How to Remove Nail Polish Stains from Clothes

Don't panic if you spill polish on your clothes while painting your nails—it can be remedied with a little soap and water.

Most at-home manicure mishaps—nails cut too short, rough cuticles, and smudging—are temporary, but spilling polish on your favorite piece of clothing can leave a permanent mark. "The best action you can take when you spot a polish stain on your clothes is to stay calm," says Patric Richardson of The Laundry Evangelist.

According to Richardson, panic can cause you to spread the stain or rub the fabric too aggressively. "Take a deep breath, and then start working," he says. Once you've relaxed from the initial shock of your spill, you'll find it's possible to sidestep nail polish stains in a few simple steps, using items you likely already have around the house.

woman painting nails red nail polish
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Test Your Technique

Before you start treating a stain, you should always test your cleaning technique and product on an inside seam to make sure it won't harm the fabric. "Delicate fabrics can usually withstand stain removers, but have trouble with scrubbing, so go gently," Richardson says.

Necessary Materials

Most polish removals don't require any special equipment, but you should have a few essentials handy to make the process go more smoothly. "The best tools are probably things you already have—laundry soap, cotton swabs, and nail polish remover," Richardson says.

  • Piece of paper (for lifting excess polish)
  • Cotton swabs
  • Oily soap
  • Nail polish remover
  • Towel

How to Clean a Nail Polish Stain

Once you've gathered your materials and have tested a small patch of fabric, you can begin the process of removing the stain from your clothes.

1. Remove Excess Polish

If you're dealing with a wet spill, start by removing any excess polish that hasn't soaked in. "Do not scrub the wet polish—you will push it deeper into the fabric, making it harder to remove," says Richardson. "Use something dull, like a business card or even a folded piece of paper, to gently lift as much as possible off of the fabric—you will see that a majority of the polish will come off."

2. Use Soap and Water

To treat the remaining spot, soak a cotton swab with an oily soap and work it onto the stain from the outside edge toward the center. Replace the swab with a clean one as it picks up the color from the polish, or else you'll risk making the stain worse. "The color will bleed into the stain solution, so if you use too much, the stain can spread, which is just more to remove," says Richardson.

3. Rinse Clean

"After the stain solution has been worked into the stain, rinse thoroughly by running a small stream of tepid water straight through the stain from the faucet," says Richardson.

Use Nail Polish Remover for Stubborn Spots

If stubborn marks remain after treating the stain with soap and water, it's time for something tougher—nail polish remover.

1. Check the Fabric for Acetate

Before using this technique, Richardson says to test it on a small patch of the fabric. "In rare cases, fabrics contain acetate—acetone will dissolve that fiber," he says. "Acetate is rare in modern fabrics but still shows up occasionally, and was very popular at one time, meaning that some vintage fabrics will have it for sure."

2. Treat the Stain

Once you're sure your clothing doesn't have acetate, put an old towel on the underside of the stain and use a cotton swab to dab on nail polish remover. The towel will absorb the polish color and stop the stain from spreading when the remover touches it. "Dab at the stain with the nail polish remover until it is gone, and then treat the stain with soap and water," says Richardson. "Change the piece of towel and the swab as they get too filled with color." Rinse with tepid water from the faucet.

How to Remove Dry Polish Stains

If you didn't notice your nail polish spill until it had already dried, it's not too late to salvage your fabric. "You often can remove dried nail polish with nail polish remover and then take out the residue with soap and water," says Richardson. "You might have to repeat the remover step a few times—definitely test the fabric first."

The laundry expert cautions against placing clothes with dried nail polish stains in the dryer until they're completely removed, as it will make them much harder to get out.

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