How to Clean Nail Polish from Carpet (Fresh & Dry)

Nail polish spills are one of the most frustrating catastrophes that can happen to a carpet. The dense pigmentation and chemical compounds make it a tough one to beat — but not entirely impossible. Your floor may not be ruined forever.

By knowing how to clean nail polish from your carpet, you can quickly get that color disaster out of your life.

Table of Contents

    Nail polish on a carpet can be a challenge to remove. However, by acting fast, you should be able to get it off and restore your carpet.

    Your method will depend on whether the stain is dried or freshly spilled. So start by inspecting the situation to make sure you’re taking the right approach.

    Removing Fresh Nail Polish

    Step #1: Remove the Excess Polish

    The best thing you can do is scoop up as much as possible using a spoon, dull knife or any other scoopable tool. Try to get as much out as you can. Keep a napkin close at hand to wipe off the polish from your tool in between scoops.

    Step #2: Absorb Fluids

    You can remove most of the nail polish spill by blotting using an old towel, cloth or rag. If you don’t have an old towel, you can use paper towels. However, we found fabric to be more efficient.

    Fold the cloth or towel and use one spot at a time. Every time you blot the spill, change to a new area on the cloth. This will prevent the liquid from spreading and causing a mess. It will also prevent the nail polish from being pushed further into the carpet fibers.

    Always Blot; Never Rub

    Rubbing the fluids could cause it to work its way into the carpet. This can end up in a reappearing stain that’s even more tricky to get rid of.

    Check the cloth after each blot to make sure the color is coming out. When the cloth or towel stops absorbing, the stain should be nearly gone.

    Step #3: Use a Cleaner

    To successfully remove the last of the stain, you should finish off with a cleaner. Now, when we remove nail polish from our fingernails, we usually use acetone. However, this should be kept far away from colored carpet as it can cause damage and discoloration — the same goes for bleach.

    Here are a few effective alternatives:

    • Acetone-free nail polish remover.
    • Hydrogen peroxide for light carpets.
    • Window cleaner.
    • Rubbing alcohol.
    • Hair spray.
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    Before you begin to apply your choice of cleaner, we highly suggest you do a patch test. Choose an inconspicuous area, such as under furniture or the underside of the carpet.

    An easy way to do a spot test is by using a cotton swab dipped in the cleaner. Dab it onto the chosen spot and wait a couple of minutes. Check for any signs of damage such as discoloration. If you notice anything, try a different cleaner.

    Step #4: Remove the Stain

    Use a clean towel or cloth and wet it using your chosen, tested cleaner. If you use hair spray, it can be applied straight onto the spill, but in small amounts.

    Fold the cloth and work in sections just as we did in step number two. After each blot, change the section and apply more of the cleaner. Keep going until the stain is completely gone.

    Avoid Damage

    Never pour the cleaner straight onto the carpet to soak the stain. It will seep into the backing of the carpet and can cause substantial damage. Stay patient and keep blotting (1).

    Once the stain is gone, use a dry section from the cloth to absorb any remaining cleaner.

    Removing Dried Nail Polish

    Step #1: Scrape Visible Crust

    Removing dried nail polish will be much easier if you get rid of the dried crust first. Use a spoon or dull knife to scrape the polish. Scrape in the direction of the fibers to avoid damage.

    If you’re desperate, you can use scissors to cut or trim a layer of the nail polish out. However, be careful not to cut too wide or deep since this will be noticeable afterward.

    Use a vacuum to suck up all of the loose flecks that might be sticking to the carpet fibers. Vacuuming is the easiest way to get rid of the specks and gives you a cleaner area to work on. This, in turn, makes it easier to dissolve the rest.

    Step #2: Test a Cleaner

    Before you get started, give your chosen cleaner a test in an inconspicuous area. Look for any signs of discoloration or other damage. Remember to avoid acetone and bleach as these may discolor the carpet.

    We highly recommend using an acetone-free nail polish remover. These are designed to break down and dissolve the polish. On lighter carpets, hydrogen peroxide can be highly effective but don’t use it on darker floors (2).

    Step #3: Blot Away

    Use a clean cloth or towel and fold it into sections. Choose one spot and apply some cleaner — just enough to slightly wet the area.

    Press the cloth into the stain and then loosen the nail polish by dabbing the area lightly. Change the section of the cloth and apply more of the cleaner. Repeat the process until the polish is gone. Avoid using the same spot of the cloth repeatedly as this could spread the stain.

    Never rub the stain since this will cause it to seep into the fibers. If the stain is particularly stubborn, try using a small brush or toothbrush to work the cleaner into the spill gently. Avoid scrubbing too hard or outside of the spot so as not to spread the color.

    Restoring the Carpet After Nail Polish

    These following steps should preferably be done after removing a fresh or dried spill of nail polish. It’s essential to clean the remaining stain or area to help the carpet restore its fibers. Leaving it could cause a flat spot that isn’t particularly pleasant to look at.

    Step #1: Absorb Excess Fluids

    There might still be some cleaner or nail polish residue left on the carpet. Gently blot with paper towels to absorb the leftover polish. Again, this should be done using clean sections of either a paper towel, regular towel or cloth. Then keep going until it’s dry and clean.

    Step #2: Clean With Soap

    Start by filling a small container or bowl with water. Add a couple of teaspoons of carpet cleaner, liquid dish detergent or laundry soap. Mix it well in the water to fully dissolve the soap.

    Use a clean sponge and wet it in the soapy water — make sure you wring it out until it’s only damp. Then scrub the area lightly to remove any remaining residue. Keep wetting the sponge in the soapy water to remove polish and its smell effectively.

    Once the residue and smell are gone, fill a bowl with clean water and use an unused sponge to rinse the area. If you have a two-sided sponge, try using the rough side to scrub off any leftover soap and polish. Rinse the sponge frequently in the clean water to avoid spreading the soap.

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    Step #3: Dry the Carpet

    When the nail polish is successfully removed, it’s time to dry the carpet. It’s essential to dry it completely as excess liquids can soak into the backing of the carpet and cause mold or mildew to form (3).

    Start patting the area with a clean towel or cloth to absorb excess liquid. We highly recommend that you set up a fan to speed up the drying process. If you have a ceiling fan above the carpet, work it at full speed and leave it for an hour or until it’s dry.

    Avoid using a hairdryer since the intense heat can damage the fibers and backing of the carpet. It might also take a while for the area to fully dry, so if you’re using a hairdryer, you’ll be stuck.


    Avoiding a Mess

    Now that you know how to remove nail polish from a carpet, there’s no need to panic the next time it happens. Cleaning the spill as it happens is the best way to prevent a huge mess. Follow the first guide to successfully remove it and finish off by cleaning the area to restore the fibers.

    Rubbing any stain or spill on a carpet will push it further into the fibers. You might be successful at removing it, but walking on or vacuuming the area can cause it to reappear with a vengeance. Reappearing stains are much tougher to remove since they’ve already been through the process of cleaning and drying.

    If you don’t have any acetone-free nail polish remover on hand, there are other effective items you can use. WD-40 can quickly remove nail polish. The same goes for shaving cream, which is excellent for dark colored carpets.

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