Different methods on how to remove gel polish

How to remove gel polish at home without damaging your nails

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With so many at-home gel kits available on the market, you might have been tempted to buy one and do your nails at home. It can be quite cost-effective to go this route as you only have to buy one quality kit that includes everything you’ll need to give your nails the salon treatment they deserve. Such a kit can last you a very long time. I wrote a post on different gel nail kits that you can try.

The problem comes in when you want to remove the gel polish from your nails. Trying to remove it with regular nail polish remover will not work. It might seem tempting to just peel the gel polish from your nails, especially if it’s already started to chip. No judgment here, we’ve all been there.

The biggest thing you should be focusing on is the state you want your nails to be in after the gel polish is completely removed. Do you want your nails to be paper-thin or do you want strong healthy nails that you can’t even tell had gel polish on them a few moments ago?

Contrary to what many people believe, gel polish does not damage your nails, it is how it was applied and removed. So let me tell you exactly what you should do to remove gel polish fast without leaving your nails feeling damaged.

Table of Contents

Determine what type of gel polish you have

What I mean by this is to check on the bottle to see how the gel polish should be removed. Usually, the bottle will specify whether the gel polish is soak-off or buff-off. If you have buff-off gel polish you should gently buff the nails until the product is off. 

I prefer soak-off gel polish as you don’t have to file a lot, and damage to your nails is limited as you won’t be able to accidentally file too much of your nails while removing the product.

If the gel polish is soak-off do the following:

Break the seal of the gel topcoat

filling top coat to remove gel polish

Many gel topcoats are not soak-off, which meant you will have to gently remove the shine from the gel polish before soaking. If you don’t do this you will soak forever to no avail.

Use a 180 grit nail file to gently file the nails. Make sure you do this slowly and gently as you don’t want to file too much and reach your natural nails. Your nails will be ready for the next step once they’re matt.

Soak off the gel polish

I know what you’re thinking, do you need acetone for this? Unfortunately, acetone is the most effective and least damaging way to remove gel polish. There are however brands that sell peel-off gel polish witch are designed to peel off your nail without causing damage. 

You can protect your skin against drying out by applying some petroleum jelly to the skin the acetone will come in contact with. Petroleum jelly will make a protective barrier and prevent moisture loss.

First soaking method: foils

Soaking with foil to remove gel polish

This is a very common method for soaking off nail products. It is quite straightforward and only needs a few things:

  • Tinfoil
  • Cotton balls or cotton pads
  • Cuticle stick
  • Acetone

When you have all of the supplies ready do the following:

  1. Drench the cotton ball/bad in acetone, you want it soaking wet.
  2. Wrap it around your nail making sure that every bit of your nail is covered.
  3. Take tin foil and wrap your nail making sure that it is tightly wrapped.
  4. Remember that this process takes time so watch a show or read a book while soaking so you don’t feel the time passing as much.
  5. To speed up the process apply heat. If you have a nail lamp that came with a gel polish kit, pop your nails in there for a couple of minutes. The heat helps acetone work faster.
  6. Once it’s been a while unwrap your nails. You will see the gel polish starting to crumble. Take the cuticle stick and gently scrape off the product. If some pieces are stuck, don’t force them. Rather wrap your nails again and wait a bit longer. Be gentle as you don’t want pieces of your nail coming off with the gel polish.
  7. When all of the gel polish is off you can buff your nails slightly to remove any roughness. Don’t overdo it though.
Scraping gel polish with cuticle pusher

Second soaking method: double bowl

Two soaking bowls to remove gel polish

This method uses two bowls one with acetone and one with warm water. You’ll need:

  • Acetone
  • Two bowls. One should be bigger so that the other one can be placed inside it. Alternatively, you can buy a soaking bowl from Amazon which is designed for this purpose.
  • Warm water
  • Cuticle stick

The process is quite simple:

  1. Place warm water into the bigger bowl. The warmer the better. Test it by adding acetone to the smaller bowl and feel if you can tolerate the heat.
  2. Place the smaller bowl on top of the bigger one and fill it with acetone.
  3. Place your nails into the bowl with acetone and wait about 10-15 minutes. The longer you wait the more effective it will be.
  4. If the water cools simply heat it during the process, as the heat helps the acetone work faster.
  5. If your gel polish is starting to crumble gently use your cuticle stick to scrape off loose pieces.
  6. Afterward, gently buff rough bits on your nails.

Third soaking method: clips

This method needs the following:

  • Acetone
  • Nail clips
  • Cotton balls or pads
  • Cuticle stick

This process can take a bit longer but it is a viable option:

  1. Drench a cotton ball or pad with acetone and wrap it around your nail.
  2. Secure the nail clip in place making sure the cotton ball is covering your entire nail.
  3. Leave it for some time. You can try and apply external heat to speed up the process a bit.
  4. Once the gel polish starts to crumble use the cuticle stick to scrape off the lifted pieces without forcing any gel polish that might still be stuck to your nail.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the gel polish is off.
  6. You can gently buff your nails to remove any roughness.

Third soaking method: soaking machine

This method needs the following:

  • Acetone
  • Soak machine
  • Cuticle stick

This method is one of my favorites. It uses very little acetone and takes a very short amount of time:

  1. Open the machine and take out the bowl. Fill it with acetone. Be sure to check the markings on the side as you won’t need much.
  2. Switch it on and wait for it to ring once. You can now insert your fingers into the machine. The tips of your fingers don’t need to touch the bowl, as the machine heats the acetone and removes the gel polish using steam.
  3. When the timer rings twice, five minutes have passed, and once it rings for a long time it means ten minutes have passed.
  4. You can remove your hand after 5 minutes and check if everything is soaked. Scrape the loose pieces of gel using the cuticle stick. Or wait for the full ten minutes.


Once you’re done soaking off all of the gel polish, you can wash your hands to remove any residue from your nails. Moisturizing is extremely important as you want to rehydrate your nails and skin.

Hydrating your nails regularly will prevent them from becoming brittle and will leave them looking more healthy. Apply some cuticle oil to your nails and the surrounding skin. 

If you don’t have cuticle oil you can use:

  • Vitamin E oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Castor oil
  • Olive oil

If you are planning on applying a new fresh layer of gel polish after soaking the old, leave the moisturizing till after, as the gel polish will not adhere to an oily nail. I wrote an article on how to apply gel nails that last. I also have an article on some common problems you can face with gel polish, so you can check that out.

applying cuticle oil after removing gel polish
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