DIY: How to fix and restore dry or thick nail polish

Restore Nail PolishBest I can figure I haven’t used OPI Black Shatter since February of 2011. I used it over Orly Ancient Jade. Why? I have no idea. Looking at it now I can’t even imagine why I thought that was a good look…

Anyway, I pulled it out of my Melmer earlier today to use it only to discover it was a dried out, thick disaster. It was in a completely unusable state.

Believe it or not, until now I’ve never had this problem. I’m pretty good about keeping my nail polish in good condition. I store it properly and have never really had a problem with polish drying out. I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed.

After doing a little research, some patience and a lot of shaking I’ve managed to get my OPI Black Shatter back in working condition.

Below the jump is exactly how I restored my dried out nail polish and some tips on avoiding having polish dry out in the first place! (And a couple of things not to do…)


Just a note regarding old nail polish: It doesn’t expire. Really. Many companies put expiration dates on nail polish because they are required to. I’ve heard all kinds of time lengths nail polish is “good” for. None of this is true. So don’t throw away nail polish you like. If it has separated or dried out it can be fixed!

Orly Nail Lacquer ThinnerWhat you need:

  1. The nail polish that needs to be restored
  2. Nail polish thinner. My favorite is Orly Nail Lacquer Thinner. But any and all nail thinners will work! Sally Beauty has a generic Beauty Secrets thinner that’s very affordable.

How to:

  1. Add about 2 drops of thinner at a time and shake the polish. If it’s still too thick repeat the process. Most polishes will be restored by just doing this.
  2. If you’ve added 2 or 3 drops several times and you’re not getting anywhere add another few drops of thinner and let the polish sit. I let mine sit for about an hour.
  3. Shake the polish again. Repeat step 1 and 2 as necessary. The bottle of Black Shatter I was working with is an extreme example. I had to add a few more drops of thinner and really shake it even after letting it sit.
  4. That’s it! Pretty simple.

After 2

Warnings & additional tips:

  1. Whatever you do….DO NOT PUT NAIL POLISH REMOVER IN YOUR NAIL POLISH. Sorry I yelled. But seriously, I’ve read even in magazines that putting a little bit of polish remover in nail polish will restore it. It’ll restore it and slowly destroy it.
  2. Don’t get overly aggressive with the nail polish thinner. Only add a couple drops at a time. If the polish gets too thin, it’s very difficult to make it thicker. If this does happen to you, leave the cap off and periodically check the nail polish consistency. Eventually this should re-thicken the nail polish.
  3. If you’re dealing with nail polish that’s basically entirely dry add the thinner then take a toothpick and use that to begin mixing the polish and thinner.
  4. Before going through all of this make sure to shake your polish really well. It may not even need thinner. It may just be the pigments settled and the polish needs a good shake.
  5. If you are absolutely dead set on not getting any nail polish thinner and your polish isn’t too thick you can try adding a small amount of clear polish to the dried out polish. I do not recommend this method but it can work. It can also be a disaster. Proceed at your own risk!

It’d be nice not to even have to deal with dried nail polish at all, right? There are a couple of things that can be done to prevent this:

  1. Make sure you are storing your nail polish properly. I did a post on the best ways to store nail polish. You can check it out here.
  2. Keep the threads on the neck of the polish clean. If polish builds up on the neck of the bottle it not only will eventually make the polish very difficult to open, but it will let air into the polish, causing it to dry out.
  3. Don’t leave polish sitting open. I know I get distracted while doing my nails and can sometimes leave the bottle open. This allows for extra evaporation.

If you have any additional tips or tricks make sure to leave a comment!


  1. Thanks for this post 🙂 I didn’t know the part about the expiration date…..intriguing! And here I thought I had lost “Overexposed in South beach” for good 😉

    1. I have some polishes that are 30+ years old, just fine and perfectly usable. I don’t wear them often because I’m still trying to find a dupe, or succeeding in frankening it.

  2. Very interesting post. So then, acetone and thinner are not the same thing? I always thought pure acetone (not remover) would work. What’s in the thinner?

    1. Hey Nat! I use the Beauty Secrets thinner and the ingredients are: Butyl acetate, Ethyl Acetate, and Heptane. Seche Restore: Butyl Acetate, Toluene, Isopropyl Alcohol – I’m sure Alli can check her thinner to see what the ingredients are 🙂

      1. They’re all about the same with the exception of the Seche Restore. It has Toluene which is toxic.

        Seche Restore should not be used with nail polishes that don’t have Toluene.

    2. Thinner does not contain acetone. Acetone is a much harsher thinner that’s meant to break down pigment so nail polish can be removed.

      Acetate is a much less aggressive solvent which is what makes nail polish thinners work.

      Hope that helps!

      1. I have always used a few drops of acetone in my polishes, it has never harmed any of them. I even have a small dropper that I use only for it – not often, I must say.

        1. Thinner has less aggressive solvents as well as ingredients that help the polish go on smooth and level on the nail. Acetone is just not the way to go. Especially if you’d be upset if a polish was ruined.

    3. I usually uses acetone and it works just fine for me, but if you do so, then remember not to shake the polish after, but role it between your hands, because else there will come bubbles (don’t ever shake it) 🙂

  3. This is an education! Thank you kindly for giving me back my old OPI Summer Flutters that I never had the heart to turf!

  4. Quick tip on keeping the threads of your np bottles clean: You don’t need to use acetone or remover to clean them up. Isopropyl Alcohol on a paper towel will do it nicely–with out the risk of remover messing up your new polish! I use the alcohol swabs in the little packets meant to prep injection sites. These can be found by the diabetic supplies in the pharmacy. They are cheap and disposable.

    1. I did a post on how to open a bottle of nail polish that won’t open. You can check out that post here. Have you tried that technique?

      Sometimes nail polish can be so frustrating! haha

  5. My fave thinner is Zoya. I think I need the high end thinner for the 3, 4 and 5 free polishes. Because my Sally Beauty supply cheap thinner did not help my Chanel polish. It made it worse. Still hoping to save it, but I have mixed thinner brands, and I hope that is OK.

    1. The Zoya and Sally Beauty Secrets thinners have the EXACT same ingredients list.

      The only really different thinner out there is the Seche Restore. I wouldn’t recommend that one at all simply because it has Toluene.

      Most polishes, even at the drugstore, are 3 (or more) free nowadays. I have no idea why a particular thinner wouldn’t work with a particular polish. There’s nothing special about the way Chanel formulates nail polish.

  6. heat water in microwave 3 minutes – place bottle in water for a few minutes. this is an old trick that sometimes works.

  7. It is sooooooo refreshing to read a blog who speaks the truth about expiration dates being bs. It’s all in the storage solutions!! Keep it out of the bathroom and the sun!

  8. Hi! I’ve been a reader for about a year but I’ve never commented until now. I recently bought some thinner after reading this post because some of my polishes are getting thick and goopy. My bottle of Revlon Quick Dry Base Coat is half empty, and it is getting all built up around the bottle neck. When I paint with it, the brush has strings floating from the end. Gross! Would adding thinner make it workable? Or should I try something else since it’s a base coat? Thanks!

    1. Adding thinner is exactly what you should do to save your base coat!

      Just make sure to add a little at a time and really shake it up. You don’t want to add too much thinner.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Just a thank you for being honest about expiration dates being a load of poo. Too many beauty bloggers go along with the hype (propogated by the cosmetics companies of course) that you should throw out everything and start over and buy new stuff every 6 months. I actually saw one today that said you should toss powder eyeshadow after 3 months. Unreal.

    That being said, I don’t think the Artmatic polish I bought at Newberry’s when I was 8 (almost 40 years ago LOL) can be revived. It’ll just have to be an ornamental keepsake!

    1. a word about other beauty products: unlike nail polish, powders and creams with the same applicator for each use actually pick up harmful bacteria and skin soil. It may not be necessary to toss your stuff after three months (that seems excessive) but do NOT share with friends or give to your kids. This can spread infections. If you have any illness, don’t use makeup during that time or toss it after as the germs can multiply. Just like a toothbrush. The difference with nail polish is all the chemicals. it is basically paint, and germs won’t live on it.

  10. I just bought 100% acetone for this very reason, having not sealed the cheap white polish I use for french manicures on a budget. But I thought oh, someone might have written about it and todaaaaaa……here you are! Thank you so much

  11. Alli
    thank you! thank you! thank you! I read this and bought the Orly thinner–followed your instructions and have now revived four of my favorite Chanel polishes! They are perfect!
    I am wearing my “Pulsar” again–the very best red ever. So glad I saved the
    bottles and found you!

  12. Obviously, if I am understanding correctly, just using acetate, not acetone, will work. The ingredients in most thinners seem to be the same chemicals, but can you use any one of the ingredients separately, as well. I am particularly interested in using alcohol as a thinner and if type of alcohol and percentage makes a difference.

    Also, can you use regular paint thinner from a hardware store?
    Along the same thread of “non-beauty supply” products (referring to hardware store supplies), I sprayed ‘Rust-Oleum’ Gold Enamel spray paint into an empty perfume bottle…
    (messily… using a straw which created “blow-back” issues but was successful just the same, just have to “draw-off” some of the excessive clear mixture after the pigment settles to the bottom and SLOWLY open the bottle after shaking, or it will spew out, then just gently shake to keep mixed when painting)

    and I am wondering about possible toxicity of using as nail polish, or other problems like causing nail separation with long-term use or anything like that?
    I have used it already as nail polish base coat and haven’t noticed a problem, but I am wondering about long-term use and chemical build-up in the body. I am ESPECIALLY concerned since using ALOT of regular different nail polishes trying to make my own color and included this type of paint in it. Would HATE to lose all that good polish!!! Although, I probably won’t refrain from using it as such, if there is a health issue with it … I guess I would have to find another “primary” use for this bottle of paint. %~(

    1. Regarding paint thinnner: Most paint thinners contained acetone and are meant to thin oil based paint. This is not something you want to put in nail polish.

      I’ve read where people have success using rubbing alcohol to thin nail polish but I’m certianly not going to recommend it. Alcohol can cause the color to dull and could take away the shiny finish.

      And finally, regarding the Rust-Oleum I would be concerned about the presence of carcinogens. Obviously, that’s a product that does not have to be tested and be held to cosmetic standards. Even the warnings on the Rust-Oleum container warn of skin irritation and say it could be harmful if inhaled.

  13. Awesome tip! Thanks for helping me save one of my favorite polishes from back in the day. I love your blog; thanks for all you do!

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