There are many reasons you may need to remove nail polish. The gorgeous manicure or pedicure you had a few days or weeks ago is starting to look drab. Or you may have accidentally smeared polish on your skin or favorite shirt.

Acetone and non-acetone nail polish removers are the gold standard for taking off polish, and they’re considered safe to use in small amounts. However, there are some household products you can try, too.

Keep in mind that a lot of these DIY home removal methods aren’t backed by research, but they may be worth trying if you’re in a pinch. Keep reading to learn about all your options, as well as safety precautions.

Nail polish removers For nailsFor skinFor clothes
acetone nail polish removerxx
non-acetone nail polish removerxx
nail polish (reapplied and immediately removed)x
rubbing alcoholxx
alcohol spirits (such as vodka, grappa, gin)xx
hand sanitizerx
toothpastex
hydrogen peroxide and hot water soakx
nail file (for filing and chipping)x
stain-fighting detergent (followed by laundering)x
white vinegar (followed by laundering)x
professional dry cleaningx

When over-the-counter (OTC) nail polish remover is undesirable or out of reach, here are some methods that you can try to break down your polish and restore your nails.

Applying and immediately removing new nail polish

You may find that applying a clear coat of new nail polish and quickly wiping it off helps soften and remove the old polish. Though this is anecdotal, if you’re out of OTC nail polish remover, you may find this does the trick.

Rubbing alcohol

Alcohol is a solvent, meaning it helps break things down. Soaking your nails in rubbing alcohol or applying it to nails with a soaked cotton ball may dissolve the polish.

This method may take longer than using traditional nail polish remover, but it might just get the job done without you needing to run out to the store.

Alcohol spirits

Your liquor cabinet may be the place to go if you want to remove your nail polish. Spirits like vodka, grappa, or gin have a high alcohol content and may soften your polish if you give your nails a soak in them.

Try wiping or peeling away the polish after your nails have been submerged for several minutes.

Hand sanitizer

Have a bottle of hand sanitizer handy? It’s another alcohol-based product that you can use to soften the polish on your nails.

Try soaking your hands with it to see if your nail polish softens, then rub it away with a cotton ball or cloth.

Toothpaste

Toothpaste is another household staple that you can try to remove your nail polish.

Scrub your nails with a basic toothpaste or one that has baking soda, which is a gentle abrasive. After a few minutes of scrubbing, use a cloth to wipe your nail and see if this method has worked.

Hydrogen peroxide and hot water soak

Hydrogen peroxide is used in a lot of cosmetic and beauty products for lightening purposes and may also help you remove your old manicure or pedicure.

Try soaking your nails in a bowl of hydrogen peroxide and hot water. This may help soften the polish so you can wipe or gently file it away.

Filing, peeling, or chipping polish away

If your nail polish is nearing the end of its life on your nails, you may find that it’ll come off if you work on it with your other fingernails or a nail file.

Be careful not to damage your nail using this method. Overfiling may take the top layer of your nail off, which could be harmful and painful.

If you decide to use a traditional nail polish remover, there are a variety to choose from. With so many options, you may wonder which product is the best and safest to use.

OTC nail polish removers either contain acetone or are labeled as “non-acetone.” Keep in mind that both products contain chemicals that may be harmful to you if you use them too frequently or without proper ventilation.

How to use acetone and non-acetone nail polish removers

Acetone breaks down nail polish quickly and efficiently. Compared to other chemicals that can remove nail polish, it’s low in toxicity.

Non-acetone nail polish removers may be less toxic than acetone-based remover, but you may find that it takes longer to remove the polish and that it doesn’t remove dark nail polish colors. Non-acetone products still contain chemicals that may be harmful with prolonged use.

A prolonged soak in acetone is the only way to remove gel nail polish. To avoid exposing your skin to the acetone, consider using acetone-dipped cotton balls on your nails rather than soaking them in a container of the substance.

Nail polish removal tips

  • Nail polish remover can be hard on your nails and skin, so it’s best to use as instructed and not too often.
  • Use a cotton ball or presoaked nail polish remover pad in a well-ventilated room.
  • Moisturize with lotion after using nail polish remover.
  • Use nail polish remover only on the fingernails if possible, and only for a short period of time.
  • Consider taking a break from painting your nails every so often to maintain their health.

If you’re giving yourself a manicure or pedicure at home, it’s likely some nail polish will end up on your skin. Try using the following to remove it:

  • nail polish remover, either acetone or non-acetone, using a cotton ball or cotton swab
  • warm water
  • one of the alcohol-based solutions described above: rubbing alcohol, spirits, hand sanitizer

Moisturize with lotion after removing the nail polish since these methods may dry your skin.

If you’ve accidentally wound up with nail polish on your clothes, here are some removal tips.

Try to contain the stain as quickly as possible and make sure it doesn’t spread. Then, use an absorbent paper product like a paper towel or a piece of toilet paper to remove as much of the polish as possible.

Finally, dab a cotton swab or a small piece of a rag into nail polish remover, either acetone or non-acetone, and blot out the stain.

Here are some other ways to get nail polish out of your clothes:

  • using a stain-fighting detergent product
  • adding white vinegar to your washing cycle to lift the stain
  • washing your clothes immediately after staining them to ensure the stain doesn’t set
  • enlisting a dry cleaner to remove a deep nail polish stain

Acetone evaporates quickly, so be careful not to overuse the product. Prolonged exposure to acetone can cause headaches and dizziness. Acetone is also very flammable, so avoid using it around an open flame.

Keep acetone and non-acetone nail polish removers away from children and never ingest them. This can cause lethargy and confusion.

Non-acetone nail polish removers may be more harmful than acetone nail polish removers if taken by mouth.

One study highlighted two cases when children ingested non-acetone nail polish remover. Both children experienced adverse symptoms like cardiorespiratory collapse, vomiting, hypotension, and a slowing heart rate.

Is the acetone (and other solvents) used in OTC nail polish remover bad for me?

Using a small amount of acetone or non-acetone nail polish remover shouldn’t be harmful. Be careful not to ingest it or leave the bottle where a child may ingest it. The chemicals in the nail polish removers may damage your nails by making them brittle.

Should I permanently switch to natural methods?

You can try using natural methods to remove nail polish, but you may find that OTC removers are the most effective and least time-consuming.

Try to limit your exposure to OTC removers to just a few minutes a few times a month. You can review the safety of nail polish removers available at the Environmental Working Group website.

What if I’m pregnant?

You can still paint your nails and remove polish if you’re pregnant.

You’ll want to limit your exposure to chemicals, so try to reduce the number of times you get a manicure or pedicure throughout your pregnancy. Make sure you paint and remove nail polish in a well-ventilated room.

Try not to use gel polish as there’s not a lot of research available on whether that type of nail treatment is safe during pregnancy.

There are several ways to remove nail polish safely and effectively. Over-the-counter removal products may work best, but if you’re in a pinch, you can experiment with household products like rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer.

Make sure to moisturize your skin and nails after removing polish to avoid dryness.