Gel Polish Removal Made Easy (and Acetone-Free) With these Tips

Acetone is the fastest and most effective way of removing gel nail polish. But it can dry out your nail plates making them thin, weak, and brittle. So in this post, we’ll look at how to remove gel polish without acetone.

I’m going to give you 4 methods to try out and clear steps for each acetone-free removal method.

But before we start, you should know that most acetone-free ways of removing gel nail polish are time-consuming, so you’ll need plenty of patience.

They’re worth it if you want to avoid the damaging effects of acetone on your nails though.

So let’s jump in and find out how to get gel nail polish off without acetone and without causing damage to your precious nails.

How to remove gel nail polish without using acetone

Let’s outline each of the methods so you can see which one you think will work best for you.

If you want to take your gel polish off and avoid acetone then you basically have 4 options.

The 4 ways to remove gel polish without acetone are:

  1. Filing the gel polish off
  2. Using an acetone-free nail polish remover
  3. Soaking the gel polish off
  4. Peeling off the gel polish

Let’s take a quick look at what’s involved in each method so you can choose which one to go for.

That way you can just scroll down to the method you want and follow the steps outlined below.

Of course, the method you choose is going to be based on the tools and equipment you have at home, as well as your personal preferences.

For example, personally, I hate soaking. I’d much rather file my gel polish down. But you do you.

Filing off gel nail polish

file of gel polish

One way to remove gel nail polish without acetone is to file it off.

This can be done in 2 ways.

You can either use a regular, manual nail file (180 grit is best for removing gel polish).

Or you can use a nail drill (aka an E-file).

Using an E-file is the quickest and easiest way to get gel polish off, but not everyone has one and they can take a little getting used to.

If you love your acrylic nails or hard gel extensions, then I’d definitely recommend getting a nail drill.

They save you a ton of time and removal is super easy.

If you don’t have a nail drill, don’t worry, you can remove gel nail polish with a regular nail file just as effectively.

It will take a little more time and work, but the results are the same.

Using an acetone-free gel nail polish remover

You give each nail a quick file, then the removal gel goes on with a brush just like nail polish.

Leave it on for around 5 or 6 minutes and the gel polish will shrivel and peel off easily.

Then you can gently scrape it off with a cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick.

Soaking the gel polish off

soak of gel polish

The soaking method is pretty straightforward.

You’ll need to soak your nails in either warm water or a water/oil solution for 20 to 30 minutes.

This helps to break down the gel polish so it can be removed more easily.

You can also choose to use an abrasive substance (usually sugar or salt) to help speed the process up a little.

More on how to do that later.

Peeling off the gel polish

Let’s be clear.

I do not recommend that anyone peel off their gel nail polish!

It is extremely damaging to your nail plates.

However, a gentle peeling method can be used in conjunction with the soaking method to remove stubborn gel nail polish.

This final method works best on very old gel polish.

How to remove gel nail polish at home

Now that you have an idea of what’s involved in each removal method, let’s look at the tools, equipment, and exact steps.

How to file gel nail polish off at home

What you’ll need:

  • A regular nail file (180 grit) or a nail drill (aka E-file)
  • A nail buffer
  • Isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol)
  • Cotton balls or pads
  • Cuticle oil (optional)
  • Hand cream (optional)

Don’t worry too much if you don’t have alcohol and cotton pads.

These are for cleaning the dust and oil from your nail plates after you remove the polish.

If you don’t have them, you can simply wash your hands with dish soap and it will be fine.

Alright, now that you have gathered together your tools, let’s get into the steps.

Steps for filing off gel nail polish

Step 1: Take your nail file and begin filing down the gel polish.

A 180 (medium grit) nail file is best for this.

If your nail file has a 100 and a 180 side, or any 2 numbers, always start with the lowest number.

Then work your way up to the higher number as you get closer to your natural nail.

Try to use smooth, even motions that sweep across the entire nail and follow the curve.

You can either go back and forth or file in one direction, both techniques work well.

Using a nail drill to file away gel polish

use e file to remove gel polish

If you are using a nail drill, you’ll want a coarse sanding band to remove gel nail polish.

With the drill, sweep across the width of each nail in an even motion.

Try to keep the speed and the pressure the same as you do this.

Step 2: Switch to your nail buffer

Once you have removed all of the color and most of the base coat, you should switch to a nail buffer.

This will help to smooth out any last lumps and bumps and add shine to your natural nails.

Buffing also helps create a nice surface for your next manicure if you plan to polish again.

Step 3: remove dust and oil

The best way to do this (especially if you are going to paint your nails again) is to soak a cotton pad in isopropyl alcohol and wipe each nail down.

If you don’t have alcohol and or wipes, washing your hands with dish soap will also do the trick.

That’s it!

Pretty easy huh?

And no nasty chemicals.

How to remove gel polish with nail polish remover

Good news!

Acetone-free gel nail polish removers are now a thing!

What you’ll need:

  • An acetone-free nail polish remover that’s designed to work on gel polish
  • A nail file (180 grit or medium grit is best)
  • A cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick

Steps for removing gel polish with nail polish remover

Step 1: File off the top layer of polish

This is important because topcoats often contain slightly different chemicals from the colored gel polish itself.

These types of gel nail polish remover work best on the gel polish itself.

You don’t need to file too much, a quick even file across each nail should be enough to allow the removal gel to penetrate.

Step 2: apply the gel nail polish remover

Paint a thin layer of the removal gel over each nail.

Be careful not to get the product on your skin or cuticles.

The gel is quite thick so it will not run, but you will need to wait for it to work.

Step 3: wait 5 minutes for the removal gel to work

On the packing, it says that it works in 2 minutes.

But I found that 5 minutes is the perfect amount of time for easy removal.

You’ll know when it’s ready because the polish will burst, shrivel up and peel off easily.

Step 4: gently scrape all the gel polish away

Using either a metal cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick, gently remove all of the polish.

You should find that it comes off really easily.

If you have any stubborn bits or bits that you missed while painting it on, go over them again.

How to soak off gel nail polish at home

The soaking method works best on old gel polish, so don’t try this on freshly painted nails!

What you’ll need:

  • A bowl
  • Warm water
  • Dish soap
  • Something to stir with
  • Oil (cooking or baby oil works well)
  • Sugar or salt (optional but speeds things up)

Steps for soaking off gel nail polish at home

Step 1: fill a bowl with warm water

The warmer the water is the better, but please be careful not to scald yourself!

Step 2: add equal parts dish soap and oil to the water

You don’t really need to be exact with the quantities here.

Just throw roughly the same amount of oil and dish soap in with the water and mix it up.

If you want to, you can also throw in some salt or sugar and occasionally rub your nails down with a soaked cotton pad to help speed things up.

Step 3: Soak your nails for 15 minutes

You can set 5-minute timers on your phone and keep checking, but I find that 10 to 15 minutes is about right.

Step 4: use a cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick to remove the polish

Once you’re done soaking, gently scrape off the gel polish.

If it’s being stubborn, soak it for a few more minutes and continue scraping.

Step 5: Rinse your nails with warm water and dry them off

Once all the polish is off, wash your hands and let your nails dry thoroughly before starting the nest step.

Step 6: Buff your nails

Buffing helps to remove any residual gel polish and gives your nails a nice shine.

You can use a nail buffer or a regular ol’buffer block.

And that’s it!

Your nails are now gel polish free.

How to safely peel off gel nail polish

I don’t recommend peeling gel polish off, but if you need to get it off fast and you don’t have any tools or equipment to hand then this method will work.

What you’ll need:

  • A sink/warm water
  • Your own fingernails

Steps for peeling off gel nail polish (with less damage)

I know that it happens and I’ve been guilty of peeling off my own nail polish in the past.

So if you must peel, let’s go over how to do it in the best possible way.

Step 1: soak your nails in warm water for 5 minutes or run them under hot water if you don’t have a bowl.

This helps to soften the gel polish and makes it easier to peel off.

Step 2: gently start peeling from one corner

You want the polish to be soft.

If it’s stubborn or sticking too much, you’ll tear away the top layer of your nail plate, so be patient and careful!

Use your own fingernails to slowly and carefully peel the gel polish off, starting from one corner.

Step 3: repeat until all the gel polish is removed

Keep soaking and peeling until your polish is off.

Your nails will probably be a little rough and a little damaged from using this method.

So buff and apply some nail strengthener as soon as you get a chance.

Final thoughts:

I hope that this article has helped you to understand how to remove gel nail polish without acetone.

There are a few different methods that you can use, and each has its own set of pros and cons.

Soak-off is the best method if you want to avoid damage to your nails, but it does take a little longer.

If you’re in a hurry, peeling off the gel polish is the quickest way to get it off.

But it’s also the most damaging to your nails, so use this method sparingly!


  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.