The Great Lie: Gel Nail Cleanser

The Great Lie: Gel Nail Cleanser

This is a legacy post that I’ve given a facelift because who doesn’t want to save money on manicure supplies? Opinions are the same, but is formatted and edited for easier reading and flow.

If you’ve ever gotten a gel polish manicure before, either salon or DIY, you know the final step consists of saturating a pad with gel nail cleanser and wiping off the tacky residue from the newly-cured nail surface. If you’ve done it in a salon, it might be in a nondescript bottle just like the lotions or scrubs may be. At home, it might be part of your gel starter kit. This is often the same solution used to clean the nail before the gel primer is applied.

Beyond the Starter Kit

Eventually, you’ll run out of supplies in your starter kit. For me, the first thing to go was the gel nail cleanser from my Sensationail starter kit (which I am a big fan of and highly recommend), and it happened in the middle of cleaning up. I looked at the ingredients and found that it was just a solution of isopropyl alcohol and acetone. Cool!

I had isopropyl alcohol (91%) in my bathroom, I’ll grab it. I did, it worked, my manicure was awesome and was unaffected. It was shiny, wore beautifully, and was everything it should have been. This wasn’t even an instance of, “let me find a thrifty solution,” so much as, “Oh darn, I’m mid-manicure and can’t finish.”

Called Out

For a while, I saw a handful of posts on various gel brands’ Facebook pages complaining of application issues that were ultimately user error due to lack of thorough cleaning of the nail plate before application. Some admitted to simply using isopropyl alcohol and or acetone. The brands uniformly cried out, “NO! Don’t do it! You’ll ruin your mani and be sad forever.”

One brand (and I will not call them out because I love their products) even suggested that acetone was an oil-based product that would leave residue that was the cause. I couldn’t help it, I called them out on that. Whoever was working the Social Media Machine that day needed to be schooled.

In all Fairness

That said, it is of course understandable that a brand wants to promote their product. I won’t say they’re bad because of that – they aren’t. They’re out to make money, and I won’t begrudge them of that, but I won’t be happy (and you shouldn’t, either) when they make ridiculous claims that are (easily!) verifiably false. It is silly to say the two primary ingredients of your product are the ones causing the issue.

Instead, they could say, “We developed the application product with <insert branded gel cleanser here> and suggest using it for best results. We haven’t verified other methods.”

The Bottom Line

When you run out of your gel nail cleanser, do yourself a favor: don’t bother with the expensive branded options that have dye in them to make them look, “prettier.” Buy some isopropyl alcohol unless you want to support a specific brand. My local Walgreens, for example, carries 32fl oz of 91% Isopropyl Alcohol for roughly $3-4. My favorite method is to buy alcohol prep swipes.

33 thoughts on “The Great Lie: Gel Nail Cleanser”

  1. I just bought some gel nail polish & led lamp, forgot to buy the Isopropyl cleanser that the brand sells, this article was very helpful, thank you :)

  2. I have the same starter kit and I’m almost out of cleanser as well! I figured I could use rubbing alcohol, but what about the lint free wipes? I would imagine that using a regular tissue to wipe off the liquid layer when done would cause there to be lint all over the finished manicure. Do you suggest buying more lint free wipes? What did you use when you ran out of the wipes (if you have yet)?
    Thanks in advance!

    • I use Swisspers cotton pads because one side of them is textured and doesn’t leave any cotton behind. A regular tissue should be fine provided you saturate it well enough. Alternatively, you can buy lint free wipes on Amazon. I haven’t tried those yet, but I’d be willing to.

    • It should, yes, but I’m not sure if you will need to scrub longer. Try it and let me know!

    • Thanks for the tip! I used 50% isopropyl alcohol. Its all I had. Yes, you do have to work a little harder, but it works fine.

  3. Starbucks napkins are great for replacing the lint free wipes! I just grab a stack when I stop by.

    • That’s a great tip – their napkins are pretty free of debris now that I think of it. I don’t want to take a bunch and piss off my baristas though. :)

  4. I had to use a 60% alcohol spray hand sanitizer once, and was surprisingly happy with the result

    • Yeah, alcohol works great. It blows my mind that companies are really charging through the nose for what is basically alcohol or alcohol and acetone.

  5. Can you just use Acetone? Nail polish remover? Or I have tendskin that the first ingredient is isopropyl alcohol.. trying to avoid a trip to the store!

    • You can use acetone, but make sure it is just acetone – and also be sure not to linger on the nail plate. A quick swipe will do, otherwise you risk compromising the integrity of the top coat.

      I would NOT use Tend Skin. For one, Tend Skin has other things in it. Two, Tend Skin is expensive; you can get a bottle of isopropyl alcohol at a drugstore for a dollar.

  6. Thanks for the tip! I did the same thing. Did my manicure then realized I was out of cleanser. Was about to jump in my car and go get some and decided to look it up first. Had a huge bottle of alcohol in my cupboard and it did the trick! Thanks!!

  7. Our local Big Lots usually has the individual alcohol wipes in the first aid section. One wipe will do both hands. Plus since they are individually wrapped, it’s easy to store in my nail caddy.

  8. Just a question, I have nail prep, residue remover and pure acetone on my line up when I do a gel mani, but after reading quite a lot it looks like both nail prep and residue remover are the same thing I just have two different makes one clear and one blue saying different things can anyone give me any info


    • In most cases, the products are the same or similar enough. In my Sensationail kit, it is one product. Some brands market them as two unique products; it’s an opportunity to make more money.

  9. THANK YOU! I also have (and love) the Sensationail starter kit, and found that the gel cleanser goes way too quickly. I wanted to try 91% alcohol but was afraid of having wasted a manicure. Excited to use it next time with confidence!

    • You’re welcome! I just wasn’t willing to pay for it. I sometimes use the pre-moistened, single-use alcohol prep pads that are usually marketed for first aid or diabetic prep. They’re lint-free, too, so they’re perfect for this purpose.

  10. I came across this blog mid-manicure after finding out my gel cleanser had run out, lol. I also didn’t have any isopropyl alcohol, so I just used the first thing I could find that had alcohol in it… It was Listerine mouthwash (first ingredient water, second alcohol). It worked just fine actually! So I guess anything with alcohol in it will work. Plus my hands smell minty fresh now, lol!

    • I sometimes experience this – but the shine returns. If the shine doesn’t return, then perhaps your top coat needs to be cured longer next time.

      • I’d start with an additional 30 seconds longer than you are curing now, but fortunately I’m not equipped to give you 100%, sure-fire response. Each brand of gel has different guidelines for instance, China Glaze Gelaze has a shorter cure time than OPI Gelcolor. The type and wattage of your lamp also plays a part in how long you should be curing.

  11. I was unaware of the gel cleanser before I started. I had 91% alcohol but no lint free wipes. I continued to keep reading responses and luckily I did have a box of the individual wrapped 70% alcohol pads :) They worked perfectly..only used one for both hands

  12. Brand new to doing my nails this way and am just purchasing my start up items. Can you clarify- I can use the isopropyl alcohol for my initial nail cleaning before base coat as well as to remove the tacky residue at the end?

  13. Can I use methylated spirit (surgical spirit) for the initial nail cleansing? That’s a type of alcohol and I have some in the cupboard.

    • I’m not sure how the ethanol content would impact application or longevity; I haven’t tested it.

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