Can Nail Polish Remover Permanently Stain Clothing?

Key Takeaways

  • Chemical Properties Nail polish remover, typically containing acetone or non-acetone solvents, can potentially cause damage or stains on clothing.
  • Risk Factors: Acetone-based nail polish removers have a higher likelihood of causing stains or damage to fabrics compared to non-acetone alternatives.
  • Fabric Sensitivity: Some fabrics, such as acetate or rayon, are more susceptible to damage or discoloration when exposed to nail polish remover.
  • Immediate Action: If nail polish remover spills on clothing, it’s crucial to act quickly by blotting the affected area with a clean cloth or paper towel to absorb the liquid.
  • Precautionary Measures:To prevent staining or damage, avoid using nail polish remover near clothing and opt for protective measures such as covering clothes with towels or wearing an apron during nail polish application or removal.

Nail polish is one of the simplest ways to update your look. A fresh coat can add strength, color, and shine in just a few strokes of a brush. Nail polish fans will always have nail polish remover close by, as it makes it easier to change the shade of your nails.

However, as nail polish remover is a liquid, it can lead to accidental spills. This may be on the floor or table, but the spill might affect our clothes too. This may make you wonder, can nail polish remover stain clothing?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes! Nail polish remover has chemicals that may bleach your clothes, leading to a stain. Other substances in the liquid can leave residue on your garments that leave marks.

It isn’t always possible to avoid spills, so try not to feel angry with yourself if your remover leaves any stains. What’s more important is that you can now take steps to avoid stains forming and learn how to treat them.

You’ll find out how to treat stains caused by nail polish remover in this article. We’ll also cover how to remove nail polish from clothes without using nail polish remover.

Nail Polish Remover Solution

Nail polish remover is a solution designed to remove nail polish, which is an artificial color placed on the nails.

Nail polish remover comes in two main types, acetone-based or non-acetone. They both work in the same way and are safe for natural nails.

Despite this, the acetone-based remover is slightly stronger, so it’s not recommended for artificial press on nails.

You can remove nail polish with natural remedies if you don’t want to use potent chemicals on your hands. These aren’t known for removing polish, but they are items found within the house that can remove color.

We’ll cover these methods in more detail below, but keep in mind that they won’t remove nail polish as efficiently as acetone and non-acetone removers.

What Are Acetone Nail Polish Removers?

Acetone is an organic solvent that can break down oils, fats, plastics, and rubber. Acetone is often used in paint strippers and lies within most household nail polish removers.

This solvent works differently when used to remove nail polish. Instead of breaking down the nail polish, acetone transfers the color to a different surface.

Nail polish contains an adhesive that sticks color to the nails. Nail polish is also known as lacquer. It creates a strong bond on the nail’s surface, delivering a thin layer of color.

Once nail polish remover is applied, the acetone starts breaking down the adhesive.

After the bond connecting the nail and the glue breaks, the polish starts to degrade. The color from the polish moves from the nails to the cotton wool ball, or whatever tool you used to use the remover.

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Advantages Of Acetone

  • A rapid and efficient method of removing nail polish
  • A colorless liquid that evaporates quickly
  • Removes tougher glitter or metallic nail polish well

Disadvantages Of Acetone

  • Toxic solution
  • Unpleasant potent smell
  • The harsh substance can weaken nails
  • Can’t be used on press on nails as it disintegrates plastic

What Is Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover?

Non-acetone nail polish remover is free from acetone. It uses other ingredients to remove nail polish, most notably ethyl acetate.

Ethyl acetate is a blend of acetic acid and ethanol. When these chemicals mix, they produce a colorless solvent that acts in a similar way to acetone remover.

Compared to acetone solutions, non-acetone nail polish removers are much kinder to the skin and nails. They won’t work as quickly as acetone, but they can be used on fake press-on nails.

Non-acetone removers were first designed to be used on fake nail extensions. These solutions are also safe for natural nails and give off a less potent aroma. People who find the smell of acetone off-putting often use non-acetone ones instead,

Advantages Of Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover

  • Gentler on skin and nails
  • Won’t disintegrate plastic within fake or press on nails
  • Smells less potent than acetone-based removers

Disadvantages Of Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover

  • Doesn’t remove polish as quick as acetone
  • Hard to remove glitter polishes
  • Difficult to remove darker or brighter polish colors

Natural Nail Polish Remover Substitutes

If you are worried about the chemicals in nail polish remover, you can try this natural substitute.

However, keep in mind that these may not work well on darker colors or polish sealed with a topcoat.

You may need a few rounds of each alternative before the polish starts breaking down.

Mix lemon juice and vinegar, then rub the solution onto your nails. These ingredients should disintegrate the polish. Both vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, so they’ll break down the lacquer layer and the adhesive layer simultaneously.

Additionally, a lemon slice and soapy water may also remove nail polish well. Soak your nails in soapy water, then slide the lemon over your nails.

Advantages Of Natural Nail Polish Removers

  • Non Toxic substances with natural ingredients
  • Safe for artificial and natural nails
  • Reduces the chance of fabric stains

Disadvantages Of Natural Nail Polish Removers

  • Won’t work as well as chemical solvents
  • Vinegar’s aroma can be unpleasant
  • Lemon slices may be astringent and harsh on surrounding skin

Why Does Nail Polish Remover Stain Fabric?

Nail polish remover can stain clothes, but this depends on the type of nail polish remover that you use. Staining isn’t likely when using natural solutions, such as lemon and vinegar. This changes when it comes to chemical-based solutions, acetone, and non-acetone removers.

You might think that the alcohol and acetone in chemical removers cause the stains, but this isn’t necessarily true. In most cases, the stains are caused by other chemicals within the removers.

The fabric in question can also affect whether nail polish remover will stain it. Some materials can lose their color easily. If nail polish remover touches these fabrics, it may cause bleach-like stains.

This occurs when the color bleeds out from the fabric after contact with chemicals. The marks may look like lighter stains, but this is actually due to loss of pigment.

Unfortunately, bleach-like stains which cause color loss can’t be treated. However, removing residue stains from nail polish remover is possible, but it will take some work.

We’ll look at how both chemical nail polish removers affect the fabric in more detail.

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Acetone Nail Polish Remover

Acetone can damage many types of fabric. Make sure materials like acetate, triacetate, and modacrylic are kept far away from the remover. These fabrics are plastic-based, so acetone won’t just stain them, they’ll disintegrate them.

Acetone is colorless and evaporates rapidly, so it won’t cause stains. If any stains occur after spilling the remover, this will be due to other ingredients in the remover.

These substances can leave residue on the material which can cause staining. You can use a stain remover to lift nail polish remover stains from fabrics. Use the remover on the affected area, then wash the fabric as written in the guidelines.

More seriously, these ingredients may bleach the fabric, causing the color to bleed out from the material.

Bleaching tends to occur with garments that aren’t colorfast. Nail polish remover won’t be able to tell the difference between the color on nails and the color in the fabric, so it will remove them both.

Jeans are known for bleeding color after a wash, particularly if they are new. As they do this so easily, jeans aren’t thought to be colorfast.

Nail polish remover can easily remove the color from your jeans, so always keep nail polish remover well away from denim. Changing from denim into different clothes can also help when removing nail polish.

Other items nail polish remover may damage are bed sheets. Your beloved sheets may not be colorfast, so they may be at risk of bleaching. Additionally, the fibers within your bedsheets may be damaged beyond repair. Acetone can spoil polyester and silk easily.

Try not to remove nail varnish on your bed unless you know the fabric can stand up against the solvent. Keeping nail polish remover in the bathroom or vanity can reduce the chance of it spilling in the bedroom.

Non-Acetone Based Nail Polish Remover

Non-acetone and acetone removers work similarly, even in the way they stain fabric. They both remove nail polish in the same manner, so they’ll have comparable effects on fabric.

Nail polish removers without acetone aren’t as rough on fabric. Materials with artificial fibers are more likely to stand up to nail polish remover spills, as long as the solution doesn’t contain acetone.

However, non-acetone removers still contain other substances, like fragrance and conditioners. These can leave residue behind and stain clothing in the process.

Non-acetone nail polish removers may not contain acetone, but the other chemicals within it may still bleed color from the fabric.

Just as you would with acetone solutions, keep any non-colorfast garments and fabrics well away from the nail polish remover.

Changing into a robe or removing polish in a different setting may help reduce the likelihood of unwanted stains.

How To Remove Nail Polish Stains

Everyone who wears nail polish applies it carefully, but it’s easy for accidental spills to occur. The bottle may get knocked over, or the brush may drip polish onto your jeans. No matter how it happens, nail polish stains need to be treated quickly.

Once nail polish touches garments, bedding, or upholstery, you need to treat it as soon as possible. If you treat the stain quickly, you reduce the chance of permanent stains occurring.

However, as we know from above, nail polish remover can cause stains. So, what should you do if your nail polish spills on your clothes?

Using nail polish remover to remove nail polish spills may work on some fabrics, but it may cause more stains on others. Here are some tips that can help you remove the polish from the fabric.

No matter if the fabric is dry-clean-only or washable, try to remove as much of the nail polish spill as possible. Dab the polish stain while it’s still wet with a cloth. The material should soak up most of the color lying on the fabric.

If the fabric is dry clean only, don’t waste time. Send it to the cleaners immediately or as soon as possible. Don’t try to clean dry-clean-only clothes yourself, as you may end up causing more damage. In most cases, a professional should be able to do the job for you.

If you’re dealing with acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic, take these fabrics to a dry cleaner. These are plastic-based materials that need specialized cleaning methods.

Similarly, natural fabric, like wool and silk, will need gentle care compared to synthetic fibers. Never attempt to remove stains from these at home. Contact your local dry cleaners or a specialist outlet for assistance.

If the fabric in question can be washed, such as linen or cotton, you can try treating these yourself.

Here are some steps to follow when attempting to remove nail polish stains. Only follow these steps when treating washable fabrics.

1. Check the garments label to see what fibers are in the fabric. If the garment uses any artificial fibers, like nylon or polyester, don’t use acetone nail polish remover.

2. Lay an old towel under the fabric or within the garment so it covers the spill.

3. Apply a little nail polish remover to the nail polish spill. Use a clean cloth to work from the outside in, making sure you don’t dab too hard. Gently blot the stain and monitor the results.

4. You may notice that the nail polish may transfer from the fabric to the towel beneath it. Keep moving the towel so a clean area remains beneath the stain. This will keep the thicker material soaking up the remover and polish.

5. Once the stain doesn’t move towards the towel anymore, launder the bedding, garment, or fabric as you would usually do. You may want to clean the towel later.

Of course, some fabrics can’t be taken to the cleaners or washed in the machine. These include upholstery and carpet, as these aren’t exempt from nail polish spills.

You can treat sofa covers, carpets, and upholstery with the same method.

1. Mix two cups of water with around a tablespoon of dishwashing soap. Never use hot water, as this will set the stain and make the polish stick to the fabric. Keep the water at room temperature or colder.

2. Use the same dabbing motion as described above. With a clean cloth, work on the stain using the soapy liquid. Go from the outside in, making sure you don’t press too hard.

Never rub the nail polish spill. Rubbing can make the color seep deep into the fabric fibers, making it very difficult to remove.

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Other Methods To Remove Nail Polish Stains

If you don’t want to use nail polish remover to remove the stain, here are some alternative ways that can help remove nail polish spills.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is used for cleaning purposes. The solution normally contains 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water. It can be used for many tasks, but unlike pure alcohol, rubbing alcohol contains other substances that can stain fabrics.

If you choose to remove nail polish with rubbing alcohol, never ‘rub’ the solution into the stain. Instead, use a light blotting motion.

To do this, add a little alcohol onto a cloth or a cotton ball. Lightly dab at the stain and monitor the cotton. Use a fresh ball or side of the cloth if it becomes saturated with color.

Keep dabbing with the alcohol until the nail polish is removed. Afterward, clean your garment as you would usually do. This will remove any residue left from the other substances.

Only use this method if the fabric is washable. If it isn’t, seek a professional cleaner as soon as you can.


Hairspray isn’t just good for taming flyaways. It can also work well to remove nail polish stains.

Hairspray is designed to be safe around fabric, so it won’t cause bleach stains on your clothes, bedding, or carpet.

This is the only method that works on dry nail polish. Instead of acting as fast as you can, you need to let the polish dry.

After the layer dries, spray it with lots of hairspray. This method takes time as you’ll need to wait for the hairspray to dry.

Once the hairspray and polish stain have both dried, try to scrape off the nail polish layer. You can use a credit card, blunt tool, or if necessary, your nails to do so. However, keep in mind that this may damage your nails.

As before, only attempt this if your fabric can be washed at home. Dry-clean fabrics should only be cleaned at professional cleaners, no matter what the stain is.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Get your last-minute questions answered here!

Can Nail Polish Remover Ruin Clothes?

Nail polish remover can stain clothes, especially if the stain isn’t treated promptly. The potent ingredients within the solution can bleach the fabric.

Other substances in the remover, like conditioning oils, may leave a residue behind. However, nail polish remover stains aren’t normally permanent, as long as they are addressed quickly. 

Is Acetone Safe On Cotton?

You may be able to get away with acetone on cotton clothing, but not on fine natural fibers, like silk or wool.

Keep in mind that nail polish remover adds other chemicals, along with acetone, so these may stain or leave a residue when applied on cotton. Acetone can also break down plastics, so it shouldn’t be used on synthetic fabrics, in particular, acetate, triacetate, or modacrylic. 

Does Nail Polish Remover Stain Jeans?

Nail polish remover may have a bleaching effect on clothes. The solution may have chemicals that can leave residue on various materials, resembling stains.

You can remove nail polish remover stains by applying an appropriate stain remover, then laundering as per the instructions on the stain remover. 


Both acetone and non-acetone nail polish remover can stain clothes, but this isn’t normally down to the ethanol or acetone within them.

Stains are normally caused by residual ingredients in the removers, while bleach-like ones occur from other chemicals in the solution.

It isn’t normally possible to remove bleaching stains from fabric, but ones from residual ingredients can be removed with a stain remover.

To avoid nail polish remover stains from occurring, try not to wear non-color fast clothing when doing your nails. Changing into other clothes or doing your nails in a different setting can help avoid spills in the first place.

Amanda Brown
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