Beauty Edit
How to Get Paint Out of Your Hair

How to Get Paint Out of Your Hair

Whether you’re an artist, a home decorator, or you just went all-out when creating a costume, you might have enjoyed yourself a little too much in the act and ended up with paint in your hair.

Unless you decided that pink/blue/gold is your color, you probably want to get rid of that stuff as soon as possible, no matter how pretty it is.

Unfortunately, this is no easy task. It’s hard enough to wash paint off clothes or shoes — but when it’s stuck on your hair, your options are far more limited. You can’t exactly soak your precious locks with paint thinner like you would a pair of jeans (at least, not without exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals).

Still, don’t panic — there are ways to remove paint; it’s just going to take a little time and effort. Bear with me here.

What to Do When You Realize You Have Paint in Your Hair

Getting paint out of your hair involves more than just dunking your hair in whatever you can find in your bathroom cupboard and hoping for the best. Strategy is essential.

Your priority should be figuring out which type of paint you used — that makes all the difference when it comes to removing it.

The most common paint types are:

  • Water-based paint. Most paint used on walls is water-based since it’s easy to use and low in VOCs.
  • Latex-based paint. This is a water-based paint made from acrylic resin and is often used to paint large surface areas.
  • Acrylic paint. A chemical-based paint used mostly for art that usually comes in tubes or small bottles.
  • Oil-based paint. Known for giving a rich color finish, oil-based paints can be used for painting walls, furniture, and artwork alike, but it’s less common than other paint types.

I’ll go through the best techniques for each paint type below.

Also, once you know what you’re doing, act as quickly as possible. The more the paint dries, the harder it will be to get rid of — and some paint types dry more quickly than others. Not to scare you or anything.

How to Remove Water-Based Paint

woman washing hair with shampoo

If you have water-based paint in your hair, count yourself lucky. It’s the easiest type of paint to wash out! Since it’s mostly made of water and not any harsh chemicals, it’s not too stubborn.

  1. Instead of needing something strange or intimidating to get out water-based paint, you can just use your usual shampoo.
  2. But don’t wet your hair like you would normally. Instead, apply the shampoo to the section of your hair with paint in while it’s dry and massage it in gently. With any luck, you should start to see specks of color and paint come out immediately.
  3. If you begin this process shortly after getting paint in your hair, meaning the paint is still relatively wet, you can skip straight to the next stage. However, if the paint has already begun to dry, it’s best to leave the shampoo in for ten to fifteen minutes, allowing the paint to soften and break down.
  4. Then, grab a fine-toothed comb and run it through your hair — you should be able to brush the rest of the paint out without too much difficulty. If there’s still anything left, repeat the process to remove those last stubborn sections of paint.
  5. When you’re finished, rinse and dry your hair as usual.

Oh, and for the record, this method should also work with powder paints.

How to Remove Latex-Based Paint

Latex-based paint dries relatively slowly, which can make it easier to remove. Another advantage is that it’s less waterproof than other paints, so even water can play a part in the process of getting the paint out.

That brings us nicely to the first method for removing latex-based paint.

Method 1: Water

Since water can begin to break down latex-based paint if it’s exposed for long enough, leaving your hair soaking in water can often be enough to get this paint type out.

It might not wash the paint off completely, but it will at least reduce the stickiness enough for you to pick the substance off yourself using your fingers or a comb.

Yes, the idea of lying awkwardly with your hair sat in a tub of water for hours on end doesn’t sound particularly appealing. But things could be worse — you don’t actually have to do anything other than stay still, and at least water won’t damage your hair.

I can’t say the same for the next method.

Method 2: WD-40

hand holding WD-40

The second option is to use WD-40 on your hair. Think that sounds crazy? Honestly, it probably is — but at least it works.

WD-40 is known for its ability to lubricate creaky doors and remove rust, so paint isn’t much of a match for it. However, be careful with this one. Anyone with sensitive skin should steer clear since contact with your scalp is inevitable, and even those with hardy skin shouldn’t use more W-40 than needed.

  1. Before you start the process, put on gloves if possible, to protect your skin.
  2. Then, apply WD-40 to the part of your hair with paint on it, and massage it in gently. You should gradually feel the paint loosen in your hair, to the point where you feel like you could pick it off.
  3. But instead of picking, turn to a good shampoo and hot water to give your hair a good wash.
  4. To be extra sure that the paint is gone, repeat this process once more.

Ultimately, the choice between the water method and the WD-40 method comes down to what you value the most: your hair or speed? I’d recommend choosing your hair’s long-term health over any short-term gains, but no judgment if you decide differently.

How to Remove Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint dries extremely quickly, so you need to be quick to act if you get this in your hair.

However, since it’s water-based (but with the addition of more chemicals), you can get rid of it in a similar way to standard water-based paint — using shampoo.

Here’s the method, which might sound familiar:

  1. Dampen the hair to soften the paint.
  2. Massage the areas of the hair with paint in to loosen it further.
  3. Apply the shampoo and let it sit in the hair for around fifteen minutes.
  4. Brush a fine-tooth comb through your hair a few times.
  5. Wash off the shampoo while gradually removing specks of paint along the way.
  6. Apply the conditioner and let it sit in the hair for a few minutes.
  7. Rinse the conditioner off.

With any luck, this should do the job. Make sure to massage your hair as much as possible throughout this process to create more friction and loosen the paint further.

If there’s still some paint left after, baby oil or olive oil should do the trick at getting them out.

How to Remove Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based paint might be less common than other paint types, but getting it out of your hair doesn’t require doing anything too out there. It might sound counterintuitive, but the best way to remove it is by using more oil.

Although most oils should work, I recommend olive oil. Fortunately, most people already have some in their kitchen!

  1. Simply apply a generous amount of the olive oil to the paint-infected regions in your hair — the more the paint has dried, the more oil you’ll need to loosen it up.
  2. If the paint is really dry, you might also want to cover your hair with a plastic wrap or shower cap for a few hours. This ensures the oil has plenty of time to penetrate the paint and break it down.
  3. Once your hair is nicely lubricated, start to tease the paint away from your strands gently. Use a fine-tooth comb, if possible, for maximum effectiveness, but if not, your fingers will suffice.

It’s a simple method, but nine times out of ten, it works.

Besides, even if you don’t manage to get the paint out, at least you’ll have given your hair a nourishing oil treatment to make it stronger and healthier!

Just make sure you give your hair a good wash afterward — it’s oil after all, of course it will leave your locks looking greasy.

What if I Don’t Know the Paint Type?

If you’ve thrown away the packaging your paint came in, you might be tearing your hair out (not literally I hope) trying to remember what type of paint it is.

You can often deduce the paint type by what you’re using the paint for. If you’ve been painting walls, you’ve probably been using water-based paint — oil-based paints are no longer used for DIY projects very often.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been painting artwork, chances are you used acrylic paint, unless it was a more niche project that required a different paint type.

But if you don’t want to risk it, that’s understandable (and very sensible). Using the wrong product could make the problem worse instead of better.

So, what should you do? There are two main options: to use a catch-all product, or no product at all.

The Dish Soap and Toothpaste Method

Dish soap and toothpaste are two substances that are reasonably effective at getting rid of most paint types. Also, everyone has them both in their house already, so what do you have to lose?

First, turn to the dish soap. Mix it with a little water and apply it to your hair. You’ll need to scrub at your hair intensely to get the paint out completely, but with a little bit of picking at it with your fingernails, you stand a chance.

If not, move on to the toothpaste. Remnants of food aren’t the only thing this minty product can get rid of — it’s a known miracle cure that can get rid of all kinds of unwanted substances.

Again, apply it to your hair, massage it in for a few minutes, then try to pick the paint out.

The Chemical-Free Method

That’s right — you might be able to get the paint out of your hair without using any additional substances at all. You’ll only need two things for this technique — your fingers and a strong dose of patience!

By using your fingernails to pick at the paint, you may eventually be able to get it out, even with no additional product to help you.

This method has the added advantage of not exposing your hair to any chemicals, which leads to damage like frizziness and split ends.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a go, right?

Your last-resort option is to cut the hair itself and embrace an entirely new haircut (buzz cut or pixie cut, anyone?). It will certainly save you some time, but it won’t be everyone’s first choice.

Caring for Your Hair After Removing Paint

Your original problem might have been the paint in your hair, but after using a potentially abrasive and harsh substance, you risk leaving yourself with just as big a problem as you started with: damaged hair!

Of course, this depends on the type of paint you had in your hair and what you used to get rid of it. If you managed to get the paint out using shampoo or water, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue.

But if you turned to dish soap or WD-40, I’d advise you not to skip the aftercare.

I recommend a deep conditioner or a hot oil treatment, which should restore moisture and protein to your hair.

Time to Wipe the Slate Clean

Painting can be stressful enough at times, but missing your canvas and getting the paint in your hair can be the last straw. Hopefully, following this advice will restore you to sanity promptly.

Even if you need to experiment with a few methods before you find something that works, you should eventually manage to get the paint out. And put it into perspective. There are worse things you could have stuck in there, trust me.

Not to patronize you or anything, but next time, you might want to consider wearing a shower cap while you do your DIY projects to stop this from happening in the future. It might look silly, but not quite as silly as having half of your hair dip-dyed green. Just saying.