Gel nail polish; how to get it off

Removing gel nail polish safely and effectively

Ok, so it’s time for your gel polish to come off.

You undoubtedly foresee a daunting task ahead of you, but we PROMISE it will be quick and easy if you follow these instructions on how to remove gel nail polish effectively.

Removing gel nail polish from your fingers or toes properly is essential for the health of your nails. This is because gel sticks to the nail plate, so if you pick or peel it off, you will also be tearing off the layers of the nail with it.

Picking or peeling your gel nails off can cause your nails to become paper-thin! Not only is this sore, but weak nails can also be one of the causes of gel polish chipping and peeling!

Eek! Don’t threat; you can repair your nails with the IBX nail strengthening treatment if you read that advice too late.

Will these soak-off instructions work with any nail system?

Yes, these gel nail removal instructions will work for any gel nail brand such as CND Shellac, The Gel Bottle, Artistic Colour Gloss, OPI or Gelish.

This guide is also useful for soaking off gel polish on your feet too.

Will this work for acrylic nail removal?

Yes, but it will take much longer, and you may find it easier using a soak-off bowl with a warm water bowl underneath it. You will also have to scrape off the acrylic every 10 minutes and put them back in the bowl.

What about hard gel?

Unfortunately not, hard gels are not porous and won’t soak off; they must be buffed off, so please be careful!

In the future, stick to gel or Shellac polish as those products are much easier to remove.

If you are wondering if you have hard gel on, ask your nail technician if they have applied any of the following hard gel products: IBD Hard gel, Gelish PolyGel or Young Nails Hard Gel.

Before you start

Items you will need before you remove gel nails:

The product used to remove gel nails is called Acetone. Bottles of Acetone or ‘Gel Remover’, contain 100% Acetone and are the only effective way to remove gel polish and acrylics.

Ordinary nail polish remover will not be effective in removing gel polish because it is comprised of only 30-60% acetone. [1]

  • Acetone
  • Tinfoil
  • Nail file
  • Cotton pads or wool
  • Tweezers
  • Glass dappen dish or anything similar that is acetone resistant
  • Cuticle stick or pusher
  • Kitchen roll or couch roll
  • Towel

Items that aren’t necessary but make the process quicker and easier:

  • Hot water bottle, heated mitts or heated beanbag to speed up the process
  • Nail clips to keep the foils in place


Before you start your Shellac or gel removal, there are some essential things to note for your safety and the safety of others. Acetone is used to remove gel nails, but please remember, Acetone is a chemical substance and must be used with care.

  • Acetone is highly flammable. Heating to extreme temperatures will cause a rise in pressure with the risk of bursting.
  • Acetone will melt specific containers by damaging the plastic’s surface, softening it, smearing it, or even dissolving the plastic.
  • Clearly label your acetone and store the substance in a cool, dark, locked cupboard out of reach from children.
  • If you have got acetone in your eyes, remove contact lenses, irrigate the affected eye with lukewarm water for at least 10 to 15 minutes and seek medical advice.
  • If you have sore nails after gel nail polish removal, this could be because the original preparation was too harsh (buffing), or you did not leave your nails to soak off for long enough.

Six easy steps to get gel nail polish off your nails

It’s easier to do these steps one hand at a time to avoid the foil falling off your opposite hand when scraping off gel, this really is the best way to remove gel nails.

Prepare your foils and cotton wool pads

Cut ten pieces of tinfoil into 4×4 inch square shapes. The tin foil will keep the acetone-soaked pad secure whilst attracting and maintaining enough heat to speed up the soak-off process.

Cut a cotton pad into ten pieces that are a little larger than your nails.


Wash your hands with soap and water. Remove the topcoat by buffing over the gel polish and file the edges too!

Apply the Acetone and foil

Pour the acetone into a glass dappen dish (cannot be plastic), and one at a time, take your tweezers and dip the cotton wool into the acetone, fully saturating it.

Covering the entire nail, place the cotton wool down. Take a foil and place the centre of the foil onto your fingertip, fold it and wrap it tightly around the nail.

If you have nail clips, place them on top of the foils to keep them in place.

Wait 15-20 minutes

How long to leave acetone on gel nails depends on the brand used. Some gel brands take longer to remove, so check one nail every ten minutes.

Wrapping your hands in a towel with a hot water bottle beneath it will speed up the process.

Now it’s time to kick back and relax!

Remove the gel

Take the first foil off and assess how the gel looks at this point.

Does it look crinkly or have gaps where you can see your natural nail now? If so, it’s ready to come off.

Take your cuticle stick or pusher and scrape off the gel. Then take off the next foil and scrape off the gel so on and so forth.

Taking off all foils at one time will cause the gel to re-harden, and you will have to re-soak them!


After you’ve taken your gel manicure off, if there are any bits of gel leftover on the nail plate, you can re-wrap them or lightly buff the gel off with a buffing block.

If you don’t want to re-apply gel and feel your nails could use a little TLC, you must try the IBX nail toughening agent.

After removal, nails will often feel a bit dry, so apply cuticle oil daily.

So there you have it, you’ve learned everything you need to know about how to take off gel nail polish in the most efficient and effective way!


How to get gel nails off at home without acetone

The only safe and effective way to remove gel nails at home is by soaking them in acetone until the gel lifts off with ease. Buffing the gel polish off with a nail file can result in buffing some of your natural nails off in the process. If you want to take them off without acetone, the safest way to do so is to:

  • shorten the nail
  • lightly buff the top coat off
  • soak your hands in hot water with washing up liquid for around 30 minutes
  • massage them in cuticle oil or olive oil
  • Sometimes if you are lucky, they can just peel off.

Can I use nail polish remover instead of acetone?

No, this would take way too long, unfortunately!

Just not budging!

If you simply can’t get your gel nail polish off, there are a few reasons why this could be happening such as:

  • ‘hard gel’, which cannot be soaked off, has been applied to your nails rather than gel polish or acrylic
  • the nails have not been soaked for 15 minutes +
  • the cotton pads placed over your polish have not been completely saturated in acetone
  • foil has not been wrapped around the fingers to maintain enough heat for the acetone to be effective
  • you have not buffed away the top coat


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