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How to Get Nail Polish Out of Your Hair | 5 Easy Steps

So you forgot you had wet nail polish on, or maybe someone knocked into your hand. Even worse, someone may have poured a little bit into your hair on purpose, or a child thought it would be funny to see what happened.

Now, you have fun colors sticking the strands of your hair together. It’s reasonable for this to peak your nerves: nail polish is notoriously hard to remove from many surfaces.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be true of your hair. There’s a pretty simple method for removing nail polish from hair that doesn’t involve cutting it out.

How to Get Nail Polish Out of Your Hair

  1. Act quickly
  2. Gather the materials you will need
  3. Separate the section of hair with nail polish
  4. Apply acetone to a towel 
  5. Clean the polish off with a paper towel 

1. Act Quickly

Removing the polish will be much harder if it is allowed to dry! If you’re looking for an answer immediately, skip this step and scroll further.

If you’re trying to prepare yourself in the event of a nail polish mishap, it can be helpful to know that nail polish is easier to dissolve in its liquid form than after it’s hardened. It isn’t impossible to get dry nail polish out of hair.

The method is, however, different when you do so. If you’ve painted your nails, you know how easy it is to get wet nail polish off them.

Sometimes it happens even without meaning to. The same concept applies to hair. You want to be wiping it off rather than peeling it off if you have the opportunity to do so, especially if you’re working on a child.

2. Gather Materials

You’re going to need a few things:

  • Nail polish remover or some other kind of acetone.
  • Hair clips
  • A paper towel or a regular towel you don’t mind staining.
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Essential oil or baby oil (optional)
  • Conditioner (optional, if dry)

Remember that the process of removing nail polish means thinning out the polish to the point that it comes off, it isn’t going to make the polish itself disappear entirely. Whatever you use to remove it from the hair will end up getting the nail polish on it instead.

If it matters to you whether or not the cloth is stained, you shouldn’t be using it for this and should pick something else. Before you get started, essential oil or baby oil is often a better choice than an acetone product because it smells less offensive and because it’s less likely to cause damage to the hair.

But these are things that you are less likely to just have in your house than nail polish remover. This is working off of the assumption that if you had nail polish, you probably also have the remover for it.

3. Separate the Affected Hair

Make sure to isolate the strands of hair with nail polish from the rest of the hair. Clip the unaffected hair out of the way so the nail polish doesn’t spread. 

You can use a ponytail holder for this, bobby pins, or regular clips, but the important part is that you have the bit of hair with nail polish on it in a place that is easy to get to and work with, without contaminating the rest of the hair.

There’s only so much sticking nail polish can do. This is less important if the nail polish is dry because it has already done all of the spreading it’s going to do, but it might still be a good idea for you to do. You want to have easy access to the hairs in question.

4. Apply Acetone to the Towel

This one’s simple enough; put the acetone on the towel you’ve chosen to use to remove the nail polish. Make sure it’s damp; it doesn’t have to be completely saturated with it, but it should feel slightly wet beneath your fingers when you touch it.

You might also be using a washcloth, a dish rag, or cotton balls. No matter what you are using, make sure it is damp enough to apply to the affected area and that there is enough acetone to get the polish off. 

5. Clean the Polish With the Towel

Wrap the affected hairs with the damp part of the towel and gently work it around the affected areas. There’s no need to pull or scrub, but be patient; the longer the nail polish was in your hair the longer it will take to remove.

What you are doing is a chemical reaction. The acetone will loosen up the nail polish and help remove it from the hair. The biggest difference between cleaning wet nail polish and dry nail polish with a towel or a rag is what you’ll want to apply with it, but we’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Use gentle circular movements with your fingers and thumbs and work on getting the nail polish out of the hair. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen immediately, sometimes it can take a little bit of time to start prying it free.

There’s no need to scrub harder, whatever you’re using to get it off with function if you’re patient. After a few minutes, your hair should be clean and nail polish-free. Remember, patience is key! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Image for a piece on how to get nail polish out of hair featuring nail polish spilled on a white table


Below are the most frequently asked questions about how to get nail polish out of hair. 

How do I get dried nail polish out of my hair? 

Dry nail polish is harder to remove. If you’ve ever painted your nails, you know how that is. You can get wet nail polish off of your nails without adding anything as long as you’re quick and careful, with maybe some residual smearing.

If you do use remover, you can end up with entirely clean nails with minimal effort. Dry nail polish takes some work around the nail cuticle. Hair isn’t all that different, just thinner and in strands. So if the nail polish is dry, you should expect this method to take longer.

The nail polish will come off more like dry nail polish from your nails than wet in this case, flaking and peeling instead of rubbing off like it would if it were still wet.

However, if the nail polish is dry, you should also be able to get it out just fine with conditioner. Once conditioned, the polish should start to peel off on its own. You can use a spray-on detangling conditioner or the same conditioner you use in the shower to remove the polish. 

Can I use oil to get the nail polish out? 

Acetone has a terrible smell and isn’t necessarily the best thing for your hair. Oils can be good for your hair and they certainly carry a more pleasing odor. This works for the same reason that conditioner does, as it puts more oils into the hair and causes the nail polish to flake off.

If you’re going to get choosy about what essential oil to use to remove nail polish, Lemongrass Oil is a surprisingly effective nail polish remover.

It smells lovely and it will remove nail polish from your nails as easily as it will from your hair. Another note to make is that you are more likely to already have coconut oil in the house than lemongrass, and coconut oil makes for an excellent nail polish remover.

It’s also good for your hair in the same way that conditioners tend to be, so if you already use coconut oil in your hair, it might be the ideal solution to your nail polish trouble.

Can I use something besides paper towels? 

Cotton balls can help get rid of residual nail polish. If you don’t have any paper towels and don’t want to ruin a real towel to get the nail polish out of your hair, you can dab at the mess with cotton balls. It might take a little bit longer, but it will work.

You can also use a washcloth or a dish rag. Anything that qualifies as some kind of fabric that you can wrap around the hair is excellent for getting nail polish out.

The most important things are that they’re durable enough to hold together when you’re scrubbing with them and that you don’t mind the inevitable stains that will come out of the process.

So, How Do You Get Nail Polish Out of Your Hair?

You use acetone to break up the nail polish. Nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol will do just fine. If the nail polish is dry, try applying conditioner to the affected area and gently scrub it free. If one remover doesn’t work, try another one.

There are several alternatives listed above you can use. Regardless, you will not have to cut the nail polish out, and you won’t be stuck with it clumping up your hair forever. Have a little patience, and you can handle this just fine. Good luck!