Let H be a fixed graph with h vertices. The graph removal lemma states that every graph on n vertices with o(nh) copies of H can be made H-free by removing o(n2) edges. We give a new proof which avoids Szemerédi’s regularity lemma and gives a better bound. This approach also works to give improved bounds for the directed and multicolored analogues of the graph removal lemma. This answers questions of Alon and Gowers.