Is Nail Polish Remover Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is a versatile substance that has a very strong smell to it, and that’s somewhat reminiscent of something else: nail polish remover. Over the course of today’s guide, I’m going to take a look at whether or not nail polish remover is made out of rubbing alcohol.

So is nail polish remover rubbing alcohol? While some types of nail polish remover are made using rubbing alcohol, it is not the main ingredient in the solution. Acetone is the most powerful active ingredient in nail polish remover because it’s a more effective solvent than rubbing alcohol (especially ethanol).

Is Nail Polish Remover Rubbing Alcohol?

Keep in mind that the answer is a little more nuanced than this, and you can potentially use rubbing alcohol as nail polish remover in a pinch, provided you have the right kind. I’ll discuss how you can use rubbing alcohol to create a DIY nail polish remover and also go over the role that nail polish remover plays in store-bought nail polish removers.

Is Nail Polish Remover Rubbing Alcohol?

Here are some of the most common ingredients in nail polish removers:

  • Acetone
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Isopropyl alcohol

As you can see, two out of the three ingredients are some form of alcohol, and one of them (isopropyl alcohol) is a type of rubbing alcohol

The other one, ethyl acetate, is an ester created from acetic acid (the active ingredient in vinegar) and ethanol, which is drinking alcohol. Esters are created through a chemical reaction between alcohol and an acid.

In spite of so many ingredients in nail polish remover being rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based, nail polish remover is notrubbing alcohol. This is because the most powerful ingredient in nail polish remover is acetone, which is not a form of rubbing alcohol, despite its similar funky smell.

Instead of being a form of alcohol, acetone is a ketone, and it is a much more effective solvent than rubbing alcohol. Since rubbing alcohol isn’t that effective at breaking down plastics and acrylics, acetone is used as a solvent to help break down the molecular bonds between the materials that are used to get rubbing alcohol to stick to your nails.

What this boils down to is that you can use pure acetone to remove nail polish from your nails, but it will be a lot more difficult to do so if you’re just using rubbing alcohol.

Can Rubbing Alcohol Be Used as Nail Polish Remover?

If you can’t get your hands on acetone and you don’t have any nail polish remover in the house, you may be wondering whether or not you can reach for the bottle of rubbing alcohol to clean off your nails.

Whether or not this is possible depends on the kind of rubbing alcohol that you have in your cabinet. Ethanol, which is the more common type of rubbing alcohol, is much less effective at breaking the molecular bonds that keep the nail polish together because it’s a less effective solvent.

Isopropyl alcohol, on the other hand, is an effective solvent that can break down grease and resin, which is why it’s frequently used for deep-cleaning applications.

If you have a bottle of iso rubbing alcohol and no nail polish remover, you can use it in a pinch to remove nail polish, but keep in mind that it will take a lot more effort than acetone.

Since isopropyl is a less effective solvent, it will have to be reapplied a few times until it can wear away the nail polish. In practical terms, this means that it will take longer to remove your nail polish, and you may get a little bored while you’re whittling away at it, but it will eventually work.

Even if you don’t have rubbing alcohol available, you can use alcohol-based products to remove nail polish remover. Especially effective alternatives include sanitizing wipes, as they will make it easier to rub the alcohol into your nails and remove it since friction works to your advantage.

While we’ve already mentioned how ethanol is less effective than isopropyl, you can even use high-strength drinking liquors to remove rubbing alcohol. If you soak your nails in something like vodka for about 15 minutes, you’ll soon be able to peel away the nail polish manually.

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Other Substances That Can Be Used as Nail Polish Remover

Here are some of the other things that you can use to remove nail polish if you don’t have any rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover in the house:

  • White vinegar and lemon juice
  • Toothpaste
  • Hydrogen peroxide and hot water

White Vinegar and Lemon Juice

One of the most common homemade nail polish remover recipes consists of just white vinegar or a mix of white vinegar and lemon juice.

When using white vinegar alone to clear the nail polish off of your nails, you’re relying on the acetic acid in the vinegar to break down the nail polish for easier removal.

Mixing a bit of lemon juice into the white vinegar adds citric acid, which is another effective cleaner and improves the effectiveness of your nail polish remover solution.

When using this solution, you should soak your fingernails for about fifteen minutes before using a cotton pad to rub the nail polish away.


Baking soda-based toothpaste is often the best option, but regular toothpaste should also do the trick when you’re looking to remove nail polish from your fingers. Toothpaste also has the advantage of being easier to use than the other solutions, as you won’t have to soak your fingers in it.

Apply a little bit of toothpaste to the nail that you’d like to clean off and then use either a cotton pad, a toothbrush, or even a paper towel to abrade away the nail polish.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Hot Water

Mix hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hot water at a 2:1 ratio and soak your nails in the mix for about ten minutes. Use a cotton pad to work the nail polish away and then use a nail file to remove any stubborn layers of nail polish that remain. This is not as effective as other homemade methods, but it still works.