Will Acetone Damage Car Paint? [Explained]

Acetone is a highly volatile liquid solvent. It has the chemical formula C3H6O, and can be found in products such as nail polish removers, paint thinners, model building glues/solvents, rubber cement, adhesives, cleaning solutions, and more.

Acetone’s extremely low boiling point of 56.3°C (133.34°F) means that this chemical will boil and vaporize at room temperature, producing an extremely flammable gaseous vapor. This characteristic is what makes acetone so hazardous to work with. Acetone has a very low viscosity compared to water or other common solvents.

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Can acetone damage car paint?

The answer to that question is Yes.  Acetone will damage car paint if it’s allowed to dry on the surface long enough.

Acetone can soften old dried-up oil-based paints, causing them to bubble and peel away from the substrate. This is an accepted practice when removing paint over spray at automotive refinishing shops, but many people use acetone for other purposes which don’t require removing paint.

When the acetone evaporates it leaves behind a thin coating of residue that can damage car paint. It’s easy to see why if you consider what you put on your skin when using acetone-based nail polish remover. The ingredients in most polishes are not much different than acetone, only in much greater concentrations.

When you use nail polish remover your skin absorbs just enough to soften the nail polish without damaging your skin. However, if you allow it to evaporate, which takes time, then your skin ends up absorbing more of the chemicals.

Use too much and you may end up with dried-out skin and other problems. The same thing is true with car paint.

How To Remove Dried Coatings On A Vehicle?

The acetone in most nail polish removers can be harsh on your skin, so people often choose to use an acetone-free remover. Acetone-free removers will moisturize your skin as they remove the nail polish, however, what will it do to car paint?

When acetone has been shown to damage car paint why would anyone want to use a product that contains acetone? Many people believe that if you can’t smell anything then there’s no danger; however, those who are chemically sensitive often get sick from the slightest scent. The only safe way to remove polish is in a well-ventilated area with fans to dissipate any fumes.  

The bad news is that nail polish removers containing acetone still can damage car paint if they drip on it long enough to dry. If you wipe off the excess quickly, you may not have any problems.

I’m more concerned about people who aren’t aware of the dangers and use acetone-based polish remover in a poorly ventilated area. Acetone evaporates rapidly and it’s easy to get away with using large amounts of polish remover for extended periods before causing damage.

Does acetone remove tree sap?

Yes, acetone will soften tree sap, making it easier to remove. It’s best to wipe off excess sap with a clean rag before applying the acetone, though. Acetone is very effective at removing dried-in sap but can damage car paint if left on too long.

Does acetone remove car scratches?

Acetone will remove scuffs and scratches from automobile paint. It’s easier to work with than most other common paint solvents because it has lower surface tension and evaporates quickly.

Acetone is also one of the few products that can dissolve oil-based paints such as enamel, which contain high amounts of refined oils. However, acetone will damage car paint if left on too long.

How To Remove Scratches And Scuffs On A Car?

If you have some scratches or scuffs on your vehicle that are not severe enough to repaint then removing them with some fine steel wool followed by wax may be all you need to do. If there are any scuff marks on your paint caused by someone opening a car door into it then rub them with wax or polish followed by fine steel wool.

If the scratches are deeper than that you may want to have them professionally repaired. If this is not possible, follow these steps.

  1. Find an area indoors with good ventilation and clean all of the wax and polish off your car using a mild soap. Wash with dishwashing liquid to be sure that it’s completely rinsed off, then follow up with a degreaser or solvent-based cleaner.
  2. Wet a soft cloth in acetone and wipe out the scratches and scuffs on your vehicle without pressing down too hard. Acetone will dissolve car paint if left on too long, so only rub a few seconds at a time and check your progress often.
  3. Apply a good wax or polish along with fine steel wool to the affected areas of your vehicle. Once this is complete you can top it off with a quick coat of wax or spray your car with a water-repelling agent to prevent future stains.

Be sure to work in small areas and apply only as much pressure as needed. Always test acetone first in an inconspicuous area to ensure that it does not cause damage.