How to Remove Nail Polish Without Nail Polish Remover

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Is your manicure looking a little busted, chipped or simply not living up to expectations? With nail polish remover, it’s easy to banish unwanted fingernail polish. But what if you don’t have any acetone-based nail polish remover on hand? Learn how to remove nail polish without nail polish remover.

how to remove nail polish without nail polish remover

Chipping away the polish isn’t what you want to do. It makes a mess and can cause damage to your natural nails. So, what is a person to do when they need their nail color gone but don’t have a bottle of remover within reaching distance?

I’m here today to show you exactly how to remove nail polish without nail polish remover and without damaging your natural nails.

Many of these solutions will be natural or easily made within the confines of your own kitchen. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to remove nail polish when you don’t have an acetone-based remover available. If you’re not a fan of acetone as it is, now might be a good time to look at more natural and more nail-safe methods of removing nail polish.

7 Ways to Remove Nail Polish Without Nail Polish Remover

Let’s dive in! These methods of nail polish removal are tried and true to work for many, but your results may differ. If one of these techniques doesn’t quite cut it for a manicure that’s worn out its welcome, go down the list and give another one a try.

Method 1: Lemon Slices

Lemon is an all-natural substance that can safely and effectively remove nail polish in a snap! And it’s actually very easy. All you need to have available is some warm water that’s got hand soap in it, and a slice or two of lemon. It’s the acidity of lemon juice that makes this method so effective.

Woman removes nail polish with lemon

1. For about 5 minutes, soak your fingertips in warm, soapy water.
2. Use a lemon slice like you would use a cotton ball dipped in acetone: Simply rub it on your nail to remove the polish.
3. Wash your hands once the polish is gone.
4. Moisturizing is a good idea, as it will help keep your nails healthy after being stripped by the harshness of the lemons.

Method 2: Lemon Juice + Vinegar

Lemon and vinegar are both very acidic and both are readily available at your local supermarket. While lemon can work on its own, lemon plus vinegar puts in double time to remove thick layers of polish, even gel nail polish.

Woman soaking fingernails in lemon juice and vinegar

1. Soak your nails in warm, soapy water for about 15 minutes.
2. Mix equal parts lemon to vinegar. It might stink, but it will work! Stir the mixture well.
3. Dip a cotton ball or cotton round into the mixture. Instead of swiping to remove the nail polish like you would with acetone, press the cotton round or ball onto the fingernail for about 30 seconds. This gives the ingredients the proper time to break down the polish.
4. Wash and moisturize your hands. Vinegar and lemon can both be quite harsh.

Method 3: Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a good way to remove nail polish without nail polish remover, as it is affordable and readily accessible at any supermarket, drug store, or even many convenience stores. All you need is rubbing alcohol, warm, soapy water and a couple of cotton balls.

Removing nail polish with alcohol

1. In the warm, soapy water, soak your nails for 5-15 minutes. If you have very thick layers of nail polish (or gel nail polish especially) on, you might want to favor 15 minutes over 5.
2. Dip the cotton ball into the rubbing alcohol and swipe it across the nail to remove polish.
3. Wash and moisturize your hands. Alcohol is very drying to skin and nails both. If you have a cuticle oil, it’s a good idea to bring that out.

Method 4: Hydrogen Peroxide + Nail File

Nearly everyone has hydrogen peroxide sitting in some medicine cabinet in their home. Like rubbing alcohol, this simple ingredient is also very accessible if you don’t happen to have it lying around. Because hydrogen peroxide is rather harsh, it is a very effective tool for the removal of unwanted nail polish. In this solution, the peroxide does most of the work while the nail file finishes the job.

Female hand holding peroxide cotton wool

1. Combine two parts hydrogen peroxide and one part water in a shallow dish or bowl.
2. Soak your fingertips for a few moments.
3. With your fingertips still in the mixture, you should be able to rub the polish away with your hands alone.
4. If any polish remains after steps 1-3, use a nail file or buffing tool to take care of the rest.
5. As always, wash and moisturize your hands.

Method 5: Toothpaste

In particular, a white toothpaste that’s infused with baking soda works best for this purpose. Baking soda is a naturally effective cleaning agent. It is also less harsh than many other options, like rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. And the best thing? Everyone’s got toothpaste in their bathroom at home!


1. Soak your hands in warm, soapy water for about 10 minutes. This helps to break down the nail polish for an easier removal.
2. Squeeze a dollop of toothpaste directly onto a cotton round or cotton ball. Touch the toothpaste covered cotton to the fingernail and hold it there for about 30 seconds.
3. Using swiping motions, rub the cotton over the nail until the polish is gone.
4. Wash and moisturize your hands. The last thing you want to do is scratch your eye when you still have minty cool toothpaste still on your fingertips.

Method 6: Nail Polish

That’s right – we’re fighting fire with fire, here! You can use a new layer of nail polish to remove the old, but this works best if you are using slow-drying nail polish. Nail polish becomes so hard when it dries because of the nature of the solvents found in it. When a fresh coat is applied over old polish, it essentially softens the solvents so that they can be more easily removed.

Removing nail polish at home

Many people who swear by this technique believe that using a darker nail polish to remove a lighter shade is the best way to go, but I don’t think the color makes much of a difference. Just make sure to use a polish that doesn’t dry too rapidly – wet polish is key here.

1. Apply the new polish to fingernails one at a time. You don’t want to give the polish a chance to dry by doing your whole hand right away.

2. Immediately remove the new layer of polish with a paper towel. Do not use cotton balls or cotton rounds for this. Because the polish is so thick and can be goopy or sticky, the cotton will likely shred and stick to the new layer of polish. And that’s just messy.

3. Repeat the two above steps for each nail. You might have to use some elbow grease if you’re trying to remove several layers of older polish.

4. If this method didn’t completely get rid of your existing nail polish, using any of these other methods afterward will take care of the remainder.

5. Wash your hands. This process can be a bit messy and you don’t want to be stuck with polish that’s dried to your skin.

Method 7: Hairspray or Hand Sanitizer

These items work for the same reason that rubbing alcohol is so effective at removing polish: alcohol cleanses and strips away nail polish with ease. Both hand sanitizer and hair spray commonly contain a significant enough alcohol content to serve this purpose as well. You can use either of these products in the exact same way.

Hair Spray

1. Soak your fingertips in warm water for 10-15 minutes. This helps soften up the polish and make for easier removal.
2. Apply hairspray or hand sanitizer to a cotton ball or cotton round.
3. Hold the cotton ball or round to the fingernail for 30 seconds, allowing the alcohol time to break down the polish.
4. Use swiping motions to clear away the polish.
5. Because alcohol is very harsh and quite drying, wash and moisturize your hands. Following up with a cuticle oil also isn’t a bad idea.

You Don’t Need Acetone Remover to Get Rid of Unwanted Nail Polish

Alcohol, peroxide, lemon, toothpaste, vinegar and even nail polish are all easy ways  to remove nail polish without nail polish remover. Yes, using these techniques can be a bit more time consuming than using acetone-based nail polish remover, but they do work and can even be combined if you need some extra help to get the results you want.

Many of these options are also healthier for nails than harsh chemical removers. Lemon, vinegar and the baking soda found in toothpaste are all-natural and don’t cause damage to natural nails. Alcohol-based products certainly can cause damage, however, so I don’t recommend using rubbing alcohol, hairspray or hand sanitizer too often. And, when you do, the importance of moisturizing afterward cannot be overstated.

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