Introduction: How to Do Dip Powder Nails at Home

About: Photography teacher, woodworker, and general repair man

So, like many people, we're entering our sixth week of Coronavirus quarantine. Unfortunately, I lost my job but my lovely wife was deemed essential. That means that we're down to one income and one person who really need to have her nails done but can't get into a salon.

Queue the at home salon!

Now, for the record, I have painted nails maybe ten times in my life. Today, we'll be doing dip powder nails.

Also, my wife has said that these "don't look terrible," so I would expect someone with more experience to be able to pull this off pretty easily. I'm more used to finishing drywall than nails, so if I can do it, you probably can too!


My supply list is a bit out of the ordinary because I didn't buy any extra tools. I just used what I had in my garage. Does it get the job done? Yes. Is it what you want to use? My client says no.

or get the proper tools for $20:

  • Rotary tool kit - Seriously, it's $20 from WEN which makes pretty decent tools. Also, get something with variable speed (which this has). My Dremel only runs at 35,000 rpm and would burn through a finger nail in a heartbeat.

Nail Supplies:

  • Wine/booze - optional
  • Towel - optional but highly recommended

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

So, I love my table but my kids have destroyed it and it needs to be refinished. I don't know when I'll get around to that but I'd prefer to not make it any worse.


Start by laying two sheets of aluminum foil down on your table. Fold all of the sides up so that it resembles a cookie sheet. Then place an old towel over the top.

This will catch any excess acetone that you may spill and spread it out allowing for quick evaporation while protecting the table. The towel will also protect your table from the large vice that you're about to put on it (or not if you own a variable speed rotary tool).


Place your drill in the vice. It it only makes contact with the jaws in one spot, use a piece of heavy-duty leather or a towel to wrap around the drill. This will allow you to clamp fully onto the drill. Do not over-tighten the vice or else you'll crack the plastic housing. It just needs to be secure, not crazy tight.

Use a zip-tie or two to pull the trigger. Then, plug it into your rheostat.

Chuck your barrel sander with the finest grit that you have (I used 120-grit, it worked well) into the drill and dial in your speed. I ran mine at probably 300-400rpm. It was slow enough to stay cool and control the depth of the sand but fast enough to not take too long in my opinion.

Step 2: Remove the Old Dip Powder Nails

This is the longest part of the process, mostly because I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. After seeing my wife's nails get ruined with cleaning supplies, I assumed straight acetone would chew right through the old nails. The two internet tutorials that I watched on this process also GREATLY exaggerated how fast this process was. The order that I'm going to put down is not the order that I went with but would probably provide the fastest results.

Step 1: Mechanically remove as much of the old powder as you can.

As you can see in the first photo, soaking the nails doesn't work as well as I was led to believe. So, go straight to mechanical methods. Turn your drill on and get to filing! Don't worry about getting clear down to the nail in this step, just remove what you feel like makes sense. I could have removed more but decided against it because I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing and preferred to not have a story that started out with "hey, remember that one time that you sanded my nail off?"

Step 2: Acetone Wrap

Cut 10 large aluminum foil squares. Dip your cotton balls in the acetone, place it on the nail, and wrap it in foil. Twist the ends so that it looks like you know what you're doing. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. Remove one foil cap at a time and rub the nail with the cotton ball, re-soaking as needed.

This worked but then my wife told me what they do at the salon which is soak them in acetone. I figured that this would be overly harsh which is why I didn't lead with, "here, stick your hands in this glass dish full of a volatile chemical," but hey, what do I know? On to step three!

Step 3: Acetone bath and scrub

Get a ceramic bowl that you don't care about (don't use plastic because the acetone will melt the plastic). Fold some paper towels and place them in the bottom of the bowl. Cover the paper towel with acetone. You may want to add a splash of water to lower the concentration of acetone so that it doesn't evaporate as fast (i read that on the internet, I'm not certain that it made a difference).

Scratch the back of your nails on the paper towel until all the old powder is off. I could see a kitchen sponge also being useful in this situation.

Step 3: Finish Preparing Your Nails

One you have 95% of the old powder off, you're going to want to start preparing the nail surface for your new powder. This step wasn't covered very well in the tutorial that I watched so I may have gone overboard. Frankly, I could see how the powder would fill in most of the gaps and since you'll be smoothing out the top later, maybe this step is skipped in the interest of time. That said, I know from woodworking, auto-body work, and drywalling that a smooth base is key to a great finished product. Let's get to work!

Step 1: Remove and smooth any residual powder with a rotary tool.

This is where a smaller drill or rotary tool would come in handy. Sand off and smooth any remaining nail color powder. Again, don't go too deep or else you risk sanding through the nail. You're just looking to get the nail smooth. Also, don't stay in one spot too long, barrel sanders and rotary tools can make round indentations. Finally, when using "coarse" grits of sandpaper, always sand with the grain, in other words, the rotation of the tool should go parallel to your finger. This will prevent large gouges in your nail as the tool tears the ridges perpendicularly which will require more time to sand out.

Step 2: The sanding blocks

Once you are satisfied with your drum sand work, break out your 180-grit sanding block. Work in circular motions to remove any major imperfections left from the barrel sander. This is also the tool to use to get close to the cuticle. As a bonus, the sides of the sanding sponge push back and remove bits of cuticle so you won't have to use one of those stick things!

Repeat this process with the 320-grit until your nail is nice and smooth.

Step 3: Cut and shape your nail

Trim your nail to roughly the shape that you want. Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

Now you're ready to start the dipping process!

Step 4: Prime and Apply Dipping Powder Color

I think this is the easiest part of the whole thing. There's some finesse involved in it but most of that comes from knowing how to paint nails in the first place (which I don't know how to do). I'll provide tips as I go along.

Sorry for the lack of pictures, you sort of have to move quick on some of these steps and they also take two hands.

In this dipping powder kit, there are five bottles. Let's go over them:

  1. Primer - I think it is a nail conditioner, it didn't smell like any sort of glue.
  2. Base Coat - I'm pretty sure this is just a very thinned down CA glue meant to penetrate the nail and provide a plastic surface for the color to bond to.
  3. Applicator - It's basically superglue (legitimately). All it does is soften the plastic powder and bind it all together to make it look like one smooth surface.
  4. Brush cleaner - super glue remover. it evaporates super fast and smells nice so I'm going to guess that it's alcohol based. You'll want to clean your applicator brush with it (or just get disposable brushes)
  5. Top Coat - It is what it says that it is. The brush SUCKS, I doubt that'll you'll get more than two uses out of it.

Step 1: Apply Primer

It's just like applying nail polish. It goes on and dries.

Step 2:Apply Base Coat

Again, it's pretty simple.

Step 3: Apply Color Dipping Powder

The learning curve gets real steep here. You're going from "so easy a child could do it" to "oh crap, I probably should have practiced first!" Don't worry, I'll guide you through it.

So, we're going to do three coats. They each seem to have their differences but that could be because I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm screwing it up (actually, I know that I screwed it up at one point). Do one finger at a time (1st layer applicator, dip, move onto the next finger, 1st layer applicator, dip, move on, etc.)

Apply the first coat of applicator to the 2/3s of the nail closest to the tip (filling that gap in slowly will give you a nice transition to your cuticle). You'll want to apply it fairly thin. If it's runny, you'll end up with too much powder and it will clump. If its really bad, you can act quickly and shear the whole mess off and restart without having to file all the color off.

Dip your nail into the powder at no greater than 45 degrees but no less than 30 degrees. If you're too close to perpendicular to the powder, it clumps at the end. If you're too close to parallel, the powder pushes backwards on the nail leaving clumps at the back. Tap your finger on the side to remove the excess powder.

Apply the second layer of applicator half-way back to your cuticle (5/6's of the way if you like fractions). This is where the finesse starts to come into play. You want this layer of applicator to be thick enough to soak into the bottom layer and leave enough on the surface for the next powder layer to bond to but not so thick that you have a shiny layer of applicator on the new surface.

If you feel like you have too much applicator, dip your nail about half-way at the 45 degrees then tap the container so that the powder comes back at your nail. This seemed to help with some of my issues in the third layer.

Finally, apply your third layer of applicator to the full nail and dip.

Don't worry too much about some of the imperfections, just be ready to sand them off.

Step 5: Smooth Out Your Nail Dipping Powder

Remember all that fun sanding that we did in step three? Well, we're going to do it again!

Step 1: Drum Sander

This time, instead of removing all of the color, we're just removing enough of the top layer to leave a smooth surface. Also, instead of sanding parallel to the finger, we will be sanding perpendicular. Sanding this way allows you to sand the entire length of the nail so that it's smooth the entire way down. Just roll your finger back and forth to avoid low spots.

Step 2: Sanding Blocks

Return to your 180-grit sanding block first. I found a couple of small voids in my wife's nails, and that's ok. Just sand the area in a circular motion until it's gone and then work the rest of the nail in circular motions. Finish up with 320-grit for that extra smooth surface.

Your client may or may not have lost their enthusiasm at this point (we were entering our third hour of this "Di-Why did we think this was a goo idea!?")

Step 3: Shape the nail

This won't be the final shaping but you should get 90% of the way there.

Step 4: Final applicator layer

I'm pretty certain this step is just to get all the dust left over from sanding to flatten out. Apply a very thin layer of applicator to the nail, let it dry for 10 minutes.

Step 6: Top Coat and Final Shaping

You've made it this far, just 10-30 more minutes to go!

Next we're going to apply two coats of top layer. Be aware, the brush in this kit is awful so move quickly before it hardens.

Apply one layer of top coat to each finger. Repeat the process for the second layer.

Let it dry.

...No, seriously, let it dry. Stop flailing. Don't touch it! Just sit still for 10-15 minutes. Go watch TV or something.

Then, finish your shaping and clean up any excess with a nail board.

Congratulations, you're done!

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