How to Get Nail Polish Out of Just About Everything

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If nail polish has gotten somewhere other than your manicure, don't panic. Follow these expert tips to remove even the most stubborn stains from clothing, carpet, couches, and more.

Those little bottles of nail lacquer have a way of making the biggest messes. The combination of pigments, hardeners, and solvents is a formula for potential disaster that’s on par with paint stains. But a nail polish mishap doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. If you know what the experts do, you can learn how to get nail polish out of everything from clothing to carpet to furniture.

“The first thing to do is to remove as much of the excess as possible,” says John Mahdessian, president of Madame Paulette, a professional cleaning and restoration service in New York City. “Absorb as much as you can with a cotton swab.” Working with a small tool will keep you from spreading the polish and making the stain larger. Read on for step-by-step instructions to remove fresh or dried nail polish stains, and then find out how to remove stains of all types—including coffee stains and red wine stains—from nearly anything.

Infographic explaining how to remove nail polish from carpet.Emma Kumer/rd.com

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How to get nail polish out of carpet

The most common place that nail polish unintentionally ends up? The floor. And if you’ve ever dripped any onto your carpet—or (gasp!) knocked over a bottle—you know the panic that sets in when you’re not sure how to get it out. “I’d recommend treating a nail polish stain on carpet using rubbing alcohol or dry cleaning solvent, if you have it,” says Jennifer Ahoni, a senior scientist at Tide. Read on for the specific steps you’ll need to follow to ensure the best chance of success.

What you’ll need

  • Spoon or putty knife
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • White cloth or paper towel
  • Towel

how to get nail polish out of carpetAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

Step-by-step directions

  1. Before you start, take a look at your carpet’s content to see if it’s safe to proceed. “If the item’s material contains acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, do not use a solvent,” says Ahoni. “Instead, contact a professional for cleaning.”
  2. If your carpet doesn’t contain those materials, your next job is to make sure the particular carpet stain remover you’ll be using won’t cause discoloration. To do this, soak a white cloth or paper towel in your solvent and spot-test for colorfastness on an inconspicuous part of the carpet. If no color comes off on the towel, you’re good to go.
  3. Carefully remove as much excess nail polish as you can, using a paper towel, spoon, or putty knife. “Do not rub the stain into the fabric,” says Ahoni, “as this will only spread the nail polish into the carpet’s fibers.”
  4. Add dry cleaning solvent or rubbing alcohol onto a cloth or paper towel, or, for particularly tough jobs, directly onto the stain.
  5. Gently blot the stain with the cloth or paper towel in a circular motion, from the outside in, to keep the stain from spreading, suggests Ahoni. As you dab and blot, the nail polish will be transferred from the carpet to the cloth.
  6. Repeat until the stain is removed. If the cloth starts to get dry, you can add more solvent, as needed. When done, pour enough warm water on the spot to remove any excess solvent, and dry using a towel or paper towel.

Dealing with a different but equally worrisome stain? Here’s how to remove red wine stains and coffee stains from carpet. You can also browse through the best carpet stain removers to see if they’ll fit your needs.

Can I use hair spray?

According to The Maids, hair spray may also get nail polish out of carpet, without bleaching or changing the color of the fabric. Spray it on the stain, let it dry, and then scrape away the residue. Hair spray may work better on hard surfaces like tile and hardwood, as well as on all stains that are already dried.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide?

You can consider using hydrogen peroxide as well, but test it out first to ensure it won’t change the color of your carpet.

Can I use nail polish remover?

“Yes, you can use nail polish remover to help get rid of stubborn polish stains,” says Ahoni. “Make sure your polish remover is acetone-based or just plain acetone, as some conditioners can leave an oily residue. It’s also a good idea to make sure there are no dyes in your nail polish remover, as these may stain your carpet.”

Can I use vinegar?

Vinegar is often used as a household cleaning product. It may also help remove stains, but it’s not the best solution here. “Vinegar is much milder and is safe to use on almost any surface of the home when cleaning, but it won’t do much to lift nail polish, especially if it’s dried,” says Jennie Varney, brand manager for Molly Maid, a Neighborly brand. If you’re looking for more carpet cleaners, check out these homemade carpet cleaner options.

Infographic explaining how to remove nail polish from clothes.Emma Kumer/rd.com

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How to get nail polish out of clothes

Accidentally drip some polish on your clothes? Start by pre-treating the stain. But don’t reach for your regular laundry stain remover. Ahoni recommends using a pre-treater that you’d use to remove stains from a non-washable fabric such as carpet rubbing alcohol or a dry cleaning solvent. Yep, it’s strong, and that level of strength is exactly what you’ll need for this tricky stain.

What you’ll need

  • Cotton swab or spoon
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Carpet rubbing alcohol
  • Laundry detergent

How to remove nail polish from washable clothing

  1. Always check the fabric content label first before attempting to remove any stains. If the item’s material contains acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, or if it’s a delicate or dry-clean-only fabric like satin or silk, do not try to pre-treat with solvents or nail polish remover. Instead, take it to the dry cleaner as soon as possible, says Ahoni.
  2. Before using your stain remover of choice, spot-test the material. Simply soak a white cloth or paper towel in your solvent, and test for colorfastness on a part of the garment that doesn’t show. If no color comes off on the towel, you can safely use it.
  3. Do not rub the stain, as this will only spread the nail polish into the garment’s fibers. Carefully remove as much of the excess as possible with a cotton swab or spoon.
  4. Soak the cloth with the solvent or rubbing alcohol. If the stain is really tough, you can put it directly on the stain as well.
  5. Blot the stain with the cloth in a circular motion, from the outside in, to keep the stain from spreading. Use dabbing motions to transfer the nail polish from your garment to the cleaning cloth.
  6. Once you’ve completed these steps, you can move to machine washing, using a high-quality detergent such as Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X. For extremely tough nail polish stains that are dried or dark-colored, you may also want to try a presoak first in a solution of water and one tablespoon of detergent. Combine the water and detergent in a large bucket, place the garment in the solution, and let it soak for at least 20 minutes, or overnight if it’s really bad.
  7. Next, wash the item in the warmest temperature as recommended by the garment’s care label.
  8. Repeat steps 4 through 7 if the stain remains. Do not dry the item until the stain has been removed.

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how to remove nail polish stainsAlaina DiGiacomo/rd.com

How to get nail polish out of delicate fabrics

If nail polish happens to get on a more delicate fabric like satin, silk, or wool, this is when people really tend to freak out. But you shouldn’t because you can still lift the stain. (The same goes for removing makeup stains, by the way. Whew!) “For delicate items like silk and wool, avoid using nail polish remover or another solvent to treat a nail polish stain,” says Ahoni. “Your safest bet may be to consult a professional dry cleaner. If you want to attempt this at home, make sure you consult your fabric care label.” If the label says “dry clean,” this is usually just a recommendation to take the item to a dry cleaner. “Dry clean only,” on the other hand, means that the piece of clothing is very delicate, and it’s safer to take it to a professional, explains Ahoni. Still want to give it a go at home? Follow the steps below.

Step-by-step directions

  1. Spot-treat the nail polish with cool water and a diluted solution of a gentle detergent designed for delicates like Studio by Tide, suggests Ahoni. “Test the solution on a part of the garment that’s hidden or concealed, and if there is no adverse reaction, blot the stain with the solution before soaking.” Be particularly gentle when spot-treating silk, as rubbing one spot too much can lighten the fabric.
  2. For most silk items, it is best to hand-wash them. Use a detergent specially designed for delicate fabrics.
  3. For machine-washable silk and wool items, wash on the gentle cycle using a fabric-appropriate detergent.
  4. If the stain remains, repeat these steps or quickly consult a cleaning professional.

How to get dried nail polish off of clothes

Dried nail polish is much harder to remove, so act fast if there’s a spill, says Varney. But if you can’t, for whatever reason, or you discover the stain later, “use the same guidance for treating dried nail polish that you use for wet nail polish,” says Ahoni.

Step-by-step directions

  1. First, use a plastic putty knife to gently scrape off what nail polish you can. (Be gentle so you don’t rip or otherwise damage the fabric.)
  2. Always check the fabric content label before attempting to remove any stains. If the item’s material contains acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, or if it’s a delicate or dry-clean-only item, do not try to pre-treat with solvents or nail polish remover; instead, take it to the dry cleaner as soon as possible.
  3. If you are using a solvent for stain removal, always test for colorfastness first. Soak a white cloth or paper towel in your solvent, and test it on an inconspicuous part of the garment. If no color comes off on the towel, pre-treat the nail polish stain.
  4. Do not rub the stain. This will embed the nail polish into the garment’s fibers.
  5. Blot the stain with the pre-treated cloth in a circular motion, from the outside in, to keep the stain from spreading. Use dabbing motions to transfer the nail polish from your garment to the cleaning cloth.
  6. Once you’ve completed these steps, it’s time for the washing machine and a high-quality or heavy-duty detergent. For extremely tough nail polish stains, you may also want to try a presoak first in a solution of water and one tablespoon of detergent.
  7. Wash in the warmest temperature recommended by the garment’s care label.
  8. If the stain persists, repeat steps 5 through 7 before drying.

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How to get nail polish off a couch or upholstery

“I’d recommend treating a nail polish stain on upholstery following the same guidance to remove it from carpet,” says Ahoni. Some people may consider using a nail polish remover in this instance as well, but be sure that you spot-test it first.

What you’ll need

  • Spoon, putty knife, or paper towel
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dry cleaning solvent
  • Acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Towel

Step-by-step directions

  1. Always determine your upholstery’s content before attempting to remove any stains. If the item’s material contains acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, do not use a solvent. Instead, contact a professional for cleaning.
  2. If you are using a solvent for stain removal, test for colorfastness on an inconspicuous part of the upholstered item. If no color comes off on the towel, you can safely pre-treat the nail polish stain.
  3. Remove as much excess nail polish as you can with a paper towel, spoon, or putty knife. Do not rub the stain into the fabric, as this will only spread the stain and embed the nail polish into the upholstery fibers.
  4. Soak a cloth with the solvent. If the stain is really tough, put the solvent directly on the stain as well.
  5. Blot the stain with a cloth or paper towel treated with the solvent in a circular motion, from the outside in, to keep the stain from spreading. Use dabbing and blotting motions to transfer the nail polish from the upholstery to the cleaning cloth.
  6. Repeat until the stain is removed. When done, pour enough warm water on the spot to remove any excess solvent, and then dry using a towel or paper towel.

Another way to get nail polish out of upholstery? “Mix one tablespoon of liquid dish soap with two cups of cool water,” says Varney. “Using a clean, white cloth, sponge the stain with the detergent solution, then blot it until the liquid is absorbed.” Repeat these steps until the stain disappears. Then, sponge with cold or cool water and blot dry. Cold water will keep the stain from setting if any of it remains.

How to get nail polish off of flooring

Hardwood

Hardwood floors should be fairly easy to clean. Here’s how to do it:

  1. If the nail polish is wet, simply use a paper towel to wipe up the spill as fast as possible. “If a little is left behind, a cotton ball soaked with acetone should do the trick,” says Varney. “We recommend rinsing the area and never letting acetone sit on any surface, as it’s corrosive and could damage the finish of your hard surface.”
  2. If the nail polish has dried, Varney suggests using a plastic scraper to try and lift the spill.
  3. “If that doesn’t work, try dabbing the area with acetone until it breaks down and can be wiped away,” says Varney. “Again, always be sure to rinse the areas you apply acetone.”

Tile

“For dried nail polish on ceramic or porcelain tile flooring, I would recommend using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser,” says Morgan Brashear, a senior scientist for the brand. “Always test Magic Eraser in a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure not to remove any gloss finishes or topcoats on your flooring. Then follow these steps.”

  1. Wet the Magic Eraser by submerging in a container of water or under a running tap. Squeeze it a few times in/under the water to ensure it is nice and saturated. The water activates the micro-scrubbing action of the Magic Eraser, helping to give you a better clean with less effort.
  2. Squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Starting with light pressure and building as necessary, swipe the Magic Eraser across the surface to erase the stain.

One note: Avoid any excessive scrubbing, as it can be too abrasive for some surfaces. Next, find out how to remove candle wax from floors—and just about everything else.

Sources:

  • John Mahdessian, president of Madame Paulette
  • Jennifer Ahoni, senior scientist at Tide, a Proctor & Gamble company
  • The Maids: “How to Get Fingernail Polish Out of Carpet, Clothes, and Fabric”
  • Jennie Varney, Brand Manager for Molly Maid, a Neighborly brand

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Amy Schlinger
Amy Schlinger is a skilled reporter, writer, and editor who regularly interviews world-renowned doctors and medical professionals, elite trainers, nutrition experts, professional athletes, and celebrities. She has 11 years of experience covering health, fitness, wellness, nutrition, and lifestyle topics. She has held staff positions at Shape Magazine, DailyBurn, Self Magazine, and PopSugar. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Men’s Health, The New York Post, Women’s Health, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Health Magazine, Outside Magazine, Livestrong, Map My Fitness, MSN, Runner’s World, Bicycling Magazine, and more. She has been featured in DailyBurn’s Live to Fail workout video series (five total), is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), and is certified in Kettlebell Training. Amy is extremely passionate about healthy living, and can often be found researching and testing out new wellness trends and fitness programs or strength training at the gym. She has run six half marathons, completed one triathlon, biked two century rides, finished two Tough Mudder races, and four Spartan races, including a beast at the Spartan World Championships at Squaw Mountain in North Lake Tahoe.