Acetone is a widely-used solvent in nail polish and paint removers. It contains harmful chemicals which could easily strip the paint off a car if used improperly. Using it in small, controlled amounts can help to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
Acetone will damage car paint if you don’t rinse it off immediately. Using undiluted acetone and larger quantities increases the risk of car paint damage. If you use a tiny amount to remove a paint stain and then rinse the area thoroughly, it’s unlikely to cause damage.
This article will discuss if acetone damages car paint, its top uses in car detailing, and how to use it safely near your car paint.
Can I Use Acetone on Car Paint?
Acetone is a colorless and potent solvent designed to break down chemicals, such as paint or nail polish. It’s used for many purposes such as removal of ink stains and cleaning equipment such as keyboards.
You shouldn’t use acetone on car paint as it’s been designed to break down paint. If you use a tiny amount of acetone and remove it immediately, it’s unlikely to cause too much damage. However, it can easily remove the wax layer, car paint’s clear coat, and underlying paint if left on the car.
Apart from being a potent paint dissolver, below are some other reasons to avoid using acetone on your car paint:
- It’s a powerful degreaser. In addition to its paint-dissolving properties, acetone is a strong degreaser. It can quickly dissolve the protective wax on your car paint, leaving it vulnerable to UV damage and scratches.
- Acetone dissolves rapidly. Acetone has a low boiling point and vaporizes at room temperature. After applying acetone to your car paint, it’ll rapidly evaporate, making it challenging to detect where it was applied. Unless you rinse your entire car thoroughly, you may inadvertently leave some acetone on your car paint.
- It erodes plastic parts. If you accidentally leave acetone on plastic car parts (such as the door molding), it can erode them beyond repair.
Acetone Uses in Car Detailing
Acetone uses in car detailing include cleaning glass such as windows and mirrors, cleaning the wheels, and engine degreasing. We’ve established that you should avoid using acetone on car paint, but it has many other uses in car detailing.
Below are details of the beneficial uses for acetone when detailing your car:
- Engine degreaser. Acetone is a common ingredient in many engine degreasers. You can make your engine degreaser by combining 3 oz (88.72 ml) of acetone, a gallon (3.79 L), and a drop of dishwashing liquid.
- Shining mirrors and windows. If you have stubborn marks on your car’s mirrors or windows, place a few drops of acetone on a dry rag and gently rub them.
- Wheel cleaner. Wheels can be tricky to keep clean as they constantly accumulate brake dust and debris from the road. Cleaning them with regular car shampoo doesn’t remove all the build-up, but rubbing them with a bit of acetone will make them shine. Rinse the acetone off thoroughly after cleaning as it can erode the tires if it’s left.
- Tree sap remover. Tree sap is notoriously tricky to remove from car paint, especially if it has already hardened. Acetone is highly effective at removing tree sap from car paint, but it’s essential only to apply it to the sap and rinse the area immediately afterward.
Acetone is an effective degreaser and cleaner, but you should use it with caution, since it’s a very strong chemical that can damage surfaces easily.
How To Use Acetone Safely on Car Paint
Using acetone safely on car paint requires a certain amount of caution. If you don’t want to take your vehicle to a car detailer or body shop to remove the paint, and you have no option but to use acetone, there are some ways to avoid causing any damage.
Limit the Car Paint’s Exposure to Acetone
The longer acetone remains on car paint, the greater the damage it can cause. If you must use acetone, try and be as quick as possible.
You can usually gently scratch or buff light paint stains off car paint, but a quick and light wipe with acetone is generally sufficient if it’s a stubborn stain. If that doesn’t work, repeat the process until the paint is gone, taking great care not to use too much of the chemical.
Avoid rubbing acetone too hard into the paint stain, as this makes it more likely to damage the underlying wax and paint surfaces.
Be As Accurate as Possible
If you inadvertently damage your car paint with acetone, it’s easier and less costly to repair a tiny area than a large one. Reducing the areas that come into contact with the chemical is the easiest way to avoid damaging too much of the car paint.
When using acetone, try to be as accurate as possible to minimize the risk. Using a cotton bud dipped in acetone is a great way to focus on the affected area without touching too much of the surrounding paint.
Rinse the Acetone Off Immediately
Acetone evaporates at room temperature, and it can be challenging to see where you’ve applied it. If you can’t see where you’ve applied acetone, you won’t know where it needs to be rinsed.
Even though you can’t see the acetone on your car paint, it’s still there and will cause irreparable damage after 12 to 24 hours if it’s not removed.
As soon as you’ve finished using the acetone, rinse your car thoroughly, and consider washing it as well to be 100% sure that there’s no acetone remaining.
Use a Minimal Amount of Acetone
The more acetone you use, the more you increase the risk of car paint damage. Using a small amount can be beneficial without causing damage.
Instead of using concentrated acetone on a paint splatter, consider diluting the acetone with water first and check if the diluted solution removes the paint.
If the diluted mixture doesn’t work, use as little acetone as possible to remove the paint stain. Remember that it’s always easy to apply more acetone if it’s not effective but trickier to undo the damage from using too much.
Always Use Acetone in a Well-Ventilated Area
Acetone comes in various strengths, but any variety can put you at risk of inhaling harmful fumes if you use it in a poorly-ventilated area.
Breathing in acetone fumes can irritate the respiratory tract and cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches. It’s best to use acetone outdoors, but open as many windows and doors as you can if this isn’t possible.
What Can I Use Instead of Acetone?
It’s understandable if you feel uncomfortable using acetone for a paint stain as it can cause irreparable damage to your car paint. Finding other ways to remove stains on your car can be helpful and save you money in the long run.
Instead of acetone, you can use other chemicals or tools to save you from inadvertently damaging your car’s paint. If your car’s surface has a paint stain, you can use a range of products, including car shampoo and water and gasoline.
Car Shampoo and Water
Whenever car paint has a paint splatter, your first step should always be to remove it as soon as possible using the least invasive method.
Small and fresh paint stains can often be removed by washing your car thoroughly with warm water, a sponge, and car shampoo. Avoid cold water as this can harden a paint stain that’s still setting.
Alternatives to car shampoo include any other gentle degreasing cleaner such as dishwashing liquid. Dilute the liquid with water for best results.
If, after gently trying to wipe off the paint stain with a sponge, it hasn’t been removed, you can consider any of the below methods.
Gasoline is a potent paint remover and is available everywhere. It’s relatively inexpensive and can be useful in removing stains.
After placing a little gasoline on a dry rag, gently dab at the paint stain until it disappears. Be sure to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water as gasoline can stain car paint after a few days.
Wooden Cuticle Stick
Wooden cuticle sticks are inexpensive and widely used in manicures. They have a pointed tip and a flat, rounded edge on the other side, making them ideal for removing minor paint stains.
Since they’re designed to push cuticles back on a fingernail, they are soft, gentle, and have no sharp edges. This makes them unlikely to damage your vehicle’s paint.
You can use a wooden cuticle stick to chip away at the paint stain, but you may need a larger tool if the paint splatter is big.
Sandpaper is abrasive and can scratch your car paint. If you have a thick and large paint stain, fine sandpaper can help remove the upper layers of the stain.
Using a small piece of fine sandpaper, gently buff the paint stain until only a thin layer remains. You can remove the remaining paint with gasoline, a wooden cuticle stick, or a car polisher.
Body shops and car detailers usually have car polishing machines, but you can easily buy a polisher online.
The Cubeway Car Polisher (on Amazon) features three pads with varying textures that you can use to remove stains and wax your car. Using the foam pad, you may remove the dried paint stain with the car polisher.
If you don’t have a car polisher, you could try regular car polish to try and remove the paint. As the car polish dries on your car and is buffed off, you may be able to remove much of the paint.
Acetone is designed to break down paint and damage your car paint if you don’t rinse it off. If you must use acetone, try to use it diluted or in small amounts. Always rinse it off, work quickly, and use it in a well-ventilated area.
However, acetone makes an excellent wheel cleaner, engine degreaser, window shiner, and tree sap remover.
If you have a paint stain on your car paint, use car shampoo, gasoline, or a car polisher instead of acetone. A wooden cuticle stick or fine sandpaper also works well.