Nail Polish Remover For Removing Paint? Yes, It Really Works!

A woman's hand holding a bottle of nail polish remover and cotton pads.

Paint is notoriously difficult to remove. It contains binding agents that don’t easily dissolve in liquid, so you can’t wipe it off with a damp towel and call it a day. 

Commercial paint removers and chemical paint strippers work wonders, but what if you don’t have those at hand?

Can nail polish remover remove paint? Nail polish remover, particularly acetone-based remover, can remove hardened paint from non-porous wood surfaces as well as metal, plastic, ceramic, and glass surfaces. It can also be used to remove paint from certain fabrics, such as cotton and denim.

In this article, we’ll show you how to effectively remove stubborn paint with nail polish remover in easy-to-follow steps. 

Let’s dive right in! 

Using Nail Polish Remover To Remove Paint

Although originally used to break down plasticizers, nitrocellulose, and synthetic resin in nail polish, nail polish remover can certainly be used to remove hardened paint.

With acetone as its primary ingredient, it can easily break apart solid paint molecules.

The science of it is simple: acetone molecules are naturally attracted to paint polymer molecules. 

When it comes in contact with the latter, it “merges” itself with the polymer and reverts it back to its liquid form. This makes it easy to remove the paint from the surface you want to clean. 

What Type of Nail Polish Remover Will Remove Paint?

Nail polish removers come in two different types: acetone and non-acetone. 

Acetone-based nail polish removers are mostly made of 30 to 60% acetone, 10 to 35% ethyl acetate, 3 to 15% glycerin, 5 to 20% ethyl alcohol, and 5 to 20% water. 

Non-acetone polish removers contain about the same percentage of methyl acetate, methyl alcohol, methyl diglycol, ethyl alcohol, and butyl diglycol. 

These ingredients are gentler on the skin and don’t dry out the nail bed as much as acetone-based nail polish removers do. 

When removing paint, acetone-based nail polish removers work best. Non-acetone polish removers aren’t as effective as the alternative; they can still remove paint, but they are not ideal. 

The higher the acetone content, the better it’ll remove paint. So if you’re planning to use nail polish remover to remove paint, search for one with at least 60% acetone in it. 

Acetone dissolves paint from the top down. Upon reacting with the surface molecules, it slowly makes its way to the internal structure of the paint before breaking it down.

This action not only softens the paint but also merges with it to keep it malleable. 

What Kind of Paint Will Nail Polish Remover Work On?

Acetone-based nail polish remover works on several different types of paints, such as: 

These paints more or less have similar structural formations that allow nail polish removers to break them down. 

Will Nail Polish Remover Remove Acrylic Paint?

Yes, nail polish remover can remove acrylic paint from both clothing and nonporous surfaces. 

However, you need to make sure it has a high acetone content between 80 and 100%. The acrylic paint would be too difficult to remove otherwise. 

Will Nail Polish Remover Remove Paint From Wood?

Nail polish remover only works on nonporous wood like pine, redwood, and cedar. Porous wood has hollow, tube-like “pores” or vessels that encourage liquid absorption.

When absorbed, the nail polish remover would stain, discolor, or cause swelling on the wood, making it difficult to paint later. 

It also shouldn’t be used on fresh or chemically treated wooden surfaces as it may cause unsightly damage and/or discoloration. 

Can Nail Polish Remover Remove Paint From Metal?

Nail polish remover can remove paint from metal if it contains 100% acetone. 

To remove paint from metal, dab a generous amount of acetone onto a cotton ball and gently rub the affected surface to remove it.  

Can Nail Polish Remover Remove Paint From Clothes?

Nail polish remover can remove paint from certain fabrics like cotton and denim. 

It won’t work on fabrics made from silk, chiffon, wool or clothes with prints or dye. Instead of removing the paint, acetone may further stain and even possibly damage these fabrics. 

To remove paint from clothes with nail polish remover, follow these steps: 

  1. Turn the item inside out. 
  2. Test the nail polish in a small, hidden area to make sure it doesn’t cause any discoloration. 
  3. If the cloth is unaffected, spray or pour a bit of the remover onto the affected area.  
  4. With a clean cloth, gently “massage” the acetone into the fabric. 
  5. Let the acetone seep into the paint for 10 minutes. 
  6. Wash the fabric with mild detergent and water. 

Other Surfaces Nail Polish Remover Will Remove Paint From

Apart from those mentioned above, nail polish remover removes paint from glass, plastic, ceramic, and silverware. 

It can also be used to remove accidental paint splatters on cars so long as the remover doesn’t contain acetone.

Acetone can damage the car’s original paint job, so it’s best to avoid acetone-based removers when cleaning paint splatters off a car. 

When Nail Polish Remover Won’t Remove Paint

If the nail polish remover doesn’t remove paint as effectively as you want it to, get your hands on a dedicated paint remover, a chemical paint stripper, or pure 100% acetone. 

You can also use vinegar, vegetable oil, and olive oil to loosen up paint from surfaces like carpets and marble countertops.  

How To Use Nail Polish Remover To Remove Paint

Here’s how to effectively remove paint with a nail polish remover: 

  1. Clean the paint and the affected surface with a damp towel to get a clearer view of the surface you want to clean. This is especially important if you’re working on a dusty surface. 
  2. Remove as much paint as you can with a scraper or a metal putty knife to “thin out” the paint. 
  3. Spray the remover onto the surface you want to clean. If the paint is merely a small speck, dab the affected spot with cotton doused with nail polish remover. Regular tissue paper won’t do as they suck the liquid in and don’t release it as freely as cotton.
  4. Let the nail polish remover settle on the paint for 10 to 15 minutes. This will allow it time to break and dissolve the bonds of the paint.
  5. When the time is up, take a scrubbing brush, and brush the softened paint off the surface to prevent paint stains. Then, wipe it away with a slightly damp rag. 

Related Questions: 

Can You Use Nail Polish Remover as a Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner and nail polish remover have completely different properties, so the latter won’t replace the former as effectively. 

However, it can be a cheap alternative to thin out the paint. Acetone bonds quite well with oil-based paints, so it can be used for dilution. 

To use nail polish remover as a paint thinner, follow these steps: 

  1. Stir the paint thoroughly with a wooden stick or disposable mixer. 
  2. For every gallon of paint, add about an ounce or an ounce a half of nail polish remover into the container. 
  3. Mix the solution for about 30 seconds. 
  4. Test the thickness on a disposable surface. If the mixture isn’t thin enough, add up to a maximum of 12 ounces per single gallon of paint.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Remove Paint?

Yes, rubbing alcohol—AKA isopropyl alcohol—removes old, hardened paint from most surfaces, including wood, plastic, metal, and fabric. 

However, since it evaporates quickly, you need to wet the affected area thoroughly and cover it with plastic to reduce evaporation. 

Also, make sure the alcohol has a concentration of at least 70%. The higher the concentration, the better it removes the paint. 


Acetone-based nail polish remover can effectively remove paint on almost every surface you can think of, including non-porous wood, plastic, metal, ceramic, and glass among others. 

Acetone-free nail polish remover works too because it contains ethyl alcohol, but it does not work as well as the alternative. 

The higher the acetone concentration, the better, so always use at least 60% acetone when using nail polish remover when removing paint. 


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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!