How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home

DIY Remove Gel Polish From HomeIf your gel polish is applied correctly, it should last at least two weeks without chipping or peeling.  By this point you will visibly see the growth at the base of the nail, and it may be tempting to start to pick at your polish.  You should NOT remove gel polish by peeling it off with your nails or teeth!  Picking gel polish off will damage your nails and make them brittle because the top layer of your nail often peels off along with the polish.

Below is a step-by-step guide to removing your gel polish without damaging your nails.

You will need:


  1. Roughen the surface of the nails using a coarse nail file.  This helps break through the top coat to allow the remover to penetrate the layers of polish below.
  2. Soak a cotton ball with the acetone remover and place it on one of the fingernails.
  3. Wrap the finger with the cotton ball in foil, and squeeze it nice and tight so that the cotton ball stays in contact with the nail.  Repeat steps 2 & 3 for each nail.
  4. Wait about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Remove the foil from one finger.  (You should be able to visibly see the polish coming loose from the edges of the nail.)  Push the polish off of the nail using your orange stick or cuticle pusher.  Don’t use anything too sharp or you could remove the top layer of your nail.  Repeat this step for each nail.
  6. Use your buffing block to smooth the surface of each nail and remove any remaining little bits of polish.
  7. Wash and moisturize your hands and nails.


  • One cotton ball can go a long way.  I like to rip a regular sized cotton ball into five pieces so that I only use one cotton ball per hand.
  • If the polish doesn’t push off easily in step #5 above, continue soaking until it does.  You shouldn’t have to chisel the polish off!
  • Be very careful not to let pure acetone drip or spill as it will damage the finish of many surfaces, particularly wood.
  • If you have trouble with removal, try applying heat during your soak-off with a heating pad or warming hand mitts.

Other helpful information:

Learn about using NailMates as an alternative to the foil method for gel polish removal!
learn more


You may also like...

56 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    This is funny, Maybe chase your kids around with your foil wrapped fingers and tell them that you’re an alien. But i like your advice.

    • ellen says:

      your method is ingenious. typing with right hand while left is being “treated” . great idea. thank you

  2. Eve Berube says:

    Not sure where I read this, but I want to know if it is something you tried before. Is it possible to add regular nail polish over uv gel, and then when you remove the nail polish, the uv gel stays on?

    • Andrea says:

      I have done that before. You have to use regular polish that comes off pretty easy with non-acetone remover in order for the gel base to stay in tact.

  3. Lisa says:

    Great site lots of information. Have one question I just had acrylic nails taken off so my nails are pretty wrecked and thin. When I took the gel polish off I had to scrape it off and it seems like I still have some rough residue. Is it okay to use some sort of mail conditioner under the gel polish. I just purchased some pink gel nail from Sephora that is supposed to strengthen and brighten your nails and thought I would use that in the interim. Just wasn’t sure if it was okay to put the gel polish on over the top of this … trying to get my nails back in shape because the really splitting right now due to 10+ years of acrylic nails.

    • Andrea says:

      If you soak longer you should be able to get all of the foundation off. The longer you soak, the easier the removal process is and the less scraping you have to do the better. You can try using a conditioner under the gel polish, but you likely won’t get the long lasting wear since gel polish foundation adheres to very dry nails and typically peels if there is any oily residue.

      • Sarah says:


        Awesome website!
        You mentioned using a conditioner under the gel polish – Any brand/s to recommend, that get the job done without burning a hole in my pocket? (it’d be perfect if I could get my gel polish to last for just a week or so, rather than 2 or 3… Anything more than that = boring!)

        Thks! :)

        • Andrea says:

          I don’t actually have a conditioner that I can recommend since I don’t use one. I was just responding to the comment above that if you do use one your gel polish likely won’t last as long as it should.

    • Marta says:

      Hey there! Try IBX repair. Rebuilds nails from the inside out, brilliant product, ask your nail technician!

  4. Lisa says:

    Sorry that should nail not mail above

  5. Rosie says:

    I had a really hard time with removal at first. The first time I tried to remove Gelish at home, it took me over an hour because I didn’t really know what to do. Here are my suggestions:
    *Make sure to always apply Gelish in VERY THIN coats. I applied mine a little too thick in my hope for opacity, and then I had the worst time removing it. If you use more than 2 coats of color, or if you do a French manicure, you may have to soak longer.
    *Don’t soak in a bowl of acetone like they had me do at the salon, use the foil-wrap method that Andrea describes above.
    *After you wrap the last nail, set the timer for 12 minutes to remove a Gelish manicure. This way, all of your nails will soak an adequate amount of time. When you unwrap, the polish should literally fall off the nail and all you should have to do is gently help it off with the orangewood stick. If it’s not coming off with the orangewood stick, re-wrap with cotton/acetone/foil and stick your hands inside some mitts to help keep them warm while they soak. ONLY use an orangewood stick. I tried using a metal scraper like the tech at the salon and it damaged my nails. Needless to say, I don’t go to that salon any longer.
    *Do not use an entire cotton ball per nail — instead, unravel a cotton ball and use scissors to cut it into squares. This uses far less remover than if you were to use an entire cotton ball per nail.
    *My hands get cold while they’re wrapped, so I usually stick my hands in some oven mitts to keep myself comfortable while they’re soaking off.
    *Make sure to wash your hands after the removal process. I also soak my fingertips in olive oil for a few minutes as well, or at least brush on some cuticle oil and then lotion.

    • Andrea says:

      Good tips, Rosie! If you’re planning to re-apply a new gel manicure right away, I wouldn’t use the cuticle oil or lotion until after applying your polish because the oils will prevent the polish from getting a good bond on your nails.

  6. Shauna says:

    I got gel nails done with the gelish nail polish yesterday !! I fell out of love with the colour but i still want to keep my gel nails !! If i use this method with the gel nails become damaged??

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Shauna. I’m not a nail tech so I’m not 100% certain about this but I believe your polish has to be filed off as soaking would damage the gel nails.

  7. Jenn Lewis says:

    I just removed a gel polish manicure I had done at a salon…after 30+ minutes I still have this very sticky layer left on my nail…all of the polish itself is pretty much gone but this sticky layer is really stuck! Any clue as to what it is…I know she applied bond aid before the base coat…could that possibly be what it is or the type of base coat she used? Help!

  8. Casey B says:

    Hi Andrea! I have a question–I LOVE your blog and have been doing my own Gelish nails for over a year now, but the removal process still seems to be the bane of my existence. Maybe I’m not patient enough, but it takes SO LONG for the acetone to soak in, and I hate having it on my skin for 12+ minutes! Plus, it always seems like even 12 minutes isn’t long enough to fully remove it on all my nails, so I have to rewrap a few of them and it takes even longer! Have you ever heard of using heated mitts while soaking off? You know, the whole “heat speeds up a chemical reaction” concept? I keep thinking that might, and I really want to get the heated mitts anyway for moisturizing purposes.
    Just wondering, thanks!

    • Andrea says:

      I do know some people that use heated mitts while soaking off their gel polish and they swear by it. I always use a coarse nail file and file down the top layer real good (being sure not to hit the natural nail bed in the process) and that always makes it go faster for me.

  9. Anna says:

    I just saw this on Pinterest and wanted to tell you what a great job you did on showing on how to remove gel polish! All your posts are great! Love your blog! :)

  10. Alisha Anwar says:

    Really good tips, Rosie! yes i m ready to apply these tricks on my nails :p

  11. London says:

    Anyone have problems w/Gelish Soak Off Nail Remover evaporating?

  12. London says:

    Thanks for the quick response! Just saw this now. I love the idea that it might be easier on the nail/skin and I’m eyeing the bulk linked here. When asked the girl at my Sally store if she had tried it and she said they don’t stock it because it just evaporates no matter how they try to seal the bottle. I thought perhaps the cap on the smaller bottle is not tight enough (not sure what size bottle they stopped carrying – can ask her to be more specific next time I’m in). Now I realize worst case I could transfer to a couple old acetone bottles with a good seal. After her response I just thought I would check if anyone else had tried it and run into a problem w/storage.

  13. Katharine in Brussels says:

    Thx for the tip on 1 cotton ball for the whole hand. Am soaking off 1st mani on the left hand now :)

  14. Linda says:

    I recently had a gel / shellac manicure done I want to do my own pedicure but that would mean using non-acetone polish remover on my toes. Will handling the non-acetone Cotton hurt my gel nails.

  15. jessica says:

    I just removed my gel nails and was wondering if I have to wait to put new gel polish on or can I redo them immediately.

  16. Nikki says:

    I purchased Sensational Gel Polish Remover! It’s awesome !

  17. Lianne Byrne says:

    Have you got an easy way off taking off gelish from the toes?

  18. Kelly says:

    Hi there,

    Once your nails have started to grow out, should you completely remove the structure gel and reapply or should you file it down and apply the structure gel on top?


  19. billie says:

    ​I also have a bad reaction to nail polish remover! I just use as little as posible, make sure to wash my hand after, and then I use the Lady Soma Nail treatment after washing my hands. I didnt used to use a moisturizer after nail polish remover, but its a must, because it will leave your hands looking tired

  20. Angela says:

    Help! I’ve done everything you mentioned on how to remove gel polish, but I can’t get it all off! I roughed up the top coat, used my nailmates and soaked for 15 minutes, nothing. I added more acetone and soaked another 15-20 minutes, still stuck. I continued this for over 1 1/2 hours. Today I purchased a new bottle of acetone thinking that might be the problem, poured some in a small dish and put that dish in a bowl of hot water. I soaked for 20 minutes and I still can’t get all this gel to come off! Other than file off what’s left, I don’t know what to do.

    Any recommendations and thoughts on why I’m having so much trouble? I’ve been doing my own gel manicures for years without any problems. Sometimes gel soaks off in 15 minutes other times 30, usually related to light or dark color and whether it required a 3rd coat. But for the past 3 months, it’s been taking me 1 1/2 hours to get the gel off with this latest attempt unsuccessful.

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Angela – I’ve heard a few people say they have trouble getting gel polish off their nails. I would use a file and remove as much of the polish as possible without hitting the nail bed before continuing to soak. Use the foil method and apply heat using a heating pad or heated mitts. In the future you might try using a regular nail polish base instead of a gel base for easier removal.

  21. Kim B says:

    THANK YOU! My nails are at that stage where the gel is starting to grow out and every time I wash my hair or scratch my head, my hair gets caught under the gel base and it’s driving me nuts! Looks like I know how I’ll be spending my evening :)

  22. chris says:

    Hi Andrea and Angela, This is Chris from NailMates, FYI you can also add the heating pad to the NailMates. Remember one of the things tech like about the caps is that they naturally retain body heat. If you are used to using the caps. no need to go back to foils.
    Don’t you think there is possible something with the brand used? I didn’t notice you mentioned the brand you are using. Early on we were in negations to license with the manufactures of Sensationail. This by far was the most difficult product we found to remove. I have had some customers say this is what they were using so I thought would share.
    While I am checking in I thought I’d mention that we have 2 new products coming out this Spring, one being a big toe size. You can use NM with this larger size and easily do your toes this Spring and Summer. Thx all for the support.

    • Angela says:

      Hi Chris, I use Gelish, CND, and Gelaze. My new thinking is that my nails are so non-oily that the gel adheres too well, and/or I cured the base coat too long. I’m going to take some time off from gels and use cuticle oil several times a day, I typically use it once in the evening, and then I’ll try again. I really don’t want to have to give up gel nail polish. It wears so much better than lacquer, which typically lasts only 3 days for me.

      • Andrea says:

        It definitely sounds like your nail plates are dehydrated, so moisturizing treatments should help. When you are ready to start using gels again, experiment with base coats. Not all nails are created equal and different bases work better with different nail types. Gelish is one of the harder bases to remove for a lot of people. Try Ink or Couture as they are known for easier removals. You could also try using a regular nail polish base like CND Sticky under your gel polish if you still experience difficult removals.

  23. chris says:

    Hi Angela, Good to know. There is certainly something going on there and Andrea is the expert with those suggestions.
    Gelish and the other 2 should most definitely come off easily. During our testing, Gelish took no more than 5 minutes using NM. That’s why I say somethings up.
    Another tid bit for professional out there, NM can now be found at Cosmoprof stores if they have one in their area. We licensed with Cuccio Intl, they have re-named them Fingermates. By the way they also offer very nice gels products.
    Good luck Angela!!! Thx for the opportunity to chat.

    • Angela says:

      Success! After soaking off all the polish I could, I used a fine nail file to get off the rest. I spent a couple days rubbing jojoba oil into my nails and gave myself another manicure. After consulting with customer service at Gelish, they seemed to think the problem was over-curing the Gelish Foundation. I paid careful attention to the curing time on the base coat making sure I didn’t go past one minute, then completed the manicure.

      Today, I wanted to try out my new Melody Susie LED lamp, so using my Nailmates, I removed polish from one fingure from each hand with NO difficulty at all! I’m so happy. My gel is not too old, I am. haha. My traditional UV lamp has only a 2 minute timer, and I must have been getting careless and going over the 1 minute time more often than I thought, making it impossible to soak off all of the gel and base coat. After the super quick removal, I used my new LED lamp and in under 5 minutes put new gel on my accent fingers. Yay!

      Thanks for all the helpful suggestions, ladies.

  24. Vonnie says:

    Hi there, thanks for all your advice, and indeed all the replies. My problem is removing Gel ii polish – I’ve tried the foil method with pure acetone and heat, the foil method with a conditioning gel polish remover and heat and I just cannot seem to get it off my fingers quickly – it can take me 45 minutes! Last night I removed from my fingers – took ages, then I did my toes – after 10 minutes it just came off my toes – it’s so strange. Does anyone think it could be that I don’t wear rubber gloves cleaning and doing dishes and this is making it more difficult to remove from my fingers? I’ve got the Cuccio Fingermates now so I will try them the next time – it’s just so frustrating as I love the Gel ii but the difficult removal is putting me off using it now.!! xx

    • Andrea says:

      Gel II is known for difficult removals too. Put an easy soak-off base underneath it. Try INK or Couture, or use a regular nail polish base.

      • Vonnie says:

        Andrea, thank you so much for your advice, I will try that and let you know how I get on. Once again thank you Yvonne xx

  25. Michelle says:

    Have you tried Sensationail Nails Shields? I’m so addicted. I wrapped my foil while watching tv. I went to check it and as I slid out my finger I realized the polish was gone already. I have their tool also, but I didn’t need it. I’ll never gel my nails again without these. $6.99 for 88.

  26. chris says:

    Hi Vonnie, I thought I would let you know that the Cuccio Fingermates are our NailMates. We licensed to them for the professional market. I like to assure users of Cuccio products that you are getting the real deal. They will be available in Sally Beauty Centers US Canada and UK starting in July under the Fingermates name.
    A thought on the shields…do the math. Users can re-use NailMates months and months for countless removals. The shields only provide 8 removals for 7 dollars. Certainly something to consider.

  27. Sharen says:

    I have responded to a few peoples comments above but thought it might be better to put a general comment here as well.. My friend told me about this gel polish remover product that she heard about through the blog page Breakfast with Audrey. Its called ‘LAQUE LIFT’ and it is literally the most amazing product I have ever used. it leaves my nails moisturised and healthy as it has added elements which make it easy on the nails (and nose – smells like vanilla) LOVE IT

    • Alex says:

      It seems like they are pre-soaked in acetone. Could your friend do a an Youtube Video to compare how well it works with the regular way of removing gel nail polish? I’m really curious. Laque Lift is not available to me as it seems like it is only in Australia and distribution is small.

  28. lynn scott says:

    I just had my gel polished removed. The man doing my nails used his thumb nail to remove polish. I was horrified and asked if he had a orange stick. He said no. I replied I don’t think this is sanity and asked again if he had any tools to remove polish. He just looked at me and said no again. Is this a violation of state Board I could not get a straight answer from them. It was disgusting. I will never go back. Please let me know. Thank you

    • Andrea says:

      It’s clearly unprofessional, but not necessarily unsanitary since he already has to touch your hands with his to perform a manicure. I don’t know whether that would be a State Board no-no, but on a professional level it definitely is.

  29. Marie says:

    Wow not only was your article informative your reply to the all the questions have also been useful and I have gained so much from both. Just wanted to say well done.

  30. chris says:

    Hi to you all. Its been a while since I have weighed in on anything, this comment from Lynn brought a suggestion to mind.
    We, at NailMates, suggest using NailMates to remove polish in the comfort of your home. Arrive at the salon ready for polish. This save you time and reduces the potential for any removal technique you may not love….including over use of the drill.
    Chickettes offers these for purchase, they are so easy to use at home.