Wondering how to take off acrylic nails yourself?
Old acrylics are likely to crack and lift from your natural nails, which can cause damage. You could opt to go to a salon and have a nail tech remove your nails, but if you don’t have the time or want to save some money you can remove acrylics yourself.
Luckily acrylics are easy to remove so long as you know what you’re doing. I’ve been doing my own acrylic nails at home for years, and in this article, I’ll detail several ways you can remove your acrylics at home.
To do this, you’ll need to prep your nails and use an acetone soak. There are other ways to remove acrylics without acetone, such as using an electric nail file or cuticle oil.
I’ll cover the conventional method of filing and acetone and several acetone-free methods. Finally, I’ll review how to care for your nails after removing your acrylics.
If you’re interested in learning how to take off acrylics, keep reading because here’s what I’ll cover in-depth:
- What you need to move your acrylic nails
- How to prep your nails for removal
- How to remove acrylics without acetone
- How to take off acrylic nails with acetone
- How to care for your nails after removing acrylic
Can I remove my acrylic nails myself?
You certainly can! In most cases, you don’t even need fancy products or tools to remove your acrylics. A nail file and some acetone should do the trick.
What you’ll need to remove acrylic nails at home
Here’s how to remove acrylic nails at home using a simple set of supplies you probably already have at home.
- nail clipper
- acetone, or acetone-free nail polish remover
- cotton balls
- tin foil
- cuticle oil
Those you don’t already have these three items, they should be pretty easy to find at your nearest drug store.
If you use an acetone method, you will need acetone (an acetone-based nail polish remover will also work), cotton balls, and tin foil.
If you’re not using the acetone method, you will need the materials your chosen method calls for. These materials could be an acetone-free nail polish remover, warm water, cuticle oil, or olive oil.
Finally, I recommend getting some cuticle oil for daily nail health and maintenance.
Pro tip: You will need at least one manual file, but having an electric nail file does make the process a lot quicker!
Prepping your nails
Now that you have all your materials, it’s time to prep your nails for acrylic removal. There are two main steps for this, cutting and filing.
Cut down your acrylics as much as possible
The first step will be to cut your acrylics to remove as much length as possible. This step is primarily up to you. You could cut your nails all the way back or cut to wherever the natural length is beneath the acrylic.
Cutting the acrylics first makes it easier to remove the rest as there will be less to file, and the raw cut edge gives acetone more availability to sink into the acrylics.
Pro tip: The trick to cutting down your acrylics without splitting your nail in half is to cut the outside edges of your nail first so that you end up with a straight line across the top of your nail.
File off your acrylic nails
The final step in prepping your nails is filing off as much of the old acrylic as possible. If you’re using a manual file, put on your favorite show or movie first, as this may take a while!
You can use an electric file to make it faster, but that’s optional and only recommended for those with previous experience.
Pro tip: The goal here isn’t to remove the acrylics completely. You don’t want to be filing directly on your natural nail bed. You simply want to make the acrylics thin enough that you start to see the natural nail beneath.
How to take off acrylic nails without acetone
Now that your nails are prepped, it’s time to finish removing them. First, I’ll go over four methods that you can use to remove the remaining acrylic without acetone.
Method #1: Soak your nails in acetone-free nail polish remover
Acetone-free nail polish remover works the same as acetone, except without the drying effects on your nails and skin. This option is my favorite because it’s effective, cost-efficient, and doesn’t damage my natural nails.
Acetone-free nail polish remover, unfortunately, isn’t quite as strong as pure acetone, so it will take longer for the nails to soften enough to come off.
Method #2: Soak your nails in warm soapy water and oil
TikTok makes it seem like soaking your nails in warm water, dish soap, and oil is all you need to soften your acrylics enough to pop them off.
In fact, this is NOT a healthy or safe removal option for acrylics. Why? Because you are causing tearing and damage to your natural nail plate with could take weeks to heal.
The warm water causes the natural nail underneath to soak up moisture and soften, making your natural nail more flexible. When you hook a metal cuticle pusher under a free edge it feels like there’s more movement between the natural nail and acrylic. That’s because there is but it doesn’t mean you can pop off your acrylics without damaging your nail plate.
Though this method MIGHT work if your nails are already lifting, please skip it.
So no, just no to this “method.”
Method #3: Try cuticle oil or olive oil
Oils usually cause artificial nails to release over time, plus they have wonderfully moisturizing effects for your cuticles.
You could try brushing on a generous amount of cuticle oil or soaking your nails in a small amount of olive oil to encourage the acrylics to lift away from your nails.
If you regularly apply cuticle oil, you may notice your acrylics starting to lift well before three weeks are up.
However, this is not an effective method to remove acrylics.
Who has weeks to wait patiently while applying cuticle oil three times a day while waiting for our nails to come off?
Method #4: Use an electric nail file
If you’re extremely careful or already experienced, you could use an electric file to remove the acrylics in their entirety. Electric files usually have lots of interchangeable tips to get all the tiny nooks and crannies.
I don’t recommend this method unless you’re already very comfortable using an electric nail file. You want to avoid filing your natural nail bed as much as possible.
How to take off acrylic nails with acetone (using cotton balls and aluminum foil)
The most tried & true method used to remove acrylic nails is acetone. Combining acetone with cotton balls and tin foil is done by professional nail techs the world over.
This technique is super easy and extremely effective. All you need is some acetone (100% acetone is best, but you could also use an acetone-based nail polish remover), cotton balls, and aluminum foil. You’ll typically apply these one finger at a time.
Follow these steps for an effective removal:
- Tear off ten small pieces of aluminum foil. Make these foil squares just big enough to wrap around a fingertip. A 2×2 inch square is plenty.
- Soak a cotton ball in acetone. If you’re sensitive to acetone, you don’t need to completely soak the ball. Just have enough so that the entire surface of your nail will have acetone contacting it.
- Place the cotton ball on your nail with the acetone-soaked side against your nail.
- Wrap your nail and the cotton ball in one of the pieces of aluminum foil.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 until all your nails are wrapped.
From here, you simply wait. I generally recommend anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for the acetone to do its job. After that, you can slide off the cotton ball and aluminum foil.
A lot of the remaining acrylic will likely come off with the cotton ball. Whatever is left behind, you can scrape away gently. Alternatively, you can use a nail buffer to remove any stubborn acrylics.
Ways to speed up the process
As an extra tip, you could try heating the acetone a little first. You do this by pouring the acetone into a small bowl and placing that bowl in a slightly larger bowl of hot water. The heat speeds up the removal process.
But NEVER try to heat acetone on the stove or microwave, as it’s extremely flammable!
If you have trouble with the cotton balls and foil (it can be incredibly awkward to do those last couple of fingers), you could call in a friend to help you. Alternatively, you could soak your nails directly in a small bowl of acetone.
However, this is a massive waste of acetone, and it’s not quite as effective as wrapping your fingers in aluminum foil. This ineffectiveness is because heat helps to speed up the removal process, and the foil helps to trap that heat.
If you have dry cuticles already and don’t want to risk further drying them out from the acetone, you can coat your fingertips with a little petroleum jelly. Acetone can dry out your nail bed, cuticles, and skin.
Pro tip: Acetone can also cause redness and irritation if left exposed for too long so do not let your nails soak in acetone for longer than 30 minutes!
How to care for your nails after removing your acrylics
Now that your acrylics are off, you’ll want to care for your hands and nails to keep them healthy.
The first thing you’ll want to do the moment you remove your nails is to apply a high-quality hand lotion and cuticle oil. If you use acetone, your nails and hands may be very dry and are desperate for moisture.
If you have a lot of damage to your natural nail bed, I also recommend a nail strengthener and perhaps a nail polish top coat to protect your nails while they’re rebuilding.
Keep your nails short
Another of my top tips is to keep your natural nails short.
Short nails have less chance of catching and breaking. If you have naturally long nails, you run the risk of causing serious damage to your nails if they happen to get caught in anything or cracked.
Apply a nail strengthener and a cuticle cream daily
Healthy cuticles mean healthy nails. If you use acetone, it can be incredibly drying, and your nails will need moisture before you consider acrylics again. A gentle cuticle cream or even a cuticle oil as part of your daily routine will help keep your nails and cuticles moisturized and strong.
A nail strengthener will brush on like nail polish and will help repair any damage your acrylics left behind. They will also rebuild weak nails and make them generally healthier looking.
Take a break from getting acrylic nails
Acrylic nails can cause quite a bit of damage to the nail bed if they reapply again and again without any breaks in between. I recommend taking a couple of months off from acrylics to give your natural nails time to repair any damage and strengthen once again.
When I’m taking a break from acrylics, I like applying a clear coat to my nails occasionally. While your nails are still weakened, a clear coat will help protect them and minimize the look of damage while they repair.
Frequently asked questions
Now that you know how to take off acrylic nails, you may have a few more questions.
How long does it take to remove acrylic nails?
Whether you’re at your favorite nail tech or at home, removing acrylic nails should take around 30 minutes to 45 minutes.
Does taking off acrylic nails hurt?
No, acrylic removal shouldn’t hurt. But the process can hurt if you don’t prep your nails correctly or if you use force to remove the acrylics.
If you are using an electric nail file to file down your acrylics and your nail bed starts to feel warm, stop immediately. You are probably damaging your nail bed and need to switch to a manual nail file to complete the removal process.
Please, do not use force to remove your acrylics. You want to do everything you can to avoid damaging your nail plate.
Takeaways on how to take off acrylic nails
Removing acrylic nails at home is super easy, and you likely have everything you need at home. Just to recap:
- Start by cutting off any excess length.
- File down the tops of the acrylics just before you reach the nail bed.
- Use your removal method of choice to remove the rest of the acrylics.
- Gently scrape or buff away any acrylic still clinging to your nail.
- Follow up with moisturizer and cuticle oil.
If you follow these steps, you’ll have healthy natural nails all ready for new acrylics or even to take a break for a while. And now that you know how to remove acrylic nails, you could start looking into how to do acrylic nails at home!
Check out our other articles for more information on manicures and other techniques you can try at home!
Kim is an expert, with over 7 years in the nail art and makeup industry. She is an avid DIY nail artist and now contributing writer at BeautyStack.