The best nail file
A good manicure always starts with well-shaped nails. Depending on your preference, you can opt for trendy stiletto- or coffin-shaped nails or keep things simple with a classic oval. Whatever you prefer, you need a nail file to shape them.
A nail file isn't just for shaping your nails -- you can use it to keep your nails trimmed without using clippers that may damage your nails. For the most attractive manicure, you need to find the right type of file and level of abrasiveness to really get your nails in shape.
Take a look at our buying guide to figure out exactly how to choose the best nail file for your manicure kit. We've also included some product recommendations, like our top pick by ClassyLady, which is made of durable, high-quality crystal glass that's extremely easy to clean.
Considerations when choosing nail files
Nail files are available in several types, which usually determine their quality. Choosing the best type for your manicure often depends on the health of your nails and your budget.
Emery boards are an extremely common option, but they're usually made of inferior-quality materials that can damage your nails. However, if you're on a budget, they're a highly affordable option.
Glass or crystal nail files are one of the highest quality types of nail files. They're effective for shaping and smoothing your nails and are known for their durability. But you will pay more for a glass or crystal nail file.
Ceramic nail files are ideal for weak, damaged nails because they are usually very gentle. They're not as durable as glass or crystal files, but they don't cost as much, either.
Metal nail files usually feature stainless steel, which can be effective for trimming your nails. Metal can cause peeling and breakage, so these files usually aren't recommended by nail techs.
Electric nail files have a motor that allows them to buff, shape, and smooth nails via batteries or a power cord. They're often used by professional nail technicians, so there can be a learning curve for home use.
Silicon carbide: Very hard for quick filing, but generates dust and can potentially damage your nails. Best for artificial nails.
Aluminum oxide: Hard, but doesn't produce as much dust as silicon carbide or have the same damage potential.
Silicon carbide with zinc stearate: Features lubrication on the surface to limit dust.
Aluminum oxide: Not as hard as other materials, so it's gentle enough for natural nails.
Garnet: Not as hard as some materials, but offers durability and doesn't cost as much.
A nail file's grit determines the roughness of its surface. Grit level is measured in numbers just like sandpaper, so the higher the level, the finer the grit.
80 and 100 are the two coarsest grit levels for nail files, so they should only be used if you have artificial nails.
180 can be used on natural nails but should be avoided if your nails are weak or brittle.
240 can safely buff and shape natural nails.
500 is the finest grit level for a nail file and can be used to buff or polish nails.
A nail file's backing material is important because it affects its durability. Paper is the least durable backing because it's usually not waterproof. Cloth offers a great deal of flexibility so it's gentle on your nails, but it isn't that durable. Mylar is best if you're interested in durability since it's waterproof, making it suitable for cleaning.
A nail file's core material can not only affect its durability but its performance as well. Wood is an extremely hard material, so it can be rough on the nails. Plastic offers more flexibility to provide a gentler file, but you should avoid options that are too flexible. Foam is a good compromise between the two because it's firm but also has some flexibility. However, you often have to use more pressure to get the right shape for your nails with a foam core.
Nail file prices
Depending on their materials, type, and grit level, nail files usually range from $1 to $15. Lower quality options that may damage the nail range from $1 to $6, while higher quality options that won't damage your nails typically cost between $6 and $15.
Q. How often should I file my nails?
A. For most people, filing weekly is enough to keep up with average nail growth. If your nails grow more quickly, you may want to file two times a week.
Q. Can I wash my nail file?
A. It depends on its materials. Emery boards and other paper and foam files aren't waterproof, so they shouldn't be washed. Metal, ceramic, and glass files can be washed. Combine warm water and antibacterial soap and scrub the file with the mixture. Rinse well and then dry the file with a clean towel.
Nail files we recommend
Best of the best: ClassyLady Professional Crystal Nail File
Our take: A high-quality, well-made crystal nail file that allows you to easily shape your natural nails and maintain length. Salon-grade performance.
What we like: Features two sides with fine grit which doesn't wear down over time. Easy to get around cuticles due to its pointed tip. Includes a protective case. Washes with soapy water. Helps strengthen and harden nails.
What we dislike: Some users find the crystal texture creates an uncomfortable feeling when filing.
Best bang for your buck: Czech Republic Etched Crystal Glass Nail Files
Our take: Set of durable files that provides multiple sizes and grit levels, making it an excellent value for anyone looking for quality nail files.
What we like: Made of crystal glass so they don't damage the nails. Two of the files offer 200 to 220 grit. Suitable for both natural and artificial nails. Large file with rough grit can also be used to file calluses and dry heels. Breaks bluntly if dropped, for safety reasons.
What we dislike: Large file can be hard to control for those with smaller hands.
Choice 3: Bona Fide Beauty Czech Glass Nail File
Our take: Reliable, precise glass file that creates smooth edges and actually helps strengthen nails with long-term use.
What we like: Made from genuine Czech glass of the highest quality. Dual-sided with medium to fine grit. Works well for both natural and artificial nails. Surface is non-porous for easier cleaning. Available in several colors. Includes a protective plastic sleeve.
What we dislike: Tip isn't very pointed so it can be hard to get around cuticles. Doesn't always work well for shorter nails.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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