Can You File Gel Nails?

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We all know that the right nail polish looks pretty and perfect. However, in just a few days or right after washing the dishes or doing the laundry, those pretty and perfect nails looked chipped and unruly. 

Gel nails are a better option if you want to make your manicure last. They can withstand dishwashing too! In fact, they are so good they’ll last for weeks or even a month.

As they grow out, you may be wondering: can you file gel nails?

It’s generally not a great idea to try to file your nails. You can try, but it’s possible the gel will start to chip and break at the edges, leading to a bad look.

As your nails grow out, you might want to trim them for a shorter and more comfortable length. No one is stopping you, but that isn’t a good idea if you still want to keep your gel finish.

In this article, we’ll explain the details of when you can file gel nails, and when you shouldn’t.


Can You File Gel Nails?

Jenga Fingernails

As we’ve said, you certainly can file or trim your gel nails when they get too long, but your beautiful gel finish might not last much longer if you choose to file.

If your long nails are getting in the way of your activities, or if you fear that you could break the nail because of its length, then cut, trim, or file them.

You might also think of filing your nails when the corner has been broken, if they’re a vertical split, etc. 

However, you must remember that filling in this way isn’t good for gel nails. The reason for this is because your gel nails may start to peel if you cut them. 

Whether you use a nail cutter or a nail file, to trim the nails, you’d be removing the seal at the tip of your nail. This makes them more prone to chip or peel.

Filing or trimming your gel nails may result in the gel nail finish being ruined. 

Even if they start to peel, the entire gel nail won’t easily peel away. This will leave you with what you always wanted to avoid when using regular lacquer– chipped, uneven, wonky-looking polish. 

This is particularly true if you’ve over-cured your nails.

If you are simply filing the gel nails to try to remove them forcefully, don’t do that. Please stop and consider doing the proper steps in removing gel nails.

Some people think that gel nails ruin your natural nails. But the truth is, ripping the gel nails off the natural nails does. Gel polish is safe to use on your natural nails. Note, though, that most gel polishes need to be dried with a Nail Lamp. They sometimes require UV lights which could be harmful. 

The only time you should file your gel nails is:

  1. If you already plan on removing them.
  2. If you don’t mind them peeling and looking un-done.

If you choose to file them and they start to peel off, fight the urge to rip them off forcefully. If your nails could only talk, they’d shout at you for doing that.

Filing them is only the first step to removing them. There is a proper way to do that. 

Alternatives To Filing Your Gel Nails

If you really want to file your gel nails because you are uncomfortable with the length, it would be best to simply get or do a fresh manicure. In that way, you’d be able to have the length you like and also make sure that your nails will look good.

After all, you may already be due for a manicure if the length is already too long for your preference. 

In cases when you want to file your gel nail because a corner has a break, then it would be best to use a buffer. The nail buffer is gentler than the nail file and it would also help remove sharp edges if there are any.

Once you’ve lightly buffed the corner, then you could reapply some gel polish. Don’t forget to use the topcoat afterward. 

Sometimes you don’t want to have another manicure because only one nail is bothering you. Remember you can always choose to have just that one nail redone. Don’t just file it because that nail will eventually peel while the others will be intact. 

Removing Gel Nails 

As we’ve mentioned, the only time you should really file your nails is when you already intend to remove them.

However, filing is just one of the steps. If you go back to the nail technician, they can carefully remove the gel nails for you.

There are commercial gel polish removers  available.

Another alternative would be to try the acetone soak procedure. Here are the steps.

Prepare The Materials You Need

Get some 100% acetone and a glass bowl or nail soak bowls. Alternatively, you can also make use of cotton balls and regular foil or soak off clips instead of the bowl.

Cut the foil into small squares that are big enough to wrap around your nail and fingertips.

These are needed to soak off the gel polish. You also need to have a light grit file and an orange stick or wooden cuticle pusher.

File Your Nails

Nail file

Use the nail file to file-off the top coat of your nails. The topcoat protects the gel polish which can be removed by acetone. If you don’t file off the topcoat, it can be difficult to remove the gel polish because it is sealed and covered. 

Soak Your Nails


After filing, soak your nails on the bowl with 100% acetone for about 3 minutes. If you are using a cotton ball and some foil, wet the cotton balls with pure acetone.

Place the wet cotton ball over the nails and use the foil to cover the tip of your finger and your entire nail. This makes sure that the acetone doesn’t evaporate. It also helps keep the gel polish soaked in acetone. 

Scrape Off The Gel

Wooden Nail Pusher

After soaking, the gel will soften more and the bond between your nail and the gel polish will be loosened. This will allow you to gently scrape off the gel using the wooden cuticle pusher.

The wooden cuticle pushers shown above are gentler than the metal ones below.

Metal Nail Pusher

Regardless of what you use, you should still be careful in using either of the two. Scrape off carefully so your natural nail isn’t damaged. 

Be sure to scrape off all the material before reapplying in order to avoid bubbles in your next polish.

Buff The Nails

Nail Buffer

Sometimes, a few bits of the gel could still remain in the nails. Don’t scrape them off harshly. Instead, you can use the nail buffer to carefully remove this thinned-down layer. Use the buffer to remove spots of gel that remain. You should also gently buff your nails. 


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Use some cuticle oil or a cuticle moisturizer to keep the cuticles hydrated. Soaking them in acetone dries them up so remember to moisturize them. You should also put some hand cream on your fingers to moisturize them as well. 


Filing gel nails risks ruining the gel finish, so it’s not a good idea. If you need to shorten your nails, it’s probably best to start over with a whole new manicure.

Even if filing makes them easier to peel off, you should never use it as a way to remove them.

Filing is just one of the steps in properly removing them. Always make sure to follow the steps in proper gel nail removal and don’t simply rip them off. Prevent damage to your nails.

Good luck!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).