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How to Get Nail Polish Off Walls Without Removing Paint

A woman scrubbing the gray wall with a rag.


Your worst nightmare has just come true. Whether you’ve suffered an accidental swipe of a freshly applied manicure or your budding little artist has decided to explore a new medium, getting nail polish stuck to the wall can seem like an unsolvable problem.

Nail polish on a wall is technically just one layer of paint on top of another, so removing only one of those layers is easier said than done.

Another part of what makes nail polish so hard to remove is its tricky composition of pigments, solvents, and hardening compounds than can easily cause damage to almost any type of surface.

It’s important to remove nail polish as carefully as possible in order to prevent any of the paint underneath from coming off as well.

Luckily, there are quite a few different methods for getting rid of a nail polish stain without saying goodbye to your flawless paint job (because let’s face it, nail polish doesn’t exactly do much to enhance your wall decor).

First and foremost, we feel that it’s critical to briefly explain why the most obvious solution isn’t necessarily the right one. Despite the extremely promising name, nail polish remover is the worst possible way to try and remove nail polish from a painted wall.

Using nail polish remover is guaranteed to not only smudge the polish stain, it will also definitely take off some of the original paint as well. So save yourself the trouble, and keep reading to learn about some far less abrasive technique for removing that pesky polish stain.

1. Cotton Swab

A look at a bunch of cotton swabs.

If you’re lucky enough to notice the nail polish stain before it’s started to dry, then you can probably save yourself with a simple swipe of a cotton swab.

The cotton will easily absorb any liquid that is continuing to spill, thus preventing the stain from getting any bigger. Hopefully, this tiny swab is all you’ll need, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

2. Get Rid of Nail Polish with…Nail Polish?

A look at a row of various bottles of nail polish spilling.

As crazy as it may sound, sometimes the thing that is causing you trouble may just be what you need to fix it.

If you weren’t aware of the polish stain until after it’s already cured and hardened, then a fresh coat might be your best bet. Applying a new layer of polish may help to soften the original stain, allowing you to wipe everything off with a cloth or towel.

Simply brush a small amount of polish onto the old stain, wait at least a minute for the stain to soften, and then attempt to clean it off by wiping gently upward.

3. Good Ol’ Soap and Water

A look at a bar of bubbly soap.

If you have smooth walls, then it’s a real possibility that using rubbing alcohol will be too harsh to remove the stain without damaging the paint. Instead, you can use liquid soap and water to try and send the stain on its way.

Luckily, walls with a smooth paint finish are often easier to clean because the nail polish cannot adhere as easily as it can to other types of paint finishes. However, it’s super important to note that you can’t simply use any amount of soap to remove the stain.

You’ll have to create a mixture containing a ratio that is two parts warm water and one part liquid soap. The actual amount will depend on the size of the stain, but the ratio will always stay the same. Once you’ve made your mixture, soak a rag into the mixture before applying to the stained area.

After the stain has been removed, finish by drying with a cloth until there is no remaining moisture.

4. Solve Your Problems with Alcohol

A person pouring a bottle of alcohol onto a piece of gauze.

When it comes to removing stains, alcohol really can solve anything. Using isopropyl alcohol and a cloth, simply rub the wall gently with the cloth to remove the stain.

If this successfully removes the stain, wipe the spot where the stain was with a damp cloth and dry completely to prevent any future moisture issues.

It is important to note that using rubbing alcohol does run the risk of potentially removing your wall paint, but this is easily preventable if applied carefully and correctly.

5. Get Real with a Razor Blade

A close look at a wet razor blade.

Sometimes it takes ages before you notice nail polish on the wall, and by then the stain is as hard as can be. If this is the case for you, then using a razor blade may be necessary.

Although it may seem like a somewhat extreme and potentially hazardous method, razor blades are actually quite an effective method for safely removing dry stains from surfaces.

The key is to be extremely cautious not to accidentally remove the original paint and end up with a hole in your once flawless wall. A really helpful trick is to prep the wall with an ice cube to make it smoother and help the blade slide under the stain with less difficulty.

6. Extreme Acetone

A woman pouring acetone on a piece of cotton.

By far the best thing to remove nail polish is pure acetone, a compound that’s also used in, you guessed it, nail polish remover. Like nail polish remover, however, acetone does also run the risk of potentially removing your wall paint, so following these important steps is critical to ensuring a safe and damage-free removal.

Before you begin, test the acetone on a similar surface to make sure the compound won’t damage the paint. Start by taking a cotton swab and dipping it in acetone, making sure to squeeze out as much of the excess as possible.

Gently rub the swab against the affected area until the polish is completely removed. Leaving acetone on the wall will definitely damage the paint, so use a damp cloth to thoroughly wipe the area.

Additional Products

If none of these household items are successful in removing the nail polish stain from your wall, then any of these products should be able to do the trick.

1. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Durable, Cleaning Pads with Durafoam, 10 Count
Click image for more info

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are known for their ability to remove even the toughest of stains.

The composition of this magic tool allows it to act as a sort of ultra-fine sandpaper that’s abrasive enough to trap and remove dirt and stains, but still soft enough not to damage the surface.

However, it’s still important to test first on a similar surface before going to town on your stain.

2. WD-40

WD40 300004 Specialist Penetrant Spray Smart Straw - 11 oz.
Click image for more info

In addition to making a great lubricant for rusty gears, WD-40 is also an easy way to remove stains such as nail polish.

All you have to do is spray onto the wall, wipe away with a damp cloth, and you’re good to go!

3. Borax Powder

Borax - All Natural Sodium Borate 10 MOL Mineral Powder, 16 Ounce
Click image for more info

Borax powder, also known as sodium borate powder, is often used as an extremely effective method for removing difficult stains.

It’s extremely important to note, however, that while it’s perfectly safe to use on painted walls, you should never try and use borax powder on wallpapers.

Similar to the soap and water method, you’ll need to create a mixture that contains one liter of water, half a teaspoon of ammonia, and one ounce of borax. Gently apply to the stained area, and watch it disappear for good.

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