How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home The Safe and Easy Way

Do you have gel polish on your nails that you're desperate to remove? While it's best to go to the salon for a removal, sometimes life happens and you don't have time for that. Keep reading to find out how you can remove gel polish at home the right way!

This post was originally published in April 2020 to help readers who were stuck at home at the height of the pandemic. It has since been revamped and updated with more accurate and relevant information.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that we’ll make a small commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

What You'll Need

Here I’m going to show you how to remove gel nail polish at home with basic household supplies. This DIY process requires nothing more than acetone, cotton balls, aluminum foil, and an orangewood stick. Sadly, gel nail polish remover doesn't exist, but this is the next best thing.

So, without further ado, here is how to get gel nails off at home!

Here are the tools you'll need for removing gel nail polish at home:

  • Old towel or t-shirt
  • Paper towels
  • Vaseline
  • Cuticle oil

If you don't want to gather these items separately, check out this Gel Polish Removal Kit:

This kit includes all the basic tools you'll need for removing your gel polish at home - all you'll need to do is add a bottle of pure acetone to your Amazon cart, or pick it up at your local drugstore!

If you decide to go with this kit, go easy with the metal cuticle pusher and peeler. Pushing too hard with these tools can damage your natural nails. Orange wood sticks are a much gentler, and safer alternative.

Step 1: Prep Your Workspace

First things first, find a well-ventilated space. Acetone is very strong and you shouldn’t be breathing it in more than necessary.

It can also ruin painted surfaces, wood and plastic, so be sure to protect the area you are working on. Something like an old towel or t-shirt would work.

Knowing how to remove gel nails also means knowing how to get your workspace ready.

To do that, place some paper towels over your protected work area. These will catch nail dust and gel polish pieces and make your clean-up a breeze later on.

Next, prepare your cotton and aluminum foil to make the rest of the steps run smoothly. Here’s how:

Take your cotton balls and break them into 10 smaller pieces (1 for each of your nails); the pieces should be big enough to cover the surface of your nail in a thin layer.

For the aluminum foil, cut rectangular pieces that will wrap easily around the top half of your fingers.

Don't have time for this? Check out this kit with pre-cut foils with cotton pads!

Gel Polish Remover Soak Off Foils
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Pre-Cut Foils with Cotton Pads

If you want a more environmentally friendly alternative, try using nail polish remover clips. I've been using these for years now and find them much easier to use than aluminum foil. They hold the cotton in place better and come in a fun range of colours!

Nail Polish Remover Clip
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Nail Polish Remover Clips 

Let’s move on to the next steps!

Step 2: Buff Your Nails

Grab your nail file and start removing the gel top coat layer. I’d recommend a coarser one, of at least 180 to 100 grit. Anything with a higher grit (240 and above), will be too fine, and you’ll be filing forever!

DO NOT file too aggressively here – you’re not removing all the gel manicure; you’re just filing until all the shine is removed. Once this is done, wash your hands to get rid of any excess dust. Now you’re ready to move on to the next part.

“The best way to safely remove your gel polish does take a bit of time and patience, but it will help to keep your nails in good shape.”

Jackie Saulsbery, Professional Nail Manicurist

Step 3: Soak Some Cotton Balls In Acetone

When you use pure acetone to remove gel nails, you need to protect the skin around your nail bed first by covering it with a thick layer of cuticle oil, cream, or Vaseline.

This is because acetone is very drying to the skin. [1] It can leave your skin dehydrated after gel removal, so it’s essential to have a barrier between your skin and any excess acetone.

Soak one end of the little pieces of cotton in acetone and let them become saturated.

Now place the acetone-dipped end onto your nails, allowing the liquid to soak into the manicure thoroughly. This acts as a gel polish remover.

Step 4: Wrap Your Fingertips With Aluminum Foil (Or Nail Polish Remover Clips)

Once the cotton is on your nail, take your strips of aluminum foil and gently wrap them around your fingertips to keep the cotton in place.

Make sure you fold it over at the end so your fingertips are covered like a glove.

This helps to keep the heat and acetone fumes retained inside the aluminum, making the process more efficient.

If you're using nail polish remover clips, simply clip them onto the ends of your fingers to secure the pieces of cotton.

Step 5: Wait For 10-15 Minutes

Once you’ve got both hands done, wait for 10-15 minutes while this gel nail removal process gets to work!

I find this is a convenient time to catch up on Netflix or watch a few YouTube videos. You can’t really do much with your hands during this time.

If you’ve got a thicker gel on, you might need to leave it on for a little bit longer, like 15-20 minutes. Try to lift the foil and see whether the manicure is starting to lift off from your natural nails.

Step 6: Gently Scrape Off The Gel From The Nail

Now comes the satisfying part – scraping the gel off your nail!

I’d recommend using an orange wood stick for this, as they’re gentler on your nail. Some people use a metal cuticle pusher instead of the orangewood stick, but I wouldn’t recommend it because it can harm your nail beds.

Starting at the base, carefully scrape the loose polish off your nail towards the end. If the manicure is stubborn, don’t force it off – it just means that you need to repeat this whole activity again.

DO NOT scrape toward your cuticle – that’s an easy way to hurt your skin and nails!

Step 7: Moisturize Your Nails

Once you’re done, wash your hands, apply cuticle oil and a heavy-duty hand cream or moisturizer to your hands. This whole process is very drying, so aftercare is essential.

First things first, find a well-ventilated space. Acetone is very strong and you shouldn’t be breathing it in more than necessary.


How do you take off gel nail polish without acetone?

How do you remove gel tips?

Is it OK to peel off gel nail polish?

How do you get gel nail polish off without foil?

How often should you get gel nail polish replaced?

Why do my gel nails peel off?

Which is easier to remove: acrylic or gel nail polish?


I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to remove gel polish at home! Now the most important thing to remember when removing gel nails is to be patient and gentle with your nails. If the gel doesn’t want to budge, soak it for a bit longer and repeat as needed. Turn on your favorite movie to help time pass by quicker!

Of course, I'll always recommend going to a salon for a professional gel polish removal when possible. At Sunday Beauty Boutique, our gel polish removal service takes about 45 minutes, and includes a nail trim, and optional nail strengthener and cuticle oil application!




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About the Author Catherine

As a kid, I discovered the world of Japanese nail art through a magazine and since then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about anything related to nails! After following a more traditional educational path and earning my Bachelor's of Science in Food and Nutrition, I decided it was time to pursue my childhood passion. In 2015, I earned my diploma from Blanche Macdonald’s Nail Technology Program. After that, I got certified with YUMI Lashes and opened Sunday Beauty Boutique in 2017. These days, I'm focused on providing a 'no rush' experience to a select clientele, teaching as a nail instructor at Blanche Macdonald, as well as providing resources on beauty related topics to clients and estheticians on my blog.

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