I tried three standard home products to remove paint from a leather handbag. Did cooking oil, petroleum jelly or nail polish remover do the trick?
Knock over a nail polish? Bump into wet paint? There are lots of ways leather bags, shoes or other accessories could end up with paint splatters or spots. Whether they're from your own collection or you find a graffitied item secondhand, it's helpful to know how to save a leather item - especially if you've invested good money into it!
For this experiment, I used a pebbled leather Kate Spade tote that had an accidental run-in with some interior latex paint. The paint drips had been on the bag for at least 6 months, so this was not a new spot.
A quick search revealed a few solutions to removing paint from leather goods using pretty common household supplies. I decided to start with the two that were both most surprising and gentle.
Various sources claimed that cooking oil (I used EVOO) and petroleum jelly were effective paint removers. I applied both using regular cotton swabs to focus the product directly on the paint in case there was any impact on the leather itself.
Here is a close up of the paint mark before anything was applied.
The first product I selected was the EVOO. I saturated the cotton swab and rubbed gently on the paint. There seemed to be a bit of rub off initially and the "drip" end of the splatter was loosened enough to peel it off. Other than that, the oil was not very effective in removing the paint.
You can see the "drip" that I was able to remove in this video where I applied the petroleum jelly. The petroleum jelly seemed to create no immediate change to the paint, so I allowed it to sit for 10 minutes before attempting to remove any more.
It proved even less effective than the cooking oil. Even when I switched from a cotton swab to a very soft child's toothbrush, the petroleum jelly made no impact on the paint spots.
The next step was a coat of my favorite leather conditioner. I reasoned that it may soften the leather enough to allow more of the paint to peel off. The texture and porous nature of this particular leather worked against that idea.
Finally, I was willing to try the last product I had discovered in my search but the one that seemed riskiest for the bag itself - acetone nail polish remover.
I did not film video of this process because I wanted to be extra careful in the application. I saturated a cotton swab and pressed out any excess so that there were no drips. I very gently applied the remover to the paint and tried to rub only on the paint itself. The paint immediately began to dissolve. However the cotton swab also began to turn black, indicating that it was removing the dye on the leather as well.
I continued working on each section of paint, attempting to touch the swab only on top of the remaining paint. I immediately applied leather conditioner to the bag as soon as the paint was completely removed and repeated these steps on each of the spots until the paint was gone.
The nail polish remover was very effective at removing the paint spot, but I would caution you to be very specific with its application and possibly even recommend you do a test spot to see how your leather item will react to the acetone.
The areas where the acetone had removed some of the leather dye looked a bit dry, but once conditioned the area looks as good as new.
Here is a side-by-side for comparison.
Overall, I think cooking oil could be effective on some paint spots on some leathers, whereas the petroleum jelly didn't work at all. Acetone nail polish remover was very effective, but should be used with caution and precision. I hope this helps if you have a paint accident with an item you already own or gives you some confidence that you can rescue a flawed secondhand find! What's the most common stain or spot you've come across on leather goods?