Can Nail Polish Remover Be Used as a Paint Thinner?

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Trusty acetone is a type of solvent that can be used to thin or remove paint in some cases. Before taking a deep dive into whether acetone can be used in your upcoming painting projects, though, it's a good idea to take a closer look at acetone itself. What is it, how does it work, and what differences and similarities does it have to other solvents?

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What Is Acetone?

Acetone (dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone, or beta-ketopropane) is a clear, colorless organic solvent found in plants and trees as well as emissions from volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and tobacco smoke. The active ingredient in many household products, it's most commonly found in nail polish removers, cleaning solutions, adhesives, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

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Classified as a Class 3 solvent, acetone is considered less toxic and of lower risk to your health than Class 1 or Class 2 solvents. There is a caveat: It's relatively safe only when used for its intended purpose and in the amount and concentration specified on the product label.

Warning

Use acetone in a well-ventilated area away from cigarettes, open flames, and other sources of heat. When not in use, keep the container tightly closed and out of the reach of children and pets.

What’s the Difference Between Acetone and Paint Thinners?

Acetone is a solvent/stripping agent that dissolves oil-based (alkyd) paint, so it's technically considered a paint thinner. Where the confusion generally lies is that most people use the term "paint thinner" broadly but, in reality, the term encompasses such popular compounds as mineral spirits, turpentine, and acetone. What all of these have in common is that they can release toxic fumes and are flammable.

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What sets acetone apart is that it's water soluble and is specifically touted for getting out hardened, dried-on paint from trays, pans, glass, ceramic, tile, concrete, and enamel surfaces. In addition, it gets out grease, removes gunky residue and ink from hands and metal, cleans old paintbrushes, and even unsticks super glue. You can also use it as a disinfectant for metal implements.

Acetone is not recommended for prolonged use on plastic surfaces (it will melt them) or for thinning large amounts of house paint. This is because acetone has a fast evaporation rate and strong stripping capabilities that can potentially change the character of the paint. For thinning paint, mineral spirits/paint thinner is a better choice.

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Can You Use Nail Polish Remover to Remove Paint?

Since the main ingredient in nail polish remover is acetone (usually around 98 percent), it works fine for removing paint, but proceed with caution. Pour a little nail polish onto a cotton ball or soft rag and carefully lift off small amounts of paint drips or overspray using light pressure. As with any other solvent, nail polish remover can damage the finish on wood furniture, so before using it, do a test on a small area first.

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