How to Use Denatured Alcohol to Remove Paint?

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Maybe you’ve spilled or splashed paint, or maybe you have a painted surface and want to change the color or finish. Denatured alcohol is a powerful solvent that can remove acrylic or latex paints. Learn all about this useful substance and how to use it to remove paint. 

What Is Denatured Alcohol? 

Denatured alcohol is pure alcohol that has been rendered undrinkable through the addition of other substances. It is usually tinted blue or purple, to prevent accidental ingestion. 

Because denatured alcohol cannot be used for recreational purposes, it can be sold over the counter to people of any age, and is not taxed like drinking alcohol. 

Denatured alcohol is a solvent for many substances. It will quickly turn dried shellac back into a liquid, and is often used to refinish shellacked furniture. Denatured alcohol will also dissolve hardier finishes such as varnish (including polyurethane) and lacquer, albeit at a slower pace. Oil-based paint will not dissolve in contact with denatured alcohol, but latex and acrylic paints will. 

This powerful solvent can dissolve paint on almost any surface, including wood, concrete, sheetrock, metal, some plastics, and even clothing. 

Because latex is soluble with denatured alcohol, forgo the use of latex gloves when using this product. Instead, use a product like nitrile gloves, which are not alcohol soluble. 

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How to Remove Paint With Denatured Alcohol

When you’ve got latex or acrylic paint to remove, denatured alcohol is an effective solution that is fairly easy to implement.  

  1. Put up masking. Because denatured alcohol is a watery liquid, splashes or drips are a common occurrence. To protect your floors and furniture from accidental finish removal via a denatured alcohol spill, use masking or painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to cover up all but the surface you’re working on. 
  2. Evaluate your workspace. Denatured alcohol is highly combustible, so it should be used away from any source of ignition. It is also poisonous if consumed. Never eat, drink, or smoke in the vicinity of denatured alcohol. Store it safely out of reach from children and pets. 

Inhalation of denatured alcohol fumes can lead to dizziness, respiratory symptoms, or central nervous system effects, so always work in a well-ventilated area. 

  1. Conduct a spot test. Use a rag to apply a small amount of denatured alcohol in an inconspicuous spot. Make sure that this strong solvent doesn’t damage or discolor the material underneath the paint before exposing the entire surface to denatured alcohol. 
  2. Apply the denatured alcohol. You can use a soft bristled brush or a clean rag to apply the denatured alcohol to the surface of your choice. Thoroughly wet the surface, but do not soak it. Wait five or ten minutes, allowing the denatured alcohol to break the bonds between the paint and the surface. 
  3. Scrape away the paint. Use a putty knife or plastic scraper to peel the paint away from the surface. Modulate your pressure to avoid damaging the surface underneath. Scraped up paint can usually be disposed of alongside your regular household waste. 
  4. Rinse away the alcohol. Use a rag wet with cool water to wipe away all traces of the denatured alcohol. Then, rinse the rag. If you used a brush to apply denatured alcohol, you can rinse this under the tap in the sink. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly before using the brush again, so that the strong solvent doesn’t interfere with your next paint or wood finishing job. 

How Long After Painting Can I Remove Paint With Denatured Alcohol?

Denatured alcohol will remove acrylic or latex paint even after it has fully cured (chemically hardened). There is no time limit after which denatured alcohol will cease to remove paint. 

However, fully cured latex or acrylic paint will be harder to remove than freshly applied paint. If the paint is very old and starting to chip or flake, scrape loose paint off before applying denatured alcohol. 

Will Denatured Alcohol Remove Paint From Clothes?

Denatured alcohol would remove paint from clothes, but it is usually dyed or tinted, making it unsuitable for this purpose. Instead, use another type of non-drinkable alcohol to clean paint stains off clothes – isopropyl alcohol. 

How to Use Rubbing Alcohol to Remove Paint From Clothes

Isopropyl alcohol is a different type of alcohol that is toxic by nature, diulted with water. It is commonly referred to as ‘rubbing alcohol’. 

  1. Choose the right product. Use rubbing alcohol, which is clear, rather than tinted denatured alcohol. This will avoid the problem of replacing the paint stain with a dye stain. It’s commonly available in 70% and 90% concentrations, meaning 30% or 10% of the product is water. 
  1. Apply the solvent. Pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol over the stain, and use an old toothbrush to work it in. A gentle scrubbing motion allows the paint to penetrate the weave pattern, lifting the paint from each fiber for total removal. 
  2. Check your progress. Blot the stained area of cloth with a wet rag. Lift it frequently to check your progress – the dissolved paint should transfer to the rag. Change to a clean area of the rag as necessary to prevent spreading the paint around. Stop when there is no more color transfer. 
  3. Repeat, as needed. If one application of rubbing alcohol doesn’t completely lift the paint stain, don’t despair. You can repeat this process as many times as necessary, until all the paint is gone. Try dousing the stain again, and letting it sit for five to ten minutes. 
  4. Launder as normal. Denatured alcohol can irritate the skin. Wash the affected clothing, following the instructions on the label, to make sure all the denatured alcohol has been removed before you wear the item again. 

Is Denatured Alcohol the Same as Paint Thinner? 

Paint thinner and denatured alcohol are two separate products. Paint thinner is a petroleum-based product. Denatured alcohol is made from ethyl alcohol, with additional chemicals that make it undrinkable. 

Both products can be used to remove paint – the difference is the kind of paint on which they are effective. 

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  • Wet oil based paint cannot be removed with denatured alcohol. Instead, use mineral spirits, which are a more refined version of paint thinner
  • Dry oil based paint cannot be removed with denatured alcohol. It requires full-strength paint thinner for removal.
  • Paint thinner should not be used with latex paints. It causes the paint to separate and become gunky, clumpy, or stringy, making removal more difficult. Latex paints can removed with denatured alcohol
  • Acrylic paints can be removed using either paint thinner or denatured alcohol. 

Learn more about the differences in denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner.

Can Denatured Alcohol Be Used on Plastic?

Depending on the type of plastic, it may not be appropriate to use denatured alcohol to remove paint on plastic. While it will certainly lift the paint, it may damage or discolor the plastic underneath, and can even cause it to crack. 

  • High density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene (PP) plastics are the least likely to be affected by denatured alcohol. 
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene (PS) may stiffen and become brittle with prolonged exposure to denatured alcohol. 

If you want to use denatured alcohol to remove paint from plastic, limit the time it is exposed to the plastic, and test it on an inconspicuous area first.

Conclusion

Denatured alcohol effectively removes latex and acrylic paint from a variety of surfaces from wood, glass, metal, concrete, or sheet rock to clothing and some plastics.  Use caution when applying denatured alcohol to plastics, as they can degrade with prolonged exposure. Avoid inhaling denatured alcohol fumes. 

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.