Can You Steam Off Gel Nails?

Steam Off Gel Remover Machines – Do They Really Work?

When it comes to removing gel polish, it can definitely feel like a chore. Not to mention, when done incorrectly, your nails are damaged and feeling weak for months. That’s why I decided to give the steam off gel remover machine a try. It promises to remove gel nails quickly, and gently - big claims! As a certified nail tech, I had my reservations, but ended up pleasantly surprised with my results. Keep reading to find out how to use this gel polish removal device, and if it’s the right gel removal method for you!

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Let’s start with answering what you’ve all come here to find out:

Can Steam Remove Gel Polish?

Yes! Steam off gel remover machines can remove gel polish, soft gels, acrylic, and dip nails. These machines are also known as acetone nail steamers. They work by heating up small amounts of acetone, and using the steam to break down a variety of artificial nail enhancements.

How Do Salons Remove Gel Nails?

Salons use a range of methods to remove gel nails such as soaking off with acetone or filing by hand or e-file (electronic file). Depending on the client’s nail condition or type, an experienced nail technician will choose the appropriate gel nail removal method.

For example, clients with thin nails and sensitive nail beds, should have their gel polish removed with the soak off (with acetone) method. This is because filing can cause a burning sensation, which feels very uncomfortable. There’s also the risk of over filing nails that are already thin to begin with.

Here are the different methods of gel nail removal used by nail salons:

Soak Off Nails With Acetone

Soaking off with acetone is the most common way to remove gel polish in salons and at home (follow our step by step guide here!). 

At the salon, the nail technician will start by filing off the gel polish top coat by hand. Next, they will soak small pieces of cotton with acetone, and place them onto the surface of the nails. Aluminum foil or nail clips will then be used to keep the cotton in place.

After soaking in acetone for about 5-10 minutes, the nail tech will check to see if the gel polish is ready. If the polish is starting to flake off, the nail tech will use a cuticle pusher or orange wood stick to gently push it off from the surface of the nail. If the polish isn’t budging, they’ll rewrap the nail with the acetone soaked cotton and wait a little bit longer.

Once all the gel polish has been removed, the nail technician will gently buff the natural nails to smooth them out. At this point, the nails are ready for another gel manicure or can be left as is.

Filing With E-File

Experienced nail technicians can remove gel polish safely (without damaging the natural nails) with an electric nail drill, also known as an e-file. This method is often used when clients have a thicker gel application because it’s faster than soaking off with acetone. 

Another reason for removing gel nails with an e-file is to avoid the use of acetone. Some clients may be very sensitive to it because it’s very drying on the skin and nails. Also, acetone can cause stinging on cuts and open wounds.

Steam Off Gel Remover

The Painted Nail Steam Off Gel Removal
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In 2014, The Painted Nail, a salon in Hollywood, was the first to offer steam off gel removal with their Steam Off Gel Removal System. They claimed that their machine could remove gel polish in ‘one piece’ without the soaking and scraping, in less than 5 minutes!

Since then, similar steam off gel remover machines have appeared on the market for both professional and at home use.

Keep reading below to find out how steam off gel removers work!

Magic Remover

Gel Nail Polish Remover
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ALIVER Gel Nail Polish Remover from

This isn’t a common method of gel polish removal in salons, but has recently become quite popular for at-home removals due to the influence of satisfying TikTok videos.

This type of gel nail remover typically comes in a bottle with a brush attached to the cap. The product is brushed onto the surface of the nails, and within minutes, the gel polish will look like it’s ‘bursting’ off! That’s why these magic gel nail polish removers are also called ‘popping’ or ‘exploding’ gel nail polish removers.

Although they are increasing in popularity, experts are warning users of the harmful ingredients that could be found in some magic gel nail polish removers. One of these ingredients to look out for is methylene chloride, a solvent used to strip paint off from buildings and bridges. In Canada, methylene chloride is not allowed in cosmetic products due to safety concerns.

How Do You Use a Steam Off Gel Remover?

Steaming off gel polish is quick and gentle on the nails, and can be easily done at home. Here’s what you’ll need:

Step 1 - Set Up Your Gel Removal Station

Protect your work surface with an old towel or t-shirt (something you’re not worried about ruining), and place a few layers of paper towels on top.

Plug in your steam off gel remover machine and pour 5 mL of pure acetone into the tray. Put the finger tray and cap on top. Make sure everything is closed up properly so the steam doesn’t escape as it’s heating up.

Pro Tip: Pop open your windows or keep a fan running. Although this method of gel removal doesn’t make a lot of odours, it’s a good idea to work in a well ventilated area.

Turn on the machine - It’ll beep when you press the ‘on’ button and the red ‘heat’ light will turn on.

Step 2 - File Off Top Coat

Using the 100/180 grit nail file, file the surface of your gel polish until the shine is removed. Use long, even strokes without applying too much pressure. Remove the gel dust with a nail brush.

Pro Tip: If you’re comfortable with hand filing, try to take off some of the gel polish colour so that the base coat is peeking through in some spots (don’t file beyond this point!). This will help the steam off process go even faster.

Step 3 - Steam Off Gel Polish

When the light on your machine turns green (about 2 minutes after turning on), you’re ready to steam off your gel nails!

Carefully place your filed nails into the finger wells, and curl them slightly - you don’t want to be touching the acetone in the tray.

The machine will automatically start timing for the steam removal, which will take about 5 minutes.

Step 4 - Check Your Gel Removal Progress

Once the machine beeps again and the orange light goes on to ‘warm’, you can take your fingers out of the machine. 

Gently push the gel polish off with a cuticle pusher or orange wood stick. If the gel polish is ready, it’ll flake off easily. If it’s not moving at all, steam again.

Repeat this process on both hands until all the gel polish has been removed.

Step 5 - Buff Nails & Wash Your Hands

Carefully buff your nails with a nail buffer to get rid of the last bits of gel on the surface of your nails. Trim and file your nails if necessary.

Wash your hands thoroughly to get rid of the nail dust.

Step 6 - Apply Nail Strengthener

This is totally an optional step, but if you feel like it, pamper your nails by giving it a nail strengthening treatment!

Here are some that we love:

Step 7 - Nourish your nails and skin

Although steam off acetone removal isn’t as harsh on your skin and nails, it’s always nice to keep your fingers looking their best with cuticle oil and hand lotion. 

Step 8 - Clean Up

Remove the acetone tray from your steam nail remover and pour out the excess. Rinse out the tray with water and dry it. I also like to clean the rest of the machine with a damp paper towel, so it’s ready for my next gel removal. 

And you’re done! 


Can you steam off dip nails?

How do you steam off acrylic nails?

What kind of acetone removes gel nails?

Is acetone the same as nail polish remover?

How do you get gels off quickly?

How long does it take to soak off gel nails?

Is it better to soak or file off gel polish?


The Steam Off Gel Remover is a great gadget for salons and use at home. It’s easy to use, gentle on the nails and can remove gel polish, soft gels, dip nails, and acrylics. It reduces waste (no need for cotton and aluminum wraps), and above all, it’s fun and satisfying to watch the removal process!

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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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