Nail Files: How to Master the At-Home Manicure

Going to the nail salon for a mani-pedi is one of my favorite little luxuries. I wish I could say that I get my nails professionally polished before chips rear their ugly heads and cuticles ever appear. But the truth is, with such a busy schedule I can’t always find the time to make it to the salon. Not to mention it’s an expensive habit. That said, I’m a big fan of a good old-fashioned at-home manicure. If you have a steady hand and a covetable collection of lacquers, you will probably agree with me too. It has taken me quite a bit of practice to get my DIY manicure to pass for a professional polish change. Thankfully, I have a few handy tips that I’m going to pass on to all of you today that will have your friends ooh-ing and ahh-ing the next time they see your nails…

Here’s what you will need:

  • nail clippers
  • nail file
  • nail polish remover
  • hand scrub
  • hand cream
  • rubbing alcohol
  • base coat
  • nail polish
  • top coat
  • eyeshadow brush
  • cuticle oil (optional)
Nail Files: How to Master the At-Home Manicure

Step 1: Clip your nails.
Use a nail clipper and trim your nails down to your desired length. We do not recommend cutting your cuticles at home, but if you’ve had a lot of practice and you are a pro, go for it. Just be aware that your cuticles can get infected if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Step 2: File them into shape.
Using an emery board nail file, shape your nails and even out any jagged edges. You can go for a rounded nail shape or a square shape. I usually like something that’s a little bit in the middle—square with rounded edges.

Step 3: Clean your nails.
It is best to start with nails that are already polish-free, but I recommend getting them extra clean with polish remover and a cotton ball. You don’t want to have leftover polish or base coat on your nails because it will make your new manicure appear uneven.

Step 4: Gently exfoliate your hands.
Using your favorite body scrub, give your hands a gentle rub. This will remove dead skin and give your skin a glow.

Step 5: Moisturize with hand cream.
Just like the skin on your body and face, the skin on your hands needs moisture after you exfoliate it. Use a rich, luxurious hand cream to keep your skin smooth and hydrated.

Step 6: Prep your nails.
Next, clean your nails again—this time with rubbing alcohol. It will remove the oils from your hand cream from your nails so that the polish will stay on longer. Plus, I have noticed that using rubbing alcohol instead of acetone for this step keep my polish chip-free for days!

7. Apply a base coat.
Evenly apply a thin layer of your trusty base coat to each nail.

Step 8: Choose a color and apply.
Pick a color, any color…and apply two coats. I chose a color called “Guchi Muchi Puchi” by Essie in the photos above. (It’s my newest obsession!) Use quick, light strokes to allow polish to evenly distribute on each nail. And I recommend letting the first coat dry before applying the second. It will eliminate those little polish bubbles that no one likes.

Step 9: Let your nails dry and add a top coat.
After your nails have dried, apply a quick-dry top coat. If you happen to accidentally smudge a nail, follow these steps for fixing it in a snap.

Step 10: Touch up with acetone and an old makeup brush.
Salon manicurists always perfect my nails by brushing off any polish that went “outside the lines” with a makeup brush and acetone. Doing this trick at home creates a polished, professional result. Just remember to apply some cuticle oil afterwards to that your nail beds don’t look dry.

Have you ever given yourself an at-home manicure that could pass as professional?

Don’t keep your secrets from the rest of us…share them below!

Team LC

P.S. In case you missed it, the nail polish color used in the photos above is “Guchi Muchi Puchi” by Essie.

Photos: Allison Norton for
Categories: Allison Norton, Nails, Primp
Share This
  • Carolina Escalante

    I file them in one direction only, this helps to prevent the nail from breaking or splitting its ends… xoxo!

  • suzanne

    I love doing at home manicures. It is so relaxing and I love my nails to look good :)
    Suzanne from

  • Ashley Rizzardo

    I usually just throw a color on and go. I’ve never really tried to give myself a REALLY good manicure. But maybe it’s something I can give a try with this tutorial. Thanks, Allison!


  • Rachel Trampel

    What a great step by step guide! Love it!

  • Katelin Absher
  • Ana Sofia

    Great tips :) I like to do at-Home Manicure and like to try new DIY manicure.


  • Leanne

    Great tips!

    Love from South Africa

  • Stefie

    i recently got a mani and pedi and even though i was never into doing my nails im beginning to get obsessed with it!

  • Ashley at Sincerely Miss Ash

    I do this all the time! :)


  • GiVi

    I love the rubbing alcohol tip. Supposedly Shellac is the best type of nail polish for your nail quality & longevity. Has the LC team ever tested it? xoxo

  • almondnice

    wow didn’t think an old makeup brush can be helpful for DIY nail polishing! Brilliant! :)

  • Candy

    Hi every one, Im 18 and I’ve recently started getting really into taking care of my nails (at school we weren’t allowed to have any polish on) anyway since I’m new at this I was wondering what the best brands are? I’ve heard all about OPI but its also not really available with my current uni student budget. I’ve seen a brand called Sinful Colours and its only $4 at my local Kmart, have you used this? The range they have looks quite lovely but I don’t really know xx

  • CanadianGirl

    Make sure to get the end of your nail with the polish and top coat. It will help minimize chipping.

  • JessBee

    All great tips (no pun intended!). Another great tip is to buff or gently file the top of the nail as well — to smooth out any ridges. Ridges are a dead giveaway for at-home manis. And the shorter the nails, the better.

  • TStrahlendberg

    Nice! Being a nail-polish addict myself I really have to stay “”naked”” every now and then. Love your tips though and just dipped my hands and feetsies in some hot water!

    Now a question. I am heading to a job interview in a little while. My color of choice will be red as their company color is red as well. Will that be ok? or too posh?


  • TStrahlendberg

    love sally hansen as it stays on really long. Opi ist nice too (i love their bottles) and Essie is my all time favorite when it comes to fashionable colors!
    I would just play around with it, but a good nail-polish is definitely worth it, especially if you put it on frequently :)
    Hope this helps! :) ( I have no idea about the Kmart nail-polish, but if you like the colors it would be nice to try some. Always make sure to let your nails breath though, as especially “”cheaper”” choices may contain bad ingredients :) )
    xx taty*

  • Raven Locks

    Essie is my favorite! I also really like Zoya and OPI. Zoya is a little bit expensive though. I’ve heard of Sinful Colours, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it. As another commenter mentioned, I too like to stay away from the cheaper nail polishes. Most of them contain carcinogens like formaldehyde, DBP, and toluene.

  • Raven Locks

    This post makes me want to do my nails asap! It’s been too long since they’ve had some color on them. That color in the pics is really pretty :)

    xo Azu

  • Nanci Spencer

    Great steps i agree ,loving to see the alcohol wiping before the application of polish or gel polish being included,definitely the professional way to do nails!
    Nanci – owner/founder/creator LacQit One Step Gel Polish/ former OPI educator /government nail representative,BC Canada subscribe to our blog for some very informative nail tips!!

  • Candy

    Thanks! I think I may just splurge a little and try out Essie and OPI -I’d rather spend a little extra for the better quality.

  • Candy

    I’ll have to check for those harmful ingredients -thank you! I actually had no idea or didn’t even think to really look past the brand and colours :)

  • Rabia Khan

    This helps so much! Thanks!!

  • Ashley

    Why is this being done with rings on!? haha Seems silly. 😛
    Also, cuticle oil is optional? I was under the impression that it is exactly what you need (or something like it) to keep your cuticles from drying out and that it should be used daily.

  • Deanne Castro

    Love these tips!!! Thanks for sharing!

    Visit my blog to get the latest tips and tricks on fashion and beauty:

    Get inspired and follow me on Instagram and Twitter: @MyFashAvenue


  • Laura Espinoza

    For step 10, a q-tip is also helpful :)!! Loved the post!!!

  • Laura Espinoza

    For step 10, a q-tip is also helpful :)!! Loved the post!!!


    Glad it inspired you :)

  • Dana Darr

    Please, don’t forget to take off your rings…among other things, the rubbing alcohol can damage semi-precious stones.

    Also, I use cuticle oil around the nail prior to applying the polish so that if I “”flub”” the application, it just wipes away with the end of an orange stick. Quite often, removing mistakes with polish remover leads to more repair work on my nails and stains on the skin. The oil – or even vaseline will do – makes for a flawless finish

  • Franci Gire

    Perfect! I followed this technique this week while trying out a new neon glitter nail polish set by Ciate. Check it out!



    i think the step 2 is important for me ,because my nail is irregular,not look beautiful.


    Step 7: I always swap my base coat for nail strengthener, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my nails and I see no difference in results from the base coast!

  • Allison Norton

    Such helpful tips! Thanks for sharing :-)

  • Allison Norton

    I have to leave my nails “”naked”” every so often too in order to let them breathe! I would use a light pink, clear, or neutral color for job interviews unless you’re interviewing at a company that is very creative or casual. Hope that helped! xx

  • Allison Norton

    I’m so glad you all like my tips for doing an at-home manicure! And thanks for sharing your own helpful tips and tricks too. Now, any requests for our next nail post? xx

  • shel billett

    definitely invest in a dotting tool & striping brush – & let your imagination run wild. x

  • Monica Cunha

    step 12: after painting my nails I apply a bit cutil oil, it mains the nails healthy and pretty.

  • Josie

    I love doing my own nails, but I couldn’t figure out what was missing until I read this!!! I make my own hand scrub!!!

  • Josie

    Thanks for this blog, I now know what was missing from my routine, HAND SCRUB!!!
    I make my own vanilla sugar scrub!
    check it out —>

  • Allison Norton

    Glad this helped! Your vanilla scrub sounds great :-)

  • Ellie

    Applying a cuticle oil and pushing your cuticles back after you shower will help your nails grow long and beautiful faster! PLUS it makes them look healthier and happier (:

  • Adry vg

    many mix & match nail manis!!!

  • emogoestofashionweek

    Have a look at my tutorial on how to do Burgundy Stiletto Nails :)
    They’re fab! And don’t forget to follow me please <3

  • Sylvia

    Try not to touch push the polish directly up against your cuticles. Using the polish brush to follow the shape of your cuticle without actually making contact with it looks much better:)

  • Helley

    Thanks for sharing this tips! I love visiting my Salon for some Manicure and Pedicure Services in Maribyrnong every month or atleast once in 2 months.

  • Rachel

    Next post…Fall nail colors please!

  • O2 Spa

    Nails look so much better after this treatment! Great article!

  • peterartner

    Simple and refined to say the least.And though the name sounds funny the color is good i know. Any way the tips are really hand and nice . Any one could become a good manicurist if you apply them properly.but you need to practice it regularly if you want to master the nail art.

  • Haley

    Considering I miss steps 2-7 on a regular basis, I really need to up my mani game! Thanks for the tips!

  • Jennie

    YES!!! Using an cuticle pen always works wonders! Also, I’ve gone up to 2 weeks with just one application, no chips, or experiencing the not-so-happily-ever-after “yellow look” by using O.P.I. Sure, it may cost more upfront but in the end you save money and your valuable TIME.

  • Belichieve

    Hey guys! I just started my blog where I talk about fitness, exercise, eating right, fashion, and the films I’ve been in. It would mean so much if you guys checked it out whenever you guys have the chance! Thanks!



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