The Perfect At-Home Manicure

For some people, the at-home manicure is a much-needed getaway from the craziness of normal life. It’s a time to relax and let yourself just focus on one simple thing: getting that perfect coat of paint on each nail.

But for other people, the thought of doing your manicure at home is more of a nightmare scenario involving weird chemicals, stains on the furniture, and an embarrassing lack of coordination. We’ve all been there at some point!

Whether you identify more with the first or second group, it’s never a bad time to get a refresher course on the best way to do an at-home manicure.

Today we’re going to walk you through the tried-and-true method that has worked for us time and time again, and offer some insights that will make it a more pleasant experience for all.

Get Squeaky Clean

Before even reaching for your arsenal of bottles, instruments, and buffers, you want to give your hands a complete wash in the sink to ensure all bacteria are eliminated.

According to HuffPost, nail hygiene is highly underrated, especially in a world where all kinds of crazy germs are floating around. 

It’s worth taking the extra time and effort to do a thorough cleanse before doing any sort of nail treatment, because dirt and grime may get caught under polishes, polymers, or whatever other products you choose to apply.

We recommend picking up a bundled nail kit with a full range of products including a cuticle pusher, nail brush, scissor-shaped trimmers, and a few specialized files.

These instruments are typically made of steel and will last you a long time if you maintain them well and wash after each use.

Also, grab a pack of orangewood sticks that are softer on the skin and great for one-time use.

Remember that before you start any type of at-home manicure, you must get rid of any residue from previous treatments, whether it’s nail glue from press-ons, leftover gel or acrylic material, or just some old nail polish.

Acetone is the fast-working go-to product for many people, but we’ve also seen many non-acetone solutions come onto the market that works very well and are less dehydrating.

Shape it Up!

Once your nails are completely free of dirt and squeaky clean, you’ll want to clip, trim, and file them to achieve the ideal shape for your manicure.

We are big believers that the more precise your instruments, the better, which is why we suggest you use small trimmers and scissors instead of heavy-duty clippers.

When trimming, avoid taking large chunks out of the nail to save time. Move slowly and deliberately, removing tiny pieces of the nail instead.

This will help you to obtain a more exact nail shape and avoid taking too much off.

If you are super skilled with trimmers, you can do the majority of your shaping with this tool, but for most of us, a nail file is going to be more precise and easier to use.

With a file, you can get that perfect square tip, round the nails out into an oval shape, or achieve a stiletto styling by creating more of a point at the tip.

Just don’t get carried away when filing, because you may end up going shorter than you want. Angling the file slightly below the nail is a good way to keep an eye on what you’re doing.

Your next move is to buff the nail, which can be done with a specific tool with a finer grit than most emery boards and nail files.

Buffing is NOT the same as filing and shaping. Think of it more like the finishing touch on your nails to make them extra clean and create a good surface for the polish to stick to.

It’s also recommended that once you shape and buff your nail, you also push back the cuticles so that they don’t interfere with your product application. 

Polish to Perfection

When your nails are crystal-clean and perfectly shaped, it’s time to get to the good stuff - polish!

As the beauty gurus at Glamour Mag point out, the typical at-home manicure routine requires that you apply two full coats of color at a bare minimum.

If you think you can get away with only doing one coat, think again! It may look fine when you first apply it, but once dry, it’s going to look patchy and start to peel way too soon.

With that said, your first move will be to apply your base coat, which is meant to smooth out ridges and fill in any tiny gaps on the surface of the nail.

There are tons of all-natural vegan base coat products available that you can try, and they even make spray-on, fast-dry base coats that accelerate the process.

In general, you want to wait at least two minutes after applying this initial layer before you move onto the next step, colors!

Your first coat of color is critical and takes some practice to master the technique. While it’s tempting to overload your brush with polish, try to keep it very minimal.

Aim to max out at three strokes of the brush for this first layer - one down the middle and one on either side. Keep the coat as thin as you can and don’t get carried away.

As always, wait a full two minutes to let that coat dry, and use a timer to make sure you don’t jump ahead. Then follow up with the next coat using the same three-stroke technique.

The second coat should be just as thin as the first and needs the same amount of time to dry.

Some colors will require a third coat (typically sheers and pastels), so read the bottle to see if you need to go for round three.

After you’ve gone through the motions for each nail, give them some time to dry, then finish them off with a layer of topcoat for good measure.

The topcoat can add shine to give your nails that glamorous glossy finish, but it goes beyond looks. The best topcoat products dramatically enhance the lifespan of your polish and even add strength to your nails to limit chipping and splitting.

Certain topcoats will work better for particular colors and finishes, so make sure you choose the right one for your polish. Wait a full five minutes to let this last coat dry.

Be patient, and don’t try to accelerate the drying process with a blow dryer or high-pressure fan. The best results come from allowing the polish to dry on its own.

Shine, Protect and Moisturize

With every coat complete and fully dry, you can move on to the final stage of the manicure.

If you see any imperfections or colors spilling over from the nail to the skin, use a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol to gently clean them up.

After this is when you’ll want to apply any moisturizers and oils you may have in store.

There is an infinite number of products that claim to protect your manicure or are specifically designed for this final phase, but you are usually okay just sticking with the basics.

The skincare experts at Paula’s Choice recommend using rich body butter to moisturize the skin around your nails if they tend to dry out post-manicure. If dehydration isn’t such a big problem for you, opt for a lighter fragrance-free oil to replenish skin.

The key here is to use the products that work best for your purposes, and not to overdo it on the moisturizer if you don’t need to. As you perform more DIY manicures, you’ll learn what formulas work best for you and your chosen polish.

Acrylic Alternatives You’ll Love

We love at-home manicures because they’re relaxed, low-pressure, and give us a lot of room for creativity. Plus we get an excuse to build out our nail polish collection.

However, not everyone has the time, patience, skill, or budget to pull off DIY manicures regularly, and that’s fine.

If you can’t manage at-home mani’s for whatever reason, we highly suggest you take a look at modern press-on nails, which have come a very long way from the faux nails of the 90s.

While a full three-coat nail polish session can take up to an hour, press-on nails can be applied within less than ten minutes, plus they are super affordable and fun to use.

On top of that, you have access to a huge range of shapes, styles, and finishes, so you’re bound to find a set that suits your personality. 


Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of at-home manicures or you’ve never once tried the DIY approach, it’s always wise to brush up on your fundamentals.

If you are interested in learning more about press-on acrylic nails or just need some general nail art inspiration on social media, be sure to follow us online and subscribe to our email newsletter!




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