How to Apply Fake Nails at Home

a hand with a manicure

@_lemood / Design by Camden Dechert

Are you looking to step up your manicure but don't want to spend hours in the salon to get the look? Skip the salon and get this look yourself with a fake nail kit. "Would you believe that press on nails used to be an embarrassment to admit to wearing?" says manicurist Michelle Saunders James. Now, they are widely accepted as the quickest and easiest way to get a pristine manicure, whether you want short or long nails. We talked to Saunders and manicurist Christina Grant about how to fake the salon look in the comfort of your bedroom.

Meet the Expert

Keep reading for a step-by-step breakdown of how to apply fake nails at home.


  • Nail polish remover with acetone (the conditioning agents in acetone-free formulas can affect proper adhesion)
  • Cotton pads
  • Q-tips
  • Orange stick
  • Pack of nails
  • Nail buffer
  • Glue (Use nail glue only)
  • Scissors (In case you need to cut back the top of the glue)

Mix and match nail kits with nails of the same size to create a unique manicure.

01 of 09

Choose Your Nail Size

Press-on nails come in different sizes and finding the right fit will ensure your nails look natural and last. If they're too small, they may lift and come off prematurely. So in case you're in between sizes, it's best to size up. Then, file your press-on nails until the edges line up with the edges of your natural nails.

02 of 09

Clean Your Hands and Nails

Wash your hands and pay particular attention to drying your nails and cuticles. You want to make sure that everything around the nail bed is completely dry.

Clean off any nail polish and wipe over with polish remover to ensure there are no oils, natural or otherwise, on the surface of your nail. This ensures that the glue lasts and doesn't bubble up or chip.

Remove the fake nails from the pack and arrange which nail will be suitable for which finger. Saunders recommends Nails By Mimi Press On Nails ($10). If you arrange the appropriate shapes first, it will make things easier once you begin the application. Press the fake nail against your real nail to ensure it fits. "Your natural nail shouldn’t be exposed," says Grant.

03 of 09

Push Cuticles Back

Very gently push your cuticles back using an orange stick. If your cuticles are sensitive, be sure to push them back slowly; going too fast can cut them, and you won't be able to continue applying the artificial nails.

04 of 09

Clip Your Natural Nails

Clip your natural nail down close to the fingertip. Keeping a short shape won't interfere with the artificial nail you're about to apply.

05 of 09

Buff Nails

Buff the surface of the natural nail to roughen it—this makes the fake nails adhere better. Saunders recommends a white buffer with no more than 180 grit to shape and finish. Note that buffers come in a range of grit numbers, with the lower numbers being coarser.

06 of 09

Use a Nail Primer

Grant recommends using a nail primer, such as Young Nails Protein Bond ($13) before applying anything to your natural nails. A primer works by removing any dirt or oil from your nail plate, which will allow your press-on nails to stay on longer.

07 of 09

Apply Glue

Put a dot of glue on the fake nail and one on the real nail—try to avoid over-gluing. A small drop is all that you need because it will expand once it hits a flat surface. Grant recommends Kiss Maximum Speed Nail Glue ($7). While nail adhesives exist, Saunders does not recommend them because they are less durable.

08 of 09

Press On Nails

fresh pink manicure

mikroman6 / Getty Images

Place the fake nail just above the cuticle (keep it straight as you don't want any crooked-looking nails) and then press down onto the nail bed. Saunders says to press with the orange stick instead of your finger or nails so that they won't get glued together. Keep pressure applied for 10 seconds to ensure no air bubbles are present before you go on to the next one. This step is essential because if the fake nail is not secured to the nail bed, moisture may get underneath and cause lifting or nail fungus.

Apply the nails to your dominant hand first. Your dominant hand has the most control and makes it much easier to apply to the second hand.

09 of 09

Clean Up The Glue

Take a Q-tip and wipe around the cuticle to take up any glue that has seeped out from under the fake nail.

Fake nails can't be reused if you mess up, so be sure to apply them accurately and precisely. If the application isn't pristine the first time, the glue that you have put on the underside will harden and prevent a smooth adhesion.

Keep the top of the nail glue as clean as you can (remember, if you wipe it with soft tissue, the tissue will stick), and keep the bottle upright so you can reuse it.

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