DIY Gel Nail Removal

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

So you followed my fabulous DIY Gel Nail tutorial and now it's time to remove them.

By the way, if you need a good gel nail kit, this is an awesome one, plus it's the best deal I've seen around for Gelish products. This one is also a good option if you want to use a different lamp.

If you paid attention and followed the instructions your nails should still be shiny and pretty much chip free, but now you have a bunch of grow out around the cuticle area. 

It's time to remove your gels and put on a new set.

So just how do you remove them?

I'm glad you asked.

Almost all of the tutorials I've seen online tell you to that you need to wrap your nails in foil and acetone soaked cotton balls. While that method may work, it's not for me. I tried it once after my first attempt at my own gels and I found it just too messy and wasteful with the foil and everything. 

Since I'm a nail tech I thought back to my days of doing acrylics, and I figured I'd just remove gels the same way I'd been soaking off acrylics for years. 


  • Pure acetone
  • A nail file
  • An orangewood stick
  • A small bowl or dish (still large enough to stick 1 hand in)
  • A medium sized bowl(optional)
  • Cuticle oil (not pictured) 
Use your file to lightly file/buff off just the very top coat of gel. Don't want to press hard- be gentle and just remove the shine. You want to break the seal in the gel's topcoat so that the acetone can really go to work.

 See? I didn't file off any of the color. I just removed the shine on the top coat and roughed it up a little.
Grab the two bowls or dishes. The reason for the optional 2nd bowl is this- the small one will be filled with acetone and will be the bowl you will soak your nails in. The 2nd one will be filled with very warm tap water, and the bowl of acetone will sit inside the water bowl, like this:
The warm water in the outer bowl will help gently warm the acetone in the inner bowl, which will then help remove the gel faster. Please be aware: Acetone is extremely flammable, much like rubbing alcohol is. You cannot heat up acetone in a microwave or on the stove- this will cause a fire or explosion. Using the warm water is the only safe way to give the acetone a "little boost" in temperature when removing artificial nails. This is the same way I've been removing acrylics for years, only acrylics take a lot longer to soak off. 
Submerge your finger tips as comfortably as you can in the dish of acetone. Make sure all of the nails are completely covered with the liquid. Leave them soaking for about 10 minutes before you check on them. You might be tempted to peek early, but it'll be much quicker if you just keep them soaking for the first 10 minutes without taking them out to look at them.
Remove your hand from the acetone. The gel should look like it's started to peel up in places, like this:
{Yep, those are my Harry Potter tattoos. More on my tattoos here}
Stick your fingers back in the acetone and while the nail is submerged, use the end of the orangewood stick to gently try to scrape the gel off, starting by the cuticles and working your way down to the free edge. If the gel sloughs off easily you can continue to do this to each finger until all of the gel is removed.

If it's not coming off easily or if you're really having to work to get the gel off you may need to let them soak for a few more minutes, then try the orangewood stick again.

 Once all the gel is removed, your nails will probably look like this:

They may be in need of a trim, especially if your gel manicure lasted for a long time like mine did. They'll also need some cuticle oil and a little mini manicure because the acetone is very drying. Slather them in some oil and give your cuticles some love. Then apply some really nice, moisturinzing hand lotion and you'll be set.

Now that the old gel is off you're free to apply a new set or polish your nails as usual.

March 2015

I recently started using NailMates for my soak-off process. You can read more about them in my blog post here, complete with instructions on how to use them and links to the website where you can purchase them. I highly recommend them!

Questions? Leave a comment below or send me an email!

This is not a sponsored post or paid review. All opinions are, as always, my own. I bought all of the products shown above and I in no way represent any of the brands I use in these tutorials.


  1. This is a great tutorial, but for me the star of the post is (as always) your HP knuckle tats! I can't get enough of them. Haha.

  2. This is great! I do a similar thing, though I've never thought of warming the acetone. Thanks for showing people there's another way besides the foil...I hate those!

  3. You have some really great tips on your blog! I just read your post on apple cider vinegar. I've done that and it works! I also did a 3 week skin cleanse where you drink diluted ACV. The taste is awful BUT it did get my skin looking great. Now I just use it topically. It's starting to not work though. I think this is because of my crazy pregnancy hormones =(
    Not much I can do about that...

  4. I love your tutorials both applying and removal. I have had very bad experiences with pure acetone. It ruined my moms nails and makes mine peel. I have found non acetone to be the only thing that doesn't cause this. This reason is the only thing keeping me fron "going gel". Soaking off the polish in acetone is not an option. You thoughts on this would be very welcome.

  5. I would love to see you do a blog article on doing your own basic manicure with the cuticle care. I just used your tutorial and did my own nails with gel for the first time I love it. The lady at Sally's talked me into the FingerPaints soak off gel system. I am so far happy with it and prefer the LED light as it is faster. Do you know if you can cure the Gelish and the Sally Hensen with the Led? and can you mix brands of say base coat top coat and polish?
    and can you apply a second top coat?

    One more question LOL if you apply more than one coat of the color do you cure under the lamp in between coats?

  6. Thank you for your tutorials! I am new to gel nails and have only tried the Sally brand, but I am LOVING the results. I will incorporate your tips next time...very helpful and informative.

  7. I don't think soaking them off in non-acetone will work, because my mom just accidentally tried this a few weeks ago & damaged her own nails pretty badly. She thought it was pure acetone and it wasn't soaking the nails off hardly at all, so she used an orangewood stick to kind of pry the product off, thus peeling a few layers of her own nails off with it. The thing with acetone is this- it's just extremely drying. Anytime you use it on your nails you MUST follow up with some moisturizer. Some good hand cream and a butt-load of cuticle oil should do the trick! If you have very dry nails, I'd advise taking a break from gels for a bit in between sets. Say you wear them for 2 weeks, then soak them off. Give yourself a little manicure with some cuticle oil and keep your hands/nails moisturized for a day or two (or a little more, if you have extremely dry nails). THEN you can go ahead with applying another set of gels. And while you HAVE the gels on, you should also be applying cuticle oil to keep the skin/cuticles looking nice around the gels. I keep a bottle of it on my night stand and try to remember to apply it nightly before bed while I'm watching TV or reading a book. Hope that helps!

  8. I will add the manicure tutorial on my to-do list! Thank you so much for the input :)

    YES- you can mix and match brands of gels. I suggest you get a good base & topcoat (I love Gelish) and then you can get your colors in whatever brands you see & like. Play around and experiment!

    YES- you can apply a second topcoat. After the first one is done curing, simply apply another layer directly over it and cure it again. Then remove the tacky layer with the alcohol soaked wipe & you're done. Just remember- every coat you do MUST BE CURED individually before adding another layer on top of it. (Basecoat, CURE, color, CURE, color, CURE, top coat, CURE).

    I hope that helps and makes sense! :)

  9. That is so great to hear! I've only tried the Sally Hansen brand in one color (black) and it worked pretty well! I want to try some more but I've been trying not to spend so much on nail stuff lately. It's so hard though when they have Sally Hansen at all of the stores I shop at...soooo tempting every time I'm at Target. Hope you're having fun playing around with your gels!

  10. So glad I found ur blog.I teied this method , so easy and efficient. With foil the gel didnt peel off easy, I ended up peeling a layer of my nails, got terrible damage. But this makes things soo easy.
    To make it even easier, just use an orange stick to crape off the gel while ur nails r still in the acetone. Easy breezy

  11. Ha! Right adter posting i just realized tht exactly wat she says up there, lol. I was only going by the photos. Still thanx for sharing! My diy gel nails just might be a success after all


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