How to Get Nail Polish Out of Clothes, Fabric, and Carpet

dark green nails against cream fabric

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There's a lot to be said about performing your manicures and pedicures at home. The savings alone are a major perk, but regular touch-ups are also a smart way to extend the life of professional polish. Still, as plenty of people know, DIY spa experiences come with their fair share of risks. One all-too-common blunder: Getting a bright streak of nail polish on your clothing or your furniture. Stains of all kinds are annoying, but nail polish can be especially finicky since, well, it's quite literally designed to stain.

Getting that splotch of bright red or hot pink out of your favorite blouse or living room couch can indeed be tricky—but we promise it's not impossible. In fact, with the help of cleaning expert Bailey Carson, we've put together a clear, straightforward guide on how to get nail polish out of fabric when you're in a pinch. With a few standard tools, your clothing and/or furniture can be back to normal in no time.

Meet the Expert

Bailey Carson is the head of cleaning at Handy, an online marketplace for cleaning and home services.

Ahead, learn exactly how to get nail polish out of clothes, carpets, and other fabrics around your home.

How to Remove Polish From Clothing

As with any stain-related mishap, time is of the essence. If you're worried about the polish spreading, use an ice pack to chill the area, effectively drying and containing the spill as quickly as possible. If the fabric is incredibly delicate, or there's a lot of polish, carefully use a set of tweezers to gently lift the polish along the edges, making sure not to tear the fabric. How much polish you're able to remove in this step will depend on the type of fabric and the size of the spill.

"Nail polish stains can be some of the toughest to remove from clothing," admits Carson. The below method is a fix for natural fabrics such as cotton and linen and can also work well on synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. However, certain delicate and high-end fabrics like silk and wool may deteriorate when interacting with nail polish remover. If you're not sure how your fabric will hold up, this is a job for your local dry cleaner.

  1. Do not touch wet polish as doing so may push the stain deeper into the material. Allow polish to fully dry.
  2. Lift the dried paint with a small tool or your nail (Note: If the polish is deep within the fabric, you may have to resort to other methods).
  3. Once the spill is under control, "quickly dab the article lightly with a clean white cloth dipped in nail polish remover," says Carson. "To be on the safe side, use a non-acetone remover so it won’t cause damage to the fabric." It's wise to test the nail polish remover on a less conspicuous patch of fabric first, as certain fabric dyes can be negatively affected by acetone.
  4. "Once you’ve removed the excess polish, machine wash the clothing in cold water," instructs Carson.
  5. Finish up by letting the garment hang to dry. If the stain persists after washing, a professional may need to take it from here.

A microfiber cloth is a great option for cleaning potentially delicate fabrics. The material is soft and gentle yet absorbent.

How to Remove Polish From Upholstery

Upholstery tends to be a bit tougher than clothing, but you still want to treat your couch or chair fabric properly in the event of a spill.

  1. "Make a cleaning solution with one tablespoon of liquid dish soap and two cups of water," says Carson.
  2. "Gently blot the solution on the upholstery with a cloth until the [wet] stain is removed." (Note: If the stain has dried, push down on one side of the stain in order to help lift the other side of the stain. This should make the nail polish easier to peel off).

For tougher stains, Carson recommends the following:

  1. Once the wet stain has been blotted dry or has fully dried, "Apply a small amount [of baking soda] to the stain and let sit for about 15-20 minutes."
  2. "Then, gently scrub away with a cloth or old toothbrush."

How to Remove Polish From Carpet

For carpet, you'll want to move quickly. This advice stands for just about every kind of fabric: "A stain that’s been given a lot of time to set in will probably end up being permanent," notes Carson.

To break down the carpet stain:

  1. "Get some rubbing alcohol and gently blot the spill with a cloth or cotton balls to absorb the polish," says Carson. "You can also apply detergent and some lukewarm water to a cloth to further remove any remaining hints of a stain."
  2. As with any method of stain removal, it's essential that you blot, don't rub. "Avoid rubbing the stain as you may cause the color to set and the fibers of the carpet to break down," advises Carson.

How to Remove Polish From Leather/Suede

Is anything more stressful than spilling nail polish on a precious leather jacket or pair of suede boots? These fabrics are hearty, but they need special care to stay in tip-top shape–and that care does not involve upending a bottle of Essie polish. But, if you do, don't panic.

  1. "You can use vinegar or rubbing alcohol to remove a nail polish stain [when wet] from leather," confirms Carson. Avoid acetone, which she notes can be damaging to leather or fabrics with acetate.
  2. "Apply to a cotton ball and blot out the stain," instructs Carson.
  3. "Then peel off any remaining nail polish once dried," she adds. (Note: If you discover the nail polish stain already dried, you can start and end with this step).
  4. After you've done what you can to remove the stain, Carson suggests applying "leather or suede conditioner to restore the appearance of the fabric." We like Leather Honey Leather Conditioner ($18) for leather and Red Moose Suede Renewer ($10) for suede.

Before going at the stain on your leather or suede piece with alcohol, vinegar, or really anything, perform a patch test. "Test out a small amount first on a less visible patch to make sure the material isn’t damaged or stained further by the solution," says Carson.

Know When to Call a Professional

If a particularly beloved article of clothing is at stake (or if the label includes special care instructions), the best way to get nail polish out of clothing might be as simple as heading to a trusted dry cleaner. "If you’re not sure of the best way to clean a stain without damaging the material, your safest bet is to have it professionally cleaned," says Carson. "Materials that you would usually send to the dry cleaner, such as silk, require professional care. Once the item is clean, you'll be ready in case of another nail polish emergency—consider wearing an old T-shirt during application this time.

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