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Does Nail Polish Remover Stain Clothes?

I love a fresh coat of nail polish, don’t you? It’s a great tonic for us and our nails. With today’s nail polish removers, changing the shade is simple. We’re dealing with a liquid though and it’s easy to spill some. Usually, on whatever we’re wearing. Which raises the question: does nail polish remover stain clothes?

Nail polish remover can stain clothes and may cause a bleaching effect. Chemicals in the remover may leave residual traces on fabric that look like stains. To lift nail polish remover stains from clothing, treat the area with a stain remover. Then launder according to the garment’s instructions.

Accidents happen and it isn’t always easy to avoid spills. Now you know nail polish remover stains clothes, you can take steps to lessen any damage. Read on to find out how to treat stains caused by nail polish and nail polish remover.

Does Nail Polish Remover Stain Clothes

What Is a Nail Polish Remover?

Nail polish remover is a liquid used to remove artificial color, or polish, from nails. There are two popular forms of remover. Acetone-based or non-acetone-based. These two types of remover work in the same way and can both be used on natural nails. However, non-acetone-based nail polish remover was originally designed for use on artificial nails.

There are natural remedies for removing nail polish that don’t contain the harsh chemicals of the previous two. Although not specifically nail polish removers as such, they are everyday household items that can be used to take away the unwanted nail color.

Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover

Acetone is an organic solvent used to dissolve fats, rubber, oils, and plastics. It’s also used in paint strippers and can be found in most homes in the form of nail polish remover. When it’s in a nail polish remover, it works slightly differently. The nail polish isn’t dissolved; it’s transferred to a new surface.

Nail polish has a built-in adhesive that glues the color to the nails. Also known as lacquer, the polish forms a tight bond to the surface of the nail, giving it a thin coating of color. When you apply nail polish remover, the acetone eats away at the adhesive.

Once the bond between glue and nail is broken, the polish disintegrates. Color from the polish transfers to the cotton wool ball, or the tissue, you used to apply the remover.


  • Most effective way of removing nail polish
  • Colorless and evaporates quickly
  • Makes short work of removing nail polish containing glitter


  • Is a toxic substance
  • Has a distinctive smell which some people find odious
  • Can be harsh to nails
  • Can’t be used on artificial nails as it eats plastic

Non-Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover

As the name suggests, this version of nail polish remover is acetone-free. Instead of acetone, the main ingredient is normally ethyl acetate.

Ethyl acetate is a colorless mix of ethanol and acetic acid. Combined, these chemicals create a solvent with similar properties to an acetone remover.

Non-acetone nail polish removers are gentler and kinder to the skin. Although they don’t work as fast as acetone, they are safe to use on fake nails. They were originally introduced specifically for use on artificial nail extensions. The product is also safe for use with natural nails and has become the preferred choice for many people due to the less pungent smell.


  • Kinder to natural nails
  • Will not damage the plastic in artificial nails
  • Smells better than acetone-based nail polish removers


  • Not as effective as acetone-based removers
  • Struggles to remove nail polish containing glitter
  • May not remove darker nail colors as easily as acetone

Natural Nail Polish Removers

If you are concerned about using nail polish removers containing harsh chemicals, there are some natural alternatives you can consider.

Blend vinegar and lemon juice and rub onto your nails. This mix will break down the structure of the polish. As both items are acidic, they eat away at the lacquer coating, dissolving the adhesive in the nail polish as they work.

A slice of lemon used with soapy water can also be an effective nail polish remover. Simply soak your fingers in the water, then rub the lemon over your nails.


  • Nontoxic
  • Safe to use on natural or artificial nails
  • Less likely to cause stains on clothing


  • Unlikely to work as well or as quickly as the chemical-based solvents
  • The lingering aroma of vinegar or lemon could be off-putting.

Does Nail Polish Remover Stain Clothes?

How to get nail polish out of clothes

Depending on your choice of nail polish remover, the chances of getting stains on clothing varies. A natural solution made from vinegar or lemon is unlikely to cause severe staining. Acetone and non-acetone-based solutions are a different matter.

It’s not necessarily the acetone or alcohol content of chemical removers that cause staining. More often than not, it’s the other chemicals within the nail polish remover that are to blame.

To a certain extent, the fabric a garment is made from has a bearing on whether chemical nail polish remover will stain it. Some fabrics are prone to loss of color through a bleaching effect.

This happens when chemicals hit the fabric and cause the color to bleed out. Any resulting spots look like stains, when in fact, the color has been removed.

While it isn’t possible to repair damage caused by bleaching, removing residual stains caused by the nail polish remover can be possible. Let’s take a look at the different chemical-based removers and see how each option reacts with fabric.

Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover

Acetone can damage certain types of fabric. Things like acetate, modacrylic, and triacetate should be kept well away from the solvent as they are plastic-based. The acetone content of the nail polish remover will dissolve them.

Being colorless and quick to evaporate, acetone doesn’t cause stains. Other ingredients added to the nail polish remover can leave residue behind, which can cause staining. They can also cause a bleaching effect.

Bleaching is a particular problem with clothing that isn’t colorfast. Mainly because nail polish remover cannot distinguish between the color in clothes and color on nails, it will strip them both.

Jeans are notorious for bleeding color when they are washed, especially the first time. Because of this, they are not considered colorfast. Nail polish remover has a high probability of taking the color out of jeans. Try to keep nail polish remover away from your favorite denim.

Bedsheets are also at risk of damage from nail polish remover. Not only because of the risk of the sheets being bleached but depending on the fiber content, they could be badly damaged. Acetone is not a friend of silk or polyester. Always check what fabric your sheets are made from before getting nail polish remover anywhere near them.

Non-Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover

When it comes to staining, acetone and non-acetone removers are pretty similar. They both work in the same way, so they will have near identical effects on clothing.

Without the acetone content, nail polish removers tend to be less harsh on the fabric. Synthetic materials have a better chance of surviving a nail polish remover spill if there isn’t any acetone present. Non-acetone removers still contain other chemicals like conditioners and fragrances, which can and do cause staining on fabrics.

Non-acetone nail polish removers can still strip the color from garments. As with the acetone removers, take care to steer clear of any non-colorfast garments when removing your nail color.

How to Get Nail Polish Out of Clothes and Fabric

We all take care when using nail polish, but even the best of us can have the occasional mishap. Whether it’s from accidentally knocking over the bottle to drips from the brush, there are days when the polish would rather be anywhere but on our nails!

When nail polish comes into contact with your clothing or bedding, you need to act fast! The quicker you treat the spill, the better your chances of preventing permanent staining.

For both washable fabrics and dry-clean only, make sure you get as much of the nail polish off the material as soon as you can. While it’s still wet, gently dab the polish with a clean cloth. This should absorb most of the color sitting on the surface.

If you’re dealing with a dry-clean fabric, get the item to the cleaners as soon as you can. It’s best not to attempt to clean these garments yourself. Leave them to a professional.

Similarly, if your fabric is acetate, modacrylic, or triacetate, it’s safer to take it to a dry cleaner. Silks and wools can also be tricky to deal with at home. In all these cases, your best bet is your local cleaning outlet.

Washable fabrics, like cotton and linen, can be treated at home. Follow these steps next time you get nail polish on your fabrics to get as much out as possible.

Step 1

Check the fiber content of your fabric. If it has any synthetic content, avoid acetone-based nail polish remover.

Step 2

Place an old towel inside the garment or underneath the bedsheet to cover the area of the stain.

Step 3

Apply a small amount of nail polish remover to the soaked-in nail polish stain. Working from the outside to the center of the stain, gently blot with a sponge or soft cloth.

Step 4

Some of the nail polish will soak through the fabric to the towel underneath. Move the towel to a clean area frequently to ensure it can keep absorbing the polish and remover.

Step 5

When the stain has stopped being transferred to the towel, wash the garment or bedding as you would normally. You can also wash the towel as normal too.

Some fabrics can’t be washed or taken to the cleaners. The covers on upholstery can also suffer from nail polish spills. So can your carpet.

For upholstery and the covers on your sofa, mix a tablespoon of dishwashing soap with two cups of water. Don’t use hot water! The heat from the water will cause the polish to adhere more to the fabric. Room temperature or cool water is best.

Using the same blotting motion as with clothing, gently work the liquid into the stain from the outside to the center. Carpets can be treated in the same way.

The key to removing nail polish is to avoid rubbing at all costs. Rubbing can cause the polish to seep further into the fabric, making removal almost impossible.

Alternative Ways to Remove Nail Polish Stains

If you don’t have any nail polish remover at hand, there are some other products you can use to remove nail polish from fabric.


One of the unsung heroes of the bathroom cabinet is a can of hairspray. Not only does it tame your unruly tresses and eliminate static cling in clothing, but you can also remove nail polish stains with it.

Hairspray is one of those wonder products. Developed to be safe to use around fabric, it won’t bleach the color out of your blouse, dress, jeans, or carpet.

For this one, ignore the advice about acting quickly. You need to allow the nail polish to dry on the garment. Once it’s dry, liberally spray it with the hairspray. Again, patience is required because now you need to let the hairspray dry.

When both polish and hairspray are dry, you should be able to scrape off the nail polish. To remove any residual staining, wash your garment as normal. If it’s a dry-clean fabric, take it to the cleaners as soon as you can.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is essentially a cleaning fluid. The liquid usually contains 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water and can be used for many tasks. Unlike pure isopropyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol contains other ingredients that may cause stains.

When it comes to removing nail polish, you need to ignore the fact it’s called rubbing alcohol and use a blotting motion instead! The best way to apply the alcohol is on a cotton ball and gently blot the stain. Once your cotton ball is saturated with color from the stain, switch to a fresh ball.

Continue to blot with the alcohol until all the nail polish has been removed. Then, wash your garment as you would normally to lift any residual stains from the other ingredients. If your garment is not washable, get it to your local professional cleaner as soon as possible.


Some chemicals found in nail polish removers can cause stains or discoloration. Now you know how to treat them, you should find any residual marks that are easier to get rid of.

Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Have you used nail polish remover to get spills out of your clothing? How did you get on?