This comprehensive guide explains everything you need to know about home manicures (or DIY manicures). In this guide, you can expect to learn the following:
What supplies you need for a home manicure What supplies you need for at-home nail art The step-by-step home manicure process How to do dip powder nails at home What to look for in an at-home nail kit Where to learn about DIY acrylics and gel extensions
What supplies do you need for home manicures?
Home manicures can be as extra as you want to make them. But for a decent home manicure, you really only need a few supplies.
We’ll first list out the essential supplies you need for a simple home manicure (which is a great starting point if you have zero supplies). Then, we’ll lay out some additional (or upgraded) supplies you can add to your beauty collection over time. These products can add new steps to your home manicure process or improve old steps.
Essential home manicure supplies:
- Nail file
- Nail buffer
- Paper towels
- Nail polish remover (or acetone)
- Nail polish
- Base coat
- Top coat
Optional home manicure supplies:
What supplies do you need for at-home nail art?
We usually recommend perfecting your home manicure process and polish application skills before diving into nail art.
However, there are a handful of easy nail art tutorials you can find online, and many of these designs can be done with objects you already have at your house. So even if you are just getting started with home manicures, you can throw in some nail art with little-to-no learning curve.
If you’re not interested in nail art right now, feel free to skip this part and head to the next section. But if you are interested, we’ve listed out a few supplies you can start with:
Nail art supplies you can purchase:
Nail art supplies you can find around your house:
- Scotch tape: for separating two colors or creating patterns
- Lace: to paint over for a pattern
- Toothpicks: to add dots, hearts, or flowers
- Sharpies: to hand draw objects or patterns
- Sponges: to create a DIY ombre effect
- Bandaids (with breathable holes): to create tiny polkadots
- Hole puncher & duct tape: to add various shapes
- Makeup brushes: to create a splatter effect
- Small rubber bands or ring reinforcement stickers: for DIY French tips
Pro Tip: If you apply vaseline around your nails before painting on a design, the polish won’t be able to stick to your nails ( which should make the clean-up process easier).
Step-by-step guide: How to do a manicure at home
Step 1: Prep
If you already have nail polish on your nails, use a paper towel or cotton ball soaked in 100% acetone or nail polish remover to remove it.
If you have on acrylics or gel nail polish, make sure you follow the proper at-home soaking method. Under no circumstances should you ever rip or peel off your polish or fake nails.
Learn how to:
Step 2: Buff and File
Use a file to work your nails into your favorite shape. Afterwards, give the top of your nails a quick buff, and use your dust brush or a clean towel to brush off your fingers.
Step 3: Push and trim
Use a cuticle pusher to gently push back your cuticles. If you don’t have a cuticle pusher, you can soak your nails in warm, soapy water for a few minutes and then push them back with your thumb. Just make sure you fully dry your hands before you move onto the next step.
Quick Tip: If you take a shower before your DIY manicure, use this as an opportunity to push back your cuticles. Your cuticles will already be softened up.
When it comes to trimming up your cuticle, we don’t recommend doing this at home (if you're a beginner). If you trim the wrong area of your cuticle, it can hurt and lead to infections. Instead, only trim extra skin that is clearly hanging off your cuticle.
Important Tip: Trim, but never pull hanging skin with a cuticle trimmer.
Optional Step: Exfoliate, moisturize, and buff
Show your hand some love with an exfoliator and lotion. If you don’t have any products specifically made for hands, an exfoliating face wash and a moisturizer will work just fine. (If it’s good enough for your face, then it’s good enough for your hands.)
Afterwards, buff your nails again (3-4 back and forth swipes is good enough) and give them another wipe down with nail polisher remover.
Before you move onto the next steps, you need to make sure all the residue is removed from your nails and that you have a clean surface to work off of.
Step 4: Paint
There are a lot of tips to keep in mind during this step, so let’s separate this step into multiple phases.
Phase 1: Base Coat
Apply your base coat. Base coat is designed to protect your natural nail from staining. A base coat is typically clear. This phase is especially important if you’re using dark nail polish. If you don’t have a “base coat”, you can use clear nail polish.
Quick Tip: Thin layers are the secret ingredient to any decent home manicure. So, when you’re applying nail polish, maintain thin, even layers. You will not save time by applying thicker layers. Thick layers take longer to dry and are more difficult to work with.
Phase 2: Nail Polish
Depending on what nail polish color and brand you choose, you may need 2 or 3 layers. Make sure your nails have enough time to dry in-between each layer. To dry your nails faster, use cool air (never hot). Grab your blow dryer, switch it to cool, and blow dry your nails for at least 60 seconds. We recommend keeping your blow dryer a few inches away from your nail and leaving it on the lowest setting.
If you are using gel nail polish instead, you will need an at home LED nail lamp. We recommend using gel instead of lacquer (since your manicure will last a bit longer). You don't need anything fancy to get the job done (check out this LED nail lamp).
Pro Tip: Three strokes is considered a best practice. One stroke in the middle and one stroke on each side.
Phase 3: Top Coat
Gel top coats need to be cured with an LED nail lamp
After your final layer of nail polish is completely dry, apply a layer of top coat. Even though your top coat is likely clear, it is not the same as a base coat. You shouldn’t use a base coat as a top coat or vice versa. A base coat is designed with your natural nail in mind, while a top coat is designed with nail polish in mind. They each contain different ingredients and as a result, work in different ways.
Quick Tip: Reapply your top coat every few days to make your manicure last longer.
Step 5: Clean
If you had any nail polish run over during the painting phase, now is the time to clean it up. An angled eyeliner brush works really well for this and can be reused for your next manicure. Dip your brush into nail polish remover and move it around the edges of your nails. (If you don’t have an extra brush laying around, you can use q-tips.)
Once all the nail polish is cleaned up, apply cuticle oil to your cuticles. Consider reapplying cuticle oil every other day to keep your nails healthy and manicure looking fresh.
Skip nail polish & learn how to do dip powder nails at home
If nail polish application has always been a struggle for you, then give dip powder nails a try. For many people, dip powder is easier to work with than traditional nail polish or gel nail polish.
For a dip powder manicure, you need:
- Base coat
- Top coat
- Natural or clear dip powder
- Dip powder color
- Seal protect
(You can find all these items in a dip powder starter kit.)
Watch the video below for the full step-by-step application process or check out our 10-step dip powder guide.
What is the best at-home nail kit?
There are a million and one at-home nail kits to choose from. Just keep in mind: nail kits are designed with a type of manicure in mind, which can expand to include everything from dip powder and gel nail polish to acrylics and gel nail extensions.
Many people already have the majority of tools required for a home manicure, so we don’t recommend buying a straight-up home manicure kit. All the essentials you’re missing can be found at Walgreens or on Amazon for pretty cheap.
If you want to pick up a kit specifically for dip powder or gel nail polish, there are a few things you should pay attention to.
A complete at-home nail kit should come with everything you need. For example, a gel nail kit should include an LED nail lamp, and a dip powder kit should include a base coat, top coat, seal protect, and bond. Gel nail kits usually cost more money since a nail lamp is included. But on average, a complete kit will cost anywhere between $100-$250. Even though this may seem like a lot, it really isn’t. The average salon manicure starts at $50; a kit will start paying for itself after your third or fourth home manicure.
There are cheaper kits out there, but these usually aren’t “starter” kits. These are typically considered “bundles” — which are only meant to replenish your powder or liquid polish supply.
If you want that starter kit to eventually pay for itself, then you need to make sure you’re happy with the end result (and not just once but multiple times). In other words… you need color options.
If you’re going to pay $100 for a dip starter kit, make sure there are at least three colors in it. After all, variety is the spice of life.
The whole purpose of a home manicure is to save money (and maybe have a little bit of fun in the process). And if you’re willing to invest in a whole nail kit, then it probably means you want a good looking manicure. If the powder, polish, or gel you’re working with is not cute and lacks quality, then your manicure won’t look that good. You’ll end up hating it and heading back to the salon.
Not only does this mean you wasted money on the kit, but it also means you’re going to spend even more money getting your nails fixed at the salon.
Before you invest a hundred or so dollars in an at-home nail kit, do your research. Read reviews and check out the brand’s social media account.
Ready to step up your home manicure game?
If nail extensions are more your cup of tea, we totally get it. They’re our cup of tea, too. Even though nail extensions take a little more skill and patience, they’re totally doable from home (with enough practice and the right products, of course).
To get started on extensions, check out the following resources: