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A Guide to the Perfect DIY Manicure and Pedicure

by Helen K. |

Manicures and pedicures may seem like luxury services that you must pay a pretty penny for, but with the right materials, you can recreate an awesome DIY manicure and pedicure at home – right down to the spa services! As long as you have the patience to let your nails dry, you can do many of the same nail looks you can find at a nail salon right in your bedroom. 

Doing a perfect DIY manicure and pedicure at home involves getting the right supplies for the job, preparing your hands and feet carefully before painting your nails, and knowing how to prepare your nails before adding polish. Using quick-dry methods such as UV lights or quick-dry topcoat can help prevent smearing and other polish issues. 

Getting prepared ahead of time can give you a leg up in the perfect manicure and pedicure for your spa day at home. Read on to learn more about how to give yourself an excellent mani-pedi right from the comfort of your own home. 

Supplies Needed to Do a DIY Manicure and Pedicure

Before you get started on your DIY manicure and pedicure, you’ll need to make sure you have all of the supplies you need first. Since your nails will be wet during most of the time you’re doing your manicure and pedicure, you don’t want to realize halfway through that you’ve forgotten something important and have to go looking for it. 

These are the supplies you’ll need for a DIY manicure and pedicure: 

  • Hot water and antibacterial soap: Making sure that your hands and feet are clean is important before you begin working on your nails since you run the risk of transferring bacterial infections to your skin, cuticles, or nail beds if they are not clean. It’s also a good idea to have a few absorbent towels to make sure your hands and feet are well-dried after washing.

  • Nail clippers: You’ll need nail clippers to clip both your fingernails and your toenails. Files and buffers can be used to refine the nails, but clippers should be used to clip the nails evenly across without leaving any ragged bits that can get caught and tear on clothing or other surfaces.

  • Nail file: A nail file should be used to grind down the edges of your nails until they have a uniform shape, and nail files are also used to clean out from underneath your nails. Fingernails and toenails can be filed down into several different basic shapes depending on the owner’s preference.

  • Nail buffer: In contrast to a nail file, a nail buffer is used to polish the top surface of the nail and also helps to smooth down micro-abrasions on the surface of the nail that cause polish to chip and peel more easily.

  • Nail polish: Nail polish is the most fun part of a manicure and pedicure, and nail polishes can be found in a dazzling array of colors and textures. Some people choose to paint their toenails a different color than their fingernails, but you can always go for a monochromatic look, too, and paint them both the same color. High-quality nail polish lasts longer and chips less easily than cheap polish, so it’s worth paying a little more for it.

  • Nail topcoat: Topcoat for nails is used both as a quick-drying agent and also to provide a shiny varnish over the nail polish so that it lasts longer without taking environmental damage and chipping or peeling. Some nail topcoats are formulated for nail strength, while others are geared more towards ensuring that your nails dry as quickly as possible.

  • Nail polish remover: Nail polish remover is necessary not only to remove any residual nail polish you might have left on your hands and feet from previous manicures and pedicures but also to clean up any mistakes you might make while painting your nails. A Q-tip dipped in nail polish remover can be used to clean up the edges of the nail and make sure that there is no nail polish left on the skin.

  • Cuticle oil: Cuticle oil is used during a manicure to soften the cuticles so that they can be more easily pushed back into the nail bed. Cuticles can also be clipped with nail scissors, but this should only be done if the cuticles are already torn or ragged since this can introduce infection into the nail bed.

  • Hand moisturizer: Hands have some of the most abused skin on the human body since they’re used for so many things, and this often leads them to age faster than the skin on the rest of the body. Regularly applying high-quality moisturizers to your hands and feet can help keep your skin looking lush and vibrant.

  • Foot moisturizer: Because the feet are prone to cracking and damage from being walked on constantly, foot moisturizers are often medicated to improve heel cracking and contain high levels of moisture to return a supple texture to callused feet. Foot moisturizers also often come in fragrant smells, such as peppermint, to cover up the smell of feet.

  • Pumice stone: Pumice stones are used in manicures to grind away calluses and hard spots that are found on the bottom of the foot, especially around the heel area. Without softening and grinding down, these heel calluses can become prone to cracking, which in turn can lead to foot pain and even infection.

  • Exfoliating scrub: Dead skin cells tend to build up on the hands and feet, and exfoliating scrubs can be used to scrub these dead skin cells away and make it easier for new skin cells to regenerate in their place. Exfoliation leaves the skin feeling soft and looking new.

  • Finger and toe separators: These sponges are used to keep your fingers and toes from accidentally brushing each other during your manicure and pedicure, forcing you to fix the mistake and paint the nails over again. Separators are especially crucial in more complicated manicures and pedicures such as French tips or marbling.

  • Q-tips and cotton pads: Q-tips and cotton pads can be used to manipulate nail polish remover—Q-tips provide a finer level of control than cotton pads. However, cotton pads are more effective at removing a coat of old nail polish to start a new manicure or pedicure.

  • Nail scissors: Nail scissors can be used both to trim fingernails and toenails as well as to trim torn cuticles. Nail scissors should be kept sterilized to prevent accidentally introducing bacteria and infection to the nails. 

It might seem like a lot of supplies to get together for a manicure and pedicure, but the good news is that these toiletries last for a long time. So, once you have a manicure and pedicure kit established in your home, you’re ready to do DIY manicures and pedicures pretty much at any time.  

Cleaning Your Hands and Feet for a Mani-Pedi

Before you get started on your perfect DIY manicure and pedicure, the first thing you need to do is scrub your hands and feet clean with hot water and antibacterial soap. 

This should be done for a few reasons: 

  • Dirt trapped on and around the nails can negatively impact a nail polish paint job.
  • The actions involved in a manicure and pedicure can introduce bacteria to sensitive areas of the hands and feet if they aren’t well sanitized before starting. 
  • It’s nicer to handle your feet and hands to apply exfoliating scrubs, moisturizers, and other serums if your hands and feet are clean first. 
  • Running your hands and feet under hot water and soap can help open the pores of the skin and also rinse away any dead skin cells that are left on the skin’s surface.

Along with washing your hands and feet well, you should also take the end of a nail file and make sure to clean up under your nails and get plenty of hot water and soap up under them. This will help prevent trapped bacteria from being exposed to your nail beds when you bring out the nail scissors and start manipulating your cuticles. 

If you make a point to clean your hands and feet well before starting a manicure and pedicure, you’ll end up starting with a blank canvas once you’re ready to start working on your nails. 

Soaking Your Hands and Feet for a Mani-Pedi

After washing your hands and feet, you should soak your hands and feet in hot water before beginning a manicure and pedicure. (Source: Makeup.com) Not only does this help make sure your pores are completely open, and all debris has been rinsed away from your hands and feet, but it also is a way to incorporate some heat and aromatherapy into your manicure and pedicure experience. This helps it feel more like a real spa day, even when you’re doing it at home. 

For a pedicure, you can soak your feet either in a foot bath or just in the regular bathtub by filling the bath up with hot water up to around a foot and then dunking your feet in it. If you want to have a real luxurious spa day, you can soak your hands and feet simultaneously by taking a bath with softening aromatic oils such as rose oil. If you want, this is also a good time to break out a face exfoliating scrub and face mask

After 15-20 minutes, get out of the bath and make sure that your hands and feet are well-dried before proceeding with the next step of your pedicure and manicure. 

Exfoliating Your Hands and Feet for a Mani-Pedi

The next step of the perfect DIY manicure and pedicure is exfoliation:

  • For your hands, that means scrubbing them with an exfoliating scrub before rinsing. 
  • For your feet, this can mean using both an exfoliating scrub and using a pumice stone to scrub away any excessive built-up skin on the soles of your feet. 

Not only does exfoliation leave the skin on your hands and feet soft to the touch, but it also leaves your skin more receptive to moisturizers, toners, and other serums that are used on the skin after exfoliating. (Source: Living on the Cheap) After exfoliating, make sure that your hands and feet are rinsed and dried again before proceeding. 

Take Care of the Nails on Your Hands and Feet

Once you’ve taken care of the skin on your hands and feet, it’s time to turn your attention to the nails. Before nail polish can be applied to the nails of the hands and feet, you should check to see if there’s any leftover polish. 

This is especially common on the toenails since the nail polish on your toes tends to wear much less quickly than the nail polish on your hands. If you have leftover nail polish on your hands and feet, remove it with the nail polish remover and a cotton pad. 

After you’ve removed any leftover nail polish, it’s time to start shaping your nails. Starting with a file, shape your nails into a uniform shape, working to make each nail as similar as possible. 

There are several different nail shapes possible, such as the following: 

  • Rounded nails
  • Squared nails
  • Pointed nails

After shaping up your nails, use a nail buffer to soften the edges of your freshly cut nails as well as to polish the top surface area of the nails. You may need to use a towel to wipe away any dust left from sanding down your nails.

Add Cuticle Oil to Your Hands and Feet

After you’ve taken care of your nails and gotten them to a happy baseline, it’s time to turn your attention to the cuticle of the nails. This is the little half-moon flap of skin between your nail and your nail bed on the surface of the nail, and the cuticle is also the area of the nail other than the quick that is most susceptible to infection during a manicure or pedicure. This is one of the reasons why sanitizing the hands and feet before doing a manicure or pedicure is so important. 

Cuticle oil is rubbed into the cuticles of the nails on the hands and feet to soften them. Once the cuticles have been softened, they can be pushed back slightly to prevent them from encroaching onto the surface of the nail. Cuticle oil should be left on the nail beds for a few moments to soften the skin before attempting to scrape it back. 

If any of the cuticles on the nails are torn or ragged, the cuticle can be clipped short. But be sure not to over-clip the cuticle into the nail bed, as this can lead to nasty skin infections. 

Moisturize Your Hands and Feet

After you’ve taken care of the skin and nails on your hands and feet, it’s time to use moisturizer. If you suffer from extremely dry skin, a deep moisturizing treatment can be done by saturating the hands and feet in moisturizer before putting on gloves and socks and sleeping with moisturizer on your hands and feet overnight. 

Otherwise, rub the moisturizers of your choice into your hands and feet and give them plenty of time to soak into the skin before moving on to the next stage of your manicure and pedicure. If you are not doing an overnight treatment, however, give moisturizers at least fifteen to thirty minutes to soak into your skin before wiping your skin dry with a towel and moving on to the nail polish portion of your manicure and pedicure. 

Apply Nail Polish to Your Hands and Feet

Once you’ve moisturized, it’s time to put on your nail polish. The easiest way to paint your nails at home without the help of a salon is to use finger and toe separators and do one hand at a time, allowing it to dry at least partially before moving on to the next hand. 

Here are some tips for getting the most out of painting your manicure and pedicure
(Source: Cosmopolitan): 

  • Follow the three-stroke rule: You want to use as few strokes as possible to cover each nail since this prevents runs in your nail polish and prevents a lot of brushstrokes in your polish, too. The nail polish brush is meant to gently guide a drop of nail polish into place, rather than painting it on.

  • Use a base coat first. A base coat can keep darker nail polishes from staining your nail bed and can also help your manicure or pedicure last longer without chipping or peeling. It adds an extra step to your nail polish procedure, but it can be worth the extra effort to have a beautiful manicure or pedicure for an extra week or so as a result of doing it.

  • Clean up the edges of your manicure or pedicure with nail polish remover. Soaking a Q-tip in nail polish remover and running it along the edges of your nail polish can help remove any excess polish and keep your manicures or pedicures looking nice and neat.

  • Use a topcoat. Not only can a topcoat help your manicure or pedicure dry faster, but it can also help create a varnish over the pigments in the nail polish to keep nail polish from fading or chipping. Some topcoats are formulated to be used either with a base coat or alone to provide a clear protective finish over bare nails.

  • Be prepared to paint several coats. This is especially true with nail polishes that have effects such as sparkles or nail polishes that don’t go on thick. It’s a good idea to let your nails dry completely between coats if you can, so make sure you give plenty of time to finish your manicure and pedicure to avoid accidentally messing it up while it’s still wet.

  • Use white as a base coat for neon nail polishes to make them appear more vibrant. This is also a good piece of advice for nail polishes that are heavy on glitter or shimmer effects. A white (or in some cases black) base coat can help nail effects show up more vividly and can make neon colors more vibrant without looking streaky or thin.

  • Don’t layer too much nail polish on your nails. While three thin coats of nail polish are optimal for a perfect manicure or pedicure, the word “thin” is crucial here—three thick coats of nail polish not only won’t look great, but they’ll be much more likely to get scratched or damaged because they will have a hard time curing.

  • Store your nail polish and other cosmetics in the fridge. Your favorite color of nail polish will stay fresh much longer if you keep it cold temperatures, as will many other of your favorite cosmetics. To keep your makeup away from your takeout, you may want to invest in a beauty fridge if you have a large roster of cosmetics to keep track of. 

  • Hold your hands under ice-cold water to dry them faster. Cold temperatures help the enamel in nail polish set faster, allowing your manicure or pedicure to cure more quickly without getting nicked or messed up. 

Painting your nails isn’t hard—the worst part about it is the patience it takes to wait for your nails to dry between coats. But if you stick it out, you can end up with a manicure and pedicure that look just as good as the ones you get at your local nail salon. 

Types of Nail Polish Jobs for Manicures and Pedicures


If you’re doing your nail polish job at home, you have the option of choosing from the same types of nail polish designs that a salon worker would be providing for you if you went into a salon. 

Here are some of the basic nail polish techniques you can use (Source: Body Art Guru): 

  • Brushwork: You can use a nail polish brush not only to give yourself a basic manicure but also to draw designs on your nails.

  • Sponges: Sponges are useful in nail polish designs to create ombre effects or to gradually shift colors from one color to another on the surface of the nail. Sponges can also be used to create texture in the nail polish. 

  • Taping: Tape can be used to create different geometric designs in the nail polish, which is great for more modern or minimalist looking color combinations and nail polish designs. Regular scotch tape can be cut into small designs to help block out parts of the nail to layer colors on top of each other for a truly unique look.

  • Stamping: Stamping is a specialized nail art design technique that uses a stamper to print various types of designs in nail polish on the surface of the nail.  Stamping is one of the more complicated nail polish techniques and involves advanced tools and materials.

  • Stencils: Stencils are a bit easier to use than stamps and can be used to layer different colored designs on top of a base coat. Nail stencils come in a wide variety of designs, from botanical designs to symbols like stars.

  • Stickers and decals: There are many different stickers and decals available to help you accentuate your manicure or pedicure, and these are usually applied to your nail polish after it’s had a chance to dry completely. Sequins and jewels can also be found as accents to help set your manicure out.

  • Splatter art: Splatter nail arts are abstract forms of nail art that layer different streaks and splatters of nail polish colors together to form an interesting pattern. Splatter nail art can be replicated at home by dipping a toothbrush in nail polish before flicking it at the nails, or by using a small paintbrush.

  • Marbling: Water marbling is a technique used in nail art where nail polish is dropped onto the surface of a container of water, forming a layered pattern, and the nails are then dipped into the top layer of polish on the water to transfer the color to them.

  • Accent nail: One way to set your manicure out is to make one nail on your hand, such as the ring finger, your accent nail. This nail can be painted in a different color than the rest of the nails in your manicure or pedicure, or it can be set out from the rest of the nails in some way with a stripe, decal, sticker, jewel, or similar accent. 

Once you’ve mastered a basic DIY manicure and pedicure, you’re at the point where you can branch out and start trying some more advanced nail art techniques. Before you know it, you might even have friends and family asking you to help them do their nails, too!

A Perfect DIY Manicure and Pedicure is Possible at Home

While you do need a rather large list of supplies to do a professional-looking manicure at home, once you have the gear assembled, you can get a very good result just by following the same steps at home that professional salon workers would follow in a salon. 

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