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What is the Best Way to Remove Nail Polish from Fabric?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 16, 2024
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The best way to remove nail polish from fabric depends on whether the nail polish is wet or dry, what the fabric is made of, and whether it is colorfast. Generally speaking, a non-oily acetone nail polish remover woks well on most types of washable fabric, while dry cleaning solvent works for non-washable fabrics. It is important to catch the nail polish stain as early as possible to avoid drying and setting, though it's not impossible to remove dried nail polish. Things like bleach should never be used to clean up nail polish unless the fabric is white.

First Steps

If the nail polish is still wet, then immediately after a spill, take a clean cloth or paper towel and dab it up. Don't rub it or scrub at it, as this can force it deeper into the fabric. If the polish has already dried and set, then take a spoon or a dull knife and gently scrape at it to see if its possible to remove nail polish bits that aren't totally set.

Pre-Treatment and Colorfastness Test

Next, determine whether the fabric is washable or not. A general rule of thumb is that if it is dry clean only, then it is not washable. Fabrics like rayon, acetate, silk, and modacrylic are considered non-washable, while those like nylon, cotton, linen are considered washable. If it's unclear what the fabric is made of, then check the manufacturer's tag.

If the fabric is non-washable, then soak a cloth or cotton ball in a dry spotter and pre-treat the stain. If need be, it's possible to make one with one part coconut or mineral oil to 8 parts dry cleaning solvent. After letting the spotter set for a few minutes, gently blot at the stain to see if any color comes off. If not, leave it for a little while longer, then try again. Keep doing this as long as any of the stain is coming off.

If the fabric is washable, then perform a colorfastness test to see if the dyes will run. To do this, use a clean cloth to dab a bit of the nail polish remover on an inconspicuous area of the fabric. If the fabric's dye doesn't transfer to the cloth, then it should be safe to clean with an acetone nail polish remover. If not, then a dry cleaning solvent will work better.


For non-washable fabric, after finishing with the dry spotter, then take a clean cloth or pad and soak it with some dry cleaning solvent. Press the cloth onto the stain, making sure that the solvent thoroughly soaks into the stain. Gently dab and blot at the stain until it comes out, and then allow the area to dry. If it does not come out after repeatedly trying these steps, then it may be necessary to call a professional cleaner.

For washable fabrics, first take a small bit of acetone nail polish and test it on an inconspicuous area of the fabric to make sure that it doesn't damage it. Then repeat the same process of soaking a cloth or pad with it, and dab it onto the stain until color no longer transfers to the cloth. Try not to get too much into the fabric’s fibers to prevent damage. If the stain, it may be necessary to try scrubbing at it, as long as the fabric is strong enough to stand it. This can be done with an old toothbrush, or a carpet scrubbing brush. When the removal is complete, wash the area with soap and water to remove residual acetone.

If a stain still isn't moving, try some alternative substances to clean it. Both OFF&reg insect repellant and GooGone&reg cleaner are sometimes successful in removing nail polish. Aerosol hairspray has also proven effective, as has rubbing alcohol. Many people also find that window cleaner can help, though it often takes a lot of scrubbing to work well. If a stain is mostly gone, hydrogen peroxide or shaving cream can help remove residual color. Perform a colorfast test on a hidden area of the fabric before using any of these products.


Acetone is harsh on fabrics, and can severely damage non-washable items. Though non-acetone nail polish can be used as an alternative on delicate washable fabrics, it's not as strong, and needs to be spot tested before use. It's very important not to try to remove nail polish stains using bleach, unless the stain is on a white fabric, as it will leave large white spots on colored fabrics.

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Discussion Comments

By anon983946 — On Jan 04, 2015

Nothing's working -- not rubbing alcohol nor window cleaner. I got red nail polish on my white sheets and I made a mistake of trying to scrub it with a blue sponge and now the stain is purple. Does nail polish remover work?

By anon355239 — On Nov 14, 2013

I have just spilled nail varnish remover on my material sofa and wondered if this would stain or fade the material. Does anyone know of anything that I can do to stop any potential fading, etc? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

By anon349818 — On Sep 29, 2013

I got rid of red nail polish on my white cotton down blanket when the stain was already a week old. I tried everything but nothing worked until I used these products. I meant to grab the oven cleaner but I did not have any, so I used furniture polish with lemon in it. I bought it at the dollar store. I let it soak in for a few minutes and then I used a Brillo pink steel wool soap pad and did a lot of scrubbing and I finally got it out. I was worried because the fabric is so delicate, but it was fine and did not ruin the fabric at all. I think it would have worked as well with the oven cleaner combined with the Brillo pad. It was the only thing that worked for me!

Here is a list of other things that I tried and none of them worked: tried the nail polish remove, the bug spray, Mr. Clean sponges and peroxide. None of these worked. I also tried when it first happened with a scraper and that made a little hole in it. I do not recommed that.

By anon343386 — On Jul 29, 2013

I have tried all the above suggestions and the stain, red nail polish, is still there. I've tried nail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide, hair spray, goo be gone, and now OFF bug spray. The stain is lighter, but still very apparent. Bumming out.

By anon342234 — On Jul 18, 2013

I got red nail polish on my white capris. Bummer. Hairspray didn't work, and nail polish didn't work, but the bug spray worked great! Thanks for the tip. I should have known this because too many times I've ruined a pedicure by spraying bug spray on my legs and letting the overspray touch my toes.

By anon338049 — On Jun 10, 2013

Hair spray did the trick on my polyester dress. Apply a liberal amount, scrub, between the hands or with a brush. Try a small area at a time (less than a cm -- yes that small). You will see the nail paint gradually breaking down. Keep spraying and scrubbing until it comes off. I almost emptied the hairspray bottle -- that's how much I had to spray and respray. It took me 30 minutes for my dress. It was a big splash.

By anon176790 — On May 16, 2011

So i have this white and black polka dotted dress and cannot get the stain out. I have tried the nail polish remover and acetone. Right after i spilled it i put it in the washer and i did not come out. My dad won't let me put off on it or hairspray so do i take it to the dry cleaners?

By anon147442 — On Jan 29, 2011

The suggestions were very helpful. Off and a toothbrush worked for me. Who knew bug spray was multi-functional.

By anon133254 — On Dec 09, 2010

I was amazed how well the bug spray worked! I tried nail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol to get red nail polish out of my white comforter, but still nothing worked! I sprayed some OFF Bug spray and started scrubbing and slowly the stain started to lift!

By anon126707 — On Nov 13, 2010

Be careful. I used nail polish remover to get polish of a dress and it burnt a hole in the lining of the dress. Some fabrics can't take it.

By anon116996 — On Oct 08, 2010

Bug repellent works! I didn't have the spray, I had a bug repellent moist towelette, and it works. I tried this after trying nail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide, and hair spray. They did not work!

By anon116028 — On Oct 05, 2010

I spilled dark burgundy nail polish on my quilt and the nail polish remover did not work. I tried the Easy off and then added the OFF because it did not seem to be working. I kept brushing with the toothbrush and thought it was not going to come out.

I threw it in the washer with several Shout Color out sheets and I could not believe it when I took it out. There was no sign of the polish. Even if it looks like it is not working, it did. Give it a try.

By anon94951 — On Jul 10, 2010

Use oven cleaner! Scrub it in with a old toothbrush. Works like a charm.

By anon92158 — On Jun 26, 2010

nail polish remover did nothing. But then I tried OFF insect repellent with 100 percent results on a white cotton polo shirt. Spray liberally, let it sit for a few minutes, lightly brush material, repeat. No work really, just repeated applications with a few swipes of a brush in between. Thanks so much for the tip!

By anon90931 — On Jun 18, 2010

After using a can of OFF bug spray my Victoria Secret pants have been saved. Let it soak and then rubbed with a tooth brush, it worked better then the best paint thinner (MEK).

By anon84509 — On May 16, 2010

this doesn't even work. we tested it at school and we used this website. it was dark purple nail polish on a white dinner shirt and nothing works, but if you use one small cup of tomato juice and five small cups of bleach it will definitely come off.

By anon83559 — On May 11, 2010

off bug spray. saturate the item and use a soft tooth brush will remove nail polish.

By anon59339 — On Jan 07, 2010

i got nail polish on my dress. i used nail polish remover but it did not work. i even poured nail polish on my dress and washed the dress. that did not work. i am going to try hair spray and see if that works.

By anon56443 — On Dec 15, 2009

Easy Off oven cleaner!!

By anon45324 — On Sep 15, 2009

i got nail polish on a pair of light tan jeans and tried all your suggestions but nothing worked. looks like i will have to get rid of my beautiful jeans.

By anon45034 — On Sep 12, 2009

The nail polish bottle fell on the floor and broke and splattered over the base of the bed. I tried nail polish remover.

By anon41835 — On Aug 17, 2009

I got nail polish on clothing, and applied everything! Nail polish remover alone did not seem to be working, so I tried Goo Gone and then bug spray. Maybe it was the combination, but scrubbing it all with a toothbrush seemed to get the spots out!

By anon38965 — On Jul 29, 2009

I was painting my nails electric blue when I dropped the brush onto the lap of my 100 percent cotton pink and white skirt. My first thought was to use nail polish remover but thought I'd check online first, just in case there was a better solution. Well the first suggestion I came across in my search was nail polish remover so I went with it and it worked just fine for me. I used a cotton ball and simply rubbed the polish away. I didn't even have to change my clothes. I don't know if it wouldn't have worked if I waited too long but it did work and I'm glad for it. Immediately after that I touched my bed sheets with wet nails (bad day, or maybe I just shouldn't use electric blue polish!) and did the same thing for my sheets and the stain went away right away too. But it did leave a slight circle stain on my yellow sheet so I guess it depends on the dye of the fabric being treated. Who knows? I'll see what happens when I wash my sheets. :)

By anon38543 — On Jul 27, 2009

i tried nail polish remover. it didn't work. i had new black trousers and spilt white nail varnish on them. i put them in the washing machine and it still didn't come off. i have now put them in a plastic bag in the freezer to see if that will get it off. if not then i will try hair spray. hopefully it will work. xxx

By anon36635 — On Jul 13, 2009

Your article was no help at all. I tried nail polish remover before I even looked online.

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