How to Do a Perfect DIY Mani Pedi at Home

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Learn how to do the perfect DIY mani pedi at home.
Photo by Lazar Gugleta on Unsplash

I’ve been a hand model since my early 20’s. It’s something I sort of fell into through my acting work. Basically, someone saw one of my head shots where I was resting my chin on my hands and said “get that girl in here!”, and that’s how I started hand modeling. It has been very lucrative for me over the years, but like anything there was a learning curve (hint: it’s a little more involved than it looks!) and it requires you to meticulously care for your hands. I figured if I was going to do that professionally I should learn how to do it right, so I took a course and became a Certified Nail Technician as well. Hand models are often expected to take their own “manicure kit” to set, so you have to be flawless and taking care of your hands and nails. 

Here are my best pro tips, as both a nail technician and a hand model for getting the perfect DIY manicure at home.

What You’re Going to Need

  • High quality Cuticle trimmers – the cheap ones are not as sharp and are  considerably larger and difficult to use – even on your toes! ($20)
  • Good quality Nail clippers in 2 sizes – small for mani, larger for pedi ($8)
  • 2 or 3 nail files to suit your nail type ($2) – never too course for natural nails! (see more on nail files below)
  • Buffing block ($2) – very fine grit for natural nails
  • Cushion Nail files
  • 2 Orangewood sticks ($2) – for removing cuticles and cleaning up nail polish
  • Pumice stone cuticle pusher ($5) – simply the best cuticle cleaning tool!
  • Cuticle Remover ($5-$15)
  • Cuticle Oil ($5-$15) – use this liberally throughout the day! Can also make your own 🙂
  • Polish Remover Corrector Pen ($5) 
  • High quality Base Coat & Top Coat ($15) – Seche Vite is my favorite! Goes on like glass!
  • A couple of clean hand towels
Best manicure tool for DIY manicure


  • Portable Electric Nail File ($30) – get one with the smallest stone or ceramic tips you can find!
  • Manicure Scissors ($5-$10)
  • Ceramic Foot File or Pumice Stone ($10) 
  • Toe Separators ($2)
  • Hand Sanitizer Spray ($5-$10)
  • Gentle Soy-Based Polish Remover ($12)
  • Moisturizing Gloves and Booties ($25)
  • A couple of inexpensive emery boards for tough to reach areas
Get the perfect manicure at home! Learn how to do a DIY mani pedicure with tips from a nail technician and professional hand model
Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Steps to a Perfect DIY Mani Pedi at Home

  1. Prepare. Remove all old polish, wash and dry your hands
  2. Cuticle Remover. Apply liberal amount of cuticle remover and let sit for 5-10 minutes (watch TV etc) Don’t rush this step… it’ll make the rest so much easier
  3. Clean Cuticles. Using an orangewood stick or pumice stone cuticle remover gently  massage the cuticles to get them to loosen away from the nails. Us small circular movement and NEVER push. When done, wipe remaining cuticle remover off with a clean, dry towel
  4. Trim Cuticles. Take your cuticle trimmers and carefully and gently clip the dead and dry bits of skin only. Trust me, this is plenty. Over trimming and you may actually cut yourself and it causes calluses to build up over time. BONUS: if you have a battery operated nail file / manicure pen, put on the finest tip and clean off remaining cuticle and smooth the surface of your nails
  5. Trim and Shape Nails. Take a look at your nails overall and trim to desired length. Gently  file your nails, moving the file in one direction only, never back and forth, until all are desired shape and length.
  6. Buff nails. With your buffing block gently buff the surface fo your nails until to remove small imperfections.
  7. Clean with Alcohol. Before applying any polish make sure your nails are perfectly clean and dry. It’s always a good bet to wipe with a small amount of rubbing alcohol to get rid of any remaining cuticle remover, dust, dirt or oils
  8. Apply polish. Start just above the cuticle and apply base coat in smooth, long strokes going over the tip of the nail. Go back and push a small amount of polish up to the cuticle. *Wait a full 5 minutes and apply your first coat of color in the same manner. *Keep the surface smooth, but don’t worry about being perfect – you can always go back and clean up small bit of polish on the skin with your orangewood stick  and polish corrector pen. Repeat
  9. Wash & Oil. Wash your hands to remove any remaining nail dust or debris, taking care not to bump your nails. Apply a small amount of cuticle oil and lightly massage in. Enjoy!
Perfectly polished - the best DIY manicure at home.

Pro Tips

  • Buy the right tools. Manicure tools really aren’t expensive, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to get professional instruments. Investing in a few pro tools is going to make this a lot easier, you’ll get better results, and you’ll be much more likely to keep it up in the future
  • NEVER file your natural nails back and forth! This tears the nail fibers causing your nails to split and peel. Always file in one direction only and lift the file off the nail each time
  • Choose the correct grit of nail file for your nails. There are so many types of nail files, and they are all designed for different uses. It’s important to choose the right one for your nail type. A file that is too course, used on fine or thin natural nails is going to cause your nails to tear. For natural nails, a fine-grit cushion file is gentle and effective. (see more below on how to choose the right file)
  • Be patient. This is something you really can’t rush. Try to do that and you’ll end up with  messy, clumpy, uneven nails. So grab a glass of wine or cup of tea, sit down and enjoy a bit of self  pampering.
  • Use very thin layers of polish. This prevents clumping and allows for adequate drying
  • Wait a full 5 minutes between each coat of polish so it has time to adequately dry. Perfect time to scroll through social or click on the TV
  • If you smudge your polish just a bit, wet the tip of your finger and gently smooth back into place
  • Reapply topcoat every other day to keep your manicure fresh and chip-free as long as possible
  • Start wearing gloves more around the house – seriously. Even inexpensive cotton gloves can protect your hands an nails from constant bumps that cause chips and breakage
  • Use cuticle oil regularly. I keep 3 around: one beside my bed that I use on hands and toes every night, one in the kitchen because I wash my hands there a lot!, and one in the car for “emergency” dry cuticles or just a nice little touch up at red lights
  • Use hand sanitizer or baby wipes as an alternative to constantly washing your hands – I’m a bit of a germaphobe, and the constant washing was both drying out my skin and causing my polish to lift and peel fast. Hand sanitizer and baby wipes can be great when you just need that quick fix
  • Have a bedtime routine for hands and feet that includes extra heavy moisturizer as well as gloves and booties. Be sure to oil you cuticles for the night too!
Hunter Phoenix Hand Model - perfect polish.

How to choose a nail file and what does the grit number mean?

Basically, the higher the grit number, the smoother the file. 

  • Coarse files (80-100 grit) are best for acrylic nails and nail extensions. 
  • Medium files (180 grit) are great to shape extensions of medium thickness, like most tips and wraps, and to shape the free edge of toenails. 
  • Fine files (240-600 grit) are perfect for natural nails, removing small bumps, ridges or discolorations and for shaping the free edge. 
  • Ultra fine files (600-2400 grit) are used for buffing and shining all types of nails. 

Files come in a variety of materials including padded cushion files, glass, mylar and ceramic. Avoid metal files as they are harsh and can split nails.

Salon manis and pedis are a real treat! And I love them as much as the next girl. But with the way things are currently, who knows when salons will re-open and when we’ll all be comfortable going back, not to mention the cost. At around $60, twice a month, equals $1440 per year. Where could you fly for $1400 or what would that look like in your investing account after 3 years? Just a thought! 

Hunter Phoenix hand model

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Learn to do a perfect manicure at home! DIY mani pedi tips

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