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Will Acetone Damage Car Paint?

Manicurist removing polish from client's nails in salon, close-up.

We’ve talked before about living in the South. In many places, you just park in your yard due to not having a paved surface on which to park. Sometimes you park under trees and pollen coats your car.

Sometimes you park under trees that spit sap all over your car. That’s harder to clean off. Lots of people use whatever’s at hand to scrape the sap off the car.

Some drivers use solvents, while others take the car to a mechanic (they have all the coolest tools for problems like this.) Every one of these drivers and then some has learned not to use certain cleaners on car paint. There’s a reason for that.

Isn’t Acetone An Ingredient In Nail Polish Remover? Why Would Such A Small Amount Harm A Car’s Paint?

Startex brand of Green Paint Thinner and Acetone in stainless steel 1 gallon containers.

Yes, it is, but what’s nail polish? It’s paint. There’s only one thing that will dissolve paint, and that’s acetone, even in that tiny amount.

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Acetone was created to eat through something to remove it. There’s a reason acetone is used in paint thinners and removers. It’s used in automotive degreaser for a reason.

What else is acetone used in?

Did You Know Your Body Produces A Tiny Amount Of Acetone? It’s Used In Food Preparation As Well As Cosmetics And As A Fuel Additive Among Dozens Of Other Things

Variety of fuel and injector treatment additives for cars inside Home Depot store.

Humans can eat things in tiny amounts that would kill them in larger doses. Some of these things are chemicals we would normally use for something else. The reason we can eat them is their chemical makeup includes carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, all ketones found in the body. 

For instance, acetone is used in commercially produced bread. It helps to bleach the flour. It’s used as a thickening agent in making puddings and is used to help preserve luncheon meats.

The tiny amounts of acetone used in personal hygiene products and makeup aren’t harmful in that small dose. Larger amounts of acetone will cause skin damage. I know acetone is used to get Super Glue off the fingers, but the fingers are immediately washed, so the damage has no time to set in.

Okay, That’s Understandable. What Else Is Acetone Used In That We Never Heard About?

Drop of resin on tree bark.

It stands to reason that if acetone dissolves things, it would be used in cleaners of all sorts. We mentioned automotive degreasers above, but there are car products containing acetone that need a head-shaking emoji, such as car polish and car cleaners. I know, right?

Add to this the ironic fact that acetone is safe in food, but used in pesticides for gardens. It’s safe in products applied to the body like cosmetics, but it’s also used in pet products like flea and tick preparations, flea collars, and household surface cleaners. I don’t know about you, but I, personally, wouldn’t use anything containing acetone on my car.

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So Acetone Can’t Be Used To Get Tree Sap Off A Car?

Scratch abrasion on car front bumper due to minor accident.

It can be used, but you’ll need to have several supplies at hand before you do. You’ll need cotton balls with which to soak the acetone. You’ll need something to remove the now softened and unstuck tree sap from the car.

You’ll need a water hose to wash the area immediately, and I mean immediately. Otherwise, that small portion of acetone will eat through the car wax, the clear top coat, and the paint clean down to the metal. Another thing about acetone and cars that you absolutely need to know is that acetone evaporates at room temperature.

That means that without the hardened tree sap or bird stuff to point the way, you’d have eaten up paint without a way to stop it. Make sure that you use a water hose the instant you use the acetone. Additionally, don’t scrub the acetone into the stain on the car, or you could rub it right into the paint you’re trying to protect. 

I’ve Heard That Acetone Removes Scratches From Car Paint, Yet Acetone Damages Car Paint. What’s Up With That?

Car care, polishing the red car.

The answer to that question varies from expert to expert. On the one hand, a scratch comes from something sharp and sometimes goes down to the primer. There are “scratch removers” available that will fix it, but you have to have a buffer and know how to use one.

If the scratch is too deep or covers too great an area, you’ll need a body shop. On the other hand, if a car scrapes past yours as it’s backing out of a parking space, for instance, it will leave a little color on your car somewhere. That’s not a “scratch.”

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It’s a scrape. It can be fixed in a very well-ventilated place (or you’ll inhale harmful fumes that will send you to the ER) with a cloth, acetone, and a water hose. You just rub the acetone in very small amounts over the paint scrape until the color is gone.

Neutralize it immediately with water. You might want to give the vehicle a good waxing afterward to protect the paint.

The Sap Is Cleaned Off The Car And The Car Has Been Thoroughly Washed And Cleaned. Now What Should Be Done?

Close-up of a gloved hand washing a car with sponge.

Let’s say you removed the dried or hardened tree sap or bird stuff quickly and neutralized the area with water. All you need to do now is give the vehicle a good wax job, and you’ll be good to go. The flip-side of that is that you left it too long, and the acetone has eaten through the clear coat atop your car’s paint.

You have to act fast in order to save yourself a whole lot of money at the car paint shop. Wash the car thoroughly and dry it. Now give it the best wax job it’s ever had.

That should protect the paint from the vagaries of driving (and never use acetone again.) 

If Acetone Is In Everything From Suntan Lotion To Pesticides, What Stain Remover Is Safe To Use On Cars?

Grab a coffee and have a seat because you’re not going to believe this. Preparations with the same elements, give or take a couple of numbers, do the same job that acetone does. For example, did you know that toothpaste contains abrasives that will remove fingernail polish as well as bird stuff and tree sap?

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Are you aware that rubbing alcohol contains the same elements that are in acetone? Alcohol-based hand sanitizer, hydrogen peroxide (mixed with hot water,) alcohol-based hair spray, and even the bourbon you drink are all capable of removing the hard stuff from your car without damaging the paint.

Can Acetone Damage Car Paint (FAQs)

Will Acetone Harm Car Paint?

Acetone’s chemical makeup removes tough stains fast, but if it’s left on a vehicle long enough, it can damage the paint. First, it turns the clear top coat a jelly-like consistency. Then it moves straight down into the paint, dissolving it.

The key to using acetone is speed and cleaning very well after using it.

Can Acetone Be Used To Dissolve The Adhesive Used With Windshield Stickers And Bumper Stickers?

It can. However, care should be taken not to splash acetone onto a car’s paint. It will also weaken the plastic parts of a car (some bumpers are made of hard molded plastic.)

Use only a small amount of acetone soaked into a cotton ball. Immediately wash off the area with soap and water to neutralize the effects of the chemical.

What Can Be Used To Neutralize The Area?

Use the mildest dish soap available in lukewarm water because it won’t leave a soap residue. Don’t use laundry soap due to the bleaches it contains. This will damage the paint.

Can You Mix Acetone With Water To Minimize Damage?

Yes. Although both evaporate at room temperature, the acetone will evaporate faster, leaving behind a residue. Make sure to have soap and water handy to clean up this residue before it can damage your car’s paint.

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The reason solvents leave residue is because they dissolve stains that then get dissolved in the solvent.

How Long Does Acetone Take To Eat Through A Car’s Paint?

It takes up to 24 hours, so you have some time before you have to fix the problem. Let’s say you began to take tree sap off your car’s paint with acetone. Someone said that the baby needed a doctor.

Right now. You drop everything, of course, to get the baby to the ER. When you come back, six hours have passed.

Don’t panic. Simply wash the area you were working on with soap and water. If the acetone leaves behind a whitish stain, then wash the area again.

Although acetone can eat through seven layers of paint clean down to the metal, it takes time. So neutralize the area and then throw a coat of wax over it.