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

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, COVID-19 is putting half the world on lockdown and many of us aren’t supposed to leave our homes. So what do you do if you’ve got a gel manicure that needs taking off and you can’t go to the salon?

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 does not 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 will need for removing gel nail polish at home:

  • Cotton balls
  • Acetone
  • Aluminum foil
  • Orangewood stick
  • Nail file (180 - 100 grit)
  • Old towel/ t-shirt
  • Paper towels
  • Vaseline
  • Cuticle oil

Step 1: Prep Your Workspace

Prepareation Workspace with Aluminium Foil, Acetone , Glossier and more

Source: Tom Newton

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 aluminium 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.

Let’s move on to the next steps.

Step 2: Buff Your Nails

Removing the Gel Top Coat Layer with 180 to 100 Grit.

Source: Shutterstock

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

Use Acetone to Remove Gel Nails

Source: Shutterstock

When you use 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

Wrap  Fingertips with Aluminum Foil to Keep the Cotton in Place

Source: Shutterstock

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.

Step 5: Wait For 10-15 Minutes

Gel Nail Removal Process Gets to Work! Wait for 10-15 Minutes

Source: Freestocks

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 harder 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 naturally sliding off – it’s a bit like checking hair highlights to see if they’re ready.

Step 6: Gently Scrape Off The Gel From The Nail

Scraping the Gel off Your Nail

Source: Getty Images

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

I’d recommend using an orangewood stick for this, as they’re gentler on your nail. People use them for nail art and treatments – you can buy them in bulk on Amazon for a few dollars.

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

Use Cuticle Oil and a Heavy-Duty Hand Cream to Moisturizer Nails

Source: Getty Images

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!

We live in uncertain times right now but when things get back to normal, I’d love to see you at Sunday Beauty Boutique for all your gel nail needs. Whether it’s for a removal or a new set, book an appointment with me to pamper your nails!




About the Author Catherine

As a kid, I happened to discover a magazine entirely focused on intricate nail designs. This sparked an interest that has grown over the years. Though I completed a bachelor’s degree in Food, Nutrition, and Health, office work wasn’t for me. So, I focused on my dream instead. I earned my diploma from Blanche Macdonald’s Nail Technology Program in 2015. I worked in a salon and received certified training with YUMI Lashes in January 2017. Then, in March of 2017, I opened Sunday Beauty Boutique. These days, I spend my time focusing on my customers, customizing my services for each of them. I’ve created a relaxing space where they get the attention they deserve. My biggest goal is to help them to feel as good as they look. Seeing this transformation is the best part of my day!