Removing Paint from Clothes


"The Laundress" (detail) Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1761

Most artists wear old clothes, coveralls or a smock to paint, because it’s practically impossible to avoid getting stains. Sooner or later, however, every artist gets paint on something they want to keep nice. Quick action with the right materials and techniques just might save your favorite shirt or pair of jeans!

Act Fast

The best chance for removing paint is while it’s still wet. Oil paint dries slowly, but acrylic paint sets up almost immediately on clothes so wetting it right away is essential. If it’s not possible to wash the article of clothing right away, moisten the spot and place it in a zip lock bag, taking care not to spread the stain.

Acrylic Paint

Oil paint and oil-based ink stains can be particularly challenging, because even after pigment has been removed, a stain from the oil vehicle can remain. Small spots can be pre-treated with a stain remover stick, then hand-washed. Larger amounts of paint should be scraped away with a palette knife. Use paper towels to blot as much oil vehicle as possible. Full-strength, concentrated dish liquid is usually very effective for smaller oil stains. As a last resort, a very small amount of citrus-based brush cleaner may be used to spot-clean a stain, but it’s essential to follow up with hand-washing to remove all residue. Thinners might remove dye from fabrics, so make sure to test for colorfastness in an area that won’t show.

Large stains involving painting medium or varnish may not be removable without solvents. If that happens, it may be time to just replace the garment. Never machine-wash or tumble dry any garment that has absorbed a significant amount of oil or solvent.

Marker Ink

Most designer’s markers are dye-based in an alcohol carrier. Some colors stain powerfully, but denatured rubbing alcohol usually dilutes the spot enough that it can be laundered out.


One pigment, Ultramarine Blue, can be bleached with lemon juice, but many pigments are very durable and are unaffected or minimally affected by bleaches and oxygen whiteners. Since chlorine bleach is destructive to clothing, it should be used only as a last resort.


Stain remover stick

Assemble a First Aid Kit for Stains

Every painter should keep a few supplies on hand for removing paint stains on clothes. Your kit might include:

  • Stain Stick
  • Spot remover wipes (individually packaged)
  • Alcohol prep pads
  • Detergent pen
  • Small bottle of concentrated dish liquid
  • Bottled water
  • Denatured rubbing alcohol
  • Clean cotton rags
  • Paper towels
  • Gallon zip lock bags