10 Steps to a Foolproof At-Home Mani

Am I the only one that feels naked without polished nails? I didn’t always used to be that way — I used to have this really weird complex that my fingers looked super stubby when they were painted. Then when the dark nail trend started to be a thing, a friend convinced me to try it and I absolutely loved it. So much, that I wouldn’t stop getting manis in dark shades. It took a while for me to branch out from those colors, but I finally did. My go-to these days are any variations of reds – I have a whole basked of them at home!

When I was in college, I wasn’t exactly able to afford a mani for as often as I liked, but I was terrible at painting my own nails – just ask my cousin! She used to paint them back in the day for me, but I couldn’t reciprocate since my hand wasn’t so steady. But I was determined to figure it out, because poor college student. So, I practiced. And I practiced. And then guess what? I practiced some more. And weirdly, painting my nails not only started becoming a hobby,  but it started becoming a type of therapy for me. I would zone out to some music or the latest episode of Gossip Girl and paint. Funny enough, while writing this post, this was starting to feel vaguely familiar, which is when I remembered that I actually wrote a post on manis back when I was in college blogging for The Independent Florida Alligator.

Since then, I’ve kind of perfected the mani, and picked up a few tricks along the way! Since so many people consistently think I have gotten a profesh mani,  ask me to paint their nails for them (my mom) or just for have asked for a few tips, I figured I’d put together a little guide. So turn some tunes, or House Hunters (cause that’s what I’d do), and read on below.

10 Steps to a Foolproof At-Home Mani (so you don’t look like a toddler)

Before you start, make sure you have the following: two bowls, olive oil, honey, lavender essential oil, nail polish remover, cotton balls, q-tips, nail file, buffer, base coat, your fave polish, and top coat!

1. Remove any pre-existing polish with a remover that contains Vitamin E, which helps strengthen nails.

2. File and buff nails. Don’t use a file as a buffer, it will destroy your nails.

3. Soak your hands. I won’t lie – this is something I don’t normally do, but if you have the time, I highly recommend. I found some awesome tips from Hello Glow on how to do this with items you typically keep in your house – honey and olive oil. Mix warm water with the honey and olive oil. The honey has antibacterial properties and will cleanse and soften your nails while the olive oil moisturizes. Try to soak for at least 5-10 minutes. Sitting still for 5-10 with your hands occupied is hard – I get it. This is where House Hunters comes in! Once done with this, wipe off the oil with a towel.

4. Thoroughly moisturize hands and nails with lotion and allow to penetrate into nails for a few minutes. You use your thumbs to give a nice massage on each hand paying special attention to the ball mounds and heels of the palms. Also, don’t neglect the sides near the pinkies and the wrists – trust me you’ll thank me later.

5. I know some of you asked for tips on cuticles, but I don’t recommend cutting them yourself as it can be risky if you do not know what you’re doing and can cause infection. What I recommend is pushing back cuticles with either an oil you find in-store or another homemade concotion with olive oil. I haven’t found any products I swear by, but Hello Glow recommended mixing olive oil and lavender essential oil and using Q-tips to push the cuticles back. I tried this the other day and loved the smell!  Pushing back the cuticles helps prevent them from interfering from a perfect polish. If you’re like me and your cuticles overgrow your nails, you’ll likely need to see a manicurist every once in awhile for maintenance.

6. Either wash hands with a gentle hand soap or swipe each nail with a cotton ball dipped in remover to take off any residual lotion, which will result in bubbles appearing within polish.

7. Use a good base coat and a nail strengthener. This will prevent chipping, splitting and peeling. I use Sally Henson’s Hard As Nails as my nails need all of the strength they can get! Allow base coat to dry. Also, if you’re like me and use bright or dark colors, if you forget the base coat, then your nails are going to turn yellow. So don’t skip this step!

8. Here’s where the painting comes in. Now, I wont’ lie to you, getting your nails to look like they weren’t painted by a toddler takes practice and patience. But, one trick is using a polish that has a wide brush like Sally Henson’s Insta Dri. I used this all the time when I was starting to get the hang of it! The wide brush allows you to cover your nail in a stroke or two, and it dries quickly – a beginner’s dream! If you’ve gotten the hang of it, or want to expand your color options, I’d highly recommend Essie . I feel like they have the best selection and last the longest. As I said before, I’m a sucker for reds – my all-time fave is Russian Roulette, and my go-to at the moment is E-nuf Is E-nuf which is more of a coral with some red hues. Side note – does anyone else think they would make like the best nail polish namer? How do I get that job??

Anywho, apply one coat of polish. Start with the pinky of your non-dominant hand and work towards the thumb, which has a tendency to turn and can smudge if you’re not careful. Do the same with your dominant hand, starting with pinky and working towards thumb. Let dry somewhat, and then repeat this step again with another coat of color.

9. And now I take you to THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. I repeat, this is the most important step! If you want to ensure that your nails don’t chip, you need to use a quick drying top coat, and not just any top coat. You need to use Seche Vite. I am not trying to be dramatic when I say that this top coat changed my life. This is the only top coat I’ve used that isn’t sticky, tacky and actually does what a top coat is supposed to do. It smoothes out any ridgids in your polish, dries quick and makes your top coat shiny. I can honestly paint my nails an hour before bed and they will look perfect in the morning, or I’ve been known to paint them before work and dry them while walking to the train – the Windy City is good for that. 🙂 If you are painting your own nails, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t use this polish.

10. Finally, if you really need your nails to last, the next day swipe on one more layer of color and one more layer of top coat. Unless you find yourself doing heavy manual labor, your polish should really stick.

Outfit details: Dress: “Faith” palm print dress via Goodnight Macaroon, Inital Necklace: Kate Spade via Nordstrom (also comes in rose gold and silver!)

And there you have it, friends! If you follow the above steps (and practice!), you should be on your way to the perfect mani in no time!

Let me know in the comments if you try it! And let me know if you have any tips I missed – always looking for new products and ideas to try. 

Share this post:


  1. Seche Vite is amazing! I swear by it too. This is motivating me to not spend a million dollars on gel manicures – thanks for the tips love!