option.
  5. Once all the nail polish is gone, double-check one last time and then wash and dry the article as normal. This step is essential to remove the cleaning solution from the garment.

nail polish splatter

Source: HalynaRom

Clean Using Rubbing Alcohol

Many people use rubbing alcohol as opposed to nail polish remover to treat a nail polish stain. It can be less harsh on materials and cause fewer adverse reactions, though it might not be as strong on some stains. While rubbing alcohol is effective, use it with care.

In any case, using rubbing alcohol is roughly the same as using nail polish remover following the steps outlined above, though you may use a little more.

Removing Nail Polish From  More Delicate Clothing

Try the following steps instead if you have special items or delicate clothing you don't want to experiment on and know you will have more difficulty with.

  1. Start by trying to remove as much of the nail polish as possible using a blunt instrument or tweezers. You could also gently scrape at the spot using your fingernail. Be careful to avoid harming the fabric in the process.
  2. Use a dry-cleaning solvent or nail polish remover mixed with a little bit of mineral oil. Apply it to the stain as needed.
  3. Wait for a while as the solvent works its magic. It needs to be set to be most effective. Once this is done, soak up the solvent with a cloth, pad or paper towel.
  4. Check to see if the nail polish has been removed. If so, launder as you usually would. If not, repeat the first three steps. If the nail polish is gone but you can still see a stain, try using rubbing alcohol or a gentle stain remover made for delicate items.
  5. After a few rounds of this, you might need to throw in the towel if there are still issues with stain removal. Too many tries can harm the fabric no matter how careful you are.

Note that unless you are confident about how well you can treat your delicate items, we suggest that you consider taking them to a specialist. A dry cleaner or laundry specialist will know what to do and have access to tools and chemicals you do not. 


Dealing with Larger Spills

A more significant spill is a true nightmare scenario, where you have spilled half a bottle or more on something like a pant leg or even upholstery in your home. This can look disastrous and might make you wonder if you can save the item at all. Don't lose hope. There are methods you can try:

  1. Start by using tweezers or another instrument to remove as much of the nail polish as possible by hand. If the fabric is durable enough, consider using an old toothbrush to gently scrub away some of the polish that’s settled into the fibers. This will make it easier to get rid of the rest of the stain and allow you to expose your clothing to less of the cleaning agent to remove stains.
  2. For the most part, the rest of the process will be the same as one of the other two, but do note that you might need to use more of the cleaning or removal agent for it to work. 
  3. If there is a lot of nail polish to remove from the stained area, take extra care to ensure you do not miss any spots. After you are confident that the nail polish has been removed, you should machine wash using cool water and dry the article as usual.

Use Laundry Detergent Sheets for a Powerful Yet Gentle Clean

Other Notes and Tips

  • Remember that you should not use nail polish remover on your clothes without thinking about it first and checking the care tag. It could very well work in removing the nail polish depending on the polish and fabric type involved. Depending on the quantity, it could also damage delicate fabrics and it’s not the best thing for your skin. 
  • While we know that you weren't trying to get nail polish on your clothes in the first place, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You might want to double-check how long it takes for your nail polish to dry and perhaps avoid long sleeves next time. You probably know what to do, but just remind yourself to be careful occasionally. It’s way too easy to make careless mistakes when you are in a hurry or not paying close attention to what you are doing.
  • While you may try to dab at the stain with a paper towel, tissue, cloth or cotton ball at first, you should be careful with this. The pressure could easily make the nail polish more ingrained in the fibers, making it that much harder to get out.  
    • With any rubbing or dabbing you might do with the stain, be sure to work from the outside in to keep the stain contained. 
  • The above methods aren't perfect, and you might not get the stain out completely. You should, of course, try, but do understand that longstanding stains might be permanent, or you could damage the clothing too much along the way. We simply can't guarantee perfection. For the absolute best chance of successfully removing nail polish from special or valuable pieces of clothing, we recommend speaking with a dry cleaner or another stain removal professional. 


Nail polish can look great, but it can be a huge problem if you get it on your clothes. Nail polish simply isn't like many other things that cause stains, such as food, grease and inks. There is a bit of work to do if a stain occurs, but there is a way to keep your clothes in perfect order. We know that one of the above methods can help in all but the worst cases. We hope you can make sure that the nail polish sticks around on your fingers but not your favorite clothes!

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