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5 Liquids That Can Remove Dried Acrylic Paint From Surfaces

Updated on July 16, 2016
Pyrol red dab
Pyrol red dab | Source

Drying of Acrylic Paint

Water-based acrylic paint uses an acrylic emulsion to bind pigment. Notice I said an emulsion, not a solution. The acrylic does not dissolve in water, and therefore an emulsion is created. When the water evaporates from acrylic paint, the polymer cross-links 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 nonporous surface, you will need a cleaner that is capable of dissolving acrylic resin. However, please take note: 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.

Safety

Before we really get into the various household chemicals useful in removing paint from various surfaces, I feel it 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 flammabilty. Four of the five 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. 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. Special care in making sure adequate ventilation is provided when working with organic solvents. Also, ammonia is an irritant and can cause asphyxiation in closed spaces. If possible, it is best to work outdoors.

Health Risks

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

  • To inhale or ingest: 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 by ingestion. It can cause blindness and even death!
  • To touch: 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 risk.

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

Five Liquids That Clean Dried Acrylic

Cleaning Liquid
Appropriate Materials
Warnings
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 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
For all items in this list, use good ventilation, avoid topical contact, and use fire prevention.

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.

1: Ammonia Solution

Gallon of household ammonia
Gallon of household ammonia | Source

Good old cheap household ammonia is quite effective in removing semidry and dry acrylic paint from non-porous 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.

Also, 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.

2: Rubbing Alcohol

A bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol
A bottle of 91% isopropyl 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 I am sure the 91% and 70% would work fine too. 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, then agitated with an old toothbrush.

How to Remove Acrylic Paint from Clothing With Rubbing Alcohol

The steps to removing dried acrylic paint from clothing.
The steps to removing dried acrylic paint from clothing.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

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

Step 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.

Step 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.

Step 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.

3: Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol
Denatured alcohol | Source

Something that is a little stronger than isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) but still safe on plastics is denatured alcohol.

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.

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

4: Acetone

Acetone
Acetone | Source

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.

5: Lacquer Thinner

Can of lacquer thinner
Can of lacquer thinner | Source

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.

Share Your Experience

If you had successfully removed dried acrylic paint from a surface what did you use?

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    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 25 hours ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Vince,

      I was making some titanium white acrylic since I have a pound of 99.5% pure titanium dioxide from my soap making days that I need to get rid of. I actually enjoy getting messy making paint BTW! Anyhow, I discovered, I could scrub my tools and such with a slurry of laundry detergent powder. I will eventually write a blog post or a hub about it.

    • Vinca Voda 11 days ago

      Thank you, Jason. I found this very helpful. I want to add one more thing that anyone can use on dried acrylic . It's not liquid, but it is extremely useful and safe. Regular baby wipes (Pampers) can clean dry acrylic from plastic, glass, laminate, metal, ceramic and any other non-porous material. For textile I use alcohol (as you recommended) and warm water and it works. I wish there is something affordable for brushes. Ideas? I teach art. Thanks, again.

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 7 weeks ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Mary,

      I am glad that you got alcohol to work. It is a fluid that is mild enough to be manageable but it is still flammable. Although acetone and lacquer thinner are far more active, their fumes are a nuisance especially indoors. Those drastic solvents are a last resort really.

    • Mary G Connor 7 weeks ago

      I placed some folded sheets I used for drop cloths over the back of my "leather-like" futon, thinking any drops of acrylic paint residue was dry. They ended up sitting there for about 4 days. When I picked them up to put them away, I found that wet paint transferred to the futon; it covered and area if about 6 sq.ins. Some appeared wet so I squirted it with liquid soap and used a scrub brush. There was still a lot of dried paint remaining. After reading this article, I applied the rubbing alcohol to a coarse cloth, rubbing spots in as circular motion. The paint came right off! I want to kiss this author!

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 2 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      I have no idea. How is the leather bonded? Acetone or lacquer thinner will dissolve most glues. Anything strong enough to dissolve leather will dissolve human flesh so beware.

    • Cassie 2 months ago

      What can I use to remove bonded leather?

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 5 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Sarah,

      If water is working a little bit then you are in luck. So long as the brown paint is not allowed to fully cure, I would try adding a bit of dish soap( few drops) to hot water. If that is still not satisfactory, cautiously start adding alcohol to water in increasing ratios but do not damage underlying white paint. Start with a mix of 80% water and 20% alcohol and work from there.

    • Sarah Stone 5 months ago

      Help! I painted a brown tree on white painted closet doors and I'm trying to get it off. Water works a little bit, but is there a faster way I can get it off??

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 15 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      @Randy, Plastics is kind of tricky. I would try denatured alcohol in an inconspicous test spot first. Other options would be ammonia and water at 200 degrees.

    • Randy 15 months ago

      I am trying to get off an air brushed muriel off of the top of a car headliner. It looks like plastic. What is the #1 thing that will get it off? Please help!

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 17 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Once an acrylic paint had dried it is already cross linked. You will be able to dissolve dried acrylic paint with solvents like acetone but it will not work properly as a paint. I wrote this hub merely to help people remove small stains from clothing and furniture

    • Angel 18 months ago

      A Bucket Of Acrylic Paint I Wnt 2 Used Is Totally Blocked,what Will I Use To Dissolve It So That I Will Use It To Paint My Store,help Pls?

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 22 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Hopefully the tank of the motorcycle is painted with polyurethane. First try hot soapy water and a sponge. If that fails try ammonia but test a small area first.

    • ondrak 22 months ago

      Please help! On my motorcycle tank there are some white paintings made by using a Schmincke AEROCOLOR acrylic ink pen left by its previous owner. I want to get rid of it but it is on tank paint and I want to preserve that without any damage. Problem is, I assume, that layer underneath acrylic letters that I want to dissolve is probably also acrylic so any effort will end up with damage on the tank paint surface. Am I right? Is there some possible way how to do it? Thanks!

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 23 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      silicone rubber should be easy enough to remove acrylic paint. I would try soapy hot water and if that fails, denatured alcohol.

    • Aisyah 23 months ago

      Hello, what solution should i use to remove paint on silicone rubber surface? I assume that the paint used on the silicone is acrylic paint too? Please help me!

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      HDPE or PET plastics are satisfactory for handling acetone.

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Acetone would work but it will take considerable time. This solvent evaporates very fast. You might try Methyl Ethyl Ketone or Lacquer Thinner. The later two are more toxic so take precautions.

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      That is complete nonsense. Acetone is a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism. Acetone is probably less toxic than ethyl alcohol.

    • Leander 3 years ago

      Painterman, acetone will do the trick with ease. I'm not sure how much you would need for a 90cm cube, but when buying it in larger quantities the price per litre drops to laughable lows. I think the more difficult question will be what kind of container you would need to use for the project as acetone attacks most of the plastics available.

    • painterman 3 years ago

      I've got this art project I'm working on that requires me to dissolve a piece of paint that's roughly a 90x90 cm cube does anyone know anything that will dissolve a solid block of acrylic paint?

    • rc 3 years ago

      acetone is dangerous. 1/4 tsp in a football field 1 foot deep in water is unsafe

    • Eric 3 years ago

      I have plastic pump sprays with dried acrylic wood stain inside the container, nozzles and hoses. Do you think the thinner will be successful or is it likely that these sprayers are shot? Should I use straight thinner or a ratio will water? Thanks

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much for I seem to get it everywhere when I paint!

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 4 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      Very useful this...cheers now!

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      What? That is lazy mans talk. You must be made of money! Personally, dried acrylic paint is one of the easy things to remove. Try removing ink stains. So far isopropyl is the best thing for ink and it only works to remove 75% of the stain!

    • Ernesto Bueno 4 years ago

      Too much work. Get rid of the jeans and buy a new pair.

    • Farmer Rachel profile image

      Rachel Koski 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Voted up, useful, interesting. Nice work! I love painting and I'm always making such a mess with it, this info will be really useful to me next time I catch the bug to paint ;)

    • jbosh1972 profile image
      Author

      Jason 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Thank you. The thing to keep in mind is that acrylic paint is an acrylic polymer emulsion. If the paint is still tacky then solvents that mix with water like acetone and alcohol work. For completely hardened paint, acetone or lacquer thinner work best. Ammonia is not a solvent but a reactive medium. It is alkaline or high pH and reverses the polymerization of the acrylic.

    • bonytooth 4 years ago

      I spent a lot of time searching the internet for options to remove dried acrylic paint from plastic sheeting. This article is by some margin the best researched and best presented of any that I found.

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