How to Apply Fake Nails at Home for Your Easiest Manicure Ever

A woman's hands with a press-on manicure

Dee Mills / Byrdie

Are you looking to step up your manicure game but don't want to spend hours in the salon to get the look? Skip the salon and do it 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

How to Apply Fake Nails at Home for Your Easiest Manicure Ever

Byrdie | Design by Zackary Angeline

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
  • Nail file
  • 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.

How to Prepare

Before you begin the application process, you'll want to wash your hands, paying particular attention to drying your nails and cuticles. Make sure that everything around the nail bed is completely dry.

Then clean off any nail polish; if your nails are bare, you'll still want to wipe over them with polish remover to get rid of any oils, natural or otherwise, from the surface of your nail. This ensures that the glue lasts and doesn't bubble up or chip.

You'll also want to remove the fake nails from the pack and arrange which nail will be suitable for which finger. If you arrange the appropriate shapes first, it will make things easier once you begin the application.

01 of 06

Clip Your Natural Nails

Woman buffs her nails

Dee Mills / Byrdie

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

Then, 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 then you won't be able to continue applying the artificial nails.

After pushing back your cuticles, buff the surface of your natural nails to roughen them—this makes the fake nails adhere better. Note that buffers come in a range of grit numbers, with the lower numbers being coarser; Saunders recommends using a buffer with no more than 180 grit to shape and finish.

02 of 06

Choose Your Nail Size

Woman selecting a press on nail

Dee Mills / Byrdie

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. Press the fake nail against your real nail to ensure it fits. "Your natural nail shouldn’t be exposed," says Grant. Then, file your press-on nails until the edges line up with the edges of your natural nails.

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.

03 of 06

Apply Glue

Woman applies glue to a press-on nail

Dee Mills / Byrdie

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 you need because it will expand once it hits a flat surface. While nail adhesives are an option, Saunders does not recommend them because they are less durable.

04 of 06

Press On Nails

Woman press on press-on nail

Dee Mills / Byrdie

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 move on to the next nail. 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.

05 of 06

Finishing Touches

Woman files a press-on nail

Dee Mills / Byrdie

After your nails have been applied, take a Q-tip and wipe around the cuticle to pick up any glue that has seeped out from under the fake nail. Then, if you so choose, take a nail file and file down your set to your preferred length.

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.

06 of 06

The Final Look

A woman's hands, with a set of press-on nails applied

Dee Mills / Byrdie

And there you have it: An easy, gorgeous full set without setting foot in a salon.

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