How to Remove Nail Polish Stains from Fabric: A Quick Guide

Whether you’ve worked in a nail salon for years, you’re just starting your nail art training, or you’re strictly an at-home nail polish aficionado, it’s crucial to know how to remove nail polish from fabric.

Accidents happen. At some point in your lifetime, while you’re artfully pining away at your nail bed masterpieces, you’re going to spill some nail polish on your clothes, onto the carpet, or on cloth furniture. It happens to the best of us!

But, knowledge is power. As this can happen anytime, you need to know the tricks to get rid of nail polish from clothes. It’ll decrease your anxiety about nail polish spills while you work your magic!


Nail Polish Chemistry

nail polish chemistry

If you’re more of a bookworm than a mad scientist, chemistry can sound intimidating. But, the chemistry of nail polish is pretty simple! It all comes down to understanding polar and nonpolar bonds.

While we don’t need to get into the minutiae, you should know that there are two types of chemical bonds: polar and nonpolar. Substances held together by either are referred to as “polar substances” and “nonpolar substances.”

Polar substances (under normal temperature and pressure conditions) only dissolve other polar substances. The case is the same for nonpolar substances. For instance, water is a polar substance while oil is a nonpolar substance, so the two don’t mix easily.

The reason why nail polish doesn’t just dissolve into your nail bed is that your nail bed is made of polar molecules, while nail polish is a nonpolar substance. By the same logic, you also need a nonpolar substance to dissolve (and, therefore, remove) nail polish.

Enter nail polish remover, which is made of a majority of nonpolar substances (either acetone or ethyl acetate). Nail polish remover dissolves nail polish because they’re both nonpolar, so the most ubiquitous of nail art supplies is also key to removing nail polish from fabric.


How to Remove Nail Polish from Fabric

removing nail polish from fabric

The following procedure will remove nail polish out of the fabric, but it’ll take timeliness, technique, and patience— just like making excellent nail art!

1. Don’t Waste Time

As soon as you make or notice a nail polish spill on a fabric, drop everything and solve the problem. You’ll want to act fast to keep the nail polish from absorbing too deeply into the fabric.


2. Grab Supplies

You’ll probably already have some of these supplies out while you’re working on your nails, but in the event of a spill, you’ll need the following materials:

  • 100% acetone nail polish remover
  • Numerous cotton balls, cotton pads, or paper towels
  • Latex gloves (optional)

While latex gloves are optional, they can protect your already-dry nail art from getting soaked by using nail polish remover and protect your fabric from more nail polish stains from your still-wet nail beds.

Getting nail polish out of your skin is much easier than removing it from fabric, so sometimes, you’ll just have to sacrifice your fresh manicure.


3. Dab, Never Wipe

Wet a cotton ball, cotton pad, or paper towel with a generous amount of 100% acetone nail polish remover. Don’t worry; acetone won’t stain or bleach your fabrics.

Dab the wet cotton ball (or other material) against the nail polish staining your fabric. It’s integral that you dab the stain rather than wiping it to prevent further spreading of the pigments.

Keep dabbing and diluting the nail polish stain until the pigment has completely faded from the fabric. Some colors will fade more quickly than others.


4. Pack Your Patience

You might have to dab the stain with acetone for a long time (possibly upwards of 20 minutes). Be patient, and resist the urge to wipe or smudge the stain. Staying patient will create better and faster results.


Tips to Prevent Future Nail Polish Spills

nail polish spill

Once your nail polish stain is removed from the fabric, you’ll want to take steps to prevent future spills and always have stain-removing supplies on hand.

  • Pick up a bottle of 100% acetone for stain removal. Ethyl acetate polish remover’s additional ingredients (like moisturizer and oils) have the potential to further stain fabrics.
  • Always use nail polish at a safe distance from rugs and fabric furniture. If you have to sit in a fabric chair to do your nails, cover it with a drop cloth.
  • Place a layer of newspaper or a drop cloth under your nail art workspace.
  • Wear an apron or a paint shirt while working on your nail art.


Wrapping Up

Any nail artist worth their salt knows how to get nail polish out of the fabric. Dissolving the nail polish stain in a nonpolar substance (100% acetone is preferable), dabbing instead of smearing or wiping, and being patient with the process are all keys to success for nail polish removal.

But, prevention is the best medicine. Protect your furniture, rugs, clothes, and surfaces from future spills by protecting them with a drop cloth. However, accidents happen, so make sure you always have stain removal materials on hand for future incidents.

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