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How to Care for Your Nails at Home

woman filing nails
Nadeyeva Tatiana/Shutterstock

Can’t afford a mani-pedi every two weeks? Don’t worry: there are still plenty of great ways to treat yourself and care for your nails at home.

There’s something so luxurious about booking a manicure, even a simple one. You get to sit back and relax while a professional technician ensures your nails are clean, healthy, and properly shaped. Unfortunately, that luxury also comes with a price tag. 

In this detailed guide, we’ll give you what you need to know when you can’t make it to the nail salon. Keep reading to learn how to pamper your nails at home!

What You’ll Need

First, there are a few things you should stock at home to care for your nails. Make sure you own:

  • A nail file
  • Nail clippers or scissors
  • High-quality hand soap
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Moisturizer or oil

While there are other optional items you can use, like nail polish and cuticle pushers, these basics will get you started with healthy, happy nails.

Your Guide to Healthy Nails at Home

Now, let’s delve into the steps you should follow to maintain healthy nails at home.

While you can give yourself an at-home manicure whenever you please, most of these steps are about your lifestyle, not just a periodic event. Make caring for your nails a part of your daily routine, and you’ll find yourself coveting nail salon appointments less often.

Never Cut Your Cuticles

Notice how a cuticle cutting tool wasn’t on our list of things you’ll need? That’s because cutting your cuticles is unhealthy and can promote infection. You should never do it at home, or the salon.

If you don’t like the way your cuticles look, you have the option of pushing them back with a cuticle pusher instead of cutting them. But your cuticles have an important job: they protect the base of the nail from germs, bacteria, and infection. Pushing them back is a cosmetic choice, but leaving them alone is best for your nails’ health.

Keep Nails and Hands Clean

Washing hands with soap under the faucet with water
Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

Quality hand soap is essential because clean nails are healthy nails. If you’re giving yourself a manicure, your first step should be washing your hands. But you should also work to keep your hands and nails clean throughout the rest your day, too.

You can use a new toothbrush to scrub your nails with soap for an extra-deep clean periodically. This also gives your hands a gentle exfoliation. Hand scrubs are nice, but a toothbrush and soap are less expensive!

Don’t forget to dry your nails thoroughly after they get wet. Otherwise, the nails can get damaged, and bacteria might even start to grow under them.

Know What’s Normal

Your nails might have quirks: a ridge here, a spot there. It’s important to know what your nails usually look like, so you can tell if a change indicates damage.

Healthy nails are usually smooth and the same color all over. If you notice your nails changing in color, shape, thickness, or growth pattern, you might want to see a dermatologist or a doctor. Make sure to get any inexplicable pain checked out, too.

Wear Protection

If you need to work with harsh soap or chemicals, or submerge your hands in water for a long time, get a pair of waterproof gloves to protect your nails. For example, wear gloves if you wash your dishes by hand.

Be Gentle

Whatever you do with your nails, always be gentle. Avoid rough scrubbing or filing and other harsh activities as much as you can.

Take Care with Nail Polish

It’s fine to apply nail polish, although it’s best to use a base coat if you don’t want the color to stain. But when it’s time to take the polish off, make sure you use a remover, rather than chipping it away. Chipping polish off damages your nail bed, which can lead to breakage. And while we’re at it, don’t bite your nails!

It’s also a good idea to give your nails a break between polishes. Keeping nail color on all the time can make your nails dried out and weak.

Trim and File Correctly

Closeup of a woman cutting nails
Maliwan Prangpan/Shutterstock

When you trim your nails, try cutting them straight, and then rounding the edges with the file. This creates a shape that’s not likely to chip or break.

It’s good to trim your nails regularly, although this can be difficult if you want to grow them out. However, remember that short nails are less likely to get damaged.

If your nails are weak, focus on getting them healthy before you grow them out, so they won’t break so easily. Short, healthy nails look better than long, damaged ones.

And no matter which shape you choose, always file your nails in one direction, not back and forth. This keeps the edges smooth to avoid breakage.

Clean Your Tools

Cleaning and disinfecting nail tools like your clippers are crucial. This removes bacteria so you won’t get an infection from using them. Do it when you clean your makeup brushes so you won’t forget.

You can wash your tools with your hand soap, and then wipe them down with rubbing alcohol.

Consider using an easy-to-clean glass nail file, rather than a disposable one, to cut down on waste. But if you do use disposable tools, make sure to replace them with clean ones when they start to get worn out.

Moisturize Often

Your nails need moisture, just like your hands do. Rub a nourishing lotion or oil into your nails and cuticles as well as your hands. If your nails are exposed to extreme elements, like cold air or hot sun, they’ll probably need moisture even more often.

Eat Healthy Foods

Finally, your diet can help your nails thrive in the long term. There aren’t any magic foods or supplements that will make your nails stronger, but getting a balance of vitamins, minerals, and protein from your diet can help keep your nails happy.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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