How to Remove Gel Nails at Home (7 Easy Steps)

nail polish remover kit

If you want your gel nail polish removed (and you don’t want to stop by the nail salon), then you need to know how to remove gel nails at home the right way. For most people, they think this means they need to start aggressively peeling. But you should definitely not do this. 

When you pick, peel, or scratch off your gel nail polish, what you’re also doing is picking, peeling, and scratching off a layer of your natural nail, too. When all is said and done, you’ll be left with very weak nails for weeks. They’ll split and break at the worst possible spots, and they won’t just look bad — they’ll hurt, too.

Keep Reading: How to stop premature nail splitting

When it comes to removing gel nails, our best advice is to head back to the salon. But if that’s not an option for you right now, then here’s how you can safely remove gel nail polish at home (and maintain healthy nails in the process).

Step 1: Gather supplies.

The key to properly removing gel nail polish at home is having the right products. This will make the process much quicker and a lot easier. You’ll also want to make sure you have enough time to properly get through the process.

Here’s what you need:

  • 100 or 100 grit nail file
  • Cuticle oil or hand cream 
  • Cotton balls (10-20)
  • Aluminum foil (10 pieces at least 3 inches long)
  • Acetone (Not nail polish remover, you have to use 100% Pure Acetone)

Check out our complete nail removal kit for DIY or professional use

Step 2: Grab a file.

Once you have all your supplies together, it’s time to start filing your nails. This process works best with a fresh, coarse nail file. The goal here is to remove the shine, so the acetone has a chance to get into the polish and break it up. But be careful. If you over-file, you could end up filing away your natural nail.

Keep Reading: Gel nail polish vs. acrylic nails

Step 3: Protect your skin.

The removal process requires you to soak your nails in acetone for an extended period of time, so apply some oil or cream around your cuticles and fingertips prior to soaking to keep them from dehydrating. 

Applying a cream barrier will make it more difficult for the acetone to remove the moisture  around your nails. 

Pro Tip: apply the cream to your nails and fingers immediately after the process is complete and re-apply the creams once or twice a day for the next 48 hours  

Step 4 & 5: Soak it off & wrap it up.

There are two ways you can do this next part.

The first option is to pour acetone into a small dish and soak your fingers in the acetone for 10-15 minutes. To make the process even faster, we recommend placing your small dish of acetone into a bigger bowl with warm water. Warming up the acetone will allow it to penetrate the product faster and make your removal process much easier. 

The second option is to soak your cotton balls in the acetone instead. One by one, place an acetone-soaked cotton ball on top of your nail. Grab a small piece of foil and wrap it around your fingertip to secure the cotton ball to your nail. Gently press the foil, so it forms to your fingertip. Allow your nails to soak for 10-15 minutes.

Pro Tip: Cut your foil during the prep phase, and use plain, non-moisturizing cotton balls

Step 6: Gently remove the polish.

Remove the foil and lift up the cotton balls to see what’s going on with your nails. Some of the layers should be lifted at this point, but you can almost guarantee that there will be some polish left, hanging on for dear life. 

If you can’t rub the polish off with the acetone-soaked cotton balls, then you can grab a cuticle stick or pusher and use it to gently lift the gel layer off. (If you don’t have a cuticle stick, it’s not a big deal.)

If the gel isn’t budging, we recommend soaking your nails again. Another 5-10 minutes should do the trick. Whatever you do, just resist the urge to peel and pick (or all that soaking will be for nothing).

Keep Reading: The top nail polish myths debunked

Step 7: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. 

Now that you’re done with the removal process, it’s time to moisturize! Grab those oils and creams and get moisturizing. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to re-apply the cream once or twice a day for the next 48 hours since acetone can dry out your cuticles

Interested in learning more DIY nail tips?