Will Acetone Damage Clear coat on a Car? [Actual Facts Exposed]

Acetone is the simplest ketone with the chemical formula CH3-CO-CH3. Most of you know of acetone from nail polish removers. It’s also used in the automotive industry as a cleaning agent for cars, trucks, etc. Since it’s highly volatile, many have this recurring question – will acetone damage car paint?

Acetone, by default, is harmful to car paint and compounds with somewhat similar compositions. It’s a really strong solvent and can dissolve through layers of car paint under the appropriate circumstances. Acetone is great for removing unwanted flecks of paint during refurbishing. But if left untreated for long enough, it’ll ruin the original paint instead.

Again, depending on the concentration of the acetone solution, the results can be very different. Consecutive dilution and using appropriate catalysts can change the entire reaction progression in no time.

 So, let’s go over how acetone works and its effects on car paint today.

Does Acetone Damage Car Paint?

Will Acetone Damage Car paint

Yes, acetone can hurt car paint if used incorrectly. Here are a few instances where acetone is harmful to cars or automotive paint.

Long-Term Exposure

Even though acetone reacts vigorously even at room temperature, it doesn’t corrode through all the layers within moments. Especially on a fully prepped car exterior, it’ll take a couple of hours for the acetone to reach the base layer.

Hence, by long-term acetone exposure, you can cause serious damage to your car paint. Even irreversible damage, in some cases. Once the acetone reaches any plastic or weak layer underneath, you’ll have to replace the whole portion first before the paint.

Catalytic Exposure

In most cases, the catalyst in question is none other than the high temperature. As mentioned above, acetone has an extremely low boiling point. And that’s precisely the reason why they evaporate so fast. So, during a humid day, acetone can theoretically work faster.

When the reaction rate becomes faster, the duration of the long-term exposure will shorten. Similarly, any other corrosive catalyst alongside the temperature will do the trick as well.


Acetone is surely corrosive for car paint but it cannot do all the work on its own. It’ll only soften up the uppermost layers and revert the clear coat to slushy.

For proper and consistent paint removal, you’ll need to input some good elbow work into it. So, what if you don’t intend to remove the paint in a certain area but rub the area senseless otherwise? Precisely. The added friction is going to result in you harming the car paint.

Does Acetone Remove Car Paint?

In one word, yes. Acetone removes paint, especially automotive paint since it’s one of the A-grade industrial dissolvers. It has certain degreasing effects and reacts vigorously with the components in a clear/after-polish coating.

In fact, direct acetone is corrosive enough to bleed through the layers. Even if you have waxed the exterior properly, it won’t matter. If there’s an excessive amount of acetone on the surface, it’ll first strip off the wax in that area.

Afterward, it’ll move on to the clear coating and corrode through that layer as well. If the concentration of the acetone hasn’t subsided even by now, it’ll now start to remove the paint.

And it’s not just the paint that acetone can harm. Since it’s one of the strongest dissolvers, it can even damage plastic components with the right concentration.

Think of accidentally placing a plastic bottle or jar too close to the oven or direct fire. If you remember correctly, the plastic gets all singed and curls up, doesn’t it? Similarly, acetone can induce corrosive effects on the plastic exterior and decorative components.

So, yes, in short, acetone does remove paint. Nowadays, acetone is only comparable next to ammonia – which is another widely used paint remover in the automotive industry. Depending on the concentration level, it can either ruin the car paint instantly or over a few hours or so.

How Can Acetone Remove Paint?

It’s already established that acetone is a strong candidate for removing paint and similar stuff. Let’s have a look into the chemical mechanism behind acetone and car paint to know more about the removal procedure.

100% acetone can easily evaporate into the air in almost no time at all. This is because acetone has a really low melting point of only 56.3° C. The highly volatile CH3-CO-CH3 compound produces an equally highly flammable vapor upon reacting with compatible compounds.

So, if you’re using oil-based automotive paint, the diluted/concentrated acetone will react vigorously with it. You’ll see bubbles seething away on the surface and slowly the upper layer/coating will start to peel off.

In essence, acetone drastically increases the pH level of the medium upon contact. As such, acrylic emulsion takes place. The metal from the car surface effectively starts to loosen its grip/bond with the paint molecules. Afterward, the paint molecules peel off accordingly.

And that’s where it usually stops since acetone can’t directly harm the metal as much. If there were any plastic components, however, acetone would corrode through that layer as well.

Additionally, if there’s a clear coat on the paint, then acetone would eat through that first. Although it does take some time and the reaction is not as vigorous as direct car paint. At first, the acetone softens up the clear coating and then works around it to get rid of it.

By the time the reaction process has reached completion, you’re left with a jelly-like slushy. The acetone, if it’s still active, can then move on to corroding the paint layer directly.

Read More: Remove Paint from Aluminum Boat

Is Acetone Safe On Car Paint?

Acetone is safe on car paint if you abide by the following precautions:

Wipe It Down Immediately

Despite reacting vigorously, acetone won’t eat through all the layers in seconds. It’s going to take quite a while to reach the underneath paint. So, if you accidentally don’t want acetone on a certain portion of the car, simply wipe it down.

Use Diluted Acetone

Do remember that diluted acetone has every bit of strength and potential as 100% acetone. However, the inclusion of water for dilution is going to slow the reaction rate down by a lot.

Thus, by using diluted acetone, you can ensure somewhat safe usage of acetone on car paint.

How To Use Acetone On Car Paint To Fix Mild Scratches & Chips?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on using acetone on car paint to fix minor issues:

Step 1: Find The Right Place

This step may seem arbitrary, but it’s quite important. Since acetone is flammable, you really can’t directly work with it under a scorching sun. Find someplace with a proper shade like the backyard garage. Basically, appropriate ventilation is very much needed.

Step 2: Prep The Car

By prepping, you should thoroughly clean the car before proceeding. That way, you can only focus on the remaining non-washable issues. Otherwise, acetone can react with impurities in the dirt and cause even further problems.

You can simply use mild soap and water at first to wash off the surface area fully. Afterward, you can use dishwashing liquid for a better rinse. Or, you can use an automotive solvent-based cleaner directly if it’s accessible.

Step 3: Gentle Scrubbing

After the cleaning, bring out the acetone and use a soft cloth to wipe down the blemishes or scratches. The mild scratches will easily peel off from the outermost layer. If it seems a little too stubborn, you can use some extra force.

But exercise caution at all times. Scrubbing too hard, i.e. applying too much friction will cause the acetone to damage the paint underneath.

Step 4: Polish The Exterior

When you’ve fixed everything, polish back the exterior with A-grade polish or wax. The wax coat will give your car a protective layer for future minor accidents/scratches. Similarly, you could also just use any water-resistant agent to achieve similar effects on the car’s exterior.

An important reminder that – if the scratches run too deep, it’s wiser to take it to the shops. Stuff like that will require professional attention and will need to heal for longer.

Other than that, you can utilize the aforementioned four steps to get rid of any kind of stain/slight chips. From tree sap to gum residue to rust flecks, it’s good for everything.

How To Remove Acetone From Car Paint?

If you accidentally pour a lot of acetone on your car, don’t freak out right away. The chances of it immediately harming the car paint are extremely low. At least, it can’t harm the paint in an irreversible way just yet no matter the potency of the concentration.

So, that answers the age-old ‘will acetone damage car paint?’ question. As for the removal of the acetone itself, simply use a clean rag and wipe it down thoroughly. You must use something properly clean, otherwise, the acetone might react with the impurities in it.

Once the liquid acetone is off the surface, you can further wipe it down with clean clothes. Then use dishwashing liquid or soap alongside water to completely remove any residues.

Using Acetone On Car Paint: Aftercare

It’s important to take care of your surroundings too while dealing with acetone. Here are a few aftercare tips after using acetone on paint:

Ensure Proper Ventilation

Acetone evaporates really fast. And the fumes are highly corrosive. So, always work in a well-ventilated workspace. And turn on the fans after working so the fumes will dissipate faster.

Use Masks & Gloves

The acetone fumes can cause irritation to your hands while initiating breathing problems. So, use proper masks and gloves while working with such flammable liquids.

Will Acetone Damage Clear coat on a Car?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can You use Acetone on car paint?

If you’re using it to remove unwanted blemishes, impurities, or paint flecks, then yes you can use acetone on car paint. However, make sure to not leave it on for too long or use it for an excessive amount. The concentrated acetone can bleed right through both the wax and clear coat to reach the paint underneath.

Q: Does Acetone have damaging properties?

Acetone is highly flammable and volatile. Without proper caution, it can cause irritation to human skin alongside ruining the car paint. As such, workers are always recommended to wear appropriate gloves while working

Q: Is Acetone bad for car paint?

Acetone is bad for car paint if you’re applying it directly on the surface for no reason. But if you’re trying to remove mild scratches or tree sap or other impurities, it’s not direct harm. It’s definitely not bad for car paint in a controlled environment with expert workers.

Q: Does Acetone evaporate at room temperature?

Acetone has a quite low boiling temperature, standing at only 56.3° C. To compare, water has a boiling temperature of 100°C.
So, yes, acetone will mostly evaporate on its own at room temperature. The rate of reaction becomes faster or slower depending on the temperature of the atmosphere.

Q: Will nail polish removers damage car paint as well like direct acetone application?

Yes, nail polish removers will inevitably damage car paint like direct acetone application. Acetone is the single-most key ingredient in all nail polish removers. As such, nail polish removers will initiate similar corrosive reactions on top of a clear coating.

Final Verdict

Hence, will acetone damage car paint or not? Turns out, the answer is an undoubted yes. Acetone is directly used as a dissolving agent during car cleaning and repainting sessions.

Professional workers use it to get rid of unwanted spots after the initial paint application. It also helps with removing mild scratches and peel-offs including subtle rusty particles by catalytic reactions.

As such, it’s not meant to stay on the car’s surface for a long time. If it does, it can slowly burn through the layers and reach the base coat, ruining the paint overall. Sometimes, the damage is irreversible. So, it’s wise to always exercise caution if you’re using acetone to remove paint flecks during repainting sessions.

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