removing nail polish from leather

How to Remove Nail Polish from Leather: Clean Wet & Dry Stains

Accidentally spilling nail polish on your leather couch after a pampering day of self-care is not an uncommon scenario. Luckily, this cosmetic lacquer doesn’t dry too quickly so you’ll have enough time to safely remove it from your favorite leather products upon accidental spillage. 

However, you need to be aware that leather isn’t your typical material. It’s sensitive and porous, which can easily get affected by harsh chemicals. This means that traditional nail polish removal methods such as soaps and acetone-based nail polish removers will only end up damaging your leather. 

The best way to remove nail polish from leather effectively and safely is by using a cloth to blot the stain, scraping off the remaining stain, using a leather-friendly cleaning solution, safely cleaning your leather product, protecting it with a leather conditioner, and finally allowing it to dry completely.

We’ll guide you through our simple 6-step process and also highlight the 3 most effective cleaning solutions that can safely remove nail polish from any type of leather product without damaging it.

At the end of this guide, we’ll also share some best practices that you should consider. Let’s get to it!

Effects of Nail Polish on Leather

Whether it is a spill of nail polish on your pristine leather couch or a stain on your favorite leather jacket, you should try to remove it as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t harden. 

Nail polish contains an organic polymer (typically nitrocellulose) and a solvent. This solvent is designed to evaporate naturally, leaving behind a hardened film that binds to your fingernails. When nail polish gets into contact with leather, it hardens and similarly binds with leather. 

Dried nail polish is difficult to remove from leather as you’ll run the risk of accidentally removing its dye. Therefore, it should be in your best interest to act as fast as possible and only use leather-friendly methods.

If you follow our tried-and-tested steps carefully, you will be able to remove nail polish from your leather articles without damaging them. Take note that these methods are not suitable for suede and nubuck.

Important Tip: Do not use any acetone-based solutions as they can end up damaging your leather products. This also applies to other harsh cleaning solutions such as soaps, detergents, and alcohol.

1. Use a Cloth to Blot the Nail Polish Stain

You’re best chance to safely remove nail polish from leather is when the solvent hasn’t evaporated and the bond between the nail polish and the leather is weak. The first step you should take is blotting the polish with a clean and dry cloth or a cotton swab. 

Wet nail polish can be quite easily removed with a dry cloth, when gently dabbing on the stain, without smearing it. Keep in mind that you should use a damp paper towel or cloth for dabbing larger stains. 

Be careful not to smear the stain on other parts of your leather article. Smearing can occur by accidentally dripping water onto it or when attempting to wipe it off, instead of blotting. 

2. Remove Nail Polish By Gently Scraping It Off

There are two instances where you should try to gently scrape off nail polish from your leather item. The first instance is after you’ve blotted it (that usually leaves some form of residue) or after the stain has dried a little (you’ll notice it being more viscose). 

In both cases, you should take a spatula or dull-bladed knife and gently scrape off the remaining nail polish stain. You need to be extremely careful, as you do not want to remove any leather dye. 

The dried nail polish should peel away as you work on it slowly. Ensure that you also do not puncture the leather accidentally and that you use a ‘lifting motion’ with the spatula or dull knife.

This is by far the most delicate step of this process, so please take extra care. If you don’t notice it coming off, it’s best to proceed to the next step.

3. Use a Leather-Friendly Cleaning Solution

There are three homemade cleaning solutions for leather that we recommend, which are effective in removing both dried and wet nail polish. After having tried many of them, we’ve listed the following cleaning solutions according to the mildest to harshest formulas. 

You must understand that leather is a sensitive material and can get damaged when exposed to harsh chemicals and compounds. Nevertheless, rest assured that all removal methods were tested by us and are deemed safe for use on leather.

White Vinegar & Olive Oil

White vinegar & olive oil is a great homemade cleaning solution that is commonly used to remove all types of stains. As white vinegar and leather are both acidic, it’s not only an effective cleaning solution but is more importantly leather-friendly. 

Use one part of vinegar and two parts of olive oil to make a suitable cleaning solution for removing nail polish. Gently apply the solution to the stain with an old toothbrush, a fine horsehair brush, or cloth. 

As you begin to lightly scrub the stain, you will notice the polish flaking away from the leather. This is the safest method for removing nail polish stains, as it works similarly to a leather conditioner. 

However, you may not find this method as effective for larger or hardened nail polish stains. In that case, try some of the following methods that we outlined below. 

Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover

If the vinegar and olive oil solution wasn’t effective in removing the stains from your leather product, you can try a non-acetone nail polish remover. You must ensure that the nail polish remover does not contain acetone, as acetone can damage your leather.  

Acetone-free nail polish removers typically contain ethyl acetate or methyl ethyl ketone, which are organic compounds that aren’t as harsh. However, it’s best to mix two parts of your preferred acetone-free nail polish remover with one part of water. 

Then, take a cotton swab and wet it with the mixture. Gently dab the stain with the cotton swab, ensuring that the stain lifts and does not transfer to other areas. As this method may take some time, allow the leather to dry between each attempt. 

The cotton swab may get soiled quickly. Therefore, ensure to use change cotton swabs throughout the process. You’ll slowly notice the nail polish stain lifting from the leather. 

If you don’t notice any progress, add more nail polish remover and dab using a little more pressure. 

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol) with water is generally safe for use on leather to remove tough stains such as nail polish. However, it should not be used as a general leather cleaner. 

Use a wet cotton swab or small pad with rubbing alcohol and water. Then gently dab the stain until you see it lifting from the leather. Similar to using a nail polish remover, add more rubbing alcohol to the cleaning solution if you don’t notice it having any effect. 

Please also ensure that you don’t add too much rubbing alcohol to the cotton swab, as it can damage the quality of leather by drying it out. As the cotton pad or swab begins to soak up the nail polish stain, exchange them with new ones until the stain is cleared. 

4. Clean Your Leather Product

Although you may have successfully removed the nail polish stain, there may still be some residue remaining on your leather product. You should use a leather cleaner to clear away this residue.

We advise lightly damping a dry clean cloth with any high-quality leather cleaner and wiping away the area affected by the stain. Allow your leather time to air dry before treating it with a conditioner.

5. Protect the Leather Using a Conditioner

Both acetone-free nail polish removers and rubbing alcohol contain substances that may dry out your leather, causing it to fade and even discolor if left untreated.

Therefore, one of the most important final steps you’ll need to take is ensuring that your leather remains supple. 

The best way to ensure this is to use a leather-friendly conditioner that renourishes your leather with essential oils. Use a small dry cloth to apply your preferred conditioner to the affected area. 

Ensure to use a circular motion and gentle pressure as you rub in the leather conditioner. This keeps your leather article lustrous and supple for years to come.

6. Let Your Leather Product Dry

Lastly, you should allow your leather article some time to dry, by placing it in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight and moisture. We highly recommend letting it dry naturally.

Simply place it on the patio, the verandah, a shaded backyard, near a window, an outside rack, or any similar location.

Best Practices When It Comes to Removing Nail Polish from Leather

All three methods that we’ve listed above are safe and can effectively remove nail polish from leather. However, there are some points you should keep in mind while following the process:

  • Never Use Harsh Chemicals – Avoid using harsh chemicals such as acetone to clean nail polish stains on leather. Acetone can cause the leather to lose color, dry out, and even flake or peel.
  • Use Blunt Objects to Scrape – Using sharp objects to scrape dried or wet nail polish is not a good idea. You can end up puncturing the leather or, worse, hurting yourself. Therefore, you should only use blunt objects.
  • Start With the Mildest Method – You should try the mildest cleaning method first to lessen the risk of damaging your leather item. This way, you can prevent your leather article from drying out, fading, and discoloring. 
  • Seek Professional Help If Required – If you’re unsure how to proceed or if you’re dealing with hardened nail polish stains on an expensive leather bag, it may be best to seek help from a professional cleaning service.