Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for Best nail files

When it comes to your manicure, there are many different nail shapes to choose from these days. Whether you prefer the classic oval, the sporty square, or a striking stiletto, there’s bound to be an option that fits your style. If you’re going to shape your nails just the way you want them, you need the right nail file.

While a nail file might seem like a simple purchase, all files aren’t created equal. You have to first choose the right type for your nails and the proper abrasive, grit, and other features to make sure you wind up with a good manicure

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Using a nail file is a much safer, healthier way to trim and shape your nails than using nail clippers, which can easily take off too much nail.

Types of nail files

You have a choice of several different types of nail files, the quality of which can vary significantly.

Emery board: This is the most common type of nail file, sold in nearly all drugstores and mass merchandise stores. The lower-quality materials make the emery board the least expensive type, but it can sometimes be damaging to your nails.

Glass/crystal: Glass or crystal nails files are a high-quality type of file with a fine grit that’s ideal for shaping your nails and smoothing the surface of your nails. These can be fairly expensive, but the files are extremely durable and high performing.

Ceramic: Ceramic nail files are very gentle, so this is an ideal option if you have weak, brittle nails. Ceramic is more affordable but less durable than glass or crystal.

Electric: Electric nail files use either batteries or 110/240V power to buff, shape, and smooth the nails. Commonly used in professional nail salons, it does take some time to get used to operating an electric nail file.

Metal: Metal nail files are usually made of stainless steel. While these are effective for filing, they can cause the nails to peel and break, so we’d recommend other types over these.

Nail file features to consider

Abrasive material

Nail files use a variety of abrasive materials to file down your nails. The type of abrasive that’s used determines the file’s roughness, or grit. Some common nail file abrasives include the following:

  • Silicon carbide: This material is extremely hard and works more quickly than other abrasives, but it can create dust.

  • Aluminum oxide: Similar to silicon carbide in terms of grit, this material doesn’t create as much dust and is less likely to damage your nails.

  • Silicon carbide with zinc stearate: This material has a lubricant that keeps dust from covering the file surface.

  • Aluminum oxide: Less gritty, this abrasive works well on natural nails.

  • Garnet: This is an extremely durable and budget-friendly abrasive.


Grit refers to the roughness of the surface of the nail file. Files are available in a variety of grit levels. The higher the number, the finer the grit.

  • 80: This is the coarsest grit level and is only suitable for artificial nails.

  • 100: This is also very coarse and should only be used for artificial nails.

  • 180: This is the coarsest grit for use on natural nails, but it’s too rough for weak or damaged nails.

  • 240: This fairly fine grit works well for shaping and buffing natural nails.

  • 500: This is the finest grit and is usually only used for buffing or polishing nails.


A nail file’s backing doesn’t really affect performance, but it does play a role in the file’s durability.

  • Paper: This is the least durable backing because it’s usually not waterproof. Some files do have waterproof paper backing. The paper is treated with chemicals to prevent it from falling apart when it gets wet.

  • Mylar: This backing is very durable because it’s waterproof and can be cleaned.

  • Cloth: This offers the most flexibility and can help prevent your nails from being filed too harshly.


While the exterior materials are the most important parts of a nail file, you should also consider its core because it can affect the file’s performance and durability.

  • Wood: This is extremely stiff, so a nail file with a wood core can be somewhat harsh on nails.

  • Plastic: This offers much more flexibility than wood, but you have to be careful to choose a file that isn’t overly flexible.

  • Foam: This material is firm but still somewhat flexible, though you might need to apply more pressure to the file when shaping your nails.
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When in doubt, file your nails into a classic oval shape, which tends to flatter most people.


Q. How often should I use a nail file?

A. It depends on how quickly your nails grow. Most nails grow about two to three millimeters a month, so filing your nails once a week is usually all you need. If your nails grow more slowly, you might be able to do it every two or three weeks. For nails that grow very quickly, you might need to file and shape your nails two or more times per week.

Q. How do I clean a nail file?

A. Only glass, metal, and ceramic files can be washed. Emery boards and other foam or paper files typically aren’t waterproof. To clean a washable file, add some antibacterial soap to some warm water. Place your nail file in the mixture to wet it, and then use a nail brush to scrub the entire surface. Rinse the file well and let it dry completely.

Q. Is it safe to share nail files?

A. It’s common to find bacteria and fungus around the nails, so every member of your household should have his or her own nail file. If you share your file with other people, you could easily spread germs back and forth.

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