How to remove gel nails at home, without any damage

It's so important to know how to remove gel nails at home – here's your manicurist-approved step-by-step guide

A womans hand using acetone on the nail, stage one of how to remove gel nails at home
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Knowing how to remove gel nails at home will save you time and money in salon visits, and also keep your nails healthy and happy. If nothing else, learning a proper removal technique will stop you from picking and peeling them off *looks away guiltily*

Whether you're mastering how to do gel nails at home, or getting BIAB nails in salon, it's so important to safely remove your gel manicure. You can obviously do this in the salon for an extra cost (usually under $10/£10), but doing them yourself at home is easy when you know how. 

Ok, it's not as super-simple of a process as regular polish, which you can usually sweep off with nail polish remover, but we can help you get the hang of it. We spoke to celebrity manicurist Roxanne Campbell for her expert take on how to remove gel nails at home. She advised that this process works for all types of gel, including BIAB, Bio Sculpture nails and shellac (wondering what are shellac nails? Our guide can help with that) If you're not sure, double-check with your manicurist when you're getting the color done. 

How to remove gel nails at home, in 4 easy steps

Step 1: File away the shine

"Start by filing off the gel top coat using a 100-grit nail file," says Campbell. "Make sure you don’t file off too much to the point where you could see your natural nail underneath. You're just removing the shiny top coat so that the acetone can penetrate the color. Do not use an electric nail file unless you are a professionally trained nail technician." That way trouble lies. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


OPI Nail Treatment Professional File Flex 100/180 | RRP: $8.50/£5.25 

A great, professional-standard nail file with just the right amount of grit. I've gone through dozens over the years. Remember, it's important to replace them regularly – as a general rule, every three months. 

Step 2: Soak & wrap

Once you've got matte-looking nails, then it's time to bring in the acetone. Is acetone bad for your nails is a common question at this stage, but we say as long as you're not using it too often, you'll be fine. "Apply acetone to a cotton pad and place the cotton pad onto your nail plate," instructs Campbell. "Then, wrap foil around your nails and fingertips, this will speed up the process of dissolving the gel color."

A shot of hands with nails wrapped with foil to show how to remove gel nails at home

Wrapping foils around gel nails should look a little like this

(Image credit: Rhiannon Derbyshire)

Now one of the key lessons in how to remove gel nails at home – patience. "Leave your nails to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes," advises Campbell. "Then remove the foil off one of your nails to see if it is ready. If the gel has melted and it’s lifting then it’s ready. If it hasn't, soak your nails for longer. Do not force off the gels because this could potentially damage your natural nails."

Our beauty editor recommends...


Cutex Ultra Powerful Nail Polish Remover | RRP: $3.99/£2.99

This is one of the main products I recommend when I'm asked how to remove gel nails at home. Non-intimidating, it can be used on regular and gel nail polish, because it uses 98% acetone. It can be bought in most drugstores, which is handy too. 


Mylee Gel Polish Soak Off Clips | RRP: $10 / £7 

These are by no means a necessary part of how to remove gel nails at home, just a handy little extra. Lots of brands offer these clips to cover the cotton pad and keep your nails soaking and secure. It's much less messy than flimsy foil, and you can reuse them for years to come. 

Step 3: Remove & buff

It should be easy to lift off the gel polish if you've allowed it to soak for long enough –
if not, soak for another five minutes. "Once they've soaked for long enough, take the foils off, and use a manicure stick or a cuticle pusher to remove the gel. Go in one direction, gently down the nail bed," instructs Campbell. Then, use a file or nail buffer to smooth out any uneven patches. 

Our beauty editor recommends...


Salon Services Cuticle Pusher | RRP: £6.85 (UK only)

I find cuticle pushers so satisfying – it's the ultimate secret to a salon-style manicure at home, gel or no gel. Campbell recommended this specific tool to ease off the gels, it's what she uses on all her celebrity clients.

Step 4: Care

Even the best application of gels can harm nails. With all the filing, chemicals, and acetone, you may find your nails start to feel weaker if you're getting a mani regularly. Campbell advises using a nail strengthener after removal, then being consistent with the use of cuticle oil. This will keep your hands and nails nourished and content enough to try out new nail trends, (I've enjoyed jumping on the glazed nails bandwagon, myself) at your next salon appointment.

Our beauty editor recommends...


OPI Nail Envy Original | RRP: $17.99/£21

There's a reason this consistently makes lists of the best nail strengtheners – it just works. I try to give my nails a break in between manis, and this is a non-negotiable part of that process. One quick coat makes a noticeable difference, leaving my nails feeling healthy and strong. 


L'Occitane Shea Nail and Cuticle Nourishing Oil | RRP: $20/£14.50

Cuticle oils are one of those things that can sound a bit unnecessary until you start using one consistently. I've tried a bunch (after being scolded by one too many manicurists), and this is my favorite. It's mess-free, nourishing, and compact enough for my handbag. Plus, I like the handy brush applicator and it smells totally delicious. 

Rhiannon Derbyshire
Senior Beauty Editor

Rhiannon Derbyshire is the Senior Beauty Editor for Woman & Home and other publications. 

She started interning for glossy magazines while working alongside her Fashion Journalism degree. There, she was lured to the beauty desk, seduced by matte lipsticks, posh shampoos, and every skincare product imaginable. 10+ years into her career, she can confidently tell you why the best mascaras are always high street, and why SPF is a non-negotiable all year round. Ask her about her curly hair routine, skincare minimalism, and how to find the exact right red lipstick