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How To Clean Stained Gel Nails [The Easy, Simple Fixes]

Gel nails are ideal. Whether you get them done at the salon or at home for a bit of fun. They’re generally long-lasting and are hardy enough for everyday use in most cases. But that doesn’t mean that they’re foolproof. Sometimes, gel nails can lose their luster before their time. They’ll become dingy, discolored, and marred. Luckily, there are ways to fix it! 

So, how do you clean stained gel nails? There are multiple ways to clean stained gel nails. The most recommended way is to soak the nail(s) in a solution of lemon juice, baking soda, and water before buffing the stain(s) away. Using tea tree oil, applying hairspray, and/or removing the gel entirely are other options to try. 

They’re not all easy, nor desirable – but there’s something that will work for everyone!

Today, we are going to be walking through all of your different options.

Including how to do them if you were to feel inclined.

So stick around – it could just mean saving your latest gel mani, after all!

How Do You Remove Stains From Gel Nails?

There are many ways to remove stains from gel nails. You can soak your nail in lemon juice, baking soda, and water, then buff away the stain. For fresh stains, nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol might work. For older, more stubborn stains, you can use hair spray. None of that working? Try the salon! They can assist in the removal of a stain. If push comes to shove, removal of the gel is always an option.

So, you have a stained gel nail. What do you do now? Well, that depends on a lot of things. How old is it? And how rough are you willing to get?

With A Natural Cleaning Solution

A good general stain-removal method is using water, lemon juice, and baking soda. 

In this case, the baking soda and lemon juice help to remove discoloration and stains. 

Lemon juice is a natural whitener, so it’s a good choice for yellow stains!

Start by taking the juice from half a lemon, 1 tbsp of baking soda, and 1 cup of water. 

Mix these ingredients together in a bowl big enough to comfortably soak your nail or nails in. 

Let your nails soak for 15 minutes, up to 20 minutes, and then rinse in fresh water. 

With a high-grit buffer, remove the top layer of your gel if that’s what is stained. 

You should be able to see the color return to normal. 

Afterward, follow up with your standard topcoat for shine and protection.

To keep your manicure looking nice, apply a topcoat regularly. 

Note: this isn’t the right removal option if you’ve already buffed away a layer of gel!

Using Rubbing Alcohol Or Nail Polish Remover

For marks on your nails, not just discoloration of the entire nail, you can try spot-cleaning. 

This can save your nail when only part of it is the problem.

Is the stain new or not particularly set-in yet?

Then you can probably use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. 

Dip a cotton ball or swab in the remover or alcohol, and gently wipe at the mark. 

It shouldn’t take much effort, so don’t force it. If you can’t remove it with this step, move on to the next one.

With Hairspray

For older stains or those that have proven too stubborn for alcohol or nail polish remover, you can use hairspray. 

Lay down a towel to protect the work surface, and rest your hand on top of it. 

Take your hairspray and spray over the nail until the nail appears to be wet. 

It might take a bit. 

Then, using a cotton swab, wipe away the stain. 

Again, this shouldn’t require any elbow grease. 

After the stain is gone, wash your hands to get the hairspray off. Be careful with the towel afterward: 

Hairspray is flammable!

Don’t mind a slower fix? Try soaking your nails in a mixture of water and tea tree oil. 

The ratio is one regular-sized bowl of water (big enough to soak a hand in) and 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil. 

Allow to soak for 5 minutes, then wash your hands. 

Do this daily for the best results. You can do this for several days in a row.

Nothing working? Then you have two choices: go back to your salon or remove the gel nail and try to salvage the manicure.

Removing A Gel Nail

Buff the sheen from your nails. Soak cotton balls in acetone, and place over nail. Wrap with a square of aluminum foil. Let sit 10-15 minutes. Remove foil, and push the remaining gel off of the nail gently.

Sometimes, there’s nothing left to do but remove the gel and start over again. 

It isn’t the easiest solution, but it is the surest way of removing a stain. 

For those who get their nails done at salons, removal may be a bit tricky. 

It’s certainly more complicated than removing traditional polish.

However, you likely already have everything that you need at home. 

Still worried? Head to a salon, and let the professionals do the job for you.

Start by preparing your work area. 

Lay down a towel, to catch any mess. Cut out ten squares of aluminum foil. 

These squares should be big enough to hold the cotton ball in place over your nail later. 

2 inches by 4 inches is good. 

Bring out your nail file, nail polish remover, cotton balls, and a wooden cuticle pusher or two. 

A timer is good to have on hand for this.

File away the top layer of your gel. 

The glossy look should be removed completely; this will help the acetone soak into the gel in later steps. 

Be as gentle as you can while also using enough force to remove the top layer. 

It’s a crucial step that you cannot skip if you want to continue the process.

For this step, you’ll want to work one nail at a time. 

Soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover, then place over the nail. 

Make sure that it’s in firm contact with the entire nail, so that the remover can do its job. 

Then, wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil, to hold it in place. 

Repeat with your other fingers, if necessary. It’s obviously better to work one hand at a time.

After waiting 10 to 15 minutes, you should be able to remove your gel. 

Take off the foil and cotton balls, and grab your wooden cuticle pusher, or something similar. 

Being very careful, push away any of the gel that didn’t come off with the cotton ball.

What Causes Gel Nails To Stain?

Gel nails can be stained or discolored by a lot of things. These include exposure to chemicals, exposure to spices or dyes, and smoking. Fungal infections and bad products can cause the faded, discolored look you’re trying to avoid. Over-curing and too much exposure to UV light can also leave gel nails yellowed.

So, now that the problem has been fixed, what causes it, exactly? 

The answer is more varied than you’d likely expect it to be. 

It can be a fluke, a medical condition, a side effect of your lifestyle, and everything between.

The first chance your nails have to become stained is before you’ve even begun the process. 

Using bad products, either low-quality or expired, can lead to discoloration. 

This is true even if you don’t see a difference at first. 

Always go for the best quality you can get, and make sure it’s not gone bad. 

Your own body could be causing the discoloration, too: don’t go for a manicure or pedicure if you think you might have a fungal infection of the nails. 

It will be money wasted. 

Lastly, if you do your nails at home, be careful while you cure the gel. 

Don’t overdo it; it can cause yellowing.

Sometimes, your own actions may be to blame. 

Discoloration is often the result of smoking, exposing your gel nails to harsh chemicals, or using products with strong dyes and coloring, such as spices, self-tanner, and makeup. 

Even natural products, such as turmeric, can cause issues if it comes into contact with your nails. 

Any of these can cause staining and discoloration, so try to avoid them. If that’s not possible, do the second-best thing: always wear gloves. 

Yes, if you’re a smoker, that means slipping on a pair of gloves every time you take a smoke break. 

It might be a hassle, but it will keep your nails looking their best.

Tips To Stop Gel Nails From Staining

Make sure that you have no fungal infections or medical issues before getting your nails done. Always choose high-quality products that aren’t expired. Don’t over-cure your gel once it’s applied. Avoid exposing your nails to any strong chemicals, brightly-colored dyes, bright spices, makeup, or other products.

The simplest answer? Start with the best product and health, then protect, protect, protect!

Fungal infections can cause discoloration, no matter what the product is.

There are a few less common health conditions that can do this, too.

If you suspect that you might have one of these, don’t get your nails done until you’ve dealt with the problem. 

Then, before you begin, you’ll want to be sure that you’re not using bad product. 

Remember: it should be high-quality and shouldn’t be expired. 

Look for signs of expiration, such as a strong smell, separation in the bottle, or discolored bits before application. 

And don’t over-cure, or you may find yourself with yellowed nails!

Worried about your nails after they’ve been done? Don’t worry, there’s a way to protect them! 

It’s actually simple, too, though many skip this important step: avoid things that may cause discoloration. 

This includes strong chemicals, such as cleaning products or cigarettes, as well as beauty products, like hair dye, self-tanner, or makeup. 

You can even ruin your nails with certain spices, like turmeric. 

To avoid staining your nails, you should try to keep away from these things. 

But that isn’t always possible. 

If you can’t avoid them, wear a pair of gloves when exposed.


Gel nails can stain for all sorts of different reasons.

Its frustrating for sure, but thankfully there are several things you can do.

A lot of them can be done from the comfort of your own home, with some inexpensive items you will probably have already lying around the house.

In more severe cases however, you may need to revisit the salon.

But do not worry.

For the most part stained gel nails are fixable.

Usually, you can get your beautiful gels back, and your nails looking at their best, in no time at all.