Does Nail Polish Remover Remove Paint? (Complete Guide)

You splattered paint on an unintended surface or neglected a dry paint stain. Alternatively, you are ready to clean off an old paint job but are short on supplies.

You want to just take a paper towel and rub paint stains off, but now you need chemical help.

What you can use to remove nail polish from nails makes it look promising, but does nail polish remover remove paint? This article explains how and when to use nail polish remover to remove paint and even strip paint that is fully cured.

Polyurethane Over Paint

Oil-based Paint

Nail polish remover, especially if it contains acetone, can be used to strip paint–even oil/alkyd paints, varnish, and enamel paint.

Epoxy Paints & Resins

Ideally, use acetone nail polish remover for these tough coatings, especially old paint.

Polyurethanes

These are durable; if dish soap and warm water do not work, use nail polish remover to go to the next level.

Lacquers

Many lacquers contain acetone, so it is the perfect thinner or cleanup.

Varnishes

Acetone can eat through varnish, so you could use nail polish remover to strip off varnish residues.

Water-based Paints

You can use nail polish remover successfully on both water and oil-based paint, whether wet or dried.

  • Gloss & Enamel Paint: Some are oil-based, but it works either way.
  • Latex & Acrylic Paint: You should not need a powerful solvent to effectively remove acrylic paint or latex. Often dish soap and warm water is sufficient–but if you find it hard to strip paint, use nail polish remover.

Spray Paint

If you cannot remove spray paint with a paper towel and warm water (many are latex paint), you can easily remove paint with nail polish remover.


How To Use Nail Polish Remover To Remove Paint (By Surface)

Paint on Capet

Carpet, Clothes & Upholstery:

Acetone and other nail polish remover ingredients are such strong solvents that you should only use nail polish remover as a last resort. It will remove dried paint, but it degrades some fabrics and dissolves dyes.

  • Delicate & Synthetic Fabrics: (e.g., silk and polyester, respectively) Using nail polish remover here is risky. If you work directly on small sections and rub or scrape it off promptly, you might get away with it.
  • Canvas: Dip a cotton swab or cloth in nail polish remover to wipe stubborn paint from canvas items, such as shoes.

Glass

Nail polish removers are okay to remove paint from glass.

Metal

As with glass, remove paint from metal surfaces with any nail polish remover.

Concrete

All nail polish remover components work for removing paint from concrete.

Plastics That Stand Up To Acetone

Acetone is such a strong solvent that prolonged exposure destroys most plastics, but some hold up better:

  • Polypropylene (PP): Used in bottles, tops, synthetic fabrics, and car parts.
  • Polyethylenes (PEs): Both low- (LDPE) and high-density (HDPE) are used in toys and appliances.
  • Teflon/Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE): Famous for durability.

First, consider natural oils, then denatured alcohol, to strip paint from plastic. If this does not work, apply acetone directly to very small sections, with light pressure, to remove paint on plastic surfaces.

Unfortunately, denatured alcohol can similarly damage plastic; plus, it has additives that could create residue.

Ethyl acetate nail polish remover is safer to use on plastic surfaces–and any painted areas–but is not as strong.

Most DIY products are latex-based paint, so, most often, you should not have to go through this process.

Skin

Nail polish remover can irritate skin. However, even pure acetone will not damage your skin, especially with brief exposure. Make sure to wash thoroughly with soap and water afterward.

Cars

To undo minor scratches to a car’s paint, use a soft cloth and nail polish remover to gently rub paint on metal surfaces. Use nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to remove scuffs on other various surfaces of a car–but watch out on wood, plastic, or vinyl.


Do NOT Use Acetone On These Surfaces!

With these materials, your only hope is to rub paint or stains off ASAP.

Paint on Capet

Wood

Acetone is too strong for removing paint on wood.

  • Wooden Furniture & Wall Moldings: Many wood surfaces are actually coated with varnish, which acetone can penetrate.
  • Vinyl Flooring: Many wooden floors really are vinyl (plastic), which does not tolerate most nail polish removers.

Suede

Do not use acetone on leather–especially suede, which is so delicate that even clean water causes damage.

Acetate Fabrics

Even storing these fabrics close to acetone or nail polish remover could harm them.

Asphalt

Acetone degrades it. If you get a stubborn paint stain, instead try dish soap or asphalt cleaner.

Plastics That Are Not Safe to Use Acetone On:

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Pure acetone evaporates so fast that it can damage a PVC cap with which it is not in direct contact. However, you might still get away with a few drops directly applied to an otherwise unresponsive paint stain.
  • Polystyrene: Pure acetone will dissolve styrenes. Styrofoam is particularly vulnerable, since it is largely hollow.

Pure Acetone Vs Nail Polish Remover: What’s The Difference?

Acetone is a naturally occurring organic material used in a myriad of human applications, including nail polish remover. It is water soluble, yet it can strip oily coatings. Unsurprisingly, it is sometimes sold as a substance to dissolve paint.

Apply it to an old cloth to take off hardened dried paint or sticky residue (including product sticker remains) from almost any surface.

Many nail polishes have acetone as the main ingredient and, therefore, can be used both to thin paint and to strip cured paint.

Acetone-free does not necessarily mean weaker: methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and isopropyl alcohol are nearly as strong as acetone.

These are such strong solvents that you should apply judiciously: dip a cotton ball or cloth and rub it on the affected area.

They are flammable, so do not use or store them near flames, heat sources, or electrical equipment.

Acetone, MEK, and isopropyl alcohol are FDA Class 3 solvents: These might cause some irritation but, with normal usage, are not toxic or carcinogenic.

That said, most sources recommend a well-ventilated area and, for use other than nail polish removal, wear gloves.

Pure Acetone Vs Nail Polish Remover

Removing Paint
With Nail Polish Remover FAQs

Will Non-Acetone nail polish remover remove paint?

Some nail polish removers have, as their main ingredient, MEK, which is sold to thin paint. For example, ethyl acetate nail polish removers are weaker but could safely remove latex paint on delicate surfaces.


What is the easiest way to remove paint from wood?

With an oily stain, mineral spirits or turpentine are ideal, but often, a soft cloth with soap and warm water should be sufficient. If you are working with common household products, you might find a safety razor blade (as used for personal shaving) helpful to strip paint, especially if it is soft, without scratching the wood surface.


Can you use nail polish remover on paint brushes?

Of course, but acetone is so strong that it eats into glues, adhesives, and even wood. So, it could possibly damage any painting tool (or part thereof) that includes these materials. So, it might be safer to use a solvent better suited to the paint type, even if you have to carefully scrape and repeat the rinse a few times.


Can I use nail polish remover instead of rubbing alcohol?

When it comes to medicinal uses, no. However, if you wish to thin or dilute paint for cleanup, then probably so. Their chemical properties and applications overlap considerably.


However, rubbing alcohol is mostly isopropyl alcohol, which is not as strong as acetone. Therefore, most nail polish removers would introduce more risk of damage.


Can you use a paint thinner as nail polish remover?

No. Usually this contains mineral spirits, along with carcinogens such as benzene. There is some overlap in the ingredients; some paint strippers are pure acetone. However, paint strippers have a grade/purity for their intended purpose: they are NOT made to use on the body.


Can nail polish remover really remove LEGO paint?

Actually, you can degrade a whole block, or any other plastic object. However, you really have to soak items for this powerful effect. So, yes, it will wipe painted designs and sticky residue off LEGOs and other various surfaces. This just reinforces why you should use common-sense security practices when using nail polish remover.


Is it safe to use nail polish remover on paint stains during pregnancy?

It would require exposure greater than normal use on nails for nail polish remover to be hazardous, but the paint itself could be another question. Maintain a well-ventilated area.


Conclusion

Nail polish remover can clean, remove, and strip any paint, just as it does the polish on nails. However, this is a mixed blessing since you can just as easily damage many common surfaces with it.

Appreciating the strength of nail polish remover ingredients and how they interact with surface materials gives you an unbeatable cleaning skill.