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How Do I Dispose of Fingernail Polish?

Fingernail polish should be taken to a hazardous waste collection facility.
Adding a few drops of nail polish thinner to old, clumping polish can restore its shine and consistency.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Even though it may seem easy to just toss that old bottle of fingernail polish in the trash, this is not something you should do. Nail polish contains toxic chemicals including dibutyl phthalates, formaldehyde, and tuolene that, if not disposed of properly, can leach into the ground and pollute the soil and groundwater. Never pour nail polish out or throw the bottle into the trash.

To dispose of old fingernail polish, the bottles need to be brought to a hazardous waste collection facility. Search online for one of these facilities in your area. Some communities or cities have hazardous waste collection days to collect old cleaning supplies and similar items, and this is another opportunity to properly dispose of your old fingernail polish. If this is impossible for you, some discussion forums suggest leaving the cap off the nail polish to allow it to solidify, then throwing away the bottle. This should not be your first choice, though.

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You may not need to throw your old fingernail polish away at all. If the nail polish has started to look dried out and separated, a few drops of nail polish thinner mixed into the bottle can make the fingernail polish appear new again. Do not make the mistake of mixing nail polish remover in the bottle; the nail polish remover will not mix with the polish and the color will be ruined. Nail polish thinner can be found in the cosmetics department of most stores, or can be purchased at a salon. Thinning your nail polish slightly can also make the polish stronger on your nails and less likely to peel off.

If your old nail polishes are still fine, and you've just grown tired of the color or the brand, you might consider giving them to a teenager. Teens enjoy painting bright colors on their nails, and they will probably get some good use out of your old nail polishes and you won't need to throw them in the trash. You might also use old clear nail polish to stop runs in stockings or at the end of shoelaces to prevent fraying.

If you are concerned about the health effects of some of the chemicals found in nail polish, search online for more eco-friendly brands. Some popular nail polish brands are removing or cutting back on the toxic chemicals in the polish, and these results can be found on cosmetic databases online. These databases list the ingredients found in cosmetics and gives them a numerical rating. Even if you do purchase a more eco-friendly fingernail polish, you still need to properly dispose of the remaining polish at a hazardous waste collection facility.

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Discuss this Article

anon268109
Post 8

Don't toss it because it's sticky or gooey - go purchase some thinner at your local salon supply shop and it will be like new again!

anon157508
Post 7

I just threw one away yesterday as it's getting stickier without knowing it contains toxic chemical. But I started to feel it might not be right as I remember it's written 'flammable' on the bottle, so I looked it up and found this great article.

One more idea: I used to paint a birthday card for my boyfriend using nail polish. It looks colourful and pretty!

anon154384
Post 6

I like to use my nail polish in other ways. I've painted dry leaves - especially stunning with clear glittery polish! You can spruce up small toy cars. Touch up scratches on a bike, or on enamel-coated metal furniture.

I've painted juice can lids with pictures of events in the coming week, to have a child-friendly calendar on the fridge - use magnetic tape on the 'shallow' side so they'll stick to the fridge. Small stones look great painted with nail polish.

And the first alternative use I'd ever heard of for nail polish - use it to seal microscope slides so they don't dry out.

anon147466
Post 5

All the information in this article was new to me. I wish the manufacturers would put eco-warning labels on products that should be taken to hazardous waste disposal facilities. I find it easy to forget that there's a difference between "won't hurt a human" and "won't kill the tadpoles." What is the legal requirement for a non-toxic label?

Thanks for the tip on using nail polish thinner to refresh old polishes.

anon146212
Post 4

If the color isn't too dark, you might use it as a "base" coat on your finger or toe nails, and paint the favored new color on top.

I'm going to start looking for environmentally friendly nail polish and remover from now on. I once read that if you have a lot of hazardous products in your house and you can't take them to a Hazardous Waste Day roundup, the best thing to do is just use them up as you're supposed to do, a little at a time.

Those toilet bowl cleaners and spray cleaners seem to pile up, but don't dump them down the drain all at once! Use them up and vow to look into better ways to clean - vinegar, baking soda, etc.

yournamehere
Post 3

What about the more natural nail polishes, the ones that say they're non-toxic? I'm pretty sure that both OPI and Zoya fingernail polish have non-toxic versions.

Can you just throw those away, or do you still need to dispose of it like you would regular nail polish?

Planch
Post 2

Wow, I never knew all that about the chemicals in fingernail polish. You hear about the acetone in fingernail polish remover, but I guess a lot of people just don't think about the chemicals in nail polish being toxic as well.

Which leads me to a question -- what are you supposed to do with the detritus after you remove fingernail polish?

I can't imagine that a cotton ball soaked in acetone and old fingernail polish would be particularly healthy for the environment, and you can't really compost them, so what are you supposed to do?

Do you have any tips about this?

Thanks for the research and well written article.

naturesgurl3
Post 1

Thank you so much for this article! So many people just throw away nail polish every day, not even knowing what it does to the environment.

I also really loved how you gave some examples of how you can re-use fingernail polish, rather than just throwing it away.

And the tips are really true -- I started painting my nails with my mom's old Revlon fingernail polish, so I can tell you from personal experience, teenagers will definitely appreciate it.

And for all you people who change moods and change fingernail polish accordingly, do consider re-using it, or giving it to someone else. There really are better options than just getting rid of it, even if you dispose of it properly.

Very, very good article!

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