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Skip the Salon: How to Do a Pro-Style Pedicure

Woman putting her feet into a bowl of warm water, surrounded by candles and flowers.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Many people shell out their hard-earned cash to make their fingernails look fabulous, but what about those gnarly toes? If you can’t justify spending the dough on both, you don’t have to; just give yourself a pedicure at home!

And yes, guys, this article is for you, too. Everyone feels better when their toes don’t look like the cloven hooves of a mythological beast. Plus, since most guys will skip the hardest part (the toe-painting), your DIY pedi will be a much shorter process. We’ll let you know at which point you’re liberated. But if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have electric blue toes, give it a try! We’ll never tell.

Forage for Supplies

A woman soaking her feet in the HoMedics Bubble Mate Foot Spa.

Before we begin, you must all brave the strongly scented, treacherous wilds of your local drugstore or beauty supply house to forage for supplies. We’ll wait here.

Just kidding—we would never make you go outside. You should be able to find everything you need online. And if you’ve ever received the obligatory manicure set as a gift, you’re already ahead of the game—dig that puppy out from under the bathroom sink.

Now, strap on your urban safari hat and locate the following items:

Toenail clippers: You probably have several pairs of these lying around, but if you want to invest in a nicer pair, the Mehaz Professional 664 Clippers are all the rage—just scan the reviews on Amazon.

Cotton balls: A necessary piece of artillery when tackling nails on any appendage. You can use these instead of a toe separator if it makes it easier for you to work. If you hate it when fluff gets stuck in your top coat, though, you can use cotton pads instead.

Emery boards: You want to use the wooden kind—the metal file in your manicure kit can tear your toenails (and, yes, that’s as brutal as it sounds).

Nail polish remover: The hard stuff is best because it also removes the natural oils that build up on your nailbed and make it difficult for polish to adhere.

A foot tub or spa: Now here’s where you might want to splurge! Sure, you could choose a plain, economical tub. If you scrape your feet back and forth fast enough along those grooves on the bottom, it might sort of feel like a massage. But why not treat yourself to the blissful, heated, bubbly experience of a foot spa? You deserve it! And whichever you choose, you can add your favorite bath salts or aromatherapy oils to the water. Or plain old dish soap works, too.

Cuticle oil: This softens your cuticles, so you can push them back.

Orange wooden cuticle sticks or a cuticle pusher: You need these to tame your unruly cuticles. You can also use the wooden sticks and remover to clean up any nail polish if you accidentally color outside the lines. More on that later.

Cuticle trimmers: The bravest pedicurists amongst you might use these to (carefully) trim your cuticles after you push them back. The rest of you will run away screaming (but hopefully with all toes still attached). This set comes with a cuticle pusher, too. Bonus!

Sloughing lotion: Your feet take a beating every day, and it usually shows—otherwise, why would you be here? This removes the dead skin cells from your feet (including callouses) and leaves them smooth.

Foot file or pumice stone: When you use this along with the sloughing lotion, you can more quickly smooth away even the toughest spots on those hooves.

Moisturizing lotion: The finishing touch pre-polish! You can use your favorite foot or moisturizing body lotion.

Base and top coat, and polish: A good base and top coat are the secret ingredients that make your nail polish last longer. Or you can get one that’s both. And, of course, you need a smashing color that says, “Look at my totally professionally pedicured toes!”

Now that you’ve got all your supplies, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty—literally and figuratively.

How to Pamper, Prune, & Polish Your Toes

Woman painting her toenails during a home pedicure.

Now that you’ve hunted and gathered, it’s time to create some showstopping toenails. Just follow these steps to give yourself a pro-style pedicure:

  1. Prepare your toenails. Use the polish remover and cotton balls or pads to remove any old polish. Even if your toes aren’t painted, don’t skip this step. The remover also cleans any oils or residue from your nails that might prevent your polish from adhering.
  2. Clean and cut your toenails. Use an orange stick or your metal cuticle pusher (the one that looks like a spear a particularly vicious faery might use) and carefully clean all the gunk from under your toenails. You never know what you might find. (My keys! Finally!) With your toenail clippers, cut straight across, and be careful not to cut too deep. Your toenail should just reach the tip of each toe. Also, don’t cut the sides of your toenails with your clippers, unless you want them to become ingrown.
  3. File your toenails. Use an emery board to file down any sharp or jagged points left by the clippers. You can also round out the sides of your toenails. Always file in one direction from the corner to the middle. Never file back and forth or Pedicurys, the God of Feet, shall strike ye down! Actually, you’ll just fray your toenails and maybe damage the nail bed.
  4. Soak your feet (and probably nod off for a bit). Make sure the water is comfortably warm, and if you sprang for the foot spa, let the bubbles rage! If you haven’t bathed in a while, you can use a nail brush to scrub away any dirt you couldn’t reach with your faery spear. Then, close your eyes, visualize your spirit animal, and soak your feet for as long as you like (but for at least 10 minutes).
  5. Scrub away those dead skin cells before they create zombies. While your feet are still damp, apply the sloughing lotion. Use your file or pumice stone to scrub away the dead skin. Pay particular attention to the rougher areas, like the balls of your feet and your heels. Try not to be overly vigorous, though—your objective here is to smooth your feet, not remove your epidermis.
  6. Push back the cuticles. Place your damp feet on a towel, and then apply the cuticle oil to your cuticles (around each nail bed). Let it sit for a few minutes, so it has time to penetrate and make your cuticles more malleable. Next, use your metal pusher or orange stick to push the cuticles as far as you can to each side and toward the bottom of each toenail. Again, if you’re feeling brave, trim any excess with the cuticle trimmers, but be very careful—they’re sharp, and you can quite easily cut yourself. Or end up with only nine toes.
  7. Foot massage! Dry your feet, grab your favorite foot or body lotion and massage it into your feet. If you can, take the time to give yourself a full-blown foot massage—you’ve earned it! And guys, unless you want some color on those toes, you can check out here—and we didn’t even have to use the chainsaw!
  8. Apply the base coat. Grab your trusty polish remover and cotton and swipe all that lotion off your toenails. Apply your base coat and let it dry for about five minutes before you apply the first coat of polish.
  9. Apply nail polish. Try to avoid painting your cuticles, and don’t apply more than two coats of polish. The more you apply, the longer it takes to dry, and the more likely it is to smudge. Allow your polish to dry for at least 10 minutes before you move to the next step. If you paint more toe than nail, don’t worry! You can wrap some cotton around an orange stick, dip it in remover, and then clean up around the edges.
  10. Apply top coat. If you find the polish is still tacky, wait a few more minutes. A good top coat can smooth out some of the rougher areas, like that toe you were working on when the dog started drinking out of your foot spa.

Chill out and watch an episode of something on Netflix while everything dries. Stay off your feet for at least 30 minutes (one hour, if you can). Avoid socks and full-coverage shoes for at least an hour, as well—these Pedi sandals are perfect if you know you’ll need to walk around after working on your feet.

You also don’t want to shower or bathe right after a mani or pedi, as it can ruin your polish, and who wants that after all that hard work?!

If you’ve been too intimidated to give yourself a pedicure, it’s really not that difficult. After you’ve done it a few times, you might even decide to skip the expensive mani-pedi at the salon forever! Now, slip on some sexy sandals and show off those spiffy toes. And if anyone asks where you got them done, tell them it’s your little secret.

Amanda Gambill Amanda Gambill
Amanda is the Managing Editor for LifeSavvy. She’s been writing and editing professionally since 2004. In her spare time, Amanda reads stuff no one else does (classics and historical bios), watches documentaries that put others to sleep (ancient cookware archaeologists found under a McDonald's), and writes stories about things that go bump in the night. Read Full Bio »
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