Authentically Rue

The At-Home Manicure


et me start this by saying: I'm absolutely terrible at painting my own nails. I cannot do it without cutting my nails too short or getting paint all over my fingers. It never turns out the way I want it to, and quite frankly, my nails end up looking worse than when I started.

Truth be told, I’m actually embarrassingly bad at most at home beauty techniques, which is why I’m willing to pay for these types of services. I almost always revert back to my tried and true salon after yet another failed attempt at an at-home process. Until now – when salon services are limited and I’m looking for some sort of creative outlet.

So, I reached out to my favorite manicurist to find out her most important steps for the at-home mani and to figure out how to perfect the process. I’m going to share her recommendations and a few tips and tricks I learned along the way.


      • polish remover
      • clippers
      • nail file
      • buffer
      • base coat
      • nail polish
      • top coat
      • thin brush


Use nail polish remover to get rid of any left over polish from previous manicures. This also helps eradicate any natural oils on your nails, making them easier to paint. A clean surface allows for the paint to go on smoother and provides a more finished look. Check out this cool nail polish removing pot I found from Olive and June.


Trim nails and file to your desired shape. Nail length and shape are an entirely individualized preference. Personally, I like mine short and rounded, but everyone is different. Here is a nail shape guide by Harper’s Bazaar to help you make your decision.

Pro Tip #1: 

Make sure to trim and file while your nails are completely dry. Trimming and filing nails while they are wet can lead to splitting.


filing finger nails


Soak cuticles in warm water. This step helps soften the cuticles and prevents painful tears in the next few steps.

Pro Tip #2:

For added moisture, try adding a few drops of olive coconut oil to your water.

soaking nails in bowl


Push cuticles back. Pushing your cuticles back elongates the nail and helps give it a clean and finished look.


Pro Tip #3: 

Leave the cuticle cutting to the professionals. The risks associated with at-home cuticle cutting (painful cuts and bacterial infections) are not worth the time and energy it takes to do it properly. If you properly moisturize your cuticles on a regular basis, cuticle cutting isn’t even needed.

pushing cuticles back on nails


Buff nails and apply base-coat. These two simple steps allow for a more even painting surface and help give you a more flawless finish. Applying a base-coat also helps avoid the unattractive nail staining that can result from painting polish directly on your nails. The pigment from the polish creates the yellow hue that you may have seen before after removing an at-home manicure.

putting clear coat on nails


Apply paint. This is definitely the hardest step, especially, with your non-dominate hand. The best trick I have tried so far to help with applying polish is The Poppy, by Olive and June. Their patented bottle handle is adaptable to any nail polish lid. Once attached, it allows for more control and grip when painting your nails. I usually apply two coats of paint, as anymore than this can significantly prolong drying time.

Pro Tip #4:

Do not shake your nail polish bottle. Instead, roll it in-between your hands to avoid small air bubbles in the paint on your nails.

Pro Tip #5:

Don’t worry if you get paint on the surrounding skin. Focus mostly on an even and smooth application. Any overages in polish can still be corrected.

painting nails


Remove any mistakes with a small brush and nail polish remover. This has proven to be the most important trick for my at-home manicure routine. I still have not mastered the art of keeping the paint exclusively on the nails (although following these steps has helped significantly) and do not anticipate doing so anytime soon. So, I typically dip a small makeup brush in nail polish remover and use it correct any imperfects around the nail.

Pro Tip #6:

Do not use a q-tip for this. Stray pieces of cotton can stick to the paint and affect the finish of your manicure. A small or flat makeup brush is the best tool.

picture of manicure


Finish with topcoat and let dry. If applied correctly, most nails dry enough to let you use your hands in about 15 minutes. If too much paint is applied, this can elongate drying time. Nails are usually completely dry within one hour.

Pro Tip #7:

After letting your nails dry for about five minutes, run cold water over the paint. This helps harden your polish and reduce drying time.

Hand with white nail polish

Final Thoughts:

The at-home mani is hard to master. Following these steps has significantly improved the process. Learning the why behind each step has helped me realize how important each one is to the overall finished look. If I want my nails to look smooth, I need to buff them in advance to remove any bumps. If I want to reduce drying time and avoid smudges in the polish, two light coats of paint is the way to go.

While researching for this piece, the BEST thing I have found is The Everything Box, by Olive and June. It includes almost everything you could need for giving yourself an A+ at-home manicure. Some select items, like The Poppy, polishes, and nail stickers are also available at Target.

What did you think? Are you the at-home mani type? Will you try these steps? Anything you feel like I left out that the world needs to know? Let me know. I want your opinion!

Leave a Comment