5 Liquids That Can Remove Dried Acrylic Paint From Surfaces

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.


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
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)
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 | 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?

  • Ammonia
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Acetone or nail polish remover
  • Lacquer thinner
See results without voting

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Comments 24 comments

jbosh1972 profile image

jbosh1972 2 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author


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 3 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

jbosh1972 12 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

@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 12 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

jbosh1972 15 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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 15 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

jbosh1972 19 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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 19 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

jbosh1972 20 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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

Aisyah 20 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

jbosh1972 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

HDPE or PET plastics are satisfactory for handling acetone.

jbosh1972 profile image

jbosh1972 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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

jbosh1972 2 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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

Leander 2 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

waynet 3 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

Very useful this...cheers now!

jbosh1972 profile image

jbosh1972 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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

Farmer Rachel 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

jbosh1972 4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA Author

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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