How to Remove Nail Polish Stains from Leather

spilled puddle of nail polish
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 15
What You'll Need
Paper towels or clean, 100% cotton rags
Nail polish remover (acetone)
Rubbing alcohol
Moisturizing soap
Leather conditioning cream
Cotton swabs
Cotton balls
Leather polish
Linseed oil

Nail polish stains are common. While a number of nail polish messes come from unfortunate spills, with leather items specifically, such as purses, belts, coats, or wallets, simply handling them too soon after applying your nail polish can be enough to transfer smudges and stains. Even nails that appear to be dry can be holding just enough moisture to cause a stain.

The good news is that with a little careful planning, your furniture or accessories don't need to be forever damaged. Follow these steps to remove nail polish stains from leather. Try to act as quickly as possible though because the longer nail polish stains have to dry, the more difficult they will be to remove.

Step 1 - Remove the Nail Polish

Remove the drop or puddle of nail polish as quickly as possible. Drops can be removed by carefully dabbing them with one or more cotton swabs or balls. This reduces the chance of smearing the drops around and causing more damage. Larger spills, especially on big pieces of leather furniture, will need to be dabbed with paper towels or clean cotton rags. Be careful as you dab so you don't spread the polish or cause it to drip on something else like carpet or linoleum.

Alternatively, gentle scraping with a spatula or other edged surface is helpful if the spill has begun to harden.

Step 2 - Choose a Cleaner

Even after you've removed the excess nail polish, you'll still likely have a lingering stain or streak that will need to be removed. It's already dry, so waiting a bit of time to check the steadfastness of the leather color won't make much of a difference.

Nail polish is typically removed with acetone, although rubbing alcohol can also work. However, both rubbing alcohol and acetone (the active ingredient in many nail polish removers) can destroy the leather's color. Test each substance in an inconspicuous spot and wait 24 hours. If there's no damaging reaction between your chosen cleanser and the leather color, then you can use it to remove the nail polish stain.

Try the rubbing alcohol first because it's slightly less harsh than acetone. Dab the stain with small amounts of rubbing alcohol. It's a good idea to use soaked cotton swabs because then you'll have full control over the amount of alcohol that ends up on the leather. Dab repeatedly using as many swaps as necessary.

If there's still a stain, you'll need to try removal with acetone. This may also take a few attempts allowing the leather to completely dry before each new attempt. Again, use cotton swabs to control the amount that ends up on the leather.

If you're in a hurry, a simple soap and water solution is your best option. They will not be as damaging and do not require a 24-hour testing and waiting period. However, this is a less effective treatment for serious nail polish stains on leather.

Step 3 - Repair the Leather

Regardless of whether the leather's color is affected, there's going to be some level of degradation because of how harsh acetone and alcohol are. You can repair this damage, or at the very least, cover it up effectively.

Begin by carefully washing any leftover acetone or alcohol residue with a moisturizing bar of soap and water. Pat dry and allow it to completely air dry.

Then treat the area with a homemade mix of white vinegar and linseed oil. Mix one part vinegar with two parts of the oil and apply liberally in a circular motion to the treated spot.

If removing nail polish stains from a small item like a purse, go ahead and cover the whole surface. Allow the mix to sit for 10 minutes, and then buff with a clean cotton cloth. Repeat as necessary. Finish off with commercial leather conditioning cream and leather polish, and the leather should look as good as new.