How to Safely Remove Acrylic Nails at Home — A Step-by-Step Guide

As anyone who wears fake nails will tell you, a biweekly visit to the salon is a good idea, and having your acrylics removed by professional nail techs is always best. For those times, however, that you can’t get to the salon, knowing how to take off acrylic nails at home is important. Here’s a step-by-step guide so you can learn how to remove acrylic nails yourself.

What acrylic nail removal supplies do I need?

Before you start the removal process, make sure you have the tools you need, and set aside two uninterrupted hours for this DIY removal (so you don’t have to stop mid-treatment). Here’s a supplies list:

  • Nail file

  • Nail clipper

  • Nail buffer

  • Nail polish remover (acetone)

  • Cuticle oil

  • Hand cream

  • Orangewood stick (cuticle pusher)

  • Cotton balls

  • Aluminum foil (optional)

The Safest Way To Remove Acrylic Nails: 5 Simple Steps

Now that you’ve stocked up on supplies, it’s time to show your nails some love. Here are five steps for safely removing acrylic nails at home

1. Cut It Down to Size

This first step is the easiest part of the process. Trim off as much of the faux nail plate as you can, then move on to the next nail. The more nail that remains, the more you’ll have to remove later, so be sure to cut off the overhanging bits.

2. File, File, File, Then File Some More

This takes patience — and lots of it. Your goal is to strip the top layer of nail polish using a nail file. It’s ideal to have varying degrees of grain (coarse, medium, fine, and ultra-fine). Begin with coarser grains and work your way down to finer grains as you get closer to your natural nail.

A nail salon uses mechanical versions of at-home files to do this, which makes it much quicker. Don’t rush, however. Working slowly and methodically will prevent damage to the skin surrounding your nails, especially cuticles and fingertips. (Here’s a handy tutorial on skin care.)

When do you know you’re finished filing? Follow this simple rhyme: “The finish line is no more shine.” You want even the slightest sheen to be nonexistent. Only then are your nails ready for acetone!

3. A Nice, Warm Acetone Bath

Your nail polish remover should be pure acetone if you want the ideal outcome. (Diluted nail polish remover will take much longer and is much less effective). To start, warm the acetone bottle under semi-hot water then pour a small amount into two small bowls. Important note: Acetone is flammable, so do not use any method for heating it other than the warm water bath. Additionally, stay clear of open flames during the procedure.

Dip your filed nails flat into the bowls so that the nail beds are completely submerged. It’s fine if your skin soaks as well, just know that acetone can cause skin irritation, so avoid rubbing or touching your eyes and the area around them. This acetone soak takes 30 minutes and is necessary for softening the remaining nail polish, which makes the final steps much easier. While it may take longer, it’s worth it for those with sensitive skin. If you’re concerned about skin irritation, soak the acetone in cotton balls and place them on top of nails. Then use aluminum or tin foil to hold cotton balls in place, and completely seal the fingertips and cotton balls to finish it off.

4. Get Buff

The filing and acetone bath will leave your nails in a less than gorgeous state. Don’t fear, though, because you’re not done yet. Remove any remaining softened acrylic nail bits with a buffer. If you don’t have a buffer, use a file or cuticle pusher (or cuticle stick) and scrape away.

Execute this step in the process gently. If sections of the acrylic refuse to come off, return to the soaking step and try, try again. For harder cases, try doing rounds of acetone and buffing. Twenty-minute soaks and endurance should do the trick and get you the result you’re looking for.

5. Hydration is Key

Acetone is a double-edged sword because while it’s an excellent polish and acrylic remover, it is also harmful to your real nail beds. There’s no alternative for this — other than the aluminum foil option mentioned above — but there are some after-care practices that can help.

The acetone, on top of vigorous filing and ample buffing, softens your nails and dries out your skin. Immediately after removing nails, gently wash both hands under warm (not hot!) water with soap. This will ensure you’ve removed all the acetone.

Apply cuticle oil and hand cream (or lotion) to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! In the case of acrylic nail removal, the more hydration, the better. You can also treat yourself to a natural manicure, which will give your nails some time to breathe. (Acrylic nails can harm your nail beds, especially if they are not applied properly.)

Outside of hydrating to the max, apply a daily nail strengthener. After applying oil, cream, or lotion, wrap your hands in warm, wet towels for a few minutes.

At-Home Nail Artists Unite!

So there you have it: the 411 on the acrylic nail removal process. Follow this guide, and you’ll not only be able to remove your fake nails at home, you’ll preserve your nail beds and ensure your cuticles and skin are nourished and protected.

The five steps for acrylic nail removal are simple: trim, file, soak, buff, hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate! That topcoat is everything.

Lastly, be sure to give your nails a break. Let them recover before going for the latest nail art and gel nail polish trends. Nails may be a small part of your body, but it’s taking care of the little things that lead to better overall health.