Terrible At Painting Your Nails? Be Your Sloppy Self With This Elmer's Glue Trick

If you always get nail polish around your nails, you need to know this kindergarten-inspired beauty hack.
Publish date:
September 23, 2013
manicures, How-To, nail polishes, inglot, experiments, life hacks, Elmer's Glue

When I was a little kid, my favorite thing about arts and crafts was getting Elmer's Glue all over my hands. It taught me patience: I knew that if I waited a few minutes for it to dry, I'd get to enjoy the satisfaction of peeling it off.

As I got older, my love of peeling stuff off my fingers transferred to nail polish. And I wouldn't just peel it off my nails when I was tired of the color--I'd have to peel it off the skin surrounding my nails because I suck so much at painting my nails neatly.

Yes, I could use a pointed cotton swab dipped in remover to clean up the mess, but that's not as fun as peeling. That said, I'm apparently a masochist because I peel with a tweezer, often digging into the cuticles and making myself bleed.

So when I recently heard that my favorite childhood hobby could save me messiness and ouchiness, I had to give it a try. In fact, what you're about to witness is me trying this for the first time, so we're going to learn together. Yay, teamwork (or something)!


Grab some Elmer's Glue or any white "school" glue, a small paintbrush (I got this one from a super-cheap set at the drugstore), and your nail polish of choice. I went with Inglot O2M Breathable Nail Enamel in 682.

You may also want to use a dish of some sort on which to pour a pool of glue. I was at Bar Reis in my neighborhood when I tried this, so I poured it on my coaster.


Paint the glue pretty generously around your nails, and as close to the nail as possible. I was worried that I'd be just as inaccurate with the glue painting as I am with nail polish, but the beauty of messing up with the glue is just wiping it away--no color smears, no messing up your other nails, etc.

Depending on how awful a nail-polisher you are, you may want to go pretty wide in order to catch all of your wild strokes. Because my nails are really short right now, I painted glue across the top as well (though I did mess up a little on this part, which I'll explain in a bit).


Let it dry. The bottle says stuff like leather needs to dry overnight, and technically skin is leather, but 10 to 20 minutes should be sufficient, especially since you're not trying to bond anything to your fingers.

To pass the time, I engaged in deeply intellectual conversation (and beer) with my friend Eric, the same guy that did our Dove-inspired sketches. He's doing well--thanks for asking.

It'll dry pretty clear, so when it's transparent and no longer tacky, you're ready for...


Paint your nails like you're Animal from The Muppets, who has been the star of my nightmares since I was a baby.

I swear, I didn't try to paint my nails any more messily than I normally do. With my clubbed thumbs and general maladroitness (band name!), this chaos is normal for me.


Let the polish dry. At this point, Eric and I had discussed everything from arbitrary Tinder rules to how I'm singing at an upcoming pancreatic cancer benefit to whether or not somewhat abstract Instagram photos are helped or hurt by captions, so we just watched leaves fall. One fell in my beer.


Time for THE MOST FUN. Get to peeling!

Try not to be too reckless (that's what the painting part is for). You'll want to pay attention to the edges of the nail. This, in fact, is how I determined what I could've done more precisely with the initial glue application.

As you can see, the glue took off virtually all of the outside-the-lines polish. However, I made two big mistakes:

  • I got a little too close to the top of my nails with the glue, and it took off a teensy bit from the actual nail.
  • I didn't get close enough around bottom, leaving a fair amount of polish still on the cuticles.

But you and I will learn from my mistakes, because we are smart, observant, and tenacious, are we not?


Make Mr. Bill faces with your discarded glue.

Have you tried this trick before? Got any tips for getting neater results? Do tell!