A close-up photo capturing a tangled lock of hair adorned with drips of colorful nail polish, showcasing the frustration and messiness of trying to remove it.

How To Get Nail Polish Out Of Hair: A Step-By-Step Guide

Having nail polish end up in your hair can be annoying and stressful. If you’ve ever had a mishap while painting your nails and gotten polish where it doesn’t belong, you know how difficult it can be to remove.

The good news is that it is possible to get nail polish out of hair with the right techniques and products.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Use an acetone-based nail polish remover and cotton balls to break down the polish on your hair strands. Then shampoo thoroughly and repeat as needed until the color is gone.

Act Quickly for Best Results

Getting nail polish out of hair can feel like an uphill battle, but taking action right after the spill occurs will make the process much easier. Here are some tips for acting fast when nail polish ends up in your locks:

Remove polish as soon as possible after spill

Nail polish dries quickly, so it’s important to act fast after that slippery bottle leads to a hair dye disaster. The sooner you can start working on removing the polish, the better your chances of getting it out completely. Shoot for starting the removal process within 5-10 minutes of the spill.

Have all the supplies you’ll need on hand ahead of time, like acetone nail polish remover, cotton balls, and gloves. This way you’ll be ready to spring into action when needed. Work quickly and methodically to dissolve the polish before it sets.

Work in a well-ventilated area

Acetone-based nail polish remover has a strong, unpleasant odor, so you’ll want to work in an area with good airflow. Open some windows or run a fan to circulate fresh air. This will make the experience less miserable for both you and anyone who happens to be nearby.

You may also want to drape an old towel around your shoulders to catch drips and protect your clothing. And of course, never lean directly over the nail polish remover, as inhaling the fumes can be hazardous.

By acting quickly when you get polish in your hair and taking steps to make the removal process comfortable, you’ll get your locks back to their beautiful, polish-free state ASAP. Just stay positive and don’t panic. With some patience and elbow grease, you’ve got this!

Use Acetone-Based Nail Polish Remover

Look for 100% acetone formula

When trying to remove dried nail polish from hair, it’s best to use a nail polish remover that contains 100% acetone. Acetone is an effective solvent that breaks down and dissolves the pigments and polymers in nail polish.

Make sure to read the bottle’s ingredient list and choose a remover that lists “acetone” as the only active ingredient without additives like fragrance, vitamin E, or aloe.

Soak cotton balls and hold on hair

Once you have your 100% acetone nail polish remover, soak a few cotton balls with the liquid until they are fully saturated. Carefully place the acetone-soaked cotton balls directly on the spots of dried polish in your hair.

Hold the cotton balls in place for at least 15-20 seconds to give the acetone time to break down the polish.

Let acetone sit and break down polish

As you hold the cotton balls on the nail polish spots, you should see the acrylic start to break down before your eyes. The dried polish will get gooey and loosen from your hair strands. Resist the urge to immediately rub it off.

Let the acetone sit and do its chemical work of dissolving the nail lacquer. If needed, add a bit more remover to keep the cotton saturated.

Don’t rub excessively

Once the polish appears liquefied and ready to wipe off, gently blot at the spots with a clean cotton ball. Try not to vigorously rub the hair as excessive friction can cause damage and breakage. Carefully dab and roll the cotton over the affected area.

The dissolved lacquer should transfer easily onto the cotton. You may need fresh cotton balls and a few more rounds of acetone to fully remove every trace of staining.

Shampoo Hair Thoroughly

Lather and rinse hair multiple times

When trying to remove nail polish from hair, it is crucial to shampoo thoroughly and repeat the process multiple times. Applying shampoo once may not be enough to break down and lift out all traces of polish residue.

Lather up a quarter-sized amount of clarifying shampoo in your palms, then massage thoroughly into the stained hair and scalp for a few minutes before rinsing.

According to hair care experts, you should repeat the shampoo process at least twice, or up to four times, depending on the amount of polish in the hair. More passes with shampoo gives the surfactants and detergents more chances to bind with and dissolve the polish particles trapped in the hair cuticle.

Be patient and persistent to get the strands completely clean.

Use a clarifying shampoo for best results

While regular or daily shampoos may eventually get nail polish out after multiple washes, it’s best to use a deep cleansing clarifying shampoo specially formulated to remove oil, dirt, residue and buildup from hair.

The active ingredients, such as sulfates, in these shampoos work to effectively break down and rinse away stubborn substances like nail polish.

Some top-rated clarifying shampoo options include Ouai’s Clean Shot Clarifying Shampoo and Briogeo’s Blow Dry Clarifying Shampoo. Check reviews and ingredient lists to choose the ideal one for your hair type and the polish stain situation.

Make sure all traces of acetone are gone

If you have tried using acetone or nail polish remover to get the polish out of your hair already, it’s imperative that you remove any remaining traces of this chemical with a clarifying wash. Acetone can dry out hair severely if left on the strands.

The sulfates in a clarifying shampoo will eliminate the acetone while also clearing away any leftover nail polish particles.

Examine your hair closely after shampooing a few times – if you spot any white, flaky bits, that may indicate dried acetone still present on the hair shaft that needs to be dissolved. Keep repeating the lather and rinse process until zero buildup or discoloration shows up.

Try Other Methods for Stubborn Polish

Use oil to loosen polish

Nail polish can sometimes really cling to hair fibers and be difficult to remove. If regular shampooing isn’t getting the job done, try using an oil treatment. Coat the stained strands generously with olive, coconut, or argan oil and allow it to soak in for at least 30 minutes before washing as usual.

The oil helps break down the nail polish and allows it to be rinsed away more easily. This method is gentle and conditioning for your hair.

Make a baking soda paste

Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can help lift stained polish from the hair shaft. Mix about 1 tablespoon of baking soda with enough water to make a spreadable paste. Apply this mixture to the stained hair and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing clean.

The baking soda works to gently “scrub” the nail polish residue away. Be careful not to leave the paste on too long, as baking soda can be drying for hair.

Consider a bleach bath for dark colors

For inky polish shades like black, blue, or purple that leave behind a stubborn tint, a bleach bath may be in order. Mix about 1⁄4 cup of powder bleach into a bowl with 1-2 cups developer cream. Apply this only to the stained strands and check frequently, rinsing when the undesirable tint has lifted but before significant lightening occurs.

This is an aggressive treatment so hair should be conditioned afterwards. Bleach baths should be limited to once every 4-6 weeks at most to avoid damage.

If these at-home methods are ineffective at removing the polish, a trip to the salon is recommended. Professionals have access to stronger cleansers and treatments like clarifying shampoos and Malibu treatments that can draw out the stain.

With the right products and techniques, even the most stubborn nail polish in hair can be remedied.

Prevent Future Mishaps

Tie hair back before painting nails

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting nail polish in your hair is to simply tie your hair back before starting your manicure. Putting your hair up in a bun, ponytail, or braids ensures that your locks are out of the way.

This prevents them from accidentally dipping into fresh polish or getting splattered if you knock over a bottle. It takes just a minute or two to put your hair up, but it can save you a huge headache later. So get in the habit of pulling back your hair anytime you paint your nails.

It’s a quick and simple step that pays off!

Work over a towel

Another tip is to drape a towel around your shoulders or lay one across your lap when polishing your nails. Old beach or bath towels work great. The towel catches any drips or spills so they don’t get on your clothes or furniture.

It also provides a protective barrier between your hair and the nail polish. If you do happen to bump the bottle, the towel absorbs the spill instead of it getting into your locks. For an added safeguard, you can use a towel with a plastic lining or put a plastic tablecloth under the towel.

This gives you a waterproof layer to guard against stains. Taking a little time to set up a towel workspace keeps your hair stain-free.

Wear gloves or finger covers

Slipping on gloves or disposable finger covers while painting your nails is a foolproof way to keep polish off your hair. The glove acts as a shield so color can’t transfer from your brushed fingertips to your strands. Look for thin, disposable plastic or nitrile gloves that fit snugly.

You can still polish neatly while wearing them. If gloves feel awkward, opt for little rubber fingertip covers instead. These fit over just the part of your finger that will touch the brush, leaving the rest of your hands free. Both options are inexpensive and available at drug stores.

Wearing gloves or covers each time you lacquer your nails guarantees you’ll never again have to ponder how to get nail polish out of your hair!

Be mindful of positioning

Paying attention to positioning is another easy step for avoiding mishaps. Situate yourself so your hair is behind your shoulders before starting your manicure. Make sure bottles are within easy reach so you don’t accidentally knock them over trying to grab one.

Position your fingertips over your lap, a table, or bowl of water when applying polish so it drips into the container if needed, not onto your hair. Don’t rest the bottle’s opening right next to your strands where a spill could happen. Take a minute to set up your supplies in a careful way.

This forethought prevents polish from ever touching your locks in the first place. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to nail lacquer and hair!


Getting nail polish out of your hair can take some work, but it is possible with the right techniques. Acting quickly and using an acetone-based remover are key. You may need to repeat the process a few times for stubborn stains.

Take precautions in the future when doing your manicure to avoid mishaps. With some care and elbow grease, you can get your strands back to their clean, polish-free state.

Similar Posts