How to Remove Acrylic Nails at Home Without Damaging Your Real Ones

Here's exactly how to remove acrylic nails without destroying your natural nails — plus, if you should be heating acetone to remove acrylic nails.

close-up of a person's hand with designed acrylic nails
Photo: mikroman6/Getty Images, CSA Images/Getty Iamges

One of the best things about acrylic nails is that they last weeks and can withstand practically anything — all the can-opening, dishwashing, and speed-typing you throw their way. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and acrylic nails are no exception. So, when the polish starts to crack or nails begin to break, it's officially time to start fresh. Unfortunately, though, taking off acrylic nails can be challenging and time-consuming, to say the least.

In a perfect world, you'd always head back to the salon to have a set removed — and not just because it's an excuse to book another manicure while you're there. In the hands of a pro, you're less likely to harm your real nails than if you were to go the DIY route. "A lot of people cause damage to their natural nails when removing acrylics at home," says New York-based celebrity nail artist Pattie Yankee. "They file too hard, and they end up thinning out the nail plate with a file, which can lead to a burning sensation," she explains. It can also weaken the nail, upping the chance for peeling and breakage. (See also: What It Means If You Have Peeling Nails — Plus, How to Fix Them)

Still, there will be times when you can't make it to a salon but still need to free yourself of those faux nails. In order to avoid keeping a ragged manicure past its prime, learn how to properly remove acrylic nails at home. For starters, don't just hack away at the polish with any old nail file. "It's better to switch to a finer grit nail file as you get closer to the natural nail," notes Yankee. (Let's face it: It can be tempting to get aggressive when you're left with a few stubborn bits of residue.)

To pull it off, all you'll need are a few basic tools. The method below involves indirectly heating acetone to remove acrylic nails, which helps speed up the process but requires a degree of patience. ICYDK, acetone is the chemical found in nail polish remover — and although it might be tempting to put it in the microwave to further expedite the process, don't do it. Acetone is flammable, so it shouldn't go near the microwave. If you're already well-versed in taking off gel manicures at home, you'll probably find acrylic removal less scary since the process is similar. (Here's how to remove dip powder nails at home, too.)

Now, if you're feeling ready, here's how to safely remove acrylic nails at home, according to Yankee.

What You Need to Remove Acrylic Nails

Wondering what to use to remove acrylic nails that won't also rip your natural nails right out of their beds? Stock up on the below:

How to Remove Acrylic Nails at Home

Follow this step-by-step process for heating acetone to remove acrylic nails for the most success at home. Oh, and remember, patience is a virtue.

A. Start by cutting off the acrylic nails with a pair of nail tip clippers; make sure to get as close to the real nails as possible without actually snipping them.

B. Using the coarser 100–180 grit side of the dual-sided nail file, file the surface of each nail to create a rough area, which will allow the acetone to better penetrate the acrylics. Move the file across the top of each nail (not as if trying to shorten the length of the nail), filing from side to side.

C. Fill the plastic bags with enough acetone so that nails can completely submerge. Feel free to add pebbles or marbles to each bag, as "they give you something to play with, and that helps knock off the product as well," explains Yankee.

D. Fill the bowls with water, leaving just enough room to place a baggie in each without causing an overflow.

E. Put both bowls of water in a microwave, heating the water "to as warm as you can stand," says Yankee. "I suggest heating it up for maybe one to two minutes, depending on how hot you can stand it," she adds. The hotter the water, the better, as warming the acetone makes it work faster, explains Yankee. But it shouldn't hurt. And remember: do not put acetone in the microwave. The water's temperature will do a good enough job of heating the acetone to remove the acrylic nails.

F. Place each open baggie of acetone gently in each bowl of water. Then, place fingertips inside the baggies, submerging them in the warm water. Allow nails to soak for 10–15 minutes.

G. Once the time is up, remove fingers from the bags and file off any acrylic that's softened at the surface. Start filing side to side with the 100–180 grit nail file, then switch to the 240 grit side when getting closer to the natural nail.

H. Repeat steps C–D as necessary until no residue remains.

I. Wash hands and apply cuticle oil. Acetone is drying, so don't skip this step! (And when you're ready to paint your nails again, here's how to use essential nail grooming tools so that you can give yourself a salon-worthy DIY mani-pedi.)

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