A Step-by-Step Guide to the Perfect At-Home Manicure

nail polish and polka dot nails

Unless you live in a handful of states that have thrown caution to the wind and invited the walking ungroomed to make haste to their nearest nail salon, you’re probably staring down at your increasingly chipped or bare, raggedy nails (not to mention chapped, bleeding skin, given all. that. handwashing.) and wondering if you might finally be up for that DIY mani at home.

Let’s be honest: even if you have a high tolerance for polish-free digits, you might be lamenting out of control cuticles and increasingly bizarro-looking nails that are growing at all different lengths. In other words, you might not be missing that full-on dip situation your BFF talked you into trying that one time, but you’re thinking at least some light maintenance is required if you want to avoid increasingly feeling like a wild beast every time you look down at your hands.


Here, a step-by-step action plan for taking control and doing your own manicure at home.

What you’ll need: 

  • Nail polish remover (non-acetone is best)
  • Cotton pads or toilet paper
  • Nail clippers (Revlon’s are always winners)
  • Emery board
  • Bowl filled with warm water
  • Cuticle remover
  • Cuticle pusher and clipper
  • Hand cream (if you’ve been going through it in an effort to avoid aforementioned chapping and bleeding, time to reorder)
  • Base coat
  • Nail polish
  • Top coat (Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat is the bomb)



  1. Remove any existing nail polish thoroughly with your remover. (You’ll do well to avoid those containing acetone, given health concerns.) Since TP might still be in short supply in your neck of the woods, and you’ll need to preserve it for your tuchus, consider using cotton pads for this step.


  1. If they’re growing all willy nilly, cut your nails so they’re about the same length. You can then use the file to shape them more uniformly. Take shape into consideration — depending on how they tend to grow on their own, you might gravitate to a “squoval” (square-oval) shape or more rounded edge.


  1. Soak your hands in a bowl of warm water for three minutes or less, which will make it easier to work on your cuticles.


  1. Apply cuticle remover (like Pacifica Clean Up Cuticle Remover), which will help soften cuticles so they’re easier to push and nip away.


  1. Use the cuticle pusher to push them back from the nail gently. Then gently nip the edges with your cuticle clippers. You can also take this moment to get after those nasty hangnails and any other ragged, dry skin that’s been begging to be liberated from your hands since the beginning of quarantine.


  1. Lather up on that hand cream, giving yourself a sweet hand massage — or ideally, making your partner or kid, if you have one hanging around, do it for you. Make sure your cream is absorbed before heading into the next step. You might also want to do another round of nail polish remover application to prime nails for polish.


  1. Once your hands are moisturized but dry and clean, you can reach for that base coat, which will ward off staining and chipping. Then, do two coats of color polish, allowing a bit of drying time between each coat. My greatest challenge — and probably yours too — is applying polish with your non-dominant hand. The answer to that, according to StyleCaster, is finding the position that works best for you, e.g. holding the brush between your thumb and against the side of your index finger, and even lean your middle finger against it too for some extra support. They recommend focusing on only using the thumb and index finger to do the painting, while keeping the rest of your hand steady. You’ll also do well to go slow, adding less polish versus more. Finally, finish it off with your top coat to lock it in and add glamorous glossiness. You can clean up any rogue polish with a toothpick.


  1. Allow your nails to dry, ideally near (but not too close to!) a fan. Cooler air beats warmer, as the latter can lead to chipping and peeling. Chill, meditate, do whatever you can to resist picking up your phone or futzing with something else that’s going to lead to a detour in Smudged & Frustrated City.

Manicured pink nails

  1. Enjoy your safer-at-home mani!


Written by: Maressa Brown