10 Nail Files Worthy of a Spot in Your Mani Kit

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The 10 Best Nail Files in 2022

Byrdie / Sabrina Jiang

How much attention have you paid to your nail file? If you’re anything like us, probably not much. It’s just a basic necessity, something stashed in your bathroom cabinet or purse (or that you can never seem to find when you break a nail). But it may be worth investing at least a little bit more time into finding your nail file of choice. Not all are created equal, and each type has its own pros and cons. There are classic emery boards, which are inexpensive and easy to stock up on when you just need to get the job done. If you feel like you want to make more of an investment, glass and crystal options are washable and reusable, not to mention they tend to be gentler, particularly if your nails are peeling or splitting. And if you’re rocking a gel or acrylic mani, you’ll, of course, need an entirely different file. Confused? Don’t be.

We rounded up the best nail files for every purpose below. Dare we say that these have nailed it?

Best Overall

Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator - Buffer Nail File

4.4
Deborah Lippman Smooth Operator

Sephora

What We Like
  • Great value

  • Adds shine to nails

  • Smooths out nails

What We Don't Like
  • Packaging could be improved

Who else recommends it? Insider also picked the Deborah Lippmann Buffer Nail File.

What do buyers say? 81% of 75+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

This four-sided file has four different grits to do it all—shape, smooth, buff, and shine. (All four sides are made from a microfiber material that’s gentle on your tips.) Consider it a one-stop-shop nail tool that makes DIY manis easier than ever. Pro tip: If you’re going to paint your nails, skip the shine step.

Type: Emery | Size: Large

Best Budget

Orly Black Board Medium 180 Grit

Orly Black Board Medium 180 Grit
What We Like
  • Durable

  • Files easily and quickly

  • Comes in a large pack

What We Don't Like
  • Not for gentle buffing

Celebrity nail artist Brittney Boyce, the founder of Nails of LA, calls this classic, inexpensive nail file, “a workhorse that’s found in so many nail artists’ kits.” She adds that it can be used for both natural and gel nails, files quickly, and is super durable. You get a pack of 10 for just $5, so if you lose one, it’s no biggie. To that end, it’s worth picking one up to keep at work, one in the car... you get the picture.

Type: Emery | Size: Large

Best Emery Board

Makartt Professional Nail File

Makartt Professional Nail File
What We Like
  • Multipurpose

  • Easy to wash

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little rough on nails

An Amazon top pick, these have both a 100 and 180 grit, making them great for both shaping nails and taking down length (and using on toes, too). They come in a pack of 10—a total steal, we should add—though if you want to reuse them, they are washable. Just be sure to only file nails in one direction to minimize the potential for peeling or splitting.

Type: Emery | Size: Large

Best for Damaged Nails

Diamancel Flexible Nail File

Diamancel Flexible Nail File
What We Like
  • Gentle on nails

  • Easy to wash

  • Super durable

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Turns out that diamonds are both a girl’s and a nail’s best friend. Made with real diamonds, this file also has a fiberglass edge for easy handling. It’s specially made for brittle nails that are prone to breaking or splitting, so you don’t need to worry about causing more damage when you file. Bonus: It’s easily washable with just soap and water.

Type: Crystal | Size: Large

Best for Acrylics

ASP Extra Heavy Black Angle Board Nail File 100/180

ASP Extra Heavy Black Angle Board Nail File 100/180
What We Like
  • Works on natural and faux nails

  • Unique shape is easy to use

  • Long-lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little rough on nails

A zebra board with two coarser grits, like this option, is best for artificial tips, says Boyce. (FYI, you could also use the 180 side for natural nails but not the 100, which is too rough.) Neither grit gets worn down, and with a diamond shape that has two different shaped ends, it’s easy to file any shape nail and even reach the sides.

Type: Emery | Size: Large

Best Glass

Révérence de Bastien The Glass Nail File

Révérence de Bastien

 Net-A-Porter

What We Like
  • Smooths nails

  • Gentle on nails

  • Includes a carrying case

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Sure, it may be a bit more than you’d usually spend on a file, but consider this a one-time investment that will keep your nails long and strong. The lightweight glass smooths nails without any snags or tears, can be reused, and comes with a convenient carrying case, too.

Type: Glass | Size: Large

Best for Travel

Nail Tek Crystal Nail File With Case Mini

Nail Tek Crystal Nail File w/Case Mini

 Ulta

What We Like
  • Fits in a clutch or pocket

  • Includes a carrying case

  • Durable

What We Don't Like
  • Can be difficult to use

Repeat after us: Thou shalt always pack a nail file when traveling. This one has earned a permanent home in our toiletry bag. Made of high-quality glass, it’s gentle on nails and comes in a mini size that doesn’t take up precious real estate. The fact that it comes in a cute pink case is just an extra bonus.

Type: Crystal | Size: Small

Best Colorful

Tweezerman Neon Hot Files 3 Pack

Tweezerman Neon Hot Files 3 Pack
What We Like
  • Works on natural and faux nails

  • Comes in fun neon colors

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • Can leave a faint powder residue

If you want to keep it basic, you can’t go wrong with this three-pack of files. The dual-grit surfaces mean they work on both natural and acrylic nails, and the neon hues make it easy to dig them out of any crowded bathroom drawer or makeup bag.

Type: Emery | Size: Large

Best Electric

Bellasonic 4-in-1 Rechargeable Electric Nail File Set

bellasonic

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Gentle on nails

  • Ideal for precise filing

  • Shapes, smooths, and adds shine

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Make filing easier than ever with an electric file, like this one. Unlike other brands, which feature a rotary head that spins in only one direction, this uses an oscillating option that moves back and forth. It makes for much less friction and ultimately gentler filing. Plus, this also comes with four different discs, with choices for shaping, buffing, smoothing, and shining nails.

Type: Electric | Size: Medium

Best for Cuticles

ZEVA Austrian Crystal Nail File

ZEVA Australian Crystal Nail File
What We Like
  • Pushes back cuticles

  • Chic design

  • Ideal for use on brittle nails

What We Don't Like
  • A little thin

A combo of ceramic, porcelain, and, yep, Austrian crystal make up this file while it shapes and smooths nails. Unique here, though, are the rounded ends, designed to pull double duty and push back cuticles effectively, yet gently.

Type: Crystal | Size: Medium

Final Verdict

The Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator-Buffer Nail File (view at Sephora) is our favorite overall file, a multi-tasker that not only shapes but also smooths, buffs, and shines. Both the Makartt Professional Nail File (view at Amazon) and Orly Black Board Medium 180 Grit (view at Stixie) are great blackboard classics and also super affordable. And if you’re looking for an option that’s not only going to be gentle on natural nails but also lasts basically forever, the glass Révérence de Bastien The Glass Nail File (view at Révérence de Bastien) is the way to go and well-worth the higher price tag.

What to Look for in a Nail File

The Grit

In traditional files, this refers to how coarse or fine the texture is. “Nail files' grit ranges from 80 to 240. The higher the grit, the finer the file is,” explains Boyce. For gels or extensions, anywhere from 100 to 180 grit is a great choice; for natural nails, 180 is the minimum, she says. Alternatively, glass options are good for natural nails. 

FAQ
  • How do you use a nail file?

    Start with dry nails that have been cut to the approximate length. Avoid filing nails that have been soaking in water because it can lead to breakage for splitting. You also don't want to use the nail file to remove much length, but rather simply to shape the nails, notes Boyce. Hold the file flat, as filing at an angle can thin your nail and weaken the edge, making it prone to bending or breakages, she says. Filing in one direction is preferable, though if you’re gentle with it, you can file side by side. “File from the side of the nail to the center, half a nail at a time, then shape the other side,” Boyce suggests.

  • How do you clean a nail file?

    It depends on what the file is made of. “Wood emery boards will deteriorate if they get wet, so your best bet is to simply replace them every three months,” suggests Boyce. Glass files, on the other hand, will last for years if cleaned properly; simply wash them with warm water and gentle soap. For black or zebra boards, submerge them in 70% to 90% alcohol for five minutes to disinfect them, says Boyce. 

  • How do you file acrylic nails?

    The same basic filling principles and techniques apply. The key is using a coarser file with a 100/180 grit, says Boyce.

How We Researched

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

Why Trust Byrdie?

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She refuses to leave home without a nail file.

Meet the Expert

Brittney Boyce is a celebrity nail artist and the founder of Nails of LA. With over a decade of experience in the nail industry, Boyce has worked on everything from fashion campaigns to the hands of celebrity clientele. 

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any nail files from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator Buffer Nail File. Insider. https://www.insider.com/guides/beauty/best-nail-file#deborah-lippmann-smooth-operator-buffer-nail-file-7

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