Skip to main content

5 Liquids That Can Remove Dried Acrylic Paint From Surfaces

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I am an artist who is always exploring different materials, tools, and processes.

Pyrol red dab.

Pyrol red dab.

Can You Remove Dry Acrylic Paint?

It is common to get paint somewhere you did not intend to when you are painting . While some paint can be easily washed off, acrylic paint is different. It dries fairly quickly, so if you accidentally get it somewhere you don't want, you should act fast to remove it while it is still wet. It's not impossible to remove when it is dry, but it will be a bit tricker.

Water-based acrylic paint uses an acrylic emulsion to bind pigment. Notice I said an emulsion, not a solution. The acrylic resin does not dissolve in water. Therefore, an emulsion is required to get a single-phase liquid paint medium. When the water evaporates from acrylic paint, the polymer crosslinks its molecules and forms an adherent acrylic-paint film. Once dry, the film is no longer water soluble. Therefore, to remove dried acrylic paint from a porous or non-porous surface, you will need a cleaner that is capable of dissolving acrylic resin. At the very least, you will need something that can reduce its adhesion. However, please take note that some solvents and cleaners may not be appropriate for some surfaces and materials. This article will go over the appropriate surfaces for each cleaning liquid.

Five Liquids That Clean Dried Acrylic

For all items in this list, use good ventilation, avoid topical contact, and use fire prevention.

Cleaning LiquidAppropriate MaterialsWarnings

Ammonia solution

Non-porous surfaces such as metal, glass, and plastics.

Gives off intense fumes, dissolves brass (including the brass ferrules on paintbrushes and airbrushes), blackens aluminum, and should not be used on wood.

Isopropyl alcohol, AKA rubbing alcohol

Both non-porous surfaces (including plastics and unvarnished, unpainted wood) and clothing.

Has no common side effects, but infrequently causes irritation and redness on skin. As with all of these products, avoid topical contact.

Denatured alcohol

Non-porous surfaces, including plastics and unvarnished, unpainted wood.

Contains methanol (a poison).

Acetone

Non-porous surfaces such as glass and metals. This is so strong that it will not require much scrubbing (perfect for airbrush nozzle tips).

Gives off intense fumes—use in a well-ventilated area. Not safe for plastics or synthetic fabrics.

Lacquer thinner

Non-porous surfaces, such as glass and metals, and unvarnished, unpainted wood.

Toluene and methanol are toxic; toluene can have long-term health effects. Look for thinners that contain ethyl acetate instead of toluene. Not safe for plastics.

Note on Removing Acrylic Paint From Wood

Alcohol, acetone, and lacquer thinner should work on bare, unvarnished wood. If the wood is varnished and gets acrylic dried on it, then hot soapy water is the only way. Although alcohol will not strip varnish per se, it may dull the shine or discolor it.

Gallon of household ammonia.

Gallon of household ammonia.

1. Ammonia Solution

Good old cheap household ammonia is quite effective in removing semidry and dry acrylic paint from nonporous surfaces, such as metal, glass, and plastics. This is because ammonia is often used to stabilize acrylic emulsions by raising the pH. The sudsy variety might actually be best since it contains detergent to keep the loosened particles suspended for easier rinsing.

Be careful as the fumes can be intense. It might be best to clean with ammonia outdoors or under a fume hood or similar fume-extraction device. It's rare, but the fumes can also cause an allergic reaction.

It bears mentioning that ammonia should not be used to clean airbrushes or regular paint brushes. It dissolves brass—including the brass plating on the ferrules of brushes—and blackens aluminum. Here is a guide to specifically help you clean brushes.

A bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol.

A bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol.

2. Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, is effective in removing dried acrylic from not only non-porous surfaces but also clothing with a little elbow grease. It is another cheap and readily available cleaning solution. The 99% concentration works best, but that concentration needs to be ordered online. Unlike ammonia, this liquid actually has some solvent action on the acrylic binder. Small stains on cotton and other natural fabrics should come out if they are soaked and agitated with an old toothbrush.

Denatured alcohol.

Denatured alcohol.

3. Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is a little stronger than isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), but it's still safe on plastics.

Denatured alcohol is stronger than isopropyl alcohol for two reasons:

  1. It does not contain water, unlike rubbing alcohol.
  2. It is composed of ethyl and methyl alcohol, which are stronger solvents than isopropyl alcohol.
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Feltmagnet

One word of caution, though: Denatured alcohol contains methanol, which is a strong poison. As with all alcohols, this stuff is quite flammable. It burns with a very pale blue flame that is invisible in sunlight. Good ventilation and fire prevention is essential.

Acetone.

Acetone.

4. Acetone

A stronger option would be acetone. Unlike alcohol, this powerful solvent cannot be used on plastics or synthetic fabrics. It really is only for getting into hard-to-reach areas where scrubbing is not possible. Acetone-safe surfaces are mainly nonporous, such as glass and metal. It is extremely flammable but low in toxicity. Most hardware stores, paint stores, and home improvement centers carry acetone in metal tins. Acetone is a common solvent used with fiberglass resins. I soak airbrush nozzle tips in acetone when they get gummed up with paint.

Can of lacquer thinner.

Can of lacquer thinner.

5. Lacquer Thinner

Lacquer thinner is a stronger solvent blend that would remove acrylics effectively from glass and metal. Unfortunately, lacquer thinner often contains toluene and methanol, which are toxic. Toluene is capable of long-term health affects. Lacquer thinner should only be used outdoors. Newer "green" formulations of lacquer thinner have eliminated toluene and replaced it with ethyl acetate, a low-toxicity solvent with a pleasant, fruity odor.

The steps to removing dried acrylic paint from clothing.

The steps to removing dried acrylic paint from clothing.

How to Remove Acrylic Paint From Clothing With Rubbing Alcohol

Here is how you should go about removing this paint from your clothes.

1. Gather Your Materials

You will need rubbing alcohol (the higher the concentration, the better) and a butter knife or old toothbrush.

Use rubbing alcohol and a scraper on the stain.

Use rubbing alcohol and a scraper on the stain.

2. Soak the Dried Acrylic With Rubbing Alcohol

First, test the rubbing alcohol on a spot of the fabric that's not usually visible to make sure it will not remove any of the dye (this is uncommon, but it is always best to be safe). Then soak the paint stain with rubbing alcohol.

Pour the rubbing alcohol on the stain.

Pour the rubbing alcohol on the stain.

3. Scrape Off the Paint

Let the stain soak for about 15 minutes. By that point, the rubbing alcohol will have loosened the paint, so now you can scrape it off. Use your butterknife or toothbrush to separate the paint from the material.

Scrape the paint off of the clothing.

Scrape the paint off of the clothing.

4. Repeat

Each time you do this, some of the paint will come off. It may take several applications to get the paint off entirely. For this sweatshirt, three applications were needed in order to remove the paint entirely.

Your clothes will eventually be clean.

Your clothes will eventually be clean.

How to Remove Acrylic Paint From Common Surfaces

Here are some frequent surfaces where unwanted acrylic paint can end up on. You will find steps you can take to remove dried paint.

Wood or Plastic

  • Wipe the area with water and a paper towel. This will remove dirt and dust particles.
  • Pour some vegetable oil on a paper towel. Press it against the stain for about a minute. Afterwards, use the towel to wipe away as much of the stain as possible.
  • Scrape off any remaining paint. If you're concerned about scratching your surface, use a plastic scraper.

Clothing

  • Take the tip of a washcloth and dip it in nail polish remover. Make sure to use a remover that is made of acetone.
  • Hold the washcloth against the stain for a few minutes. This will start to break up the dried paint.
  • As the paint starts to loosen. you start scraping and wiping the dry parts off.
  • Rinse out the acetone with water and put the clothing in the wash.

Carpet or Fabric

  • Use tools like needle nose pliers or a putty knife to remove as much dry paint as possible from the carpet.
  • Soak a cloth in rubbing alcohol. Blot the stain and let it soak for about 20 minutes.
  • Afterwards, take a dry cloth and blot the area. Be sure to soak up the rubbing alcohol.
  • If the stain remains, try repeating the process with substances like glycerin or acetone.

Glass

  • Grab a sponge (ideally one that is two-sided, with one side that is rougher and designed for harder scrubbing) and put in some soapy water.
  • Rub the sponge over the spot. When the paint starts to get soft, start scrubbing with the rough side of the sponge.
  • If there is paint that is difficult to remove, you can try scraping it off lightly with something like a small knife. Be careful not to scratch the glass.
  • Rinse off any scrapings and dry the class with a clean cloth.

Skin

  • Pour baby oil over the stain and rub it into the paint stain.
  • As the paint starts to break up, begin removing pieces of it.
  • Put some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and rub it on any left over paint to remove it.

Canvas

  • Take a cloth and dip it in denatured alcohol. Then place the cloth over the area of the canvas with the unwanted paint.
  • Leave the cloth there until it dries. Repeat the process until there is no more paint going onto the cloth.
  • Put some dish soap in warm water and use a brush to rub it over the canvas.
  • Rinse off the soap with water and let the canvas dry.

Paint Brushes

  • Dip your brush in some rubbing alcohol for about five minutes.
  • Afterwards, while wearing some gloves, start removing the dried paint from the bristles.
  • Be sure to condition your brushes after exposing them to a harsh solvent.

FAQs About Removing Acrylic Paint

Here are some common questions about removing dry acrylic paint.

Does dry acrylic paint wash off?

Once the paint is dry, it will not wash off of clothing. If you get any on your clothes, you should try to remove it before it dries. Conversely, if you are painting on your clothes, you should wait until the paint dries before washing your clothing. This article can offer some tips on how to remove paint specifically from clothes.

Will vinegar remove dry acrylic paint?

Vinegar could be useful in the paint while it is still wet. However, other substances will be more effective if the paint is dry.

How do I remove dry acrylic paint from a palette?

If you are going to use acrylic paint, it is recommended to use palettes made of glass, plastic, or ceramic. They are easier to clean than porous wood palettes. If the paint has dried, you may be able to simply lift it off if it is at the stage where it feels rubbery. Otherwise, you could soak the palette in window cleaner or fabric softener to easily remove the paint.

Can I paint over dry acrylic paint?

Since this paint is insoluble, you can paint over it when it is dry with no fear of lifting the color.

Safety

Before you use the various household chemicals useful in removing paint from various surfaces, I feel it is prudent to mention a few words on safety. Most of the liquids mentioned here pose some kind of hazard to health and property.

Fire Risk

The most important danger to consider here is flammability. Most of the liquids featured in this article are moderately to extremely flammable. Remember to not use alcohols and solvents anywhere near naked flames or energized heating elements. Do not use flammable liquids close to running electric motors unless they are specifically designed to be used in a fire hazard zone. Most electric motors emit sparks. The vapors of the most flammable, namely acetone and lacquer thinner, are heavier than air and can travel considerable distances to a source of ignition.

Inhalation Hazard

Most solvents are not only flammable but also nervous system depressants and may also be toxic. Be especially mindful of solvents that contain aromatic hydrocarbons, such as toluene and xylene. This can include certain lacquer thinners. Aromatics increase toxicity and the need for better ventilation. You must make sure sure adequate ventilation is provided when working with organic solvents. Be aware that ammonia is an irritant and can cause asphyxiation in closed spaces. Not to mention ammonia is also corrosive. If possible, it is best to work outdoors.

Health Risks

The next consideration is health concerns. These liquids can be dangerous.

  • Avoid inhaling or ingesting: You should only use solvents in well-ventilated areas. Ingestion or excessive inhalation can be extremely hazardous. Both the denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner may contain methanol, which is highly toxic if ingested. It can cause blindness and even death!
  • Avoid touching: Do not allow contact between the solvent and your skin as the liquids will penetrate and get absorbed into your body. Ammonia solution also produces noxious vapors and can irritate the skin. Wear gloves and protective eyewear to mitigate accidental exposure.

Now that we have assessed the risk, we shall proceed better prepared and more informed.

Share Your Experience

Questions & Answers

Question: What products can you use to remove acrylic from a hardwood floor?

Answer: All the products mentioned in this article with the exception of ammonia. If the hardwood floor has an oil or varnish treatment it may be damaged by most solvents. Test a small area first. Denatured alcohol might be less aggressive but will help to remove dried paint.

Question: How do you get acrylic paint off of paint brushes?

Answer: I would soak them for a couple hours in lacquer thinner. Other wish hot soapy water or ammonia water would be good for wet paint.

Question: I have a German ceramic vase which someone has sprayed with gold paint. Can I use acetone on this?

Answer: You should be able to. Lacquer thinner is good too and it dries a tad slower leaving your more time to work with it.

Question: How do I remove spattered, dried acrylic wall paint from an old oil painting without damaging the painting?

Answer: Acrylic should not adhere to oil paint too well. Try dabbing affected area with a rag soaked in either denatured alcohol or isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Remember, you're doing this at your own risk.

Question: I made a big mistake on a corner of a white canvas. It made the whole painting look terrible. It's about 2"x3". I want to remove it and paint white over it with a just a tiny marking of black to finish it. What do you suggest?

Answer: Just paint right over it. Use a Little gesso or primer first if color change is drastic.

Question: I have an antique walnut armoire that has stenciled designs on the door panels. What would be best to use?

Answer: So tricky. I really can't recommend anything due to the delicate nature of antiques. If you're brave, test an inconspicuous area on the furniture with denatured alcohol to see if the varnish or stain can withstand this. Might not even work anyways. If you know the finish applied you can sand everything down to bare wood and refinish.

Question: I used artist’s acrylic paint to produce a union flag on the metal garage door, but vinegar doesn’t touch it. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Not only is this a vertical surface but it’s very large as well. Normally, lacquer thinner would be used on a metal surface but the scale of this would not be cost effective as several applications of solvent are probably needed. Therefore, I should recommend the handy heat gun and a putty knife. Any easier method would be to simply spray a white primer for metals over the painted design. Then apply an exterior paint finish that matches the original color of the garage door.

Question: We have two small spots of kids acrylic paint on our outdoor pavers. Which products can we use?

Answer: You might want to apply acetone or lacquer thinner to the paint spots and let them sit for 5 minutes. Use a putty knife to scratch off. A heat gun or boiling water may or may not work also.

Question: I just did a portrait on pastel paper, with soft pastel and colored pencil. I did a bit of acrylic splatter for an neat effect, but I 'm not fussy on where one of the splatters landed. How can I safely remove it? I'ts only about 1/4 inch in size.

Answer: You might ruin the paper trying to remove the acrylic. If it is that small it would be easier to just paint over it with titanium white or whatever color the paper is.

Question: How do I get acrylic paint off balcony floors (tiles)?

Answer: Ceramic is fairly durable. You could use lacquer thinner on dried paint. Let soak for 5 minutes first.

Question: I painted a table top with acrylic paint and later used a clear acrylic sealer. It left white streaks over paint. How can I clean the sealer off without damaging the paint?

Answer: You really can’t. You have to strip it all off.

Question: I painted my calculator with acrylic paint. When I removed the paint, you can see the faded paint in the center from where I painted. I rubbed it with a cleansing wipe but it just doesn’t remove it. I rubbed it with acetone. It later dried and it kinda has an appearance of frost. How can I fix this?

Answer: You can’t repair it. Acetone, along with other harsh solvents, irreversibly damages several types of plastics. If it’s a smooth plastic surface you might try sand paper of 300, 600, then 1200 grit. Afterwards, you can just use a polish safe for plastics and buff it out. If it’s textured surface you are up a creek.

Question: I normally use a pouring medium to create different textures in my paintings. How can I remove that from a canvas? I wish to gesso all over it but the pouring medium has dimension!

Answer: Trying to remove acrylic paint deliberately applied is a different matter. You can try applying lacquer thinner and letting it set but it will likely just be a sticky mess.

Canvas is cotton so it be OK you use paint remover and let it sit 15 minutes. Very carefully use a plastic putty knife and gently remove paint. Clean off residue with alcohol or acetone. Let dry then gesso.

In your case I would just remove the dimensional portions. Clean off chemical residues. Go from there.

Question: I have some acrylic paint that I painted on board that I want to scrape down, re-gesso, and re-use the board. What is the best product to use? Is there any reason ZipStrip wouldn’t work?

Answer: Sure Zip-strip will work for this purpose but it might not be needed. If the old acrylic is not textured then scratching fine sandpaper should be sufficient treatment, then gesso over the matte surface.

Question: How I can remove artist acrylic colour (used for retouching) from an oil painting on jute canvas?

Answer: If the acrylic is already dry then no. Anything that would remove dried acrylic would at least damage oil paint. Your best option is to try to paint over it. I’d put a primer over the acrylic and try using oil paints again.