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How To Get Nail Polish Out Of Carpet (Tough Stuff)

A close look at a bottle of red nail polish that spilled on the carpet.

Carpet is not where you want your nail polish to be, so we found a variety of professional-grade cleaners and home remedies to help you remove nail polish stains from your rugs. Whether hard and set or fresh from the bottle, this list has your carpet cleaning conundrum covered.

Carpets are fantastic – they’re soft and fluffy beneath our feet, provide a bit of insulation during the cold winter months, and they can really tie a room together. One of the biggest problems with a carpet, however, is the difficulty with stains; you can’t just replace a carpet every time it’s stained, but carpet stains are notoriously difficult to remove.

For instance, as the father of a 5-year-old daughter, I am often the subject of her practicing her manicurist skills. While I don’t mind the wild colors and spotty coverage she provides, on more than one occasion we’ve lost a bottle of nail polish all over the white carpet in our living room. Should I have listened to her mother and played “nail polish salon” at the table? Probably. WIll that remove the stains from my carpet though? Nope.

After scouring the internet for ideas on how to get nail polish out of carpet, I stumbled upon quite a few options that both worked with products I already had and weren’t overly difficult. I’ve put together a list of the best methods I found using both household cleaners I had on hand and a few all-natural solutions that I was curious about. The result is a robust list of practical, effective solutions to removing nail polish from carpet that I know you’ll find useful.

Related: How to get more stains out of carpet

First steps

A gloved hand cleaning the nail polish off the brown carpet.

How you tackle the nail polish stain depends exclusively on whether it’s wet or dry. Nail polish – and most stains in general – are much easier to clean when they’re still wet.

Stains in general however can set without us ever knowing and so understanding how to tackle hard-set nail polish is extremely useful.

Soak up any excess nail polish

This is the absolute first thing to do before you even think about cleaners. Fresh stains are easier to clean but you need to get as much of the offending agent (in this case nail polish) off of the carpet as possible. Paper towels or cotton balls are great for picking up loose liquid and ensuring that the stain doesn’t get bigger. Towels or washcloths are not recommended for this, as whatever you’re using needs to be very absorbent, and cloth material doesn’t soak up thicker liquids the way that paper towels can.

Scrape up any hardened material

If the stain is already set, before you start to cry you’re going to want to scrape and get rid of as much of the dried material as possible. There’s no science to this – a scrubber, butter knife, nail file – all of these things work to get the chunky, hard nail polish off your perfect carpet. The reason for getting rid of the chunky stuff first is two-fold: the hardened mess will soak and get tacky if you apply cleaners directly to it, which actually makes it harder to clean, and if there is an abundance of dried polish, your cleaning agents won’t soak into the fibers and actually get rid of the stain.

Once you’ve tackled the excess nail polish and/or the hardened exterior, you can start bringing in the methods to get the stain out of your carpet for good.

Commercial stain removers

There is a variety of stain removing agents that you can use on your carpet, and they’re easy to find on Amazon or at your local department store. These products offer different types of detergents and chemical abrasives that break up, dilute, and remove stains. Everything from nail polish to chocolate or blood can be removed with these types of cleaners, but naturally, there are some drawbacks to using them.

Products like these might work well, but they can be costly. Additionally, they are chemically based, and in a home with small animals or kids, you might not want these types of products hanging around. Some are a bit harsher than other cleaning methods, and finally, some carpet cleaners only handle certain stains; be aware of what you’re buying before you click “purchase”.

Spot-Shot Stain Remover

Spot Shot Professional Instant Carpet Stain Remover with Trigger Spray, 32 OZ
Click image for more info

This product works extremely well on nearly any fabric stain, including nail polish on carpet. It works quickly with minimal effort, and it deodorizes, which is a great thing because carpets that get wet tend to hold on to that smell for a while.

The two main downsides to this product are that it’s less effective on older stains, so quick intervention is needed before the stain sets. Additionally, some consumers report that it works better on lighter-colored carpets than darker ones, so always try it out first on an un-trafficked piece of carpet before using it on a large, obvious stain. Finally, this product is petroleum-based, and with that comes a slew of chemicals you might want to avoid. While it’s safe, if you’re at all worried about non-green or non-organic products, steer clear of this one.

Folex Carpet Spot Remover

Folex Carpet Spot Remover, 32 oz
Click image for more info

A powerful, non-scrubbing carpet cleaner that works quickly, Folex is also non-toxic and non-irritating for most people. The non-toxic, no-odor formulation is also great for people with allergies or sensitivities to chemical smells. It works incredibly well on all fabrics, but it really is particularly great at cleaning even the toughest stains out of carpets.

One potential negative about this product is that some consumers report that, with certain fabric colors and certain stains, there is a risk for discoloration. It works well to remove the staining agent but leaves behind a weird color, or it causes a bleaching effect. Though the majority of reviews for this product highly praise it, if you use it, try it out on an inconspicuous section of carpet first.

Alba Industrial Strength Carpet Cleaner

Alba Industrial Strength Spot Remover 32 Fluid oz (Use as Replacement for Afta Spot Remover) (1)
Click image for more info

This is a product for a family or business that faces carpet stain disasters on a somewhat regular schedule. The highly powerful, industrial-strength formula can remove just about any stain from any carpet fabric without damaging the carpet itself. It’s got a powerful smell if you’re close to the carpet, but this particular formulation is significantly lower-odor than other Alba products.

Apply a small amount, let it sit for 5 minutes and then come back and give the area a good scrub; you’ll see results on the first try, and Alba Carpet Cleaner can handle nearly all stains on all fabrics.

The downsides to this product are that it really only comes in a very large size, and that’s its incredibly heavy-duty. This will certainly get nail polish out of your carpet, but it’s somewhat like using a sledgehammer to drive in a tiny nail; it gets the job done, but it might be overly dramatic for most jobs. Still, it should clean up even set-in stains, so it’s worth looking at if you have a tough spill to clean.

Home remedies to remove nail polish from carpet

A close look at a brightly-colored nail polish that spilled on the dark surface.

There are many solutions in your home right now that you can use to get nail polish out of your carpet, depending on how set-in it is. We’re going to look at some of the easiest, most eco-friendly, and most effective home treatments for carpets stained by nail polish.

Acetone

One of the easiest and most logical products for getting nail polish out of carpet is the same product you use to get it off your nails; acetone. Wet a paper towel with acetone and lightly blot it onto the stain. Don’t add too much and definitely do not pour it directly on the stain or you can damage the carpet underneath (or more specifically, the carpet pad). You’ll have to do this in stages, repeating until the stain is gone, but it’s worth it because it absolutely works.

Acetone works well and quickly, and if you have nail polish in your home, it stands to reason you also have nail polish remover. With that said, acetone can melt the latex on the underside of your carpet, and in some cases, it can cause lightening or discoloration of the carpet itself when the stain is removed.

There are also non-oily, non-acetone nail polish removers that work just as well but without damaging your carpet or carpet pad, so you can try those as well if you have them.

Hairspray

A spritz of hair spray and a few capfuls of rubbing alcohol can dissolve dried-on stains relatively quickly. It will take some scrubbing, but hairspray and rubbing alcohol are a great combo for knocking out nail polish stains in your carpet. Unlike many of our other remedies, this one actually works better on well-set, dried-in stains, so keep it in your repertoire for when you discover an old stain tucked away on a carpet in the guest room.

It’s worth noting that hairspray can definitely discolor certain carpet materials, so as always, try it on an inconspicuous piece of carpeting first to make sure you don’t ruin your rug.

Natural cleaning solutions

A variety of nail polish bottles that spilled onto the white surface.

There are plenty of non-toxic, non-irritating methods for cleaning up nail polish that you probably have at home as well. Let’s take a look at a few that work well and avoid harsh chemicals or strong irritants.

Vinegar

A great cleaner all-around, vinegar will go a long way to remove nail polish from your carpet. It works best on fresh stains, but repeated applications can work to remove old stains as well. The best method for using vinegar is to soak the area with a few tablespoons of vinegar and place a cloth or paper towel soaked in vinegar on top of the stain and let it sit for 10 minutes. Come back and gently wipe the spot with paper towels to soak up the stain and excess vinegar, and then place clean, dry paper towels on top and weigh them down with soup cans or some other item you don’t mind smelling faintly like vinegar.

It’s also a good idea to follow-up with a small amount of dish soap, laundry detergent, or even non-staining essential oils to get that vinegar smell out of the carpet.

Baking soda

This is only useful for wet stains, but it works well and is chemical-free. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda onto the stain and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Pour ginger ale (diet works best because it’s not sticky) onto the baking soda and scrub with a brush that’s safe for fabric. Use clean paper towels to soak up the liquid, and then repeat the process. After the second go, wet with a small amount of water and soak it up with paper towels to remove any remaining ginger ale.

No matter what method you use, it’s worth noting that most detergents – whether for dishes or clothes – don’t work exceptionally well to remove nail polish stains. Some dish soap can actually make nail polish (and other stains) set harder, so try one of the above methods before you even consider using soap.

If all else fails, rent a Rug Doctor and get some industrial enzymatic cleaner as a last-ditch effort. Chances are, however, that one or more of the above-mentioned remedies will do the trick, with a little elbow grease and time.

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