How to get nail polish out of clothes: 5 ways to remove varnish, with or without acetone

Spilled your nail polish on your favorite jeans or white t-shirt? You should learn how to get nail polish out of clothes asap, whether you're removing it from cotton, polyester, silk or another fabric

An assortment of pastel-colored nail polish paints on pink background
(Image credit: Getty/Svetlana Vorontsova (1187331030))

Chipped nail paint is a no-no, but if you're wondering how to get nail polish out of clothes, there's a high chance that attempting to tidy your talons hasn't gone to plan. Perhaps you've spilled your best red on your favorite white shirt, or knocked the bottle on your nicest pair of jeans... Whatever garment you've got dirty, this is one stain to remove pronto.

Even the best washing machines can struggle to budge nitrocellulose (the main ingredient in nail varnish), so we've got some tricks up our sleeve to lift that lacquer off your tops, pants, and other items of clothing. Surprisingly, removing nail polish from fabric doesn't always require any special detergents and many of the items you can use may already be in your home, so there will be no need to overspend on a ton of cleaning products – or on a trip to the dry cleaners for that matter.

How to get nail polish out of clothes

First things first, do.not.rub. Next, try one of these methods.

Shopping list

1. A washing machine
2. Refrigerator (opens in new tab)
3. Acetone nail polish remover (opens in new tab) or hairspray
4. Clean microfiber cleaning cloths (opens in new tab) or a clean rag
5. A soft-bristled toothbrush (opens in new tab)
6. Baking soda (opens in new tab)
7. Fresh lemons
8. Dish soap (opens in new tab)
9. Hydrogen peroxide (antiseptic) (opens in new tab)
10. Bug spray (opens in new tab)
11. A scrap piece of cardboard or dull knife
12. Tweezers (opens in new tab)
13. Paper towels (opens in new tab)
14. Isopropyl alcohol (opens in new tab)
15. Your choice of essential oil (opens in new tab)
16. Cotton swabs (opens in new tab)
17.
A spray bottle (opens in new tab)

1. Put your clothes in the freezer

No, we haven't gone bananas. If you want to improve your chances of removing that pesky polish stain, put your clothes in your fridge freezer. You'll essentially want to use the cold environment to harden the offending material, and that way it should either snap off or you can use tweezers to pick it bit by bit. Stain removal that's as cold as ice!

2. Pre-treat with nail varnish remover or hairspray

We all know how acetone works, whether you want to remove your last color or, smooth out gloopy nail polish. But you can actually use it as a prerequisite to washing clothes with nail polish on them also. Sure, it's a little strong-smelling, but you can use it with a good eco-friendly laundry detergent, on a cool setting for a relatively gentle wash.

Depending on the strength, acetone-based nail polish removers and hairspray can be pretty potent (and cause the color from your clothing to transfer/run), so it's best to test on an inconspicuous area of your affected article of clothing and keep the solvent away from children. We like Pronto 100% acetone on Amazon (opens in new tab) for fuss-free results. Or if you need to tame your tresses anyway, pop L'Oreal Paris Advanced Hairstyle Lock It Bold Control Hairspray (opens in new tab) in your Amazon basket.

Method:

  1. Remove excess nail polish: Wait for it to dry, then scrape off the excess with a bit of cardboard/blunt knife (or hand-pick it very carefully, making sure not to rip your fabric).
  2. Apply the nail polish remover or hairspray: Soak the microfiber cloth in the acetone-based nail polish remover or hairspray. First, check that the solution does not discolor the fabric by testing it on the seam, or a less visible part of the garment. Dab the stains with the cloth until it has faded. Do not scrub or wipe. Insert your garment into the washing drum (either separately, or as part of a color wash.
  3. Add your chosen laundry detergent: This could be a liquid laundry detergent, washing pods, or washing powder. We like Tide's coldwater pods on Amazon (opens in new tab)for energy-efficient cleaning. Choose the best washing machine symbol/setting to begin your laundry program and close the door to start cleaning. When using a washing machine, it's good to know that most washers can clean at low temperatures (30C/86F).

3. DIY a nail polish stain remover

Dish soap is the MVP when it comes to the best cleaning products in your cupboard. Aside from washing dishes, it can also strip nail polish from clothes. You don't need a fancy fragranced one for the job, so something like Dawn (opens in new tab), Ajax (opens in new tab) (both available on Amazon), or even a budget supermarket brand will challenge colored enamel. Add baking soda and lemon for cleaning and you've got a powerful trio of polish-removing products.

Method:

  1. Mix the baking soda, lemon juice, and dish soap in a bowl to create a paste.
  2. Pour the mixture directly onto the wet nail polish and gently scrub it with a toothbrush.
  3. Allow the mixture to sit for at least an hour to help it fully absorb.
  4. Hand wash your clothing (if you're washing silk or delicate items), or use your washing machine to eliminate the stain completely.

4. Use a shop-bought or DIY bug spray

Yep, the same stuff you use to get rid of flies can also be used to get your nail paint off your textile outfits. And, if you're unsure, one expert can vouch for this weird method.

'This may sound unconventional, but you should reconsider bug spray as one of your options for polish stain removal for clothes,' claims Jessica Oliver, author at American Two Shot (opens in new tab).

Method:

  1. Create a DIY bug spray using isopropyl rubbing alcohol (opens in new tab) and a few drops of essential oil (opens in new tab) (or buy a ready-made insect spray like OFF! insect repellent from Amazon (opens in new tab)). Apply a small amount onto the stained area and gently scrub it using the soft-bristled toothbrush. If you're using the homemade solution, you may want to use a cotton swab (opens in new tab) or spray bottle (opens in new tab) for controlled application.
  2. Continue spraying while simultaneously scrubbing the stained area until it gets lighter and until you reach your desired result.
  3. Afterward, rinse the stain with hot water and wash as normal. You can use the rest of the scented oil in your essential oil diffuser.

5. Treat nail polish on clothes with hydrogen peroxide

Nothing hurts more than a blob of polish on your blouse. So treat this fashion boo-boo with hydrogen peroxide. If you've ever had to clean a cut or graze, the chances are that you'll have this in your medicine cabinet.

'Chemically speaking, hydrogen peroxide (opens in new tab) (H202) is very similar in composition to water,' explains Dan Hawke, director, and co-founder, Good Clean Health Co (opens in new tab)

'Unlike traditional stain-removing products, hydrogen peroxide is completely non-toxic and doesn’t contain any chlorine, alcohols, acids, or other dangerous chemical additives. In fact, it biodegrades completely into just water and oxygen, making it environmentally friendly as well.'

'Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use around your entire family, from your children to your pets. It also leaves a light, clean scent behind, as opposed to the strong fumes that cleaners such as bleach leave behind. However, don’t let its gentle nature fool you - hydrogen peroxide is an excellent weapon against stains. It has the power to lift really tough substances out of your clothing.'

'Because hydrogen peroxide can have a lightning effect on fabrics, it’s always a good idea to test a small, less visible spot first. If you do start to see changes in the color of the fabric, simply run water over the area to prevent it from continuing.'

Method:

  1. Pour a small amount of hydrogen peroxide onto a clean cloth or paper towel and gently dab the stained area.
  2. Let it sit for 20 minutes.
  3. Wash the item as usual.

Does nail polish remover ruin clothes?

'You can use nail polish remover to help get rid of stubborn polish stains,' says Monica Simmers, global brand marketing manager, Tide (opens in new tab), Proctor & Gamble (opens in new tab).

'But, make sure your polish remover is acetone-based or just plain acetone, as some conditioners can leave an oily residue on fabrics. It’s also a good idea to make sure there are no dyes in your nail polish remover as these may stain your garments.'

'First, though, check your garment’s fabric content and care label. If your garment is made from acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, do not try to pre-treat with nail polish remover!' Adds Simmers.

Christina Chrysostomou
Christina Chrysostomou

Christina joined the Real Homes team as a digital writer in June 2021. Prior to this, she worked for Good Homes magazine and home interest events including the Ideal Home Show and Grand Designs Live. She lives close to Epping Forest and is spoiled for choice with lush green spaces, but loves her own English garden that adjoins her ground-floor maisonette, complete with a floral melange of roses, lavender, jasmine, and an apple tree.


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