How to Nail the Perfect DIY Mani-Pedi

Celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec shows you how to get your nails in tip-top shape at home.

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First: Prepping

DIY manicure

Photo by Joshua Pestka

Photo by Joshua Pestka

1. Take off polish with a non-drying remover, like Zoya Remove Plus (, $10). It has an acetone base with added glycerin to hydrate nails.

2. Starting with the right nail file, move file from the outside edge of the nail toward the center, then continue from opposite corner to center. Avoid “sawing”—filing back and forth straight across—which can split nails. 

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3. Apply a liquid cuticle remover, like Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover (, $20), all around cuticle area. Gently loosen cuticles with a metal pusher. Remove excess product from the nail plate with a cotton pad soaked in remover. Use a cuticle nipper to carefully trim any loose cuticles or skin.

4. Lightly buff nail bed to eliminate any loose cuticles that have moved onto the nail and to smooth any ridges. 

5. Remove dust, dirt andoils by dipping a disposable mascara wand (or cotton pad, but be careful of shedding) in isopropyl alcohol and swiping all over nail bed and cuticles and under tips.

6. Apply a thin layer of base coat, like Essie First Base (, $9). No need to wait—base coats dry quickly.

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diy pedi

Photo by Joshua Pestka

Photo by Joshua Pestka

7. Shake polish to mix pigments and solvents—this ensures even color application and prevents polish from thickening up. Swipe one side of the brush against the edge of the bottle to remove color and avoid excess polish dripping onto fingers. Place brush just above the bottom of the nail and press so the brush fans out, then pull toward the tip. Repeat along sides of nails. Wait 1 to 2 minutes before applying a second coat—this time, swipe brush just over tip to prevent chipping. 

8. Wait 5 minutes and apply topcoat. Be sure to polish the free edge again.

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9. Relax for 5 to 10 minutes—read a magazine, watch TV. Then, if using a regular topcoat, add quick-drying drops to nails. They absorb solvents to help polish dry faster. One exception: Don’t use these products with a quick-dry topcoat as that can cause bubbling.

10. Let nails dry completely: 5 minutes with a quick-dry topcoat and 20 minutes with a regular one. Note: Quick-dry topcoats dry fast but may shrink a bit a few days later, so save this option for when you’re in a rush. Regular topcoats take longer to dry but polish won’t shrink, says Kandalec. Here are more tips from Kandalec for drying, fixing smudges, and more:

  • If you can’t wait for toes to dry, apply cuticle oil to toenails and place a plastic sandwich bag over them. It adds an extra barrier, and the slippery oil prevents polish dents. Then put on socks and shoes.
  • Fix a smudge by dipping a fingertip into acetone and lightly smoothing over the area. Seal with a second layer of topcoat.

  • Tip: Polish one hand (or foot) in its entirety before starting the other—going back and forth can easily cause nicks.

  • Keep nails out of water before and after polishing—no dishes, baths or hot tubs. Soaking causes nails to absorb water, making the nail plate swell. And that means polish will chip faster after nails dry.

11. Apply cuticle oil around cuticles and nails, followed by hand cream. Kandalec is a fan of Dr. Hauschka’s Neem Nail Oil (, $39).

For a DIY pedicure
Nail care and polish steps are the same as for hands, but you’ll want to prep your feet, says Kandalec. Soak feet or shower to soften skin. Run the coarse side of a dual-sided foot file along heels and under big toes, then file the bottom of the foot with the finer side. Follow with a foot scrub, like Tree Hut Peppermint & Sugar Exfoliating Foot Scrub (K-Mart stores, $7).

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Nail Shapes

nail shapes

Soft square (aka square with rounded edges): good for all lengths

Sharp square: best on short nails only

Oval: better for longer nails

Round: ideal for short nails

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Beauty Tool Kit

diy mani tools

Photo by Burcu Avsar

Photo by Burcu Avsar

Cuticle nippers
Should be sharp so that they grab even the smallest cuticle and don’t cause hangnails. Tweezerman sharpens its tools for free if you send them in. Tweezerman Ultra Precision Cuticle Nipper,, $35 

Metal cuticle pusher
Although wooden versions are more common, they don’t get the nail plate as clean. Bonus: Metal tools can be sanitized with rubbing alcohol. OPI PusherPlus Titanium, for salon locator, $22 

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Straight blade toenail clipper
This tool is good for fingers too—the bigger size is easier to hold and the straight edge allows for more control. Revlon Gold Series Titanium Coated Dual Ended Nail Clip, drugstores, $6

Padded buffer
Removes ridges from nails for a smooth canvas. Tropical Shine Nail Buffer,, $2

Dual-sided foot file The different surfaces work on different areas of skin. Always be sure to finish with the smooth side. Gena Pedi-Pro File,, $3

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Summer Polish Shades

nail polish shades for summer 2018

Photo by Peter Ardito

Photo by Peter Ardito

Left to right:

Fire-engine red
Red isn’t just for winter. This orange-based hue works well with other bright shades. OPI Infinite Shine in Can’t Tame a Wild Thing, drugstores, $13. Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Red Eye, drugstores, $10.

Sky blue
A pretty pastel that looks good on all skin tones. Lauren B. Beauty in SkyBar,, $18. Jinsoon Polish in Peace,, $18. 

Are you more of a classic pale pink gal? Try this soft sherbet shade—it’s subtle yet summery. Revlon Colorstay Gel Envy in Jokers Wild, drugstores, $8. Essie Nail Polish in Tart Deco,, $9. 

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About Our Expert

Julie Kandalec

Photo courtesy of Julie Kandalec 

Photo courtesy of Julie Kandalec 

Julie Kandalec is a celebrity manicurist and creative director of Paintbox Nail Studio in NYC.