Fabric paint can be removed from almost any fabric. Some precautions will need to be taken with more delicate fabrics, such as silk or wool, but success can come with patience. The chosen paint-removal method may need to be repeated several times to remove all traces of stains while protecting the material itself from damage.
Fresh paint is the easiest to remove. Attempt to wash wet paint away under running water immediately. If this is not possible, blot away any excess paint before it dries to prevent the spot from spreading or being further absorbed into the fabric.
Many fabric paints are set in with heat. So it’s essential to keep the paint away from irons, hairdryers, hot water, or clothes dryers.
Steps for Removing Fabric Paint
Step 1: Remove excess paint
Gently scrape off excess wet paint without pressing it into the fabric. If the paint is dry, scrape the paint off down to the fabric. Be gentle. Don’t scrape into the fabric itself.
Step 2: Rinse
From the wrong side, rinse the stain under cold to lukewarm running water. Running the water through from the wrong side will help keep the paint stain from spreading.
Step 3: Wash
After the initial rinse, add dish soap or another gentle detergent to the area and continue to wash gently until the paint is completely gone. Use a scrubby or brush to carefully remove dried paint stains.
Step 4: Alternatives to soap
Factors such as the type of fabric and the pH factor of local tap water can sometimes make removing fabric paint more challenging. To help remove stubborn water-based paints, one of the following suggestions might prove more effective than soap and water alone.
Always test any solvents on a small, less visible area of the fabric to ensure the fabric or fabric dye will not be affected. Place an old towel or other barrier between layers of material to prevent transferring the stain.
- Baking soda: Baking soda is effective for thin layers of paint. Combine a cup of baking soda with enough warm water to soak the entire garment until the stain begins to dissolve. Rub gently and rinse clean.
- Vinegar: Along with being acidic, the aluminum chloride and zinc salts released by vinegar can lift paint away from fabric surfaces. Mix water with distilled vinegar in a 10 to one ratio and blot the paint stain with a solution-soaked sponge until the paint begins to come loose from the material. Rinse from the wrong side under running water.
- Non-acetone hairspray: Hairspray can lift off dried fabric paint. Skip the second and third steps and begin by thoroughly soaking the area with hairspray. Let it soak for a few moments, then gently rub the area with a scrubby or brush until all the paint is loosened. Then rinse from the backside under cool running water.
Step 5: Machine wash
Once the stain seems to be removed, wash the garment with plenty of detergent in a cold-water cycle. Check again after washing. Do not place the garment in the dryer if any stain remains. Instead, repeat the removal process to extract the remaining stain.
Removing Oil-based Paint
The same steps can be used for both water and oil-based paints. However, oil-based paints don’t always respond as well to water alone. The pigments found in oil paints may also permanently stain some fabrics.
Wet paint might easily rinse out, but some wet and most dried oil-based paints will require one of the following solvents. Remember to place an old towel or another barrier beneath the layers of fabric you’re working on. Also, don’t forget to do a spot check, especially on more delicate fabrics.
- Hairspray: Hairspray can be used to remove both water and oil-based fabric paints. After scraping off excess paint, apply the spray, let it soak in, and begin lightly scouring with a scrubby or brush. Rinse from the wrong side with cool water, and then machine wash if the paint is removed. Reapply hairspray if stains persist.
- Rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is an excellent stain remover. Use it full-strength on more durable fabrics, or dilute it for more delicate materials. First, do a spot check to ensure the alcohol won’t bleach out the original fabric dye. After scraping and rinsing the paint spots, use a soaked cotton ball or small brush (an old toothbrush works well here) to rub alcohol into the paint until the stain is removed.
- Turpentine, Acetone, mineral spirits, or paint thinner: Acetone may be nail polish remover for small stains or an acetone paint remover for larger areas. Don’t use acetone on acrylic fabrics, as it can break down the material’s fibers.
Since most paint removers have potentially harmful fumes, make sure you have plenty of ventilation, and use gloves and eye protection as necessary. Spot check before you begin. Apply the chemical of choice with a sponge or old rag, blotting until the paint has dissolved. Rinse thoroughly.
Machine wash, then check for any lingering stains. Repeat the removal process, but be cautious of damaging the fabric.
When Nothing Works
If you have tried all the suggestions and fabric paint stains remain, it’s time to consult a professional cleaning service. But it’s possible that the stains simply cannot be removed entirely from some fabrics.
Instead of throwing out the garment, consider covering or disguising the stain. A creative patch or applique could work. You could use the color variation as a part of a hand-embroidered design. You could also hide or cover the area with–don’t groan now–fabric paint!
If the paint has spilled on the ends of long sleeves, consider making the top into a short-sleeved one. The same solution can work if the paint is spilled around the bottom of pant legs.
There may be other fashionable ways of covering a permanent stain, such as a colorful scarf or a vest. If there seems to be no way to recover the piece, consider repurposing any recoverable fabric for other craft or sewing projects.