5 Steps for the Perfect At-home Pedicure

By: Julia Layton

An at-home pedicure can be almost as luxurious as a professional job -- especially when done al fresco!
An at-home pedicure can be almost as luxurious as a professional job -- especially when done al fresco!
Kathrin Ziegler/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Colored or glossy clear, toes are the focus of summer. They're peeking out of peep-toes and totally bared in flip-flops, making the pedicure a seasonal necessity. But what happens when time or money prevents a trip to the salon? What always happens when the beauty-savvy come up short on either one: You paint those toes at home.

OK, so it's not a raised massage chair and 200 colors to choose from, but it can be the next best thing. If you know what you're doing, an at-home pedicure can look as pretty as a professional one. It can be a quick thing or a slow, pampering process. That's right, you can pamper like the pros.


Here, five steps to fabulous toes. Whether you go quick 'n dirty (well, clean, actually) or full-on salon style, your home-pedicure results can easily rival the ones you pay for.

First, while it's tempting to skip the seemingly non-essential, spa-type treatments in the interest of time, this will noticeably affect your results. So the first step, like it or not (you'll like it), is to be nice to your overworked feet.

5: Sit Back, Relax and Soak

A big part of what distinguishes a home pedicure from a salon job has to do with the luxuriant stuff. The pre-soak, for instance, which relaxes and soothes, has practical purposes, too. This crucial step softens feet to make dulling, dead skin easier to remove.

Step 1 is simple: Fill a bathtub or large bowl with several inches of warm water, insert feet and enjoy.


If you have Epsom salts, toss in a handful for an extra-soothing soak. A little bit of moisturizing body wash or bubble bath can be a nice addition, too, especially if your feet aren't totally clean.

Fifteen to 20 minutes later, take a deep breath, remove feet and towel dry. They're now softened, probably quite happy, and fully primed for the next step.

4: Be Smooth

Callouses and rough spots are the enemy of refined, pretty feet. That dead skin, now softened, will respond quickly and easily to clean-up.

For this step, you'll need an exfoliating scrub. Something made specifically for feet is nice, but anything containing large, rough crystals will get the job done (smooth microbeads won't do). You can make your own scrub at home by combining an oil or moisturizer with enough coarse-ground salt or sugar to produce a paste.


Massage it into each foot, focusing on the heels and outer surfaces. You may want to wear exfoliating gloves, which will make the job easier as well as protect your hands. Work on this for a couple of minutes, and rinse well. Go at any still-rough areas with a course foot file.

Gently scrape away any hardened cuticle edges with a dull mani/pedi stick (cuticle oil is a nice pre-treatment, but not strictly necessary), and push them back. Don't cut them. They protect your nails from bacteria.

Finally, dry thoroughly, because the next step does not mix well with moisture.

3: Shape Up

Here, with feet smooth and bright, you'll begin work on your actual nails. Achieving a nice shape isn't hard, but it does require the right technique to get professional results.

If your toe nails are a little long, start with a trim. Clippers designed for toes will do the best job and are less likely to cause damage, because they're stronger; weak clippers can cause your nails to bend or tear. So can the softening effects of moisture -- thus the need for a thorough drying.


Cut them straight across. Do not angle-in the outside edges, since this can lead to in-grown nails. You'll use a nail file to get the final shape you want.

Again, overly rounded nails can be a problem, so keep them either straight or slightly rounded. Place a medium-grit file underneath the nail, and gently grind it to a smooth, even edge. Switch then to a fine-grit file or a buffer and do several passes over the top of the nail to get a smooth finish.

Finally, wet a cotton pad with nail-polish remover, and swipe it over each nail to remove any residual moisture or product from the earlier steps, because it's polish time.

2: Get Some Color (Or Not)

Color is the best part of the at-home pedicure.
Color is the best part of the at-home pedicure.
Reggie Casagrande/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

At last, the heart of the matter: trendy teal, classic blush or a simple high-gloss shine. Toe separators, either store-bought or handmade (a tightly rolled-up napkin or paper towel will work fine), make this step easier, but they're not crucial.

Whatever final look you want peeping out of your peep-toes, you'll start with a good base. This helps create a nail surface that is both smoother and more receptive to your polish. Apply evenly to each nail, and let it dry to the touch before moving on to the main act.


Now, paint your nails pretty. A good painting approach has four strokes: middle, sides and across the top. This should provide nice coverage without any pooling. You'll do two coats of color, keeping each one thin and even and giving ample drying time in between. Drying to the touch can take anywhere from about 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the product.

After the second coat is dry to the touch, swipe a top coat over each nail. This will help even out the color, add some extra shine and make your pedicure last a lot longer.

Done? Look at your work. If what you see is sheer (or opaque) perfection, you're done! If, however, you see some stray color, you'll finish up with one more step.

1: Survey and Perfect

Don't waste a good primping session by neglecting the touch-up. You've (hopefully) never left a salon with any polish on your cuticles or skin, and there's no reason to leave your bathroom that way, either.

Grab a polish-removing touch-up pen, or else wrap a little bit of cotton around the tip of a mani/pedi stick. Gently and precisely wipe away any stray polish, using a light touch to avoid a slip onto the nail surface. If you're using a cotton-wrapped stick, be careful not to over-saturate the tip with polish remover lest it spread onto your nail and mess up your beautiful work.


Finally: patiently sit. So many beautiful pedicures have been ruined by the simple act of walking too soon, let alone sliding your feet into socks or shoes. So seriously, sit -- for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on product drying time. Easily bored? Do something with your hands ... like soaking them. No reason your hands shouldn't be as pampered as your feet.

For more pedicure tips and beauty and style advice, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

  • "Fix Ugly Feet At Home." Women's Health. (Aug. 9, 2012) http://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty-and-style/at-home-pedicure
  • Oliver, Dana. "Home Pedicure: How You're Messing Up Your Nail Polish Without Knowing It." Stylist. June 5, 2012. (Aug. 9, 2012) http://www.stylelist.com/2012/06/05/home-pedicure-tips_n_1567751.html
  • Putnal, Olivia. "Give Yourself the Perfect At-Home Pedicure." Woman's Day. (Aug. 9, 2012) http://www.womansday.com/style-beauty/beauty-tips-products/give-yourself-the-perfect-at-home-pedicure-107307
  • Schuler, Charli. "The Best Do-It-Yourself Pedicure Tips." Total Beauty. (Aug. 9, 2012) http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/flash/c_home_pedicure
  • Way, Gina. "Easy At-Home Pedicure Shortcuts." Real Simple. (Aug. 9, 2012) http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/hands-feet/easy-home-pedicure-shortcuts-10000001730977/index.html