Can't swing by the salon? No sweat. Here's exactly how to remove acrylic nails without destorying on your natural nails in the process.

By Renee Cherry
November 16, 2020
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One of the best things about acrylic nails is that they last weeks and can withstand practically anything...all the can opening, dish washing, 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. (Related: The Best Press-On Nails for a Salon-Worthy Mani at Home)

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 treatment while you're there. In the hands of a pro, vs. going the DIY route, you're less likely to harm your real nails. "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." It can also weaken the nail, upping the chance for peeling and breakage. "So it's better to switch to a finer grit nail file as you get closer to the natural nail," adds Yankee. Let's face it: It can be tempting to get aggressive when you're left with a few stubborn bits of residue. (Related: What It Means If You Have Peeling Nails (Plus, How to Fix Them)

Still, the reality is, there will be times when you can't make it to a salon but need to free yourself of those faux nails. That's why you really should learn how to remove acrylic nails at home so it doesn't end in disaster. 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.

To pull it off, you'll just need are a few basic tools. The method below involves heating acetone, the chemical found in nail polish remover, indirectly to help speed up the process. But it still requires a degree of patience. And although it might be tempting to put the acetone in the microwave to further expedite the process, DON'T — acetone is flammable. Got that? Good. 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 remove acrylic nails with that won't rip your natural nails right out of their beds? Stock up on the below:

  • Nail tip clippers
  • Dual-sided nail file with 100 or 180 grit on one side and 240 grit on the other side. (A nail file's grit is a rating of how course it is. The lower the number, the courser the file. The higher the number, the finer the file.)
  • Acetone (Make sure to use pure acetone and not a nail polish remover with other ingredients; you'll need the strength of pure acetone.)
  • 2 resealable plastic sandwich bags
  • 2 microwavable bowls
  • Cuticle oil
Nail Tip Clippers
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Tropical Shine Eco-File
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100% Pure Acetone
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How to Remove Acrylic Nails at Home

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

  1. Begin by cutting off your acrylic nails with the pair of nail tip clippers; make sure to get as close to your real nails as possible without actually snipping them.
  2. 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. You want to move the file across the top of each nail (not as if you're trying to shorten the length of the nail), filing from side to side.
  3. Fill the plastic bags with enough acetone so that you can completely submerge your nails. 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, too," explains Yankee.
  4. Fill the bowls with water, leaving just enough room to place a baggie in each without causing an overflow.
  5. Put both bowls of water in a microwave, heating the H20 "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." The hotter the water, the better, as warming the acetone makes it work faster, she explains. But it shouldn't hurt. And remember: Do not put acetone in the microwave!
  6. Place each open baggie of acetone gently in each warm bowl of water. Then place fingertips inside the baggies, submerging them in the warm water. Allow nails to soak for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Once time's up, remove fingers from 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 as you get closer to the natural nail.
  8. Repeat steps 3-4 as necessary until no residue remains.
  9. Wash hands and apply cuticle oil. Acetone is drying, so you don't want to skip this step. (Fast forward a few weeks and want to paint your nails? Check out this top coat that changed one Shape editor's DIY mani game.)

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