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The 7 Best Substitutes for Acetone

Acetone is one of the most common chemicals to run out of. The good news is that there are several products that either have a similar chemical composition or will still do many of the jobs that acetone is used for.

Rubbing alcohol-based products are often the best substitutes for acetone. These products include pure rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, deodorant, and hairspray. You can also use toothpaste or hydrogen peroxide-hot water solution instead of acetone. 

This article will cover the 7 best products you can use instead of acetone. I’ll also explain why alcohol is a good acetone substitute, which common household items contain acetone, and whether or not you can make acetone at home.

1. Pure Rubbing Alcohol May Substitute for Acetone

Acetone and isopropyl alcohol (the main ingredient in rubbing alcohol) have similar chemical compositions. Acetone’s molecular formula is C3H6O, while isopropyl alcohol’s formula is C3H8O. They’re oxygenated solvents containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. 

The process of removing something simple like nail polish with rubbing alcohol is straightforward. This process will work for other jobs as well. All you have to do is:

  1. Take a cotton ball (or a soft, absorbent cloth if you don’t have a cotton ball).
  2. Soak the item you’ll use to wipe in rubbing alcohol.
  3. Gently rub the soaked item over the nail polish.
  4. Wait at least 10 seconds.
  5. Rub a different cotton ball or cloth over the nail polish. 
  6. If the nail polish doesn’t come off the first time, rinse and repeat.  

Note that rubbing alcohol (and any product with it) doesn’t dissolve nail polish as quickly as acetone does. You may have to wipe your fingernails a few times before removing all the nail polish. 

Also, too much rubbing alcohol can dry out your skin. If you experience dryness or irritation, stop using the alcohol immediately and apply the best moisturizer you have. 

2. Hand Sanitizer Can Remove Nail Polish if It’s Alcohol-Based

Bottle of Hand Sanitizer Held in a Hand

If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, you can also use hand sanitizer — as long as it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand sanitizers with “alcohol” on the label usually contain ethanol (a.k.a. ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol (a.k.a. isopropanol or 2-propanol). Ethyl alcohol’s molecular formula is C2H6O, making it an oxygenated solvent similar to acetone. 

If your hand sanitizer doesn’t have alcohol, it may not work as well as alcohol-based sanitizers for removing nail polish. 

To remove nail polish with hand sanitizer:

  1. Spritz the hand sanitizer over your nails.
  2. Wipe your nails gently with a cotton ball or soft, absorbent cloth.
  3. Count to 10.
  4. Wipe your nails using a new cotton ball or cloth.
  5. Repeat until all the nail polish comes off.

Since hand sanitizer contains alcohol, it can dry out your hands. Make sure you apply moisturizer after using hand sanitizer. 

3. Deodorant Contains Ethyl Alcohol, an Oxygenated Solvent

Generic Pink Roll On Deoderant

Many deodorants have ethyl alcohol as their active ingredient. I’ve already shown how acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and ethyl alcohol have similar molecular structures.

If you’re using deodorant to remove nail polish, use it the same way you’d use hand sanitizer, as follows: 

  • Apply deodorant to your nails.
  • Wipe with a clean cotton ball or cloth. 
  • Wait for a few seconds.
  • Wipe the nail covered in deodorant again.
  • Rinse and repeat until you remove the nail polish.

Of course, the downside of using a fragrant substance that doesn’t usually go on your hands is your fingers will smell like deodorant afterward. Once you’ve cleaned the nail polish off your nails, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.  

4. Hairspray Can Replace Acetone As Long as It Has Alcohol

Hand spraying hairspray bottle on gray background

According to the National Capital Poison Center, most hair sprays contain 25-50% alcohol. Specifically, hairspray has denatured alcoholethanol mixed with ingredients that humans shouldn’t ingest.

If your hairspray has “alcohol-free” on the label, that means it’s gentler on your hair. “Alcohol-free” means the hairspray doesn’t have ethanol, which can dry your locks and cause them to fall out. However, alcohol-free hairspray will not work as well as its ethanol-based counterpart for removing nail polish.

To wipe off nail polish with hairspray:

  1. Spray hairspray on your nail polish.
  2. Wipe with cotton or cloth.
  3. Give the hairspray a few seconds to settle in.
  4. Wipe it again.
  5. Repeat until the nail polish is gone.

Like deodorant, hairspray will leave your fingers smelling funky. It’s crucial to wash your hands with soap after removing your nail polish using hairspray. 

5. Alcoholic Drinks Have Ethyl Alcohol

Woman Being Offerd Three Drinks and Thinking About Which to Choose

If you’ve tried all the products listed so far and your nail polish still stubbornly sticks to your fingers, it’s probably time to take out the spirits — but not for the reason you think.

Alcoholic beverages contain ethyl alcohol, which (as I’ve explained earlier) can substitute for acetone. You can dip a cotton ball or absorbent cloth into your favorite drink, wipe it on your nail polish, leave it for a few seconds, and clean it again until you don’t see any more nail polish. 

The great thing about alcoholic drinks is that you can easily wipe them off your fingers. Even just putting your hands under running water will do the trick. 

6. Toothpaste Has Ingredients That Remove Nail Polish and Protect Your Nails

Woman with nail polish holding a toothbrush with toothpaste

If you Google the reasons toothpaste can remove nail polish, most articles cite “ethyl acetate” as the active toothpaste ingredient that does the job. Although ethyl acetate is an oxygenated solvent (C4H8O2) like acetone, I couldn’t find reliable sources verifying that toothpaste contains ethyl acetate.

However, ScienceDirect’s toothpaste entry lists other ingredients that seem promising as far as nail polish removal is concerned:

  • Abrasives. Abrasives remove plaque and stains without damaging your teeth.
  • Fluoride. Fluoride is claimed to strengthen your teeth’s enamel and help repair damaged teeth, preventing cavities. 
  • Antibacterial agents. Antibacterial agents keep halitosis and infection at bay. 
  • Remineralizers. As the name suggests, remineralizers help repair damaged bones.
  • Humectants. “Humectant” is the fancy term for moisturizers found in many beauty products
  • Anti-sensitivity agents. Anti-sensitivity agents prevent possible pain and tingling sensations after brushing teeth. 

In other words, toothpaste can clean tough stains without damaging or irritating your fingernails, which have keratin like your teeth. You can squeeze toothpaste on your nails, wipe it off gently, and rinse and repeat until the nail polish is gone. 

Like alcoholic drinks, toothpaste dissolves easily and won’t stick to your fingers. You can put your toothpaste-coated fingers under running water, and you’re good to go. 

7. Hydrogen Peroxide Can Remove Nail Polish When Combined With Hot Water

Bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a versatile substance. It can bleach hair and textiles, disinfect surfaces, and remove stains. Fortunately, nail polish happens to be a stain hydrogen peroxide can remove.

If you’ve ever used hydrogen peroxide on wounds, now’s a good time to stop. Hydrogen peroxide can dry and irritate your skin if you apply it directly. However, you can still use it to remove nail polish as follows:

  1. Boil a bowlful of water.
  2. Mix 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide into the boiled water.
  3. Wait for the water to cool to a temperature you can tolerate but not so cool that you dilute the effect.
  4. Dip your nails into the diluted peroxide-water solution.
  5. Wipe your fingernails with cotton or a soft cloth.    

Can I Use Rubbing Alcohol Instead of Acetone?

You can use rubbing alcohol instead of acetone. Acetone and isopropyl alcohol–which makes up most rubbing alcohols–are oxygenating solvents, meaning they contain a solvent mixture of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Alternatively, use alcohol-based products like hand sanitizer and deodorant. 

What Household Items Contain Acetone?

Common household items that contain acetone include nail polish remover and paint cleaners. Some face creams and lotions also use acetone to thin the product and make it easier to dissolve. The same goes for paint cleaners, which thin paint similar to how nail polish removers thin nail polish.

Can You Make Homemade Acetone?

Acetone Formula Written on a Chalkboard

You cannot make homemade acetone — not safely, at least. Acetone is highly flammable and has many industrial uses that require expert handling. Household products have acetone in small quantities, making them generally safe to use. Instead, it’s advised to use acetone substitutes.

For more, don’t miss 11 Handy Substitutes for Glue (With 4 DIY Options).