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5 Liquids That Can Remove Dried Acrylic Paint From Surfaces

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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.