How to Remove a Gel Manicure

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Gel manicures are all the rage these days.   Gelish and Shellac each offer the client long-lasting, chip-free manicures that promise to stay put for weeks at a time!  My experience with gel manicures was gravely disappointing.

The truth about gel manicures:
  • Gel manicures DO chip.  Mine lasted about three days.  Assuming that the polish had been applied incorrectly (it's quite a process, and involves setting under UV light!), I went back to have it redone.  The second gel manicure I received lasted about three days. 
  • They cost up to 3 times what a normal spa manicure does.  If they actually lasted three times as long, this *might* be worth the limited color selection available and the fact that:
  • You can only have your polish removed at a salon that offers gel manicures (until now!) and the process involves soaking your nails in acetone.  Often the removal process requires an additional fee as well!
Deciding this was all a little too ridiculous, I set out to see how I could remove the gel manicure I'd submitted my poor little nailbeds to on my own.  I even compared using acetone-based nail polish remover to using straight-up acetone.  I'm sorry to report that the nail polish remover just didn't cut it - even after 30 minutes of soaking.

Step 1: Materials

To remove your overpriced gel polish without incurring the expense of an additional salon visit, you will need the following:

Acetone (only the real stuff will do)
Cotton balls (or squares)
Aluminum foil

This is the working woman's solution to gel polish removal. I suppose if you have all day to sit around soaking your fingers in a bowl of acetone, that would probably work just as well, and you could bypass the need for cotton balls and tin foil. As it was, I still had work to do!

From time to time, I'll provide Amazon affiliate links to help me continue to contribute awesome Instructables.

Step 2: The Method


Soak the cotton balls in acetone. 

Apply one soaked cotton ball to each nail.

Wrap each nail in a small piece of aluminum foil to seal in place.

If you make little pointy tips on the end of each finger, you can continue to use a keyboard and get your business done!

Step 3: Comparisons


I did a few comparisons to see if I really could get away with using acetone-based nail polish remover instead of industrial strength acetone.  I also tested different soaking times with the acetone so I could provide you with the proper amount of time it takes to remove the bulk of the polish without overcooking your delicate nailbeds!

The image here shows you one finger after having soaked in acetone-based nail polish remover, and the other in acetone, each for 20 minutes.  The nail polish remover didn't seem to have much effect at all.

Step 4: Finishing

After about 20 minutes, check the effectiveness of your polish removal units.  Slide one of the acetone foil packets off of your nail while using the cotton inside to effectively wipe away the remaining polish.  If most of the polish is gone, you can remove the rest.  If not, reapply cotton and foil and check again in 5-10 minutes.

Even 30 minutes of this technique did not remove all of the polish cleanly, but it did loosen all of it.  I finished my manicure removal by scraping away the remains with the blunt edge of a plastic knife.  

As you can imagine, all of this torture, from the initial chemical polish, to the blast of UV light, to the final acetone soak, has left your nails in top condition!  (no it has not)  Be gentle with your nails from here on out.  Treat them with kindness and balms.  Promise them you will never do this to them again.  And don't get me started on those nail stickers that you seal on with heat either. . . because believe me, I've tried it.  I don't know why my nails haven't packed up and left me yet, but I promise to be kinder to them in the future.


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    40 Discussions

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    JoyB62

    1 year ago

    It is awesome that gel manicures can be removed from home. It can be potentially a pain to go out to remove shellac or gel nail polish, especially if you have done your own nails. It seems very convenient that the entire process can be completed within your own home. It is often hard for me to make it to the nail salon with my busy schedule, especially if I don't have a babysitter for my kids. It would be very convenient if I could complete the entire process while my kids are sitting in the living room watching a movie! http://www.gel-nails.com/led-nail-lamp.html

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    JenniferE84

    2 years ago

    I did the whole file my nails, 100% acetone, cotton things&tinfoil routine, left it on for 40 minutes and the gel polish won't come off! That advice is bogus.

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    MichelleL132

    2 years ago

    Apparently your nail salon has no idea whats going on! I finnish sheetrock for a living and i have my nails n everything,they keep there shine and have NEVER chipped! N i have them dun every 2-3 weeks

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    Jenifer05

    3 years ago

    If you want to check out my site it's jenifersjams05.jamberry.com it's life changing!!!

    1 reply
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    ArmandaPJenifer05

    Reply 2 years ago

    The author clearly states in her article "And don't get me started on those nail stickers that you seal on with heat either. . . because believe me, I've tried it."

    Sounds like Jamberry to me..

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    Katzsta

    3 years ago

    Sooooo, you can get these little plastic bottles (just for the nails) on Ebay or Amazon. You fill them with remover and stick your finger tips in them. While they look funny, they do work. Also, I found a great hint about glitter polish, which seems to stay with me for weeks after removing it with acetone remover. Just do a light basecoat of regular white glue, yes school glue. Let it dry. Then apply the glitter polish. When done with the look of them, just peel them off. Sometimes they do soak off if you are having a long bath or have your fingernails in water a lot, but still, at least the glitter isn't there for months. I have stopped buying glitter polish altogether. We want pretty nails, but ohhh the cost of having them.

    1 reply
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    scoochmarooKatzsta

    Reply 3 years ago

    What a great tip for glitter nails! You should seriously make your own Instructable just on that.

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    Jenifer05

    3 years ago

    I just did gels at a salon and I'm not a fan. I tried jamberry trushine before and I love it!!! They have removal packets so much easier to take off.

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    Jessidm74

    3 years ago

    Mine lasted about 16 days. $22 for nIls over 2 weeks plus no chipping sounds great to me. I clean like crazy, I cook for my 3 kids, wash dishes and I do gardening so it was perfect for me. Getting them off was a slight pain but I did go to the salon and they take them off for free :)

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    MargaretG1

    3 years ago on Step 4

    Thank you - great idea! I will definitely try this.

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    BrendaT6

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Zurichko - nice patterns, but would be better with some clean-up

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    jlane4

    3 years ago on Introduction

    Wherever you got your nails done incorrectly. You should only need to go in once a month to have them filled.

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    vicki D

    3 years ago

    Thank you. You may also add some vitamin e oil to the acetone at least you wont be totally dried up on your poor nailbeds

    I am so glad I found this - thank you! I had one set of Gel Nails last year, but my nails really hurt because of the way they were put on, so I ended up getting them taken off after 3 days, which was even more brutal than the way they were put on. I have since found out that it was done very incorrectly. I am getting my second ever set done in a couple of days, but by a different person who has a significantly more experience and a great reputation, so am looking forward to it. But I thought I would see about ways of getting it off myself just in case. Also, I have brought a couple of Avon's Gel Polish's and they last for ages longer than a normal home use polish, and it comes off really easily with normal nail polish remover. So far I have gotten bored with the colour before its had chipped.

    1 reply

    Hello All,

    I had my first gel manicure on March 28, 2015 and loved it; however, I am just taking the color off today. My polish still looks fresh (except for my new nail growth). The manicurist I had told me what to do to get the polish off at home and it worked wonderfully. Please see below:

    You will need two bowls (one for the acetone and one for the hot water)

    Put enough 100% acetone inside one bowl to cover your nails. Place the acetone bowl inside the bowl with the hot water. The acetone will get heated from the hot water. Let your nails soak (I did one hand at a time). As they are soaking saturate a cotton ball with the acetone and as the polish gets "soft" it will slide off very easily with the soaked cotton ball. Feel free to add a little pressure to scrape some of the polish off your nails. After all polished is removed moisture your hands and nails very thoroughly. I use coconut oil all the time and my hands and nails look good as new.

    NOTE: The water from my faucet was hot enough to heat the acetone and was a comfortable temperature to soak my nails.

    I hope this info helps.

    2 replies

    This is great tip! I've got a gel on right now that will need to come off in another week, and I'm going to try this for sure. Thanks!

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    tracie.greg

    3 years ago on Introduction

    ...isn't soaking your fingers in a bowl of acetone extremely bad for you? Your skin is your largest organ and soaking your fingers in that crap goes right into your bloodstream, you might as well drink the acetone!! Their must be a better way to get this gel off that is healthier??

    1 reply

    Tracie,

    After paying to have my nails done in the gel polish at the salon a few times I started doing my own. I bought an LED light, not a UV . The LED light cures the polish a lot faster and no worries about being exposed to UV to often...although the LED light costs a bit more. I paid 40.00 for mine on Amazon. As for taking the gel polish off I use the acetone polish remover a cotton ball and finger cots (it's like the gloves at the Dr. office but is only for the tips of your fingers), you can find them almost anywhere...I buy mine on Amazon but have bought them at walmart also. You just put a good amount of the polish remover on the cotton ball, set it on your nail and roll the finger cot over your nail. So easy. You let it soak for a bit (the longer you leave it on the easier it is to just swipe off). If all the polish doesn't come off with the cotton ball as you wipe it across your nail then use those metal cuticle spoons as I call them and remove the little bit left on the nail. It really isn't very hard and doesn't damage your nails. Also I think that the finger cots make it so much easier then the tin foil as the finger cots kind of keep things air tight so to speak and I think that really helps loosen up that gel polish. I hope this helps.