Gel Nail Cleanser Substitute

Gel Nail Cleanser Substitute: 5 Best Alternatives You May Try



15 MIN READ | February 28, 2024

Gel nails can be called the power ranger of manicure as they use special skills to impress the enthusiasts. Skills as in the ability to last longer, be stronger and look polished. But it happens when the mani is done right.

However, sometimes mishap happens and the inconsistency of gel leads to top coat stickiness, even after curing. This can be worked out with a gel nail cleanser which uses its active chemicals to clean the sticky residue but doesn’t mean this is the only thing that can earn that result.

The compounds in gel nail cleanser are the main focus and they are present in other substances as well. For instance, some good Gel Nail Cleanser Substitutes can be rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, hand sanitizers, perfumes and aftershave. 

No matter what you use, make sure to do a patch test to check any skin reactions. 

What Causes Gel Nail To Remain Sticky?

What Causes Gel Nail To Remain Sticky

Uneven application is the prime reason why you find gel polish still sticky after curing since it fails to make the chemicals react with one another and harden the gel. 

Usually, gel nails contain oligomers and photoinitiators. Oligomers help keep the gel thick, soft and gluey whereas photoinitiators react with oligomers and activate the hardening of gel when exposed to UV or LED light.

However, when gel is applied unevenly and super thick, it allows for oxygen in the air to get in between curing light and nail plate that prevents light from penetrating the layers thoroughly which in turn obstructs oligomers to react with photoinitiators causing gel to stay tacky. 

Hence, gel nail cleanser is formulated so it can help get rid of tackiness while keeping the manicure feel clean. 

What Is Gel Nail Cleanser Made Of?

Gel nail cleanser is usually made of isopropyl alcohol, acetone and ethyl acetate which helps remove the tacky dispersion layer left from uncured gel to make the manicure stick-free and keep it shiny. Although the liquid may have other ingredients, those three are the active ones.

The compounds also work to cleanse oil, dirt and other contaminants which means gel nail cleanser can be used for keeping the nail plate clean. Moreover, the product prepares the nail for chip-free manicure as well since it dehydrates the surface through those chemicals so that the gel product adheres well to the nail plate. 

What Can I Use Instead Of Gel Cleanser For Gel Nails?

What Can I Use Instead Of Gel Cleanser For Gel Nails

You can use products that contain isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, acetone and/or methyl isobutyl ketone instead of gel cleanser for gel nails. 

Isopropanol-Based Products

Isopropanol acts as a dissolver which guarantees to break down the chemical bond of gel nail sticky residue so it gets easier to wipe away.

Soft oligomers in gel nails, i.e. the uncured ones tend to dissolve with ease when they come in contact with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) or isopropanol. Such a chemical is mainly found in liquid form with concentration ranging from 40-100%. 

The products that can cleanse uncured gel nail through Isopropanol are-

  • Rubbing alcohol: 50-99% IPA

  • Alcohol wipes: 70-99% IPA

  • Denatured Alcohol: 70-99.9% IPA

  • Hand sanitizers: 60-90% IPA

  • Aftershave lotion: 40-60% IPA

These Isopropanol-Based Products can remove the unreacted gel layer easily from the top coat making them the best gel nail cleanser substitute. Not only are they effective but also very budget-friendly. Alcohol wipes might be pretty pricey but there are other options that will be easy on the wallet.

Although pure form works better, it’s recommended to use the one with 70% Isopropanol as it’s the safer limit. Going beyond the edge can lead to skin irritation and other allergic reactions.

Those wishing to try liquids having 70-99% isopropyl alcohol should make sure they don’t have sensitive skin. It’s better to check the allergic reaction by having a patch test. If it feels irritated, consult a dermatologist and ask for a safer alternative.  

Ethanol-Based Products

Ethanol has dissolving trait that helps disintegrate the uncured oligomers present in gel nails and remove them smoothly from the cured surface.

Gel nails are mainly made of methyl- and ethyl- derivative polymers and experts say that these oligomers can be soluble in ethyl alcohol. Just like Isopropanol, ethyl alcohol (EtOH) comes in liquid form with concentration ranging from 10-100%. However, soft polymers in gel can effectively dissolve in ethanol if it’s between 40% and 100%. 

Some products containing ethyl alcohol which can remove the sticky gel nail include-

  • Denatured Alcohol: 90-99.9% EtOH

  • Rubbing alcohol: 70-99% EtOH

  • Alcohol wipes: 70-99% EtOH

  • Perfumes: 70-90% EtOH

  • Aftershave lotion: 15-80% EtOH

  • Hand sanitizers: 60-85% EtOH

  • Dishwashing Soap: 1-15% EtOH

Since these products have ethanol, they make sure to weaken the sticky gel nail so it can be removed. Pure alcohol surely is more efficient but it can lead to allergic reactions. Hence, it’s suggested to use liquids that have 60-95% ethanol as it’s considered a safe range for the skin. Then again, it’s still better to do a patch test for safety. 

Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover

Non-acetone polish remover is another efficient gel nail cleanser alternative since it works to clean off sticky layers with its active chemical.

The main chemical in non-acetone nail polish remover is ethyl acetate which is known as a stronger solvent even for oligomers in gel nail. So, when it is used over uncured gel, the residues break down to the point where they can be removed.

Such nail polish removers contain 60-81% ethyl acetate which is enough for the sticky substance to weaken. Make sure to use a small amount of the liquid for the job or else it can affect the manicure too, removing some of the shine and color. 

Acetone-Based Products

Unreacted gel residue can be cleaned with products that have acetone. The chemical acts as a solvent which means it works to break down some of the matter and these also include gel layers that couldn’t harden.

However, pure acetone can distort the cured gel mani since it’s quite powerful. So, it’s recommended to use the ones that come mixed with other chemicals and water.

Some acetone based products can be-

  • Nail Polish Remover

  • All-Purpose Cleaners

  • Furniture Polish

MIBK-Based Products

Methyl isobutyl ketone can help clean the residues of unreacted gel nail easily as it’s a kind of solvent. The chemical enables the uncured gel to disintegrate making it easy to wipe off. Many studies have shown the efficiency of this compound when it comes to weakening soft oligomers in gel manicures.

MIBK is used in different products such as-

  • Nail polish remover: Around 50% MIBK

  • Nail correction pen: Around 21% MIBK

  • Denatured Alcohol: 1-4% MIBK

What’s interesting is that Methyl isobutyl ketone occurs naturally in other substances like oranges, grapes and vinegars. So you can give them a try to clean the sticky gel nail residues. However, since the concentration is extremely low, they might not be very effective. In that case, there are other better options like the above products that work really well. 

How Do You Make Gel Cleanser At Home?

Some household products like hand sanitizers, perfumes, disinfectant sprays have the potential to remove tacky residues of gel nail making them ideal to be used as a DIY Gel Nail Cleanser Substitute.

Note that gel nail cleaner can be made at home as well. All it requires is a 3:1 ratio of 100% pure acetone and 75-99% Isopropyl Alcohol that should be poured in an acetone-proof container. The Acetone-Isopropanol mixture can clean the nail effectively after gel manicure so it can be a good DIY nail cleanser. Making such a solution is not only convenient but cost-effective as well.

Just make sure to use an acetone-proof container for storing the mixture. It’s better if the container is made of Teflon-based plastics, glass or metal otherwise acetone can melt some of the plastics. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need Gel Cleanser for Gel Nails?

Yes, gel nail cleanser is needed especially to remove sticky residue that happens when the manicure has uncured areas.

Such a product also helps eliminate the oils and dirt from the surface and prep the nail plate for gel manicure by dehydrating it. 

Can You Use Acetone As A Nail Cleanser?

No, you shouldn’t use high concentration of acetone as a gel nail cleanser since it can weaken the gel manicure as well as dry out the nail plate to the point causing it to become brittle.

It’s recommended to use acetone that’s mixed with other chemicals as it lowers the concentration which helps clean the tackiness without affecting the manicure. An acetone based nail polish remover can be a good gel nail cleanser substitute. 

Can You Remove Gel Nails With Dish Soap?

Yes, dish soap can help remove some of the stickiness from the gel manicure since it contains 1-15% ethyl alcohol- a chemical that does the main job.

Note that dish soap may not work that efficiently because of having lower concentration of alcohol and you may still need a product with more active chemicals that’ll do the job.


Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.

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