5 Ways to Remove Nail Polish Without Nail Polish Remover

Traditional nail polish remover is typically full of harsh chemicals. Try these alternative methods the next time you want to change your nail color.

We independently evaluate all recommended products and services. If you click on links we provide, we may receive compensation. Learn more.

Nail polish remover quickly and effectively takes off your polish, but what else could it be removing as part of the process? If you're looking to clean your nails of old polish without using a run-of-the-mill nail polish remover, there are actually a few alternative methods that will work. One of the main ingredients in what is generally acknowledged as "traditional" remover is acetone, which can be heavily damaging to nails. "Acetone is very drying and harsh," says Brittney Boyce, a celebrity nail artist and founder of NAILSOFLA. "But [the removers] work really quickly."

Woman removing nail polish
Kerkez / Getty Images

Non-acetone removers are gentler on the nails, but they need a little more time to be effective. Before starting any of the below removal processes, soak your nails in some warm water. According to Christine Koehler, founder & CEO of Flora 1761, water will expand your nail bed. This can help loosen the polish and prime your nails for one of the alternative removal methods.

Rubbing Alcohol

According to Boyce, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer are two of the best ways to remove polish without needing an acetate remover. "Apply some to a cotton ball or pad and place it on your nail," Boyce says. "Let it sit for about 10 seconds and gently rub it back-and-forth. Your nail polish should come off fairly quickly."

Additionally, if you have an alcohol-based perfume, Boyce notes that this can work in a pinch, but will require more product than if you just used plain rubbing alcohol. Also keep in mind that the scent may be overpowering, so it definitely shouldn't be your first choice.

Vinegar and Orange Juice

Mix your favorite fruit juice with white vinegar and you've got a homemade solution for removing nail polish, says Dear Sundays founder and CEO Amy Ling Lin. "Combine an equal amount of white vinegar and natural orange juice and mix together," she says. "Dip the cotton ball/pad in the mixture and press on your fingernails for about 10 seconds until the nail polish softens. Then, pull down the cotton pad to remove the polish."


Ling Lin says that plain lemon can remove nail polish, too. Place a slice or lemon juice on your nails and let it sit until your polish softens, before rubbing it off.


"The myth that hairspray works to remove nail polish is true," says Boyce. "But it has to be aerosol hairspray. Saturate a cotton ball or cotton pad with hair spray and wrap the cotton on your nail." Boyce also adds that this tactic is particularly useful if you have a spill. The hairspray will lift the polish out of the carpet or fabric without discoloring it.

Soy-Based Removers

Soy is becoming the preferred ingredient in the creation of non-acetate nail polish removers. The premise of soy-based removers, as well as the other proposed solutions, is to soften the nail polish, says Ling Lin. Acetone, she explains, is a solvent that dissolves polish. Soy-based removers, like the one developed by Dear Sundays ($22.40, anthropologie.com), will not react as quickly, but are a gentler option. You may need to wait up to 45 seconds after applying soy-based remover before you can scrub your nails with a cotton pad.

Post-Removal Care

After you've removed your polish by your chosen method, be sure to follow up with a little nail care. "Because rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer can be dehydrating to the skin and nail, use a cuticle oil to re-moisturize your nail, cuticles, and surrounding skin," says Boyce.

On the other hand, caring for your nails doesn't necessarily mean fancy products are required. "You definitely just want to hydrate as much as possible to keep your nails healthy," says Koehler. "Proper diet is always really good for strong nails, but hydration is just so important. Drinking a lot of water, and then specifically, working hydration into your nails."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles