From isopropyl alcohol to laundry detergent, here are our top tips for removing acrylic paint stains from your clothes.

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painting with acrylic paints
Credit: Alena Axenova / EyeEm / Getty Images

Acrylic paint is beloved by both artists and novice crafters alike for good reason: It's quick-drying, easy to layer, and is water-based, making it safer to use around children and pets. Try as you might, paint is bound to land somewhere else other than your canvas—especially if little hands are involved. Learning how to remove acrylic paint stains from clothes could not only salvage a relaxing afternoon spent at the easel, but it could also save your favorite outfit.

Your best chance for removing errant splatters of acrylic paint is to act quickly. Otherwise, the stain could be near impossible to get out. For the truly determined, Ileana Tejada, a sales representative at Arch Art Supplies, a local shop in San Francisco, says that you could make the effort to chip away at the dried paint. "Unfortunately, acrylic paint is nearly impossible to completely remove once dry, but one can get close," she says. "Individuals can try to scrape as much [as they can] off of the fabric using a scraper, soap, and water, but the promise cannot be made that it won't ruin the fabric." In order to salvage your clothes, try one of these expert-recommended methods of removing acrylic paint—and be sure to act fast.

Apply Laundry Detergent

"You really do need to deal with this stain immediately," stresses Mary Gagliardi, Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert who is also known as "Dr. Laundry." "Stop what you are doing, remove the clothing and scrape away as much paint as you can. Next, apply liquid laundry detergent to the stain and gently (but quickly!) rub it in. You can also use a soft nylon brush like a toothbrush to give the fabric a quick scrub."

After applying detergent, Gagliardi says to rinse the stained item thoroughly in cold water and repeat the process as many times as needed to remove the paint. Be prepared to do it several times, depending on the severity of the stain. After the stain is removed, apply one last round of detergent and then put it in the washing machine, making sure to air-dry afterward. Gagliardi notes that due to the nature of this cleaning method, it won't do well on upholstery or carpet—so it's best reserved for your clothes.

If you can't start scrubbing immediately, you should still dab detergent on the offending spot. It will greatly improve the chances that you'll be able to remove the stain later. "It's always best to deal with the stain immediately," Gagliardi says. "If you can't (maybe you can't take your clothes off) at least getting some detergent onto the stain will increase your ability to get an acrylic stain out when you actually can get to it (up to an hour later)!"

Laundry detergent (and dish soap to the same effect) has been mentioned as a key component to the removal process, and for good reason: Gagliardi says that as long as the paint is still wet, the detergent's cleaning agents are able to remove the paint ingredients. "This is a difficult stain to remove, and it's mostly about technique (repeated application of detergent followed by rinsing) and timing (do this immediately and quickly)," she says.

Treat with Isopropyl Alcohol

According to Gagliardi, isopropyl alcohol is the only solvent appropriate for pretreating fabric stains, which makes it worth a shot. Tejada echoes this sentiment but says you can follow up with isopropyl alcohol as the best way to ensure the stain is removed from clothing. "We recommend immediately cleaning with soap and water and following up with alcohol and a toothbrush," Tejada says. "If possible, throw in the washer immediately after. If the paint dries, it's going to be extremely difficult to remove the paint, [so] individuals need to be quick in removing it from fabric."

Gagliardi adds that gentle scrubbing will aid in the removal process, and she recommends using either a soft nylon brush or a discarded toothbrush when applying detergent to the stain.

Avoid These Ingredients

You may have heard of window cleaner, vinegar, and ammonia as possible solutions to treat an acrylic paint stain. Gagliardi heavily counsels against these methods due to their high water concentration, which renders them rather ineffective on insoluble stains. And, if you're considering pairing vinegar with ammonia, she has one word: Don't. "Ammonia should never be mixed with other household cleaners," she says.

You should also avoid industrial solvents, such as acetone and paint thinner. While both, Gagliardi shares, will dissolve acrylic paint, they are meant for hard surfaces and will perform poorly on soft ones, like fabric. Plus, your washing machine is at risk of spontaneous combustion. "Even if you could use repeated applications of acetone to work dried acrylic off fabric, you now have a flammability issue on your hand," Gagliardi says.

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