How to Get Paint Out of Clothes

You probably won't get this messy unless you really try, but painting is a dirty job!
You probably won't get this messy unless you really try, but painting is a dirty job!

If you own a home, you spend time on maintenance, and some of that maintenance probably includes painting. Think of painting as a rite of passage. Sooner or later, just about everyone has to paint something. Although you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of tutorials about how to paint, one of the deep, dark secrets of DIY painting is how messy it can be. Sure, tidy people put down tarps, tape woodwork (after all, that's why they call the blue stuff painter's tape), wear old clothes and read the directions on the products they use. The rest of us grab our paint cans and stirring sticks, hoist our paint rollers and trust the painting gods to protect us. This is why most homeowners have a whole drawer dedicated to paint festooned, goo encrusted home repair clothes. Ironical folks call them play clothes, but they're actually real life examples of physics in action.

The painter Jackson Pollock recognized the power of paint spatter and embraced it. If you have a less than aesthetic appreciation for paint drips, drops, blobs and streaks, there are a couple of options open to you. Dress for disaster, or plan your painting projects carefully -- and dress for disaster anyway. From accidentally stepping in the paint tray (yes, this happens) to flipping the paint can off that wonky aluminum ladder shelf onto the floor (or carpet or tiled entry), paint blunders happen. Even worse, anything you're wearing seems to attract paint like metal shavings to a magnet.

This makes a kind of twisted sense. That extra thick layer of paint on the paint roller isn't going to stick to the wall or ceiling. It's going to spin off and become the plaything of energy and gravity. As one of the biggest objects between the runaway paint spray and the cosmos, prepare to be accessorized, pixilated and otherwise decorated with paint.

If you happen to be wearing an old T-shirt, then there's no harm done. It doesn't always work out that way, though. Yeah, you start out with the best of intentions by wearing apparel that's one washing away from the rag bag, but what about a week after the big paint job? You see a spot you missed and figure you'll just grab a little paint on a craft brush and fix it. It'll just take a second and -- oh, no! A big blob ends up on the sleeve of your new tweed jacket (or cashmere sweater, or silk blouse, or leather coat, or hideously expensive shoes). Here's another common scenario: You just finish painting the railing around the porch and saunter to the garage to get the wet paint sign, which you save from paint job to paint job, of course. While you're gone -- for just a minute or two -- your spouse comes home from work and becomes a wet paint casualty, or what the pros like to call DIY collateral damage. This may sound funny, but when you've just stained an expensive garment, it's anything but.

In some cases, it's possible to remove paint from fabric. We don't want you to get too excited yet, though. Fabric can be persnickety, and a technique that works for one fabric blend, or weave or color, won't work with another. On the next couple of pages, let's take a look at some best practices when it comes to getting paint stains out of clothing. You'll like what you don't see.

Getting Latex Paint out of Clothes

Let's start with a few basic principles about removing paint from textiles. The first is to treat stains as quickly as possible, and hopefully before they dry in place. Stains that have dried are harder and sometimes impossible to remove.

The second principle is simple but very important: Always choose the least aggressive method of cleaning. If you're trying to get paint out of your favorite T, it may seem easier to head straight for the caustic cleaning agents to save time. Besides being more expensive and more environmentally unfriendly, the most aggressive approaches could get the paint off, but it could also remove the dye from the fabric or leave a paint spatter-sized hole in the fabric. With that caution in place, let's move on to some techniques for removing latex paint from fabric. We're starting with the gentlest options first, so approach the project in stages.

  • Blot up or scrape off the excess paint.
  • Rinse the spot in running water to flush out as much paint as possible.
  • Treat the spot with equal parts dishwashing liquid and warm water. Apply the mixture with a cotton cloth or sponge, and blot or scrub the spot away.
  • Pre-treat the spot with commercial stain remover, and then wash the garment as you would normally.

If the gentle stuff doesn't work, it may be time to do a little damage control assessment: Is the paint spot so visible that the only option is to get it out or toss the garment? If not, aggressive cleaning may make the paint stain worse than it already is by stripping some of the dye from the fabric or damaging the fabric fibers themselves. If you're prepared to risk it, the following techniques may work. To hedge your bets, though, treat an inconspicuous area of the garment first. Choose a hem or seam allowance. If the technique works without leaving a mark, it's probably safe to use:

  • If the mild dish detergent solution above doesn't do the trick, apply a few drops of rubbing alcohol to a damp cloth and try removing the paint residue that way.
  • If the alcohol works somewhat but still leaves a paint outline or specks behind, substitute a toothbrush for the damp cloth and scrub a little harder. (Note: This can damage or distort delicate fabrics like knits, so be careful.)
  • If all else fails, heavy duty commercial paint and stain removers like Oops! and Goof Off may remove the stain. When using one of these products, read the manufacturer's directions carefully and be sure to perform a spot test. Strong solvents may undermine some synthetic fabrics or change the tint or density of brightly colored fabrics.

Getting Oil-based Paint out of Clothes

Oil-based paint is very hard to get out of everything, clothes included. There's some good news here, though. Acrylic paints are now being used for everything from updating your kitchen cabinets to painting your home's exterior, so you may not have to deal with oil-based paint much, if at all. We'll admit this is cold comfort if you're already faced with an oil-based paint stain, but it's a gentle suggestion for next time: Lose the oil-based stuff in favor of more Earth- and fabric-friendly alternatives.

These tips will help you get oil-based paint stains out of fabric:

  • Stains are easier to remove before they've dried, so act fast.
  • Blot up the stain with an old towel or cotton cloth to keep it from spreading.
  • To remove oil-based paint from fabric, you'll need to be a bit of a detective. Read the back of the paint can for directions on how to clean spills. The solvent recommended for cleaning that particular brand of paint is your best bet for removing the spot. This can be tricky, though, especially if you're working with synthetic fabrics, treated fabrics or intense fabric dyes. It's best to test a small inconspicuous area on the garment before proceeding. If the dye runs or the fabric fibers are compromised (as in they begin to melt), you might just have to cover the spot with an embroidered decal and call it a day.
  • If you decide to try the recommended solvent, which could be a specific paint thinner variety or plain turpentine, start by putting down a generous layer of paper towels. You'll need enough to create a pad under the garment. Do this outdoors or in a well-ventilated indoor location. The paper is there to absorb the excess solvent, so don't skimp.
  • Read the solvent directions for proper handling instructions. Beyond providing adequate ventilation, you'll probably need to wear gloves to protect your hands.
  • Gather together the materials you'll need: a disposable can or jar (to hold the solvent), a bucket filled with a 50-50 warm water and dishwashing liquid solution (for soaking the garment after treatment), cotton balls, a clean cloth, more paper towels and a tooth brush.
  • Turn the garment inside out with the right side (the stain side) against the paper towels.
  • Pour a generous amount of solvent into a disposable jar or can.
  • Saturate a cotton ball (or cloth for larger stains) and apply it to the garment. Remember, you'll be working from the back side as much as possible. This helps direct the paint away from the garment's inner fibers. Press the fabric into the paper towels as you apply solvent. The idea is to transfer the paint from the fabric to the paper towel. You'll probably have to move the paper around or add additional layers as the paper absorbs the paint. Check the front of the garment from time to time to see how well the solvent is working. Keep at it until the stain is gone. You may have to turn the fabric over and work from the front to remove stubborn stains. Work the stain gently with the tooth brush if you have to and blot it with additional paper towels or a soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Once the stain is gone, wash the solvent saturated area in the bucket of soapy water to remove as much solvent residue as possible.
  • Presoak the garment in your washing machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Wash and dry it as you would normally.

If these steps don't work and the garment is still holding up well, although still paint stained, you can also try removing the paint with a commercially available paint remover like Goof Off or Oops!

Related Articles


  • Epinions. "Goof Off Ultimate Remover Reviews." (4/4/12).
  • Good Housekeeping. "Stain Buster — Paint, Latex (Acrylic/Water-based)" (4/4/12).
  • Goof Off. "Removes Tough Stuff." (4/4/12).
  • How to Clean Stuff. "How to Remove Oil Based Paint Stains From Fabrics." (4/4/12).
  • How to Clean Stuff. "How to Remove Paint from Polyester Fabrics." (4/4/12).
  • K-State Extension. "Get the Red Out - Stain Removal Tips." (4/4/12).
  • Lumberjocks. "How to remove dried paint from clothes?" (4/4/12).
  • Theberge, Michele. "How to Get Dried Acrylic Paint Out of Your Clothing & Fabrics." YouTube. 4/12/10. (4/4/12).
  • Thrifty Fun. "Guide: Removing Paint Stains from Clothing." (4/4/12).