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Can You Touch Up Paint on Car With Nail Polish?

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The moment a scratch appears on your vehicle, your first thought is fixing the blemish as soon as possible. It ruins the appearance of your car, and more importantly, an untreated scratch can lead to further damage, like rust.

If you are looking for a quick fix, the question of using nail polish to touch up your scratch may have entered your mind. Does it work? Can it be a long-term solution? Or will it cause more damage in the long run?

In this article, we will learn if nail polish is a safe and effective solution for touching up your car’s paint.

Nail Polish Scratch Repair

Can I Use Nail Polish?

Can you use nail polish on your car? The short answer is yes, you can. But it’s not as simple as that. A better question would be, “SHOULD I use nail polish to touch up a scratch on my car?” The answer to this question is more complicated.

A determining factor would be the depth of the scratch on your vehicle. There are five layers to your car:

  • Wax: added for extra protection
  • Clearcoat: seals the basecoat and shields the vehicle from damage
  • Basecoat: the color of your vehicle
  • Primer: a bonding agent between the metal of your car and the basecoat
  • Metal: the body of your car; most commonly steel or aluminum

A car often sustains minor scratches that don’t touch the basecoat of the vehicle. These scratches are easily remedied by gently rubbing the area with an abrasive material such as a rubbing compound or filled and sealed with wax.

If the bare base metal is visible, you have a significantly deep scratch, and this should be treated more meticulously. A “color coat scratch” is one that removes color but does not expose the base metal of your vehicle. These scratches can be touched up with nail polish.

Nail polish contains many of the same chemical components as car paint, but in smaller quantities. This means that no matter what, nail polish should not be seen as a long-term solution. It is not as potent as car paint and won’t last as long under the same conditions.

Will Nail Polish Damage My Car?

While nail polish can be a quick solution to an ugly scratch, the effects could cost you more money in the long run. Nail polish is a short-term fix, so once you go to repair the scratch with car paint, you will have to remove the nail polish beforehand. This requires either sanding off the nail polish or using nail polish remover.

Acetone is the main ingredient in many nail polish removers. It contains chemicals designed to remove paint, and that includes your car paint, causing damage in as little as a few hours. That said, if you choose to use nail polish remover to get rid of your temporary nail-polish touchup, do so at your own risk!

Will Nail Polish Look Good on My Car?

Nail polish can potentially look good on your car. Many nail polishes have a shiny finish that mimics the gloss of most vehicle paints. Nail polishes also come in a variety of shades, giving you plenty of options to choose from. Some nail polishes have even been created to specifically match a vehicle!

However, it can be difficult to find a precise match, depending on the color of your vehicle. Once applied, an inexact shade may cause the modified area to stick out just as much as a scratch.

While the color in the bottle may match your vehicle, some polishes dry to a slightly different shade. Other nail polishes are thinner than others and require extra coats to achieve the desired shade. Test the nail polish on a separate piece of clean scrap metal before attempting to paint your vehicle.

How To Apply Nail Polish to Touch Up a Scratch

If you do decide to touch up a scratch on your car with nail polish, the process itself is quite simple.

Before painting anything, wash the area you will be working on. Use an automotive soap to remove any grime that would interfere with the polish adhering to your vehicle.

After cleaning your car and allowing it to dry, apply your nail polish. You can either use the brush that comes with the nail polish, or a toothpick. A toothpick allows you to better control the amount of paint that you apply to your vehicle. Too much nail polish could make the repaired area lumpy and not level with the rest of your car.

Apply carefully in smooth, even strokes. Allow the nail polish to dry for at least 15-20 minutes. If necessary, apply a second light coat to better match your car’s color.

Cover your fix with a clear nail polish topcoat. This will seal in the nail polish, protect it from the elements, and help it last longer. Make sure to choose a basic topcoat that shines, not a matte topcoat.

Additional Everyday Options for Superficial Scratch Repair

Nail polish is an unusual do-it-yourself option for temporarily touching up a car scratch. If your car has superficial scratches that haven’t removed color, you may already have the items to fix the problem lying around your house! Remember to always clean the surface of your vehicle before applying anything.


Toothpaste has a mild grit that can gently sand away superficial scratches. Apply in a circular motion with a wet cloth or toothbrush. Wipe away and repeat up to three times if necessary.

Shoe Polish

Select a shade slightly darker than your car’s paint job. Apply gently and wipe away, rubbing as needed to cover the scratch.

Candle Wax

This won’t remove your scratches, but it can cover up light damage. Rub the candle wax gently over the surface of the car to fill in superficial scratches. This is intended to seal and protect the damage temporarily until you find a long-term solution.


Nail polish can be an easy and unique short-term solution for minor color coat scratches on your car. With a minimal investment of time and energy, you and your vehicle can be back on the road scratch-free!

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