How to Remove Makeup Stains

nail polish

Removing cosmetics from clothing, furniture, and carpets can be tough to do. Anyone who has polished their nails can attest to the fact that sooner or later, nail polish is going to get spilled on the carpet or smeared clothing. Knowing the most efficient methods for removing makeup stains can save you a lot of time, money, and aggravation.

There are two types of makeup: oily and non-oily. Non-oily makeups are products like eye shadows blushes, and other powered makeups. Oily types are lipsticks, cream blushes, mascaras, and other liquid makeups. Each type of makeup will require a specific method of removal. Determine if your makeup stain is oil-based or non-oily, and proceed from there.

There are many different ways to remove stains from cosmetics. It is best to attempt to remove the stain as quickly as possible to avoid letting them set into fabrics. Fresh stains come out much more easily. The good thing about cosmetic stains is that makeup is generally applied at home before leaving for work or an evening out, so chances are you'll be present when they occur and can clean them fast.

Don't be too hasty though. There's no point in rushing to drown a stained dress in a cleaner if that particular solution is also going to hurt the material you're trying to save. Although many of the following processes will work well on carpets and furniture as well as clothing, you should always carefully follow any care label instructions and laundering information. Doing so can save that favorite blouse, couch, or area rug after when cosmetics have stained them.


Lipstick is an oil-based makeup, so it should be treated with a pre-wash stain remover before attempting to wash it out of a shirt or blouse. Never rub the stain, as it only drives the lipstick deeper into the fabric. Blot the stain with a clean white cloth, and rinse the stained material in warm water. (You want to use a white cloth to avoid any fabric dyes from worsening the stain.) If the stain is persistent, try applying a good liquid household detergent to the stain, again not rubbing the material.

Additionally, rubbing alcohol will often remove lipstick stains. Using a white cloth, dab the stain with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol, Then add a small amount of household detergent and wash the garment per label care instructions.

Household ammonia is another good resource for removing lipstick. First blot the stain with a bit of water to remove as much of the lipstick as possible. Then treat it with a little ammonia and rinse it before washing it per care label instructions. (Do not use ammonia on silk or wool!)

Some cosmetic experts swear by hairspray as a lipstick stains remover. Spray a little hairspray on the stain, let it stand for a few minutes, and gently wipe off the hairspray with your white cloth. Rinse and launder per label care instructions.

Nail Polish

Removing finger nail polish is also fairly easy. Simply use an acetone-based polish remover on the stain. You can place the stained material over a small bowl and secure it with a rubber band. Using a stainless steel spoon, gently drip small amounts of fingernail polish remover over the stain and let the residue drip into the bowl while working it in with your finger. Then launder the garment per label care instructions.


Mascara stains usually require professional dry cleaning, or at the very least, dry cleaning solutions. Because mascara is oil based, an oil solvent will work best best. The enzymes in this dry cleaning solvent break down the protein glue, which is the substance that attaches the stain to the fabric. An oil solvent also attacks the stain itself. After it is applied, let it dry, brush off the residue, and launder per care label instructions.

Liquid Makeup

Removing liquid makeup stains can be quite a battle. One of the simplest tricks for eliminating liquid makeup on clothing dates all the way back to World War II when soap was a scarcity.

Wartime wisdom suggests you take the stained garment outdoors, lay it in the grass with the stain side down, and leave it overnight. The next morning, the stain will be gone!

You can also try using Dawn dish soap as a removal agent. As liquid makeup is oil based, Dawn works the best for cutting the stain. Brush or blot off any excess soap, and use a dry cleaning fluid to flush the stain away. (Be careful not to use these options with acetates.) Repeat as necessary until the stain is gone.

You can also give Dawn a try with other oil-based cosmetic stains, like mascara stains.

Hair Dye

Be warned: hair dye is one of the toughest stains to remove from fabric. No matter what you do, hair dye may not come out.

You can remove light hair dye stains by blotting with isopropyl alcohol until they come out. For certain fabrics, you can also use turpentine, lighter fluid, or mineral spirits. Rinse thoroughly and launder or dry clean per care label instructions. (Do not skip the rinsing, as these can be hazardous if not rinsed thoroughly before a machine dry cycle.)

Tip: Always Do a Test

Just like you may do a mirror test when applying makeup, remove makeup stains requires the same care and common sense. For example, if you get makeup stains on a shirt, dab a small amount of your cleaning solution on an area that isn't as visible. For cosmetics spilled on the carpet, do a test with your cleaner on a corner or an area that's usually covered by furniture.

This way, you'll be sure that the fabric won't be damaged further while removing stains. The goal is to remove the cosmetic stain, not the natural dyes of your carpet or clothing.

Be sure to read the care label on any furniture or garments before attempting to remove the stain. You may find an item of clothing is "dry clean only" or discover other specifications that will influence your stain-removal strategy.

Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.