Although I’m a diehard fan of nail polish, I almost never wear it. The biggest reason? That stinky nail polish remover that is the natural consequence. My mom always taught me that “no polish is better than chipped polish,” and nothing gets rid of flaky tips quite like acetone polish remover.
So I stopped using polish altogether to avoid the fumes and chemicals of traditional remover. But it turns out you don’t really need to go that far.
There are a few DIY nail polish remover alternatives—cheap, natural ones—that you probably already have on hand (pun totally intended). Here’s how to remove your nail polish without nail polish remover.
What makes nail polish remover so toxic?
Before we dive in, let’s talk about traditional nail polish remover for a second.
What makes it so nasty? Well, it comes down to acetone and its cousins, butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, and isopropyl acetate.
Acetone is most often used as a paint thinner—and that’s exactly what makes it so effective for removing nail polish. But it’s also super harsh, especially when it comes in contact with skin.
Sporadic use can cause nearby skin to become red and irritated. But chronic exposure removes a lot of the skin’s natural oils, leading to red, dry, cracked fingers and toes. The fumes are so strong that it’s also been shown to cause headaches, dizziness, and eye and throat irritation when used in an enclosed space.
And while occasional use is fine (think once or twice a year), you might want to switch to a gentler alternative if you paint your nails often.
How to remove nail polish without remover
Now, let’s just get something out there: natural alternatives will make the process take longer than conventional methods. I mean you’re not chemically melting the paint off your fingertips, so it’s bound to require a bit of elbow grease. Personally, I’m fine with that if it means I get to skip the headache, dizziness, and eye irritation that comes with sniffing paint thinner.
Here are some of my favorite ways to remove nail polish without nail polish remover.
1. Baking soda
Is there anything baking soda can’t do? Because it’s slightly abrasive, baking soda can help break down and buff away nail polish.
Simply sprinkle some on your nails, and use a damp dish towel or old toothbrush to massage it in. Baking soda is gentle, and it takes time to wear away at the polish, so be patient!
Straight alcohol helps to break down the polish much like acetone, but without the harsh chemicals. Reach for either 80+ proof vodka or straight rubbing alcohol and a few cotton balls. Then apply it to nails like you would regular polish remover. If needed, let it soak into your nails for a few minutes to soften the polish, and then scrub away.
Just note that alcohol can be incredibly drying. So use it sparingly, and always follow up with a nourishing hand lotion to replenish moisture and keep your cuticles from splitting.
3. White vinegar + lemon
An alternative to alcohol, the acid in vinegar is said to soften nail polish while the lemon juice boosts its effectiveness and gives it a fresh(er) scent. Pour some vinegar into a small bowl and add the juice of 1 or 2 lemons. Use a cotton ball to apply and gently scrub away at the polish. If needed, gently file off any remaining specks of paint.
A dollop of toothpaste is all you need to get rid of lingering polish. Simply dab a pea-sized amount onto your nails and buff in a circular motion using a paper towel. As you scrub, the polish will slowly wear away until you’re left with perfectly clean nails.
As a bonus, whitening toothpaste can actually lighten the discoloration caused by nail polish. So once the polish is gone, keep buffing for a few minutes to get rid of stains and brighten yellowed tips.
5. Hydrogen peroxide
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup of hot water, and soak for 10 minutes. Once the polish has softened slightly, gently scrape it off as best you can using your fingers, a cuticle stick, or the back of a small spoon. Use a nail file or buff block to remove any stubborn bits.
If you’re specifically looking for natural alternatives, I’ll admit that this method may seem like cheating. But hairspray often contains chemicals that act like paint thinner, so it makes a great nail polish remover in a pinch.
Spray it directly on your nails and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes before wiping off. If all goes to according to plan, your nail polish should wipe off along with it.
7. Peel it off
This isn’t the most mind-blowing of methods, but sometimes the easiest thing to do is just peel it off. Personally, I love this method because it’s even a little fun, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If your polish won’t peel off in large chunks, go ahead and add another coat of polish. The solvents in nail polish will soften the old coat, making it easier to peel or wipe away. You can also try using a hairdryer to soften the polish until it becomes perfectly peelable.
Don’t want to DIY?
Try these natural alternatives!
Karma Organic Natural Nail Polish Remover Unscented is non-toxic, scent-free, and it also strengthens your nails.
The Cutex Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover is a non-acetone miracle, and an affordable one, too.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.213
Charla DePeters-Kurth says
If you peel off your nail polish you will also peeling away the top layer of you nail! All of the other methods involve chemicals and since they are not as effective buffing of filing the rest off all do nothing to promote nail health! I change my nail polish approx. every two weeks.
If you would like to know my secret, feel free to email !
How do you remove nail polish that will not come off the