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Lifehacks for Removing Nail Polish Without Remover

Even when you don't have a bottle handy, removing nail polish without remover is far from impossible.

By Nicola P. YoungPublished 5 years ago 7 min read

For many people, chipping nail polish is like an irksome itch you just can't stop scratching. When your beautiful coat of color starts flaking off, it brings an often uncontrollable urge to get rid of the offending paint, even if it means mangling your nails by chipping away the rest of it. But, as you probably know, this is a terrible thing to do to your nails, and will leave them looking scratched and hurting. Luckily, there are many healthier methods for removing nail polish without remover that don't involve this kind of nail trauma, so don't panic when you see that empty bottle of acetone.

The Toothpaste Method

Believe it or not, you can quite literally brush your nails clean with toothpaste. This method of removing nail polish without remover is not only simple and safe, but will leave your nails with a little extra shine—not to mention smelling minty fresh. Just soak your nails in warm water for a little while, a few minutes should do, just to soften them up a bit, which makes scrubbing the polish off much easier. Then, take a toothbrush (preferably not the one you use to brush your teeth though), squeeze on a line of toothpaste, and brush your nails just like you would your teeth. If you're a vigorous tooth brusher, of course, you should take it easy, but you do want to make sure you get the toothpaste nice and foamy as you scrub. Then, just wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water to get any sticky toothpaste feeling off of them, and admire your clean, freshly brushed nails.

The "Add More Nail Polish" Method

Removing your nail polish without remover can be as easy as painting your nails in reverse. A fresh coat of nail polish on top of the coat you'd like to remove will soften it up, melding the two polishes together. Then, when you wipe it off with a cotton ball or cotton pad, the dried bottom layer will actually come off along with the top layer. You can do this easily with a basic top coat, clear polish, but it will work with any nail polish—just make sure you wipe it off before it begins to dry, or you don't use fast-drying polish, adding one more layer to try to remove. That is, of course, unless you're going for one of these four nail art designs that literally anyone can do. We recommend you use all fresh nail polish for this type of application though.

The Hair Spray Method

Acetone is generally the most effective nail polish remover, which is why it's the primary, if not sole, ingredient in most removers. However, if you understand how this process works, you'll see that many household items can actually work for removing nail polish without remover. The short version is, any household products with sufficient alcohol content will function as a solvent for the nail polish, dissolving the nail color and ingredients in the polish itself, which makes it easy to simply wipe off. If you're lacking a bottle of remover, check the ingredients on your hair spray bottles. Most of them will contain alcohol, and as a result, should be able to dissolve the polish quite easily.

The Forethought Method

If you plan ahead, you won't need a nail polish remover, or a substitute, at all. This won't work for all polishes and styles, but it's a lifesaver for glitter polish. Instead of using a standard base coat or no base coat at all, paint your nails first with white glue. Let it dry, then apply your glitter polish. When you're ready to remove the polish, you can easily peel off that bottom layer of glue, and the top coat of glitter polish along with it. It will stick easily to your nails upon application, but will peel off just as easily when you want it to, for a very hassle-free option to remove your polish.

The Lemon and Vinegar Method

If you don't have remover handy, you can actually make your own fairly easily with lemons and vinegar. The acidity of the citrus juice and the vinegar will act as an all-natural solvent, in place of the alcohol used in most nail polish removers. Just juice a lemon, or even just half a lemon, and mix the juice in with a little bit of vinegar. You're not going to be eating it or anything, so the proportions don't matter too much. Just use a little bit of each, mix it together in a bowl or a cup, and use a cotton pad or cotton ball to wipe off your nail polish. For particularly stubborn polish, soak your fingers in warm water first to aid the process. You can also soak your fingers in the mixture for a little bit to help it dissolve more quickly! Apple cider vinegar has powerful healing benefits for your skin—just watch out for hangnails or cuts on your fingers!

The Hand Sanitizer Method

As I mentioned earlier, all you really need for an effective nail polish remover is a proper solvent, and many alcohol-based household products will work just fine for this purpose. Although hand sanitizer won't strip off your polish when you're just rubbing it into your hands for sanitation purposes, it can be used for removing nail polish without remover. Just soak your fingers in warm water first (this is a crucial step for most DIY nail polish removing), and then scrub the softened polish off with a sanitizer-soaked cotton pad. If that doesn't remove all of the nail color, try using a rough cloth soaked in hand sanitizer instead—the extra texture can help scrub off any stubborn bits.

The Flosser Method

Believe it or not, you can actually use those fancy flosser-sticks to remove your nail color. Nail wraps are a great way to get beautiful-looking nails, but can be a real hassle to remove, putting your nails at risk of getting scratched in the process. So instead of caving to the frustration and trying to remove them in ways that will harm your precious nails, just use a flosser to do it. The taut floss makes a perfect tool for getting under those nail toppers and removing them with ease, while the relative softness of the floss itself keeps your nails safe from scratches and damage.

The Rubbing Alcohol Method

Is there anything rubbing alcohol can't do? Well, in terms of cleaning, not much. That's because it's a concentrated alcohol; and therefore, able to work as a solvent—exactly what you want to look for when removing nail polish without remover. Although acetone and acetate are the most effective solvents, rubbing alcohol—and other alcohol based products—will suffice with just a little extra work. To make things easier, always soak your nails in warm water for at least a couple of minutes first, then use a cotton ball or cotton pad and rubbing alcohol to scrub off the polish.

The Perfume Method

Another common item you probably have lying around is perfume or body spray. Obviously, these products are designed to smell good, and therefore don't really come quickly to mind as alcohol-based products. However, most do have a fairly high alcohol content, and can therefore work quite well as substitutes for acetone-based nail polish remover. As with hair spray, hand sanitizer, or rubbing alcohol, this will work best if you soak your fingers in warm water first, then spray your body spray or perfume directly onto the nail. You should do this at a close range, so it coats the nail without dispersing into the air. Then, just rub off the nail polish with a dry cloth or cotton pad.

The Soaking Method

If you don't mind getting a little pruny, removing nail polish without remover can actually be laughably simple. You need almost nothing: Just warm water, and a rough, dry cloth (not too rough, though). All you have to do is fill a bowl with water that's pretty warm, but not uncomfortably so (you don't want to scald yourself), and let your fingers soak in it for a while. It will probably take about 20 minutes, perhaps more if you have a particularly persistent or thick coat of polish. After the time has elapsed and your polished nails feel soft, you can pretty easily just scrub the polish off with the dry cloth. This method certainly takes longer than just wiping some remover over your fingers, and can be a bit tedious, but it is a fairly effective way to remove most polishes without resorting to chemicals of any kind. If all else fails and you decide you absolutely hate nail polish, you could always try press-on nails.

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About the Creator

Nicola P. Young

Lover of Books, Saxophone, Blogs, and Dogs. Not necessarily in that order. Book blogger at

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