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How to Get Your Best DIY Manicure

Like coloring in the squares in your bullet journal, there’s something so satisfying about painting your nails. And swapping out an overgrown mani for a fresh coat can feel like putting on a cape. In other words, a manicure is a confidence boost in a bottle.

Self grooming is now more popular than ever. If you’re looking for a summer refresh without having to leave your home, start here.

We have tips for getting your best at-home DIY manicure so you can keep up your self-care routine or start a new one. (After all, you’re gonna need something to go with that pedi.)

10 Steps to Your Best DIY Manicure

What You’ll Need

  • Shallow bowl
  • Warm water
  • Hand scrub
  • Lotion
  • Nail polish
  • Nail polish remover
  • Cotton rounds
  • Base coat
  • Top coat
  • Cuticle oil
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Nail clippers or nail scissors
  • Nail file
  • Desk fan (optional)

Step 1: Remove Any Nail Polish

Removing any nail polish

Soak some nail polish remover with a cotton round (cotton balls can leave annoying lint behind). Gently sweep across your nails until every trace of polish is gone. This step will create a nice, clean canvas for your manicure.

Step 2: Soak Hands

Soaking hands

Fill a shallow bowl with warm (not hot) water. You can also fill the bathroom sink if that works better. Soak hands for about ten minutes…and enjoy! This step is to promote a sense of calm and soften your nails for step three. 

Step 3: Trim & File Nails

Trim and file nails

With nail scissors or clippers, trim nails to your desired length. Then use a nail file to smooth out the edges and give them your desired shape, making sure to always file in the same direction (you don’t want to drag the nail file back and forth.) 

This part is where you get to express yourself! Popular shapes are square, round and squoval, which is kind of like if square and round had a baby. With more length you can make them oval, almond or stiletto, but most people need acrylics or press-on nails to achieve these looks.

Step 4: Exfoliate

Exfoliate in hand

Taking a dab of hand scrub, gently exfoliate the skin on your hands. Work in circles, focusing on areas that tend to get drier. You can buy dedicated manicure scrubs like they use at the salon, or you can multitask with a regular body scrub. Choose a pear sugar scrub to make it feel like a real treat!

Step 5: Treat Cuticles

Treat cuticles using pusher

With a cuticle pusher, push your cuticles back so they line up nicely and evenly. Just be sure to never clip, cut or scrape your cuticles!

Step 6: Moisturize

Moisturize your hands

Moisturize your hands with your favorite lotion. Choose any product that works well for you…and it doesn’t hurt if it smells heavenly, too! This step relaxes any tension you’re holding in your hands, and it helps lock in the work from the exfoliation we just did.

You can also use a cuticle oil during this step to really treat your nails. (Just do another sweep of nail polish remover so nothing gets left behind on your nails, as product will make the nail polish ball up.)

Step 7: Rinse & Remove Product

Rinse and remove product

Just like you would at the nail salon, wash your hands to make sure no product is left behind on your nails. Moisturizers (as well as your skin’s natural oils) can make nail polish bead up and streak. If you used cuticle oil in the last step, go over your nails one more time with nail polish remover.

Step 8: Apply Base Coat

Apply base coat

Apply a base coat to lay a good foundation and help your manicure adhere. We like this peel-off basecoat because it reduces the need for cotton rounds next time. Simply peel off your polish when you’re ready for a new manicure.

Step 9: Apply Nail Polish

Apply nail polish on the cuticle

Place your hand on a flat surface and apply your first coat of color. An easy technique is to put a gob of polish on the cuticle (it will look like too much, but don’t worry) then “draw” it out in two swipes, left and right. Think of it like you’re making a heart. 

Wait for it to dry, then do two or three more times, depending on the opacity of the polish.

Nail polish actually takes 24 hours to completely dry. But you can test that it’s dry enough with this trick: lightly touch the outside of your pinky nails to each other. (This way you won’t mess up your manicure in a noticeable way.) If they feel tacky, wait a bit longer.

Step 10: Apply Top Coat

Apply top coat along the tip of the nail

Apply a top coat to protect your manicure and keep it shiny. We like to “wrap” the manicure by applying top coat along the tip of the nail. This makes it last even longer! Please not top coat is different than base coat!

Turn Grooming into Giving

When you shop with Giving Assistant, you earn cash back to keep or share with a nonprofit of your choice. That means any products you buy for your at-home self care routine can put dollars and cents towards causes you care about. And these small donations add up to make a big difference for nonprofits. 

Please note, cash back donations are for Giving Assistant members who have a nonprofit selected in their account. Shoppers must be logged into their account or using the Giving Assistant extension to automate cash back and donations. Cash back donations can vary depending on user settings.