How To Clean Nail Polish Spills With Ease

Photographed by Mike Garten.
by Jolie Kerr

The Internet offers no shortage of suggestions for removing nail polish that’s been spilled on carpet, fabric or hard surfaces. Common treatments include using nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and even hair spray.
The problem is that those things just don’t work very well. You know how I know? I tested them by holding my own little science fair in my home, like a big nerd. The test was pretty simple: I selected a dark shade of purple nail polish, which I painted in swatches on a rag and allowed to dry. Then, I treated each swatch using different solvents and found that virtually none of them worked.

So what does work, you may be wondering? Please read on and I will tell you.

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How to clean nail polish off carpets and fabric?
A word of caution: Nail polish remover is commonly recommended as a way to remove varnish stains from fabric and carpeting. In the tests I did, I found that it will work … but it will take a lot of time and effort, because repeated applications will be needed. It also must be the acetone, rather than the non-acetone, kind. Lastly, to avoid making matters worse, always do a spot test first to ensure that it doesn’t cause more damage or color loss.

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Photographed by Mike Garten.
With that warning out of the way, sure, nail polish remover will work to, well, remove nail polish. But it’s not really the best thing to use, simply because it’s not the most effective. Instead, opt for a product specifically designed to remove nail polish from fabric, like Mötsenböcker's Lift Off Markers Pens & Inks Remover or Carbona Stain Devils #1 — Glue, Gum & Nail Polish. These, and other similar products, can be found at hardware or home improvement stores and of course, you can order them online.

How to clean nail polish spills from hardwood, tile, or porcelain?
When it comes to hardwood, especially, don’t use nail polish remover to treat the spill — it can cause more damage than the polish itself, and then you’ll be stuck with a refinishing project. For hardwood, tile, or porcelain, a Magic Eraser will remove the nail polish. Just be sure to spot test on an inconspicuous area to ensure that the Eraser won’t cause any damage to the finish.

WD-40 is another product that will remove nail polish; to use, spray a small amount on the stain and wipe it up with a clean rag. Remaining residue from the WD-40 can be washed up with warm, soapy water. That Mötsenböcker's product that I mentioned earlier, can also be used on most hard surfaces, so that’s one more option for you.

Related: How to Clean Sunscreen Stains Off Your Clothes

Photographed by Mike Garten.
How to clean nail polish spills on natural stone?
Natural stone, like granite, marble or slate, should never be cleaned with anything acidic, as it can cause pitting. However, rubbing alcohol, is safe to use on natural stone and will take nail polish spills and splatters right up.

How to clean nail polish spills from everywhere else?
A few odds and ends for you: Got nail polish in your hair? Try rubbing a little oil (olive, canola, coconut, whatever you have around!) or hair conditioner through the strands. The varnish should slide right off.

How to avoid common mistakes ...
Be careful where you set the cap to your nail polish remover. I learned this the hard way a few years ago, when I put the cap on my painted wood coffee table, rim-side down, and the remover ate right through the paint. Which makes sense, if you think about it! It’s paint remover. Speaking of things to beware of! As tempting as it may be, don’t polish your fingernails in bed. I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve gotten over the years about ruined duvet covers.

One more thing: Are your fingernails stained yellow because of too much exposure to nail polish? Try soaking them in denture tablets to brighten them back up.

Next: How To Remove Glitter Nail Polish Without Destroying Your Nails

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