how to remove paint from leather

How to Remove Paint From Leather: The Ultimate Guide

Leather is a highly sensitive material that requires special cleaning precautions. This is why paint spills or stains must be removed quickly and effectively to eliminate the chance of long-term damage to your leather.

Compared to wet stains, cleaning dried paint from leather is not easy and requires you to use leather-friendly cleaning products or you’ll end up damaging the leather – sometimes even permanently.

This guide will teach you how to remove wet, dried, acrylic & water-based paint from leather carefully and effectively. Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover in this guide:

In this guide, you will also learn various ways of cleaning leather depending on the type of paint and the components present in it, as well as some best practices. Let’s get to it!

Removing Wet Paint from Leather

Wet paint that has yet to set on leather is less challenging to remove and does not require the use of any specialized cleaning solutions. As paint that has not dried can be lifted off much more easily, we recommend that you treat any paint-stained leather as soon as possible by following our guide below.

1. Scrape The Paint Off Your Leather

The first precaution to take when dealing with wet paint on leather is to act quickly. You must prepare your cleaning equipment immediately before the paint dries and becomes more challenging to remove.

We recommend using a dull knife or a spoon to remove any excess paint on the leather first. Work around the edges of the stain and gently lift the blade upwards to remove the wet paint.

Avoid spreading the paint to other clean spots on your leather article by keeping the dull knife or flat tool leveled with the surface. Limit the contact of the blade with the leather surface and ensure that you don’t accidentally scratch or pierce the material with it. 

Feel free to use any dull object for this as your main aim is to remove as much of the wet paint as possible without having it spread to any unstained leather or damaging it.

2. Dab The Wet Paint With a Cloth

After the leather is considerably clean, you need to take a moist microfiber cloth and dab it on the stain to lift the remainder.

The best way to dab at the paint spill is to gently press the damp cloth on the stain to transfer as much of it as possible to the fabric. Continue the process until virtually no residue remains on the leather.

2. Wipe Off The Remainder

Once you have removed the wet paint from the surface, proceed to remove the partially dried stain – this is the bottom layer of the paint that can be a little tougher to remove, as it has partially dried and bonded.

For this, use a damp cloth and a leather-friendly soap solution or a dedicated leather cleaner. Again, try your best not to spread the stain onto clean areas since excess water can damage the leather material.

You can use a rougher cloth for this purpose to trap the residue during the wiping process, but don’t use excessive pressure or you’ll risk damaging the surface.

3. Use Leather Wipes for Penetrated Stains 

If the wet paint stains have penetrated the surface of your leather article, you will need to use a dedicated leather cleaning solution to remove it (a leather cleaner or leather wipes will be effective enough).

We prefer using leather wipes as they are very convenient and contain safe ingredients. Leather wipes will help you remove leftover paint without having to worry about accidentally damaging or discoloring your leather – given that you don’t scrub it or use excessive pressure.  

Removing Dried Paint from Leather

Paint spills or stains that have dried on leather are a lot more challenging to remove than wet paint stains since the paint has had time to set and parts of it may have penetrated deep into the leather fibers.

As leather is naturally porous, the paint will seep in and cause your leather to be much stiffer than it normally should be. Tougher to remove paint stains require more effective and more potent cleaning solutions, which we’ll outline below.

1. Perform a Spot Test

Before using a cleaning product for dried paint, you need to determine the type of leather and assess the scale of damage caused to it. Consult the care instructions of the leather article in question and decide which products would be suitable for cleaning it.

We recommend using a few products in an inconspicuous area to judge their results. If it does not harm the leather material, you can proceed to use it on the paint-stained areas. 

2. Apply Nail Polish Remover or Rubbing Alcohol

Use an acetone-free nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to remove the hard-to-remove paint stains on your leather article. Acetone-free nail polish remover can help you clean leather without drying or discoloring the product.

Rubbing alcohol is another highly effective cleaning ingredient, but keep in mind that it can cause drying if used without proper care. Dampen a cloth with the nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol and dab the stains lightly.

Avoid rubbing motions to ensure the stain doesn’t smear onto other cleaner parts of the article and lifts off effectively within minutes.

3. Remove Cleaning Agents and Moisture

To clean any heavy paint stains that still remain on the leather article, you may need to use more potent cleaning solutions. You can use mild soap and a dampened cloth to remove any leftover residue.

After the process, ensure to use a dry towel or microfiber cloth to remove any excess moisture remaining on the material. It is especially important to condition your leather afterward to restore its natural oils.

Removing Acrylic Paint from Leather

Acrylic paints consist of polymers that bind with the leather article, so you’ll need to act as quickly as possible for the most effective treatment. Fortunately, it is not too tough to clean acrylic paint from leather, depending on the cleaning formulas and equipment available for the job. 

We’ve outlined a quick guide for you below, but we also recommend you read through our more comprehensive guide on how to remove acrylic paint stains from leather, as we go into more detail there.

1. Apply Olive Oil

For the first step, apply a generous layer of olive oil to the dry acrylic paint stain. Allow it to saturate the paint layer and soften the hardened acrylic paint to facilitate easy removal. 

2. Wipe Off Acrylic Paints

Use cotton swabs to lift away small acrylic paint stains on the leather after the olive oil has softened the paint. You can also use a dry and clean cloth for lifting more prominent stains.

Repeatedly rinse and wipe the cloth on the acrylic paint stain until most of it has been lifted away from the leather. For tougher-to-remove stains, you can use any off-the-shelf cleaner that is leather-friendly (for extreme cases you may also use 70% isopropyl alcohol).

As any form of alcohol is harmful to leather, as it draws out excess moisture and oils from the material. Therefore, after using isopropyl alcohol, ensure that you condition your leather article afterward.  

4. Condition the Leather

Use any leather-friendly conditioner after cleaning to revitalize the leather’s suppleness. Start by rubbing a small amount of product and allow it to rest for a few minutes. Wipe away any excess and buff it with a clean microfiber cloth for a smooth and shiny finish.

Removing Water-Based Paint from Leather

Water-based paint is much easier to clean than oil or acrylic paints since it contains no polymers or oils. They primarily consist of water and can be cleaned using simple methods without much elbow grease. 

1. Use a Wet Towel

Water-based paints can be cleaned easily from leather articles since you only need a damp cloth to wipe them away. Nevertheless, water can be highly harmful to leather which is why you should be careful to follow the correct procedure.

Start by dampening a clean towel, and wringing it out to ensure it does not drip on the leather. Then, wipe the stain by directing the motion of your hand inwards. Ensure that you’re careful and work slowly on rubbing and dabbing the paint without damaging the leather.

2. Scrape Using a Dull Knife

If there is excess paint or if the stain is too difficult to remove using just water, you need to use a dull knife or flat tool to remove it. Although the damp towel may not have removed all of the paint, it will have loosened the stain enough to be scraped away easily.

With that in mind, you can use a dull knife to gently scrape the leftover water-based paint off the leather article until no or minimal residue remains.

3. Dry Moisture with a Towel

If there is liquid remaining on the leather article, you should remove it using a dry cloth. Pat down the surface using a dry clean cloth until no moisture remains on the leather article.

4. Condition the Leather 

Conditioning leather after exposure to water is very important. Water draws the essential oils from the leather, leaving the fibers dry and brittle. This is why you must renourish leather with essential conditioning ingredients after using any type of cleaning agent.

Apply a high-quality leather conditioner to the leather with a clean cloth. Allow the nutrients to seep into the material and remove it using a dry cloth for a shiny and soft finish.

Removing Oil-Based Paints from Leather

Oil-based paints contain drying oils with fats, linseed oil, or polymers. These paints can stay wet for a long period which means their removal may be easier than acrylic paints in some cases.

However, dried oil paints can be extremely challenging to clear away, especially from a porous material such as leather. 

1. Saturate with Olive Oil

The first step to cleaning oil paints from leather is to saturate the stain with olive oil. Olive oil can easily permeate the paint layer and loosen its bond. After this, you can easily use a cloth or cotton swab to remove the oil paint stains

Ensure not to transfer the stain to other clean parts of the leather article as you clear away the oil paint – that’s why we recommend dabbing the oil paint stain instead of wiping it.

2. Blot the Stain

After lifting the olive oil-soaked paint stain, you must blot away the residue using a cloth. For paint spills that cannot easily dislodge from the leather, apply olive oil after and before blotting to remove them.

3. Remove the Oil

After the paint has been removed completely from the leather surface, you need to clean the leftover oil. Use a leather cleaner or mild soap solution to wipe away excess oil and then proceed to dry the area with a cloth to remove any remaining moisture after cleaning.

4. Condition the Leather

Conditioning the leather article after cleaning with water can prevent the risk of it drying out and becoming brittle. Conditioning also improves the appearance of leather and protects it from future damage.

Apply a small amount of leather conditioner to the area using a cloth. Leave the conditioner to soak in for a few minutes before buffing it for a lustrous and supple finish.

Best Practices for Removing Paint from Leather

As outlined in our guide, various types of paints affect leather in different ways. Therefore, it’s important to not only assess the type of leather you working with but also the type of paint.

Paint can contain different types of mediums, such as water or oil, so you’ll need to use an appropriate technique and cleaning solution to remove it effectively and safely.

There are also other important tips and best practices that you should consider, which we have outlined below.

  • Only Use Leather-Friendly Products – Leather-friendly products are necessary to keep your leather articles safe from cracking, brittleness, and permanent discoloration. These cleaning products contain safe ingredients that nourish and clean leather without causing any harm to its color, texture, or appearance.
  • Assess the Type of Paint – Assessing the type of paint stain is vital before moving on to remove it from the leather surface. The most suitable type of cleaning method varies depending on the type of paint.
  • Act as Fast as Possible – Wet paint is always easier to clean than dried paint. Dried paint can leave behind hard residue, which is tougher to remove. Therefore, act as fast as you can whenever you accidentally spill paint or your favorite leather articles. 
  • Avoid Rubbing & Applying Excessive Pressure – Rubbing a paint stain can spread it to cleaner areas of your leather article or even embed the paint stain deeper into its fibers. Therefore, never use excessive pressure or rub the paint stain – instead, gently dab them.
  • Avoid Using Acetone – Acetone is a highly harmful ingredient that can cause the leather to dry out and become dry and faded. Therefore, avoid acetone completely and instead use a leather-friendly cleaner or isopropyl alcohol with a leather conditioner.
  • Use Blunt Objects for Scraping – Sharp knives or similar objects can lead to punctures or scratches on your leather. Instead, we recommend using blunt tools to scrape away paint from leather surfaces.

About Matthew

Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief & Writer At Leatherskill

I’m a leather enthusiast turned artisan. Apart from crafting leather products, I’m passionate about writing in-depth guides and reviews on all things leather!