How To Thin Out Nail Polish

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It happens to the best of us… it’s the changing of the seasons and you go to reach for your favorite Spring shade of nail polish you’ve had since last Spring, only to find it’s a bit of a thick gloopy mess. It’s really not the end of the world, but if it was a favorite color, there’s still some left, and especially if it happens to be a discontinued shade before you pull out the wine to mourn your loss, you may be able to revive your thick nail polish.

Nail polish that isn’t completely past its expiry date and has gone bad (yes, nail polish does have an expiry date and can get to the point of no return), there’s still hope.

In this article, we are going to show you how to thin out nail polish. We will discuss both store-bought and DIY methods. We’ll also go over how to tell if your nail polish has gone bad and give you some good tips on how to extend nail polish shelf life.


How To Tell If Your Nail Polish Has Gone Bad

Nail polish does actually have an expiry date. First, you need to figure out if you are beating a dead horse or if there’s a chance that it’s still good.

Most unopened nail polish can last 4-7 years. But after you open it, you’re looking at an 18-24 month shelf life for regular nail polish, and 24-36 months for gel polishes.

The shelf life of an opened bottle of nail polish will vary according to the brand and, most importantly, how you are storing it. Proper storage will ensure its maximum shelf life.

We’ll get into that in a bit more detail a little later.


The easiest way to tell if nail polish has gone bad is the consistency.

Older nail polish can separate or get a little thicker if it hasn’t been used in a while.

If it’s just separated or thickened, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad. In a lot of cases, there are a few different things you can do to revive it.

However, if it has separated, there are particles floating around, it’s partially dried out or it has a gooey, thick, or has a stringy texture, then it’s most likely gone bad. It’s time to toss that bottle.

If it’s just separated or thickened, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad. In a lot of cases, there are a few different things you can do to revive it.

You can always try the thinning methods below, because after all if you can’t use it anyway, there’s no harm in trying – just don’t get your hopes up.

Worst case scenario: you try to thin it out and it’s seen better days and you have to get rid of it.

Best case scenario: you can rescue your nail polish and keep using it!

How To Thin Out Nail Polish

We have a few methods below that will show you how to make nail polish thinner in different ways using different ingredients and methods.

Roll it!

No thinner required!

Sometimes all a thick nail polish needs is a little mixing to re-blend separated layers or to thin out a thick consistency. Make sure the bottle lid is securely tightened and roll it between your hands for a few minutes. This helps to gently warm up the polish and thin it out.

Note: Don’t shake it – Roll it! Shaking may create air bubbles that can cause nail polish to chip.

Hot water

Also no thinner required! If rubbing the polish between your hands doesn’t quite do the job, using hot water might work as long as your polish isn’t too thick.

Run the bottle under hot water to heat the polish. This will temporarily thin out the formula.

You can also fill a bowl with hot water and let the nail polish bottle sit in the bowl for 2 minutes. Remove the bottle, then roll the bottle back and forth in between your hands to mix the polish.

Note: Bear in mind we said ‘hot’ water, not boiling water!

Can you add water to nail polish to make it thinner?

No. Never add water to nail polish. Nail polish is insoluble in water, which means that it will just form clumps and it will be unusable.

Use Nail Polish Thinner

Nail polish thinner

There is indeed a manufactured product that is specifically made for thinning nail polish.

Super Nail Polish Thinner 4 Ounce (118ml)
Super Nail Polish Thinner 4 Ounce (118ml)
Item Package Length: 6.35cm; Item Package Width: 6.985cm; Item Package Height: 14.605cm
$8.59 Amazon Prime
OPI Nail Lacuqer Thinner, Nail Polish Thinner with Dropper, 2 fl oz
OPI Nail Lacuqer Thinner, Nail Polish Thinner with Dropper, 2 fl oz
Extends Life Of Favorite Nail Polishes; Rejuvenates Overworked Polishes; Maintain Proper Nail Lacquer Consistency
Orly Nail Polish Thinner, 2 Ounce
Orly Nail Polish Thinner, 2 Ounce
Restores life to thicken polish; Exclusive built-in dropper; Made in US
$9.71 Amazon Prime
Nail Polish Thinner
Nail Polish Thinner
Thins nail polish for even flow; Smooth and easy application
Glam and Glits Gel Polish Thinner 2fl.oz
Glam and Glits Gel Polish Thinner 2fl.oz
Restores thick gel polish to it's original consistency for easy flow application; Size: 2 oz
$13.99 Amazon Prime

Nail polish thinners are easy to use. Simply add a drop or two to the nail polish. Screw the lid back on tightly and roll the nail polish bottle between your hands to mix it in.

Check the consistency. If it’s still too thick, add a couple more drops and repeat.

There are also some other methods of thinning nail polish that you can try that do not require purchasing a separate product that you make at home. That said, getting a proper ‘nail polish thinner’ is your best bet.

If getting a nail polish thinner is not an option, then we have a few more polish thinning methods below for you to try out.



If you have nail polish, then you undoubtedly have nail polish remover.

It’s essential to use only one drop of acetone (nail polish remover) in your bottle of nail polish. Replace the lid and roll it between your hands. If the polish is still too thick, then add one more drop. If it’s still too thick, then it’s probably time to toss it.

Note 1: If you are using a non-acetone, or acetone-free nail polish remover, this will NOT work.

Note 2: This method will break down your nail polish’s formula. If you add too much, the polish will begin to crack after a couple of uses.

This method will only work to get a few more manicures out of your nail polish so, don’t think you’ll be able to use it for another six months.

Isopropyl alcohol

Isopropyl Alcohol

You can use 2 to 3 drops of isopropyl or high concentration rubbing alcohol (91%) to thin out your nail polish.

Add 2 drops of alcohol to your polish. Then replace the cap tightly and roll the nail polish between your hands to mix. If it’s not thin enough, you can repeat.

Once your polish is the right consistency, let it rest for 20 minutes before applying.

Two of the solvents in nail polish that are lost through evaporation are Isopropyl alcohol and Ethyl acetate. The evaporation of these ingredients are what causes nail polish to become thick and cakey.

By adding a few drops of alcohol to your polish, you are replacing some of the alcohol that was lost. And unlike using acetone, it will not break down the nail polish.

Note: How well this works will depend on the concentration of alcohol in your nail polish. This method works fantastically well for some, and not so much for others in that it can either make the nail polish take longer to dry or fade the color.

So it might be a matter of trial and error, depending on your nail polish.

Tips To Prevent Nail Polish From Getting Thick

#1. Store Nail polish in a Cool, Dry, Dark Place.

Nail polish should be stored in a cool, dark, non-humid place with a consistent temperature, away from heat and direct sunlight.

Avoid storing your nail polish in the bathroom. The constant changes in temperature and humidity will cause your nail polish to separate and break down much more quickly.

#2. Store Nail Polish Bottles in an Upright Position.

Nail polish should always be stored in an upright position. Nail polish will start to separate much faster when it’s lying on its side or if it’s is upside down.

It’s harder to shake the pigments back together in a bottle that hasn’t been stored upright.

If the bottles are not stored in an upright position, you’re also more likely to end up with a bunch of bottles that you can’t even open because the polish leaks into the lids and dries up, and subsequently cements them shut.

#3. Secure Bottle Lids Tightly.

Apart from the proper storage tips mentioned above, ensuring that your caps are screwed on tightly is equally important. Air is your nail polish’s worst enemy when it comes to drying out.

So it’s also important to make sure you don’t leave it open for extended periods of time and keep the lid tightly on when you are not using the brush.

#4. Roll Your Polish Bottles.

Take your nail polish bottles and roll them between your hands once every few days or once a week.

This helps to keep the polish from thickening and separating.

#5. Get a Nail Polish Organizer.

Nailpolish Organizer

Especially if you have a large collection of nail polish (ahem!), a nail polish organizer is a great investment. It will keep your bottles upright, and take up less space.

The organizers come in all shapes and sizes, from travel size, carry case, ‘you may have to see someone about your nail polish addiction’ size, to wall mount, vanity top, and full on display if you are planning to open up a store or manicure salon.

Just remember for the display-type organizers, make sure you place them in a temperature-regulated area that’s not in direct sunlight.


  • Store your nail polish in an upright position in a cool, dark, non-humid place with a consistent temperature. Keep them away from heat and direct sunlight to maximize your nail polish shelf life and prevent the liquids from getting thicker.
  • Make it a habit of taking out your nail polish bottles and rolling them between your hands once a week to keep them from separating and getting thick.
  • If you have an older nail polish that has become thicker, try to use hot water to thin it out. Don’t put hot water into the bottle – put the bottle in the hot water!
  • If it’s still thick, you can try using a nail polish thinner.
  • Your last resort for thinning out your nail polish, if you’ve tried all of the above, is to either use a few drops of Isopropyl alcohol, or acetone. Neither of these two last methods are ideal for the reasons we’ve mentioned above, but if you’re in a bind, one of these methods might just do the trick.

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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).