The 5.5 Steps for a Perfect Home Manicure

I heart a good home mani.

Pristine pointers garner a lot of comments but more importantly, home manicures are the best way to justify 60 solid minutes of ANTM or that documentary on Ray Harryhausen. Plus, it’s way way cheaper (and less awkward) than hitting up a salon.

Fillmore and Orange Nail Polish

What do you think of that, Millard Fillmore?

So kickback and coddle your claws. Here’s my usual game plan:

Step 1: Set the scene.

There’s a reason I don’t go to a salon every time I need to get my tips did. It’s because no amount of spa waterfalls and cucumber air freshener will ever be as relaxing as this:

Perfect Home Manicure - The Setup

A man, a cat and John Candy

That is Quincy, my boyfriend, queuing up a movie as I prepare to murder our collective brain cells with the sweet aroma of toxic chemicals.


Step 2: Ready your arsenal.

Perfect Home Manicure - The Tools

The beer is only a recommendation, not a necessity

Polish – Because I always (alright, usually) use OPI top and base coats, I find that it doesn’t really matter how fancy my actual polish is. Sometimes I splurge on expensive varnish and sometimes I buy the cheap stuff.  I recently bought a box of 16 nail polishes from Toys’R’Us for something like $7 and though they were scientifically engineered to appeal to preteens, I got a million compliments on the colors.

While I admit that I am a total tightwad who struggles with the $9 price tag on quality top/base coats, they’re absolutely vital to the mani rigamarole.

Also, just like cottage cheese and threesomes, nail polish can go spectacularly bad and you won’t realize it until you’ve slathered a sticky glob onto an unsuspecting tentacle. I’ve read that you can put your polish in the freezer to make it last longer but

  1. I don’t like to mix my toxic chemicals with my Snickers ice cream bars and
  2. I love an excuse to buy new polish.

I usually toss it out when it starts to smell weird or the consistency gets too thick.

Polish remover – I buy the cheapest possible nail polish remover (yay, dollar store) and try to opt for something somewhat “nourishing.” I once bought an inexpensive bottle of straight-up acetone from Target and regretted it thoroughly… Way harsh, Tai.

Cotton pads – I always buy the astoundingly expensive makeup-removing cotton pads to ply the remover because it’s infinitely more enjoyable than trying to wrangle a cotton ball or napkin. And I loathe those reusable sponge-filled nail polish remover tubs. While I salute conservation, those things are nasty and ineffective.

Nail clippers – My mom gets me a nail kit every year for Christmas. Cute, right? I don’t buy fancy clippers. When the ones I’m using start sucking, I replace them.

Nail file – I’m a total nail file snob. I hate the cardboard/sandpaper deals and opt for metal files that come to a nice, thin point. I’ve read that these shouldn’t be used because they’re too harsh blah blah blah but they last forever, do a great job, and double as the perfect tool with which to remove the dried blood from under your nails. What more could you want?

Step 3: Remove the old residue.

Perfect Home Manicure - Removing Polish

I don’t think I need to illustrate this step, but what the heck.

Scrub every scrap of old polish of each digit. Wash your hands after to clean off any lingering chemicals.

I recently read that you shouldn’t wash your hands after using the remover, as it helps the forthcoming coat of paint endure, but I’ve not noticed that it makes a difference and I like clean paws, dangit.

Step 4: Recon and refine.

Perfect Home Manicure - Filing

I’ve got files for miles. For miles.

Ogle each individual nail and give it a good once-over. Trim nail, if need be. File it smooth.

I read somewhere that you should only file your nail in one direction instead of that fabulously efficient back-and-forth nail excoriation because it’s somehow less damaging to your talon. I find that this is a pile of crap and makes the manicure process 928% less enjoyable.

Push back your cuticle with your nails or whatever poking tool is handy. I never, ever cut my cuticles because it makes them look weirdly uneven. I just push ’em around like a big, giant cuticle bully.

Step 5: Ply the polish.

Perfect Home Manicure

This color is one that came in my giant brick of children’s nail polish!

And now we’ve reached the anal-retentive portion of the program. I can’t explain why I’m so particular about this but when you’ve done something approximately 928 million times, you get a routine going.

First, I shake the crap out of the base coat bottle to mix up any separated substances. I think you’re supposed to roll it between your hands to avoid creating air bubbles but I’m a rebel, Dottie. A rebel.

I open the bottle and carefully, swipe it on the side of the rim so that there’s a glob of polish only on one side of the brush. I place the glob just above the cuticle in the middle of the nail, push down to the cuticle and swipe upward, creating a perfect strip in the nail’s midsection. Without re-dipping the brush, I then swipe on either side of the nail and then once more in the middle, for good measure. Repeat nine times or eight or seven, depending on the number of years you’ve worked with farm equipment.

Since base coats are usually quick-drying, just veg for a moment or two until your last talon is tacky.

Then, apply the first coat of polish in the same fashion as the base, but let this layer dry for five full minutes. Don’t cheat. Enjoy The Great Outdoors. Don’t look out the window… Because there might be a bear!

The second coat of polish demands that you hang out for a full ten minutes while it dries. Seriously, do nothing but read subtitled raccoons or you risk injuring your pristine polish.

Finally, slather your nails with that fancy top coat. Though somewhat uncomfortable (especially if you have to pee), try to give it a full half hour to dry. Google the “spin cycle” quote to see if, you know, that’s actually a thing.

Step 5.5: Feel a deep and abiding satisfaction.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston, TX

Even stingrays will notice if you have a handsome manicure.

…Et voilà!

Now you are beautiful.