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how to remove gel nails at home

How to Remove Gel Polish

In this guide, we’ll show you how to remove gel nails like a pro without ruining your natural nail. With our easy tips and tricks, you'll be able to remove your gel nails safely and without any damage.

Before You Begin - Essentials to Remove Gel Nail Polish

  • Nail file
  • Cotton balls
  • Acetone
  • Cuticle stick
  • Nail buffer
  • Aluminium foil
  • Cuticle oil (optional)


Anyone who has ever removed gel nail polish knows that it can be a bit of a process. However, there are some ways to make this process easier.

One key tip is to work on a single hand at a time. This allows you to focus your attention on each nail individually.

Finally, lay down a cloth or towel on your work surface to avoid stains. Acetone is corrosive and can cause long-term damage to surfaces if you’re not careful.

Step-by-Step: How to Remove Gel Nail Polish

Use a nail file to smooth your nail bed

The first step is to file down your gel top coat. This can be done with a coarse nail file (180 grit). File your nails on your non-dominant hand to start. Gently glide the flat surface of your nail file in a left-to-right direction, ensuring each nail is filed evenly.

The gel top coat will then become dull and rough when the polish underneath is exposed, making it easier to remove the gel polish with acetone.

using acetone on a cotton pad to remove gel polish
Soak a cotton ball or pad in Acetone

Pull off small, thin balls of cotton that are big enough to cover the fingernail. Soak the cotton in acetone until it is wet but not dripping (usually 5 - 10 drops), put it on top of the first fingernail and move to the next.


Use aluminium foil to wrap the tip of your finger

Wrap each nail with foil. Make sure the cotton ball is in the right place. Do this for each nail. After 10-15 minutes, take the foil and cotton balls off.


Now move on to the cuticle stick

First, to remove gel polish, use an orangewood stick to loosen it gently. If the gel polish doesn't come off easily, soak the nail in acetone for 5 more minutes.

buffing nails to remove gel polish

Time to buff the nails

Use a nail buffer to make the nails smooth. Be careful not to rub too hard, as this can make the nails weaker and, potentially, damage the nail.

Cuticle oil

It is optional, but applying cuticle oil is a good way to keep your nails healthy. Massage the oil into your nails and cuticles. Apply the oil often, even up to three times a day.


Common Mistakes People Make When Removing Gel Polish

Let's dive a little deeper into some of the common mistakes and pitfalls people experience when trying to remove nail gel.

Using too much Acetone

Using too much acetone to remove gel nail polish can lead to dry, brittle nails. Acetone is a solvent that removes the natural oils in your nails leaving them vulnerable and weak. It’s best to use as little acetone as possible when removing gel nail polish at home or, indeed, by a nail professional.

Don't pick or peel

Picking and peeling gel polish is, unsurprisingly, one of the most common mistakes people make. Not only does it damage your nails - leading to dryness and cracking - but it can also cause infection if bacteria enters the broken layers.

Customers Also Asked About

Nail files

A nail file is essential to ensure that the gel polish is filed off evenly and to prevent your nails from splitting. A coarser nail file is best for removing gel polish because it can grind through the tough layer of nail polish more quickly.

Cuticle Pusher

A cuticle pusher is used to push the gel polish off each nail. It is best to use a metal cuticle pusher because it is strong and precise, allowing you to get into hard-to-reach areas without damaging the surrounding skin.

Buffer block

A buffer block is essential to remove any residue left over from the gel polish and to even out the nail surface. It will also help you create a nice, smooth finish.

Cotton balls or pads?

Cotton balls or pads? Both can be used, but cotton balls are generally preferred because they absorb more of the acetone and are gentler on the skin.


Applying (and removing) gel nails is a skill that many nail technicians have trained diligently for. Make sure you check out some of our courses (including how to apply and remove gel nails) here.