Nail Primer Substitute


Nail Primer Substitute [Things You Can Use As An Alternative]



11 MIN READ | February 1, 2024

If you want your manicure to last long, you need to ensure proper nail prep. That’s where nail primer comes in. It creates the ideal base for your gel or acrylic manicure by removing oils and debris so the polish can adhere strongly. A high-end salon-quality primer can make this job a whole lot easier, but it can be costly as well.

Fortunately, with the right ingredients and technique, it is possible to substitute DIY nail primers and achieve a quality finish at the same time. You may think about what can i use instead of nail primer. In this article, we will cover different types of nail primer alternatives, and how to apply them properly to achieve a great finish. 

Different Types of Primers

There are mainly two types of primers. Acid primers and acid-free primers. Do note that the acid-free primers too contain acid, but of a different sort. Therefore, they do not cause the irritation that acid primers are known to cause. They sort of act like adhesive that stays sticky for a few minutes after application. This allows better gel and acrylic adhesion.

Acid primers, on the other hand, are meant for cleaning the nail plates. It gets rid of the oil that might interfere with the adherence otherwise. It does not remain sticky like the acid-free primer but rather is used to get a dry finish that’s easier to work with.

Now it’s worth noting that while you can replicate the effects of acid-based primers with homemade substitutes, you cannot do the same for acid-free primers.

Can You Do Your Nails Without Primer?

We wouldn’t advise skipping on the primer altogether. Because, it will result in chips, cracks, and peeling after just a few days of wear. Using a primer ensures the following:

  • Longer wear time – Up to 1-2 weeks without chips or cracks
  • Prevents staining and yellowing of nails
  • Reduces the chance of polish peeling or lifting
  • Fills in ridges and evens out textures for a flawless finish

However, if you cannot obtain one, or are in a hurry, there are a few common items that you can use for nail primer.

Things You Can Use as Primer Substitute

To substitute nail primers, you can use two of the most common ingredients that are used in commercial nail primers. They are isopropyl alcohol and acetone. However, if you cannot source acetone, you can make do with white vinegar or lemon juice as well.

1. Alcohol

Most nail primers have a small amount of alcohol. You can use it too, to prime your nails. However, it’s worth noting that the lower the amount of water in the alcohol, the better. That’s why, we recommend you use isopropyl alcohol instead of rubbing alcohol.

How it works: Alcohol is used in commercial nail primers to disinfect the nails. It kills the germs and bacteria on your nail surface. It also removes some of the oils and debris and preps for thorough cleaning with acetone.

2. Acetone

Acetone is a colorless liquid that you can buy separately as a nail dehydrator. You can also find it in nail polish, paint, or varnish remover. 

How it works: Acetone is an excellent solvent. That means, it mixes with water very well and evaporates quickly. That’s why, acetone is used in nail primers to break down the oily layer and moisture on your nails and evaporate it.

3. White Vinegar/ Orange Juice

Both white vinegar and orange juice have high acidity levels. That means you can use them instead of acetone if you don’t have it handy. For better results, you can also mix equal parts white vinegar and natural orange juice.

How it works: Although not as effective as acetone, white vinegar, and orange juice, due to their acidic property, can help remove oil and other debris from your nails. The only downside is that you might need multiple applications for proper cleaning.

How to Make a Homemade Nail Primer Substitute?

You can make a full-fledged substitute for nail primer at home with just two ingredients. They are isopropyl alcohol and acetone. With the proper mixture, these two can clean your nails perfectly off of oil and moisture to allow for perfect polish every time.

Just mix equal parts acetone and isopropyl alcohol and save the mix in an airtight bottle. However, if you don’t have these two ingredients handy, you can also use equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Again, mix and store, and use with a cotton ball or a dry polish brush.

We recommend using a polish brush if you have one handy since a cotton ball can leave some residue.

How to Use Your Homemade Nail Primer?

Now that you know how to make a DIY homemade nail primer, let’s take a look at how to use it.

  1. First, apply a coat of the homemade nail primer onto the nails using a cotton ball or nail polish brush
  2. After thorough and proper application, let it dry completely
  3. Finally, start applying the nail polish

Alternatively, if you haven’t prepared the alcohol and acetone mix, you can apply them separately.

  1. Apply a coat of isopropyl alcohol onto the nails and let it dry completely
  2. Next, apply acetone and let it dry as well
  3. When everything is all dried up, start applying your nail polish.

Safety Tip: Both isopropyl alcohol and acetone are highly flammable and not suitable for consumption. Keep it away from children and pets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you forget nail primer?

You can apply a fast-drying base coat or sticky top coat to help adhere polish layers. Without a primer, the manicure just won’t last as long.

What is the difference between a base and a primer?

Base coats provide a smooth foundation and help polish bond to the nails. Primers chemically etch the nails for tighter bonding. For best results, you can use both.

Do you put primer under UV light?

No. you should air-dry nail primers. Only gel polish requires UV ligaht to set.


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.

Scroll to Top