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Our lives have all been impacted dearly by COVID-19. We miss seeing our friends and family, going to our favorite restaurants, escaping to our regular work-out class... the list goes on and on BUT while your favorite businesses are temporarily shut down, including your local nail shop - we wanted to help by creating a step-by-step DIY mani guide, paired up with links to some of our favorite tools and products. This guide includes the proper steps for cutting, shaping, nourishing and polishing your nails, as well as both high-end and budget friendly product options - all pre-approved by our lovely team of nail artists.

Now, let's get to the fun part!


What You'll Need

First, let's go through what you'll need. I've curated a list of items that you can purchase or you can work with what you've got at home. I know everyone has different budgets so I've included both expensive and affordable options for each category, that way you can splurge a bit or keep things cost efficient.

A nail clipper, cuticle pusher and cuticle nipper: If you aren't going to focus on your cuticles too much, you can forego purchasing a cuticle nipper but I do recommend grabbing a metal pusher to gently push back your cuticles.



For nail pros, Tweezerman is the go-to for top-notch manicure tools. They have the best clippers, pushers, and nippers.

Ultra Precision Cuticle Nipper: These titanium gold cuticle nippers are simply, the best. They are durable, precise and the blades are super sharp, which is important when trimming any dead skin around the nail. They are also rust resistant! Price: $35.00

Combo Clipper Set: I like this set because it comes with two types of nail clippers - one for your finger nails and one for your toe nails. Yes, there are two different types of clippers and this tip will be a savior for you - if a clipper has a rounded mouth, then it is for your finger nails because finger nails are smaller and more prone to grow in a rounded shape. If a clipper has a straight across edge, it is better for your toe nails because they tend to be bigger and should be cut from each side, which the straight-edge clipper allows for. Price: $11.00

"Dual Side Pushy" Cuticle Pusher: This pusher is super cute (love the light purple color) and it has two sides, one for pushing cuticles back and the other for getting any residue under the free-edge of the nail. I also love that the base of the tool is soft so it doesn't sit too heavily on the hand you're holding it with. Price: $16.00

Budget Friendly 

JAPONESQUE Essential Mani/Pedi Kit: This kit has every tool you'd ever need for a mani & pedi (bonus, woohoo). It is very cost efficient and I love the hot pink accents on some of the items. For only $13.59, its a steal if you ask me.

A nail file & soft buffer

To keep things concise while at-home, its best to grab a nail file that has a variety of grits, all-in-one. The grit of the file implies how coarse the surface of the file is -  the higher the grit - the softer the file. The lower the grit - the more coarse the file is. Lower grit files like 100/180 or less are used for enhancements and removals, while higher grit files are used for natural nails, soft buffing and shining. I am going to include softer grit files for this guide because we are working with the natural nail.


Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator - Buffer Nail File: I love this file because it's high-quality, lasts a long time and has multiple grits for shaping, smoothing and shining the natural nail. It is also free from any parabens & sulfates, which is always a plus in my book. Price: $12.00

Budget Friendly

Trim 7-Way Color-Coded Nail Finishing Buffer: This file really has everything and for such an affordable price point. It has 7 different surfaces for filing and buffing your nails and its color-coded to help guide you through which parts of the file to use for each step of your mani. For only $2.89 - its more than worth the price!

Cuticle Softener and Oil

There are two products you'll need to help with grooming your cuticles - a softener to help with softening the skin around and on the natural nail for pushing back and an oil for nourishing/hydrating the skin around the nail. Cuticle oil is so important and should be applied during your manicure, as well as a few times a day. By just applying cuticle oil once a day, I've seen such a difference in the strength and durability of my natural nails. I also find that I get less peeling on the skin around my nails, which is always a huge plus.


Butter London Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator (Softener): This is such a well made product and it really does the job when it comes to "melting" away any dead skin from the natural nail plate and allowing the skin around the nail to really soften so that you can push back your cuticles back in an easy, painless way. Once you apply it, you should let is sit for about 2 minutes and then start pushing. It works kind of like a miracle if you ask me. Price: $18.00

NCLA So Rich Vitamin E Infused Cuticle Oil: Now there are definitely way more expensive cuticle oils out there but this one is my absolute favorite and customers in our shop go absolutely crazy for it! The scent is amazing (I love the peach scent but all of their flavors are beyond) and my nails have never felt stronger. NCLA is also vegan and cruelty-free which is another reason I love them so much. Price: $18.00

Budget Friendly

Blue Cross Cuticle Remover (Softener): This cuticle remover does the job! We use this at our shop and it works hard to lift any dead skin. You'd be shocked at how much comes off the natural nail after applying this stuff. I highly recommend this if you are looking for something that is no-frills and just gets the job done. Price: $5.59

Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil: I love this cuticle oil because it nourishes, hydrates  and softens the cuticles, all-in-one. Its also easy to carry around and apply for the babe on-the-go. Price: $7.49

Base Coat, Top Coat & Color

When applying your polish, sometimes its best to stick to the same brand when you are doing your base, color and top coat. Some formulas end up working better together for achieving that long-lasting, chip-free mani. Here are some of my favs:


I love, love, love Smith & Cult polishes - from their beautiful brushes for easy polish application to their colors - this is always my luxe polish go-to brand. Our customers love this brand and rave about how long their manis last when they use this polish. I also recommend brands like NARS, Tom Ford, Chanel and Deborah Lippmann but Smith & Cult definitely holds a special place in my heart.

Smith & Cult Basis Over Everything - Base Coat $18

Smith & Cult Top Coat $18

Smith & Cult Color Polish $18

Budget Friendly

My absolute favorite indie-polish brand is Floss Gloss. They have the most gorgeous colors and I'm obsessed with the design of their bottles/the names of each color - they are seriously, so creative! They aren't expensive and once you start buying a few of their shades, you'll want more and more - trust me.

Floss Gloss - Bassline Base Coat $9

Floss Gloss Top Coat $9

Floss Gloss Color Polish $9

Household Essentials 

A few items that you probably already have at home that you'll need for your mani are:

Cotton Balls: For polish removal before starting your mani.

Paper Towels: You'll need a piece to do your mani on and a small piece for prepping the nails before polishing.

Garbage Pail: For tossing things out throughout your mani, better to have one nearby.

Now, Lets get started with our mani:


Step 1: Remove Current Nail Polish

If you have polish on your hands already, you'll need to start by removing it. You can use an acetone-based remover or an oil-based remover, each have their pros and cons. Acetone-based works faster but can be dehydrating for the natural nail. Oil-based is better for your natural nails but can take longer for removing polish and also may lead to chipping sooner due to oil residue that may be left on the nail prior to polishing.

How to remove polish easily without getting it on the skin:

-Put polish remover on your cotton ball

-Apply the cotton ball to your nail with light pressure

-With light pressure, move the cotton ball from side to side on the nail without lifting, then gently move the cotton ball down the rest of the nail

All of the polish should come off in one swoop. If not, repeat. Repeat on all ten fingers until polish is completely removed (this is for nail polish only, gel removal is a completely different process).

Step 2: Cut and Shape

Now its times to cut and shape the nails. With your nail cutter, trim your nails to a length that is just a bit longer than your desired length (you will get it to the proper length once you start filing). You always want to leave more length and keep taking away vs. cutting too much/getting too close to the skin.

Once you have trimmed all of your nails, its time for shaping. Here is a quick visual guide of some of the most popular shapes:


When filing your natural nails, make sure to use an emory board or fine-grit cushion file and start at one side of your nail, moving your file in an outward, one-direction motion towards the free-edge. Try not to file back and forth repeatedly as that can damage the nails. Repeating the same motion in one direction is best. If you're looking for tips on how to shape nails, this video tutorial does a great job of showing you how.

Step 3: Groom Cuticles

Cuticle time! Take your cuticle softener and apply it to the skin right around the edge of your nails. Allow it to set for about 2 minutes to work its magic. After your 2 minutes is up, take your cuticle pusher and gently push your cuticles back - be careful during this part, pushing too hard can cause bleeding or damage to the nail plate. Once you've pushed all of your cuticles back, take the softest part of your file or take a soft buffer and gently buff away any dead skin.

After gently buffing, you may see a few pieces of skin hanging that you'd like to remove. Now you can take your cuticle nipper and gently nip away any leftover skin that is bothering you. Be very careful with this tool, it is very sharp and you can cut yourself easily. Make sure to keep your hand level when using this tool!

Once you're done with cleaning up your cuticles, apply cuticle oil and let sit for 2 minutes - this will hydrate and nourish the skin around the nail.

Step 4: Exfoliate and Hydrate

If you'd really like to take your mani to the next level, you can start by exfoliating your skin with a nice sugar scrub. You can use any body scrub you have on hand or you can make your own sugar scrub by combining sugar and coconut oil. Scrub your hands for about 2 minutes and then rinse. They will feel baby soft after this!

Once you've exfoliated your hands, you're ready to moisturize. Apply hand lotion or body lotion to your hands and massage for about 2 minutes.

Step 5: Polish

Your hands should look like they are in tip-top shape right now but polish really makes the entire mani in my opinion. Before applying your polish, it is important to remove any oil or lotion residue from the the nail plate (this will help extend your mani because the polish will be able to adhere better to the nail). Take a small piece of paper towel and add acetone to it. Then wipe each nail until it cleaned entirely of any product.

Apply your base coat in one even, thin layer to all ten nails. Do your best to cap the edges (apply polish to the edges of the nail). This will help with avoiding chipping. Next apply your first coat of color polish. Start at the middle of the nail, closest to the skin and drag the brush down gently. Repeat on the left and right sides of the nail. Remember, the first coat is for coverage, it does not need to be perfect and it is not the true color of the polish yet. Once you have allowed a minute of drying time, start applying the second coat. Now you will start to see the true color of the polish. Again, make sure to cap your edges with polish so that your mani lasts. Allow to dry for 2 minutes.

Last but not least, apply your top coat in thin, even layers and again, make sure to cap your edges! Allow your mani to dry 15 minutes before doing anything with your hands.

Now, you're a pro! Enjoy your mani and as always, let us know if you have any questions. We're always here!

Blog Post by Kristin Pulaski

Founder/CEO of Paintbucket Nails