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10 Polite Habits Nail Techs Actually Dislike—and What to Do Instead

Updated: Apr. 19, 2024

Don't let manicure manners get the best of you. These seemingly nice moves miss the mark.

And over the shoulder view of a female nail technician giving a manicure to a client
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Nail-salon etiquette mistakes

Repeat after us: Pampering yourself is important. An easy way to do just that? Getting a manicure. Not only is it relatively affordable, but prettily painted nails can also put an extra pep in your step. Of course, the nail tech who does your manicure plays a large role in making you feel so good: From that wonderful hand massage to getting your cuticles in tip-top shape, their skills can make a huge difference. So, it only makes sense that you’d want to treat them really well.

But here’s the thing: Certain seemingly polite etiquette rules can actually make a nail tech’s job harder. Plus, while it’s important to be nice, you don’t have to try extra hard to make their life easier. “A manicure is your time off, so you should relax,” says Karina Medrano, a licensed cosmetologist and nail technician at Elle B. Savvy in Denver.

So what does that mean? It means there are certain polite habits that are totally a must, just like when you’re getting a haircut—like thanking someone for their work and knowing how much to tip. And then there are other moves you can (and should) skip so you can focus on your own relaxation. Since it can be hard to identify exactly what most people dislike, we turned to the pros to fill us in on polite moves that are actually etiquette mistakes at the nail salon.

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Manicurist at work
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Anticipating their next move

Over the course of your manicure, your nail tech will likely move your hands around a bit—turning them over to apply lotion and rotating each finger to paint your tips with the best nail polish. If you’ve had a number of manicures, you may even be able to anticipate what they’ll need you to do next and be tempted to save them from having to tell you how to move. Don’t do it. “Many times, clients position themselves in a way that seems to be helpful, but it’s the contrary,” says Medrano. You may make the wrong move and actually mess up their paint job, causing them to have to start over.

Do this instead: “It’s best to let your nail tech move you around,” says Medrano. “There is no need to tense up—just relax.” Put simply, wait for them to direct you. One way to make that easier is to pay attention to what’s going on. If you have headphones on and are listening to music or a podcast, keep it at a low enough volume that you can hear your technician if they need you to do something.

nail technician talking with a client while giving her a manicure
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Keeping the conversation going

When you’re getting your nails done, you’re literally face to face with your manicurist. Because of this, you may feel like it’s your job to chat with them and keep them entertained. But there’s no need to rack your brain for conversation starters. This is a job, and there is zero expectation that you should keep your nail tech entertained, says Medrano. If you want to chat, no problem. If you don’t? Well, that’s OK too.

Do this instead: If you’d prefer quiet, Medrano says that it’s become totally normal to ask for a “silent appointment.” You can either let the salon know when you book your appointment or you can mention to your tech when you sit down that you are going to use the appointment to relax and have some quiet time.

the hands of the manicurist and the client
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Giving a color a chance when you don’t like it

You arrive at the salon and are faced with a wall of nail polish colors. Whether you want the trendiest color of the season or just what you’re in the mood for, you’ll probably spend some time debating the perfect shade. Fast-forward to the moment your manicurist is slicking it on, and—you’re not so sure about it. But you feel bad and want to give it a chance. Maybe you’ll like it once the second coat is on, right? And you’d hate to make the tech take it off and start over.

“For many, the hardest time to speak up during their appointment is when they don’t like the color,” says Medrano. “But it’s better to tell us the second you start doubting your choice. Applying the color is the most time-consuming part, and catching the color change before doing all 10 fingers helps us stay on track with our appointments.” Plus, your nail tech wants you to walk away happy! Not speaking up when there’s an issue also annoys hotel workers and restaurant staffers, by the way.

Do this instead: If you’re not feeling the color, speak up as soon as possible. You can simply tell them you’re not sure you like it. Then, tell them what you don’t like—maybe the red you chose is too orange or the pink is too sheer. They may be able to suggest another shade that is what you are looking for. After all, they see lots of different colors every day.

two hands with foil over all nails to remove gel polish
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Removing your own gel

If you get gel manicures, you know that removing that type of polish can take a long time. You have to sit with remover on your nails for a while before the gel can be scraped away. But trying to do it at home to save time and work for your nail tech is not advisable. Gel polish needs to be removed in a certain way to minimize damage, warns Braelinn Frank, a nail artist and founder of Rave Nailz. If you try to remove it yourself and wreck your nails, your tech will be left trying to get them back into shape to prevent your nails from peeling.

Do this instead: When you make your appointment, let them know you have gel polish that will need to be removed. This allows the salon to build in more time for your appointment so the gel can be removed properly by a professional and you don’t make a bigger mess for your manicurist.

Beautician in white disposable gloves in a beauty salon during a manicure treatment manicures his nails with a nail file
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Deferring to the pro

Do you want rounded nails or more of an almond shape? Do you want your cuticles cut, or do you just want your manicurist to use really good cuticle oil before pushing them back? These are all decisions you’ll need to make during your appointment. Don’t just defer to the tech. Yes, they’re pros, but these are your nails. “It’s helpful when someone knows what they want their nails to look like,” says Medrano.

Do this instead: If you really aren’t sure what you want, avoid telling the nail tech to do whatever they’d like. A better way to approach it is to ask them for their input on the different options and then make the decision that’s best for you based on what they tell you.

clean manicure station in a nail salon
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Cleaning up

There’s always a little bit of a mess when you get your nails done—think nail clippings, dust from filing, used cotton balls from removing polish. Worried that your nail tech is grossed out by all this and annoyed at having to pick up after you? They’re not. Not only that, but if you try to clean up, you might just get in the way. “It’s part of our job to keep up with the mess,” says Medrano. “And we know our way around our station best.” Remember, you can always give yourself a manicure at home, but if you go to the salon, one of the perks is not having to clean up!

Do this instead: If you want to help, the best thing you can do is stay out of your nail tech’s way. As they try to wipe down their station, move your hands so they can do that. In other words, pay attention and adjust your positioning when needed—that will be the best way to help.

Female Customer Putting Hand İnto UV Lamp Dryer in Beauty Salon
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Moving your own stuff to the drying station

Your manicure is done, and it’s time to move over to the drying station. You feel bad about making a tech pick up your purse, so you grab it yourself. While your intention is to be kind, you may smudge your nails and mess up all the hard work they just did. “We are here to help,” says Medrano, who confirms it’s better for them to help than to have you mess up your nails. Plus, even a little chip or smudge is a cardinal sin when it comes to making your manicure last longer.

Do this instead: Allow them to move your bag (and any other items you have with you) to the drying station. Be gracious, and say thank you. Also let them pull out the chair or stool for you. Really don’t want someone to pick up your purse? Consider wearing a small crossbody bag so you can keep it on during your appointment.

young woman sneezing into the inside of her elbow in a nail salon
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Holding it in

Maybe you have to sneeze, or perhaps you are mid-manicure and suddenly have to pee. Holding it in does nobody any favors. While you may not want to interrupt the appointment, your nail tech would rather you be comfortable and enjoy the service. Plus, if you hold in your sneeze, it could backfire and lead to a bigger sneeze where you spray germs everywhere. “Do not be scared to ask if you need to do something,” says Medrano. “Nothing surprises us.”

Do this instead: Need to use the bathroom? Let your tech know, and ask when the best time would be for you to do so. Have to sneeze? Say, “I’m going to sneeze.” Then, rather than using your hands to cover your mouth (which your tech then needs to go back to touching), sneeze into the crook of your arm.

close up of woman with fresh manicure holding wallet
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Bringing over their tip after your appointment

Your manicure is done and you want to show your appreciation in the form of a tip. Good for you! However, once you move to the drying station, your tech has likely either moved on to another appointment or is busy sanitizing their station. “So much goes into sanitizing, so being handed a cash tip can delay us,” says Medrano. At most salons, you’ll be given the option to pay right before polish is put on your nails, and this is also a good time to tip.

Do this instead: If your appointment is over and you haven’t tipped yet, go to the front desk and ask if you can leave your tip there, says Medrano. On that note, cash tips are certainly preferred. Techs often have to wait until payday to receive tips that are added to credit cards, whereas they get the cash right away.

close up of manicured hands holding open a wallet with credit cards inside in the credit card slots
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Trying to shimmy your credit card out of your wallet

If the end of your appointment has come and you still haven’t paid, sliding your credit card out of your wallet with wet nails may feel like a Herculean task. But you can’t possibly ask your nail tech to do that, right? That would be rude. Wrong again. It’s actually ruder to smudge the beautiful paint job your nail tech just put a ton of time and energy into.

Do this instead: “The amount of times that I have helped take out credit cards? It’s quite often,” says Medrano. “Just ask! Truly, it’s no problem.” Make it easier on your tech by telling them exactly where it is and what color the card is; that way, they don’t have to fish around for it. Also, there’s no need to apologize—just say thank you! 


  • Karina Medrano, licensed cosmetologist and nail technician at Elle B. Savvy in Denver
  • Braelinn Frank, nail artist and founder of Rave Nailz