How to Remove Oil Based Paint from Upholstery


Sharon asked: How can I remove an exterior oil paint from my car seat? My husband and I were painting an out building. Somehow, when he latched the seatbelt in the car, he must have had some on his hand that wasn’t dry. There are two small smpots on the back of the seat. The paint is Valspar exterior oil barn (Red) paint. The seat is fabric. I hope you can help. Thanks!

Oil based paints present a special cleaning situation because the paint thinners needed to loosen the paint can have adverse effects on the upholstery. In these cleaning situations, it is very important to test a small area first to ensure that the color is not damaged. Once the test area goes well, use the guidelines below to remove the stains from the upholstery.

You Will Need:

  • Paint thinner for the specific type of paint (if no thinner is specified on the label, use turpentine)
  • Water
  • Cotton swabs
  • Soft cloths
  • Mild soap or detergent
  • Rubber gloves

Steps to Remove the Paint:

  1. Prepare your work area by gathering all of the materials and opening all of the car’s doors. If you are using this technique indoors open the windows. Turpentine and paint thinners require adequate ventilation as the fumes can be unhealthy to breathe.
  2. If the stain is fresh, blot it with a clean cloth to remove as much as possible.
  3. Look at the label on the paint can to determine the appropriate thinner to use. If no thinner is recommended, start with turpentine.
  4. Dip the tip of a clean cloth into paint thinner or turpentine.
  5. Blot the area with the cloth. As color begins to transfer to the cloth, switch to a clean portion of the cloth, re-moisten with thinner and blot again.
  6. Continue blotting until all of the paint is removed.
  7. If the stain is small or stubborn, dip a cotton swab in the paint thinner and moisten it well.
  8. Dab the stain with the moistened cotton swab.
  9. Follow this by blotting with a clean cloth.
  10. Continue this process until the stain is completely removed.
  11. After all of the paint is gone, wash the area by blotting with mild soap or detergent mixed with water and a clean cloth.
  12. Wash until all of the paint thinner is removed.
  13. Rinse by blotting with clean water.
  14. Blot with a dry cloth and allow the area to air dry completely.
  15. Dispose of all used paint thinner appropriately.

Additional Tips and Ideas

  • Oil based paints that have dried are much more difficult, if not impossible, to remove. Tend to the stain immediately for the best results.
  • Always protect your hands and use caution when working with paint thinners. Many of them are flammable and must be disposed of correctly.
  • If the paint is only on the surface of the upholstery, it may be possible to shave the paint off of the surface. Take a disposable razor and carefully rub it along the surface of the upholstery. Do not apply too much pressure or it will cut more of the upholstery fibers, and that will leave a mark. Just scrape the surface and the paint will be scraped away.
  • This method is safe for removing paint from all water-safe upholsteries.
  • There are a variety of microfiber upholsteries, and it is important to know which one you are working with before cleaning. For more information on the different types, see our guide How to Clean Microfiber Furniture.


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