Nail 101 – Acetone vs Alcohol & Everything in Between

What’s the difference between acetone vs alcohol for nails? What can you use to remove nail polish without actual nail polish remover? and more!

Let’s talk nail care. If you are anything like me, paying someone to properly remove my nail polish when it’s time for a refresh seems like a silly endeavor. Not to mention it’s just time I don’t have to spare right now. Especially with a busy schedule, packed with other beauty, wellness, and family commitments.

So I figured if I feel this way, I’m sure you probably do too.

Which is why I wanted to remove my own nail treatments, and I wanted to do it properly so I could avoid wrecking my real nails. After testing out several different nail polish removers, I realized some were better than others.

And did you know that certain types of polishes actually require special care to effectively remove the coats of polish? Today we are debunking some common myths and setting the record straight for safe at-home nail care. So hopefully you’ll be able to save a bit of money and time by removing your own nails.

Acetone vs Alcohol for Nails

Let’s dive right into it, starting with what exactly is the difference between acetone vs alcohol for nails. While both products are sometimes used for similar outcomes when it comes to nail care, they are not the same thing. To make it easier to understand, here’s a quick and easy cheatsheet of what each one does.

Acetone (ethyl acetate) is a volatile, flammable, and colorless solvent. Solvents are substances that can break down or dissolve other materials. At home, you will often find acetone products in nail polish removers or paint removers.

Rubbing Alcohol, usually found in concentrations of 70% or 90% isopropyl alcohol, is often used as a first aid antiseptic, hand sanitizer, and household cleaner component.

Standard nail polish removers are often made of an acetone concentration, the key active ingredient, and not rubbing alcohol. Acetone will eat through almost anything it comes into contact with.

Here’s How to Remove Nail Polish Remover without Nail Polish

How many times have you wanted to remove your nail polish, but realized you were out of nail polish remover? It’s certainly happened to me a time or two. But what I didn’t realize was there were other ways to strip the polish at home. In fact, many household products can be used to remove nail polish at home. Below are some DIY nail polish remover hacks to try when in a pinch!

6 Ways to Remove Nail Polish without Nail Polish

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Regular toothpaste
  • Hydrogen peroxide and hot water
  • Lemon juice
  • White vinegar and natural orange juice

Rubbing Alcohol and Hand Sanitizer

Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer is the most common household item to reach for when an actual polish remover is not available. Soak a cotton pad or cotton swab in rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, then place the cotton ball or pad onto your nail.

Let it sit for about 10 seconds and then gently rub it back and forth to remove the polish. Note this will not work on fake nails, gel polish, or other polish types that are cured. More to come on how to remove these shortly!


Did you know that regular toothpaste can also remove standard polish? Scrub your nails with basic toothpaste or even better, a soda-based toothpaste (a gentle abrasive).

After a few minutes of scrubbing, use a cloth to wipe your nails clean using a circular motion.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide and hot water are other options for removing standard polish. Mix two parts of hydrogen peroxide with one part of hot water (try 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup of hot water to start).

Soak your fingers in the solution while massaging the polish off with your hands. You may need to use a nail file to remove any really stuck polish when using this process.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice contains citric acid and can be helpful with removing nail polish. Soak your nails in warm, soapy water for five to ten minutes to start the process.

After soaking, squeeze a lemon slice onto your nails. The citric acid will soften the polish and allow it to be filled or peeled off with ease. If using this method, be gentle! Your nail bed and natural nails will be fragile.

White Vinegar and Natural Orange Juice

White vinegar and natural orange juice is the last alternate method we tested. Mix together an equal amount of white vinegar and orange juice and dip a cotton ball or cotton pad into the mixture and press onto your fingernails for about 10 seconds.

Similar to the lemon juice method above, this solution will soften the polish. Gently wiping away the polish with the same cotton pad should successfully remove the polish. Keep in mind for dark or thick coats of polish, you may need to repeat the process to fully remove the polish.

Let’s Talk Gel Polish + Shellac

Gel nail polish and shellac are definitely a favorite of mine, and many others. I’ve always found that gel and shellac last so much longer, even though I’m rough on my nails.

What I didn’t know was that the polishes are comprised of stronger ingredients that grasp the nail tighter than traditional lacquers. Meaning they will be strong enough to stand up to daily wear without chipping.

Because these types of polishes are cured onto the nail using UV LED light technology, they also require a bit of extra care to safely remove.

Ever wonder how a gel polish stays perfect for so long? It’s because of the chemical makeup of the product.

Because it’s cured, it allows it to harden, allowing you to go longer between appointments. Ensuring no excess moisture is left under the layer of polish is key to the longevity of the manicure.

Acetone vs alcohol for nails

What to Avoid to Keep your Gel or Shellac on Longer

Those scenes on TV where you see the leading lady wearing gloves while cleaning the kitchen are likely because she just got her nails done. So things like dishes, hot baths, and showers should be avoided, especially right after your appointment. It will cause the gel polish to lift and ruin your new nails.

Since gel products in the polishes adhere so well to the natural nail, a more harsh removal process is needed. That makes it a bit more difficult to remove at home, but not impossible.

A step-by-step guide to removing Gel and Shellac Polish

So the only effective way to actually remove the polish is to gently file down the top layer of the cured polish, wrapping your nails in an acetone-soaked cotton pad and then wrapping them again with aluminum foil. Once the foil comes off, you can gently scrape the nail plate with a file.

BE GENTLE so as not to cause trauma to the nail. Properly cured gel polishes should easily remove following this method. If it’s not going as well as you’d planned, it might be best to see a professional manicurist so you don’t cause damage to the nail.

Our Favorite Polish Removers

Okay, now that you know the difference between acetone vs alcohol for nails, we can finally chat about our favorite polish removers! I’ve tried so many over the last 10 years and the following are the best. I was looking for an effective cleaner and polish remover to safely remove stubborn polish and all the residual oils. Which is what we’ve found below.

So I rounded up several nail polish removers, by type, to help make your next at-home manicure a success.

Best Non-Acetone Remover

Cutex Nourishing Nail Polish Remover

Cutex Nourishing Nail Polish Remover offers salon-quality results the first time. It uses a special blend of ingredients to nourish nails and contains Vitamin E to soften skin. Did we mention this product is readily available at the drugstore?

Best Remover Containing Acetone

ORLY All Purpose Genius Remover

ORLY All Purpose Genius Remover is perfect for gel, regular lacquer, and hybrid polishes. It gently removes even the darkest colors without stripping away moisture from the nail. Because this product contains acetone, take caution when using it; wherever you spill is there for life.

Best 100% Acetone Remover

Onyx Professional 100% Pure Acetone Maximum Strength Remover

Onyx Professional 100% Pure Acetone Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover will quickly and easily remove polish, artificial nails, gel or shellac polishes, nail glue, and more. You know how stubborn glitter polish can be to remove. Well, it’s a breeze with this product!

Best Alternative Polish Remover

The Melody Susie Portable Electric Nail Drill

Looking to remove standard, gel, or shellac polish without harsh chemicals? The MelodySusie Portable Electric Nail Drill has over 70k positive reviews and makes at-home removal a breeze. It has 6 metal bits for grinding, carving, cutting, and polish removal so you can get a complete at-home manicure with our tool!

Soy-Based Removers

Ella & Mila, Soy Nail Polish Remover

Ella & Mila, Soy Nail Polish Remover is new to the nail game! The premise of soy-based removers is simple, effective results without harsh chemicals. The key difference between soy-based removers and the regular ones you used to buy is the ingredients of the product. Using natural ingredients, this type of product is often considered a better choice for the overall health of your nails. Did we mention this smell that often comes with typical removers? This product also low odor.

Looking to Up Your Nail Game in 2023?

If you are looking for some serious nail inspo that is both safe and easy to use with no insane removal process needed, check out Olive & June!

This brand is a celebration of stunning aesthetics and attention to detail. Sarah Gibson Tuttle is the founder of Olive & June, bringing stunning designs that are not only accessible, and easy to use but also completely affordable. Their Press-on Nails can be purchased online or at Target. The ease of application is changing the nail and beauty industry fast and furiously.

Nail extensions, nail wraps, and press-ons are having a major moment and we are here for it. We’re currently loving The Press-on Nails, The Pedi Systems, and The Seashell Set!


Anyway now that you know how to take your manicure off yourself, and the difference with acetone vs alcohol for nails. We want to hear about your recent at-home manicure success story! Tag us or get in touch!

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