The ultimate 2020 guide to drying your nails part 1

Smushy nails got you down?

Wanna know everything you need to know about drying your nails properly – and get some great tips on how to dry your nails faster?

I’ve been asked so many questions about drying nails over the years, so I thought it was about time I put all my knowledge into one place.

Bookmark this page right now, because this guide is jam packed full of useful information!

Whatever your question, if it’s related to drying your nails, you’ll find the answer right here in this post.

This is the ultimate guide to nail drying, and we are going to cover everything.

Ready to get started?

Table of contents:

How long does it take nail polish to dry? 

How long does it take for one layer of nail polish to dry?

How long does it take for 2 coats of nail polish to dry?

How long does it take for 3 coats of nail polish to dry?

How long should I let my nails dry between coats?

How many minutes does it take for nail polish to dry?

How long should you let your nails dry?

How long after painting nails can I go to bed?

How long should you wait to shower after painting your nails?

Should you let base coat dry?

How long should you let a base coat dry?

How long does it take for nails to dry under UV light?

How long does it take nails to dry with a fan?

Why does nail polish take so long to dry?

How do you dry nails quickly?

What makes nails dry instantly?

How do I make nail polish dry faster?

Don’t see your question? Check out the next part of the ultimate guide to drying nails.

How long does it take nail polish to dry?

How long it takes for your nail polish to dry can vary greatly depending on the type of polish you use and the method you choose to dry it.

Here are some examples:

  • If you are using gel polish and a LED lamp – each coat should take 30 seconds to dry.
  • If you are using gel polish and a UV lamp – you can expect each coat of polish to dry in two minutes.
  • If you are using regular polish and air drying – 10 to 20 minutes of drying time per coat is needed.

So, let’s say you are going to apply basecoat, 2 layers of color, and a topcoat.  

In that case, you will need to allow drying time as follows:

Gel polish + LED lamp – 2 minutes of drying time in total (30 secs x 4 coats).

Gel polish + UV lamp – 8 minutes of drying time in total (2 mins x 4 coats).

Regular polish + air dry – 40 to 80 minutes of total drying time (10-20 mins x 4 coats).

As you can see, regular polish takes the longest to dry.

The time it takes to fully dry regular polish varies quite a bit depending on how thick the layers of polish are and the brand of products you are using.

But don’t fret!

If you’re using regular polish there are a few things you can try to speed up the process!

More on that later.

How long does it take for one layer of nail polish to dry?

So exactly how long does it take for 1 coat of nail polish to dry?

Again, this depends on the kind of polish and your drying method.

Here are the drying times per coat for gel nails using 2 different lamps (UV and LED) and for regular polish plus an air dry:

  • One layer of gel nail polish dried with an LED lamp takes 30 seconds.
  • One layer of gel nail polish dried with a UV lamp takes 2 minutes.
  • One layer of regular nail polish dried with air takes 10 to 20 minutes.

How long does it take for 2 coats of nail polish to dry?

There is no variation in the drying times between coats.

What does that mean?

It means that whether you use gel or regular polish, each coat takes the same amount of time to dry.

So for 2 coats of polish, the drying times using all 3 methods (gel +LED, gel+ UV and regular polish + airdry) are:

  • 2 coats of gel nail polish dried with an LED lamp takes 60 seconds to dry.
  • 2 coats of gel nail polish dried with a UV lamp takes 4 minutes to dry.
  • 2 coats of regular nail polish dried with air take 20 to 40 minutes to dry.

How long does it take for 3 coats of nail polish to dry?

As we have learned, each coat takes the same amount of time to dry.

So, if you want to calculate the length of time it takes to fry 3 coats of nail polish, you simply multiply the time it takes to dry each coat by 3.

Here are the total drying times for 3 coats of polish using each of the 3 methods:

  • 3 coats of gel nail polish dried with an LED lamp takes 90 seconds to dry (30 seconds per coat x by 3).
  • 3 coats of gel nail polish dried with a UV lamp takes 6 minutes to dry (2 mins per coat x 3).
  • 3 coats of regular nail polish dried with air take 30 to 60 minutes to dry (20 mins per coat x 3).

How long should I let my nails dry between coats?

This is a great question! 

There are so many different answers to this question online that it’s totally confusing!

So, let’s clear things up once and for all.

Here’s what 3 top experts in the nail and beauty industry had to say:

Expert 1 – Essie Weingarten (the founder of Essie Cosmetics).

Essie’s answer: 2 minutes. 

According to this beauty titan and founder of Essie, the exact time to wait between coats is 2 whole minutes (or 120 seconds). 

2 minutes is the precise amount of time, Essie says, to wait after applying the basecoat, after each coat of color, and before applying your topcoat.

Good to know!

Expert 2 – Jessica Tong. (Nail artist and head manicurist for New York Fashion Week).

Jessica’s answer – 10 minutes.

According to Jessica, whose work has appeared in Marie Claire and Vogue, if you want to avoid mishaps, 10 is the magic number.

Jessica also stresses the importance of applying “thin even coats” to maximize drying times.

Expert 3 –  Cyndi Ramirez (founder and CEO of Chillhouse – A non-toxic spa with 2 locations in New York).

Cyndi’s answer: 15 to 20 minutes.

When it comes to the perfect number of color coats, Cyndi recommends no more than 2 (thinly applied).

Any more than that will likely increase the chances of smudging, Ramirez says.

Hmmm, 3 very different answers…

If I’m using regular polish, I usually give it about 15 to 20 minutes between coats, so I’d have to agree with Expert number 3.

In my personal experience of using Essie products, they take a lot longer than 2 minutes per coat to dry. 

Maybe I’m putting it on too thick…

How many minutes does it take for nail polish to dry?

If you are using a base coat, 2 layers of color and a topcoat, here’s how many minutes it should take for your nail polish to dry:

  • 2 minutes if you’re using gel polish and an LED lamp.
  • 8 Minutes if you are using gel polish and a UV lamp.
  • 40 to 80 minutes if you are using regular polish and air drying (thin, evenly applied coats will dry quicker).

How long should you let your nails dry?

The length of time you should let your nails dry depends on the products you are using.

Some formulas dry quicker than others, and you can even get fast-drying nail polishes that are supposed to cut down on your drying time.

It’s always best to check and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time.

After all, the makers of the polish have probably done hundreds of experiments to find out exactly how long each formula takes to dry!

As a general rule, regular nail polishes like those from Essie, OPI or Sally Hansen for example should take 1 to 2 hours to dry completely.

How long after painting nails can I go to bed?

We’ve all done it.

You spend a lovely evening binge-watching Netflix and painting your nails to perfection.

Then you wake up in the morning and its smudge city.

Why does it happen? 

Because even though your nails seemed totally dry before you went to bed, they weren’t fully cured.

What’s the difference between dry and cured nails?

Dry nails are no longer tacky, and if you touch them they won’t show the imprint. But you still need to be careful with them to avoid creasing and smudges.

Cured nails are fully hardened and ready for anything you can throw at them!

Your nails may take around 20 minutes to fully dry, but it takes another hour or two on top of that (at least) to cure.

This applies whether you had them done at a salon or painted them yourself at home.

If you want to be absolutely sure that your nails will stay perfect then you should wait a full 12 hours after painting your nails before bed!

How long should you wait to shower after painting your nails?

Heat and humidity from the hot water and steam in the shower can affect the curing time of your polish, and cause your mani to bubble and smudge.

So you should wait at least 2 hours before taking a shower.

BUT, you still need to be careful.

If you do take a shower after 2 hours, try keeping the temperature lower as this can help to protect your nails.

The longer you leave it the better, (after 5 hours you should be totally fine). 

Should you let base coat dry?

Yes, you should always wait until your base coat is dry before applying your first coat of color.

In my experience the base coat dries way quicker than the color coats.

So the good news is that you wont need to wait too long for the base coat to be completely dry.

Give it at least 30 seconds to a minute, and you should be good to go.

How long should you let a base coat dry?

I’ve checked countless bottles of basecoat available to buy online, and there are no drying times listed on any of them!

It usually just says “allow to dry” but doesn’t tell you how long it takes!

I’ve been painting my nails for over 10 years, and I always use a basecoat.

So I’m gonna share my experience to answer this one.

In my experience, the basecoat tends to dry a lot faster than the color polish, so I’d say that you should let it dry for a minimum of 30 seconds, to around 2 minutes.

How long does it take for nails to dry under UV light?

UV light has no effect on the drying times of regular nail polish.

Regular (non-gel) nail polishes contain solvents that need to evaporate so that the polish can harden.

UV light, therefore, will do nothing to help you dry your regular nail polish.

So, unfortunately, you can not use a UV lamp to dry normal nail polish.

BUT, if you are using a polish that is compatible with a UV lamp (like a gel nail polish) then it will take 2 minutes per coat to dry your nails.

If you do a base coat plus 2 coats of color, followed by a topcoat, your total drying time using a UV lamp will be 8 minutes (proving you dry all 4 fingers and your thumb at the same time).

I usually dry my thumbs separately, so personally, I would add on another 8 minutes making the total 16 minutes.

How long does it take nails to dry with a fan?

A fan can help to speed up the process of evaporation needed to harden regular nail polish.

But – a fan will have no effect on gel polish whatsoever!

If you are using a fan to dry your nails, you should hold it 12 inches (30 cms) away from your nails.

You should blow the air on each hand (moving it across all of the fingers and thumb) for 2 to 3 minutes for each hand.

Be sure to maintain that 30 cm distance, as blowing the air too close will cause bubbles!

Why does nail polish take so long to dry?

Ok, let’s talk chemistry for a second.

It’s super interesting ‘cause nail polish is made from explosive cotton and fish scales don’t cha know..

Regular nail polish is made by combining a polymer (which in basic terms is a type of plastic) and a solvent.

The most common polymer used in nail polish is called nitrocellulose.

Nitrocellulose is made up of plant fiber, and the stuff that makes TNT go boom! 

Examples of solvents in nail polish include ethyl acetate and butyl acetate (nothing too exciting about them!)

The solvent’s job is to keep the polymer (or plastic) nail polish in liquid form.

As long as the polymer and the solvent are together, the polish should stay as a nice runny liquid.

But, when they are exposed to the air, the solvents in nail polish evaporate, and this causes the polymer (or plastic) to dry and harden on your nail.

In order for nail polish to dry and set, the solvents that are inside the formula must first fully evaporate, and that takes time.

This evaporation process of the solvents in nail polish is why the polish takes so long to dry.

How do you dry nails quickly?

In my experience, the best way to dry nails quickly is by applying a quick drying top coat.

A product like Seche Vite’s Fast Dry will have your nails dry in around 45 seconds!

You can also buy quick drying sprays and drying drops.

Dipping your nails into a bowl of ice water is another trick to speed up drying, but this does take a little bit of forward planning.

If you’re in a rush, you can also try blowing cold air on your nails. The best way to do this is to grab your hairdryer and use the cool shot button (usually found on the handle).

Finally, if you put your coats on thinly, it will dry quicker, so try applying several thinner coats instead of 2 thicker ones and that should speed up your drying time. 

Scroll down to the “How Do I make nail polish dry faster?” section below for more details on these techniques and some product recommendations.

What makes nails dry instantly?

I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t any method or product that makes nails dry instantly.

There are, however, plenty of tricks, tips, and products that can help to speed up the drying process.

Many nail drying sprays claim to dry your nails in just 30 seconds, and you can also get nail drying drops and fast-drying topcoats that will get you out the door faster.

The fastest way to do a home manicure is by using a combination of gel polish and an LED lamp.

This means that you can dry each coat in only 30 seconds.

This is the method I use to do my nails and I can assure you it’s pretty fast!

If you are using regular polish then the fastest way to speed up drying is to use a nail drying spray.

How do I make nail polish dry faster?

I’m super impatient, so I’ve tried everything to get my nails done in the fastest most efficient way possible.

OMG I have so much advice for you about drying your nails faster at home!

Here are a ton of techniques that you can try to make your nail polish dry faster at home:

Some of these techniques may work better than others, so experiment and find what works for you.

  • Apply several thin coats.

Big thick coats of nail polish might give you great coverage, but they take longer to dry than thinly applied coats.

The thinner the coat, the faster it will dry, so if you tend to lay it on thick, you can make your nails dry a little bit quicker by lightening the load on that brush.

You’ll also get a better finish with 3 or even 4 thin coats as opposed to one or two thick ones.

  • Get a quick dry product. 

You can buy a quick drying spray like Demert Nail Enamel Dryer, drying drops like Sally Hansen’s dry and go drops or a fast drying top coat like Seche Vite Fast Dry.

All 3 of these products will improve your drying time.

I haven’t tried drying drops, but I have tried the Demert spray and the Seche Vite topcoat.

I preferred the topcoat because when I used the spray I felt like I was wasting a lot of the product, but the Seche Vite topcoat dried my nails faster and left my nails shiny and beautifully finished.

  • Dip your nails in ice water.

Some people say that you can dry your nails faster by dipping them into ice water.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this method. 

When I tried this, I prepped the ice water beforehand, and by the time I was ready to dip the ice had melted and the water wasn’t cold enough!

I wasn’t going to mess around with wet nails trying to get more ice (that’s just asking for trouble) so for me this method was an epic fail.

If you want to try this, I’d suggest you get someone else to pop a few ice cubes into a bowl of cold water for you when you’re ready to dip.

Leave your nails fully submerged for 2 to 5 minutes – when you see beads forming on the surface, you’re good.

  • Use a hairdryer (on cool).

Here’s why it works.

There’s this stuff in nail polish called a “film formant” (the most common one found in nail polish is called nitrocellulose).

The cold air from the hairdryer speeds up the setting process of the film formant – making your nails dry faster.

Pro tip – Make sure that you plug your hairdryer in before you start painting your nails!

Then, once you are done with the first hand, hold your dryer about 6 inches away from your nails and blow cold air onto them using the cold shot button.

You can usually find the cold shot button on the handle of your hairdryer, and you need to hold it down the whole time.

Whatever you do, don’t use the hot air on your nails, that only makes them mushy and they will take way longer to dry.

Plus you could burn your fingers – ouch!

  • Use compressed air.

I dunno about you, but I find that drying my nails with a hairdryer can be a bit clunky and weird.

It’s difficult for me not to let go of the cold shot button, and I find it hard to see what I’m doing unless I get the perfect angle.

Then a friend told me about compressed air!

You can buy it at the hardware store and it comes in a small, easy to hold canister that’s way lighter than a hairdryer!

It’s the kind of thing you might use to clean inside your computer.

It’s powerful, and it comes out pretty fast, so just be sure to hold it far enough away so you don’t smudge your nails!

Just spray it onto each nail from a safe distance – about 12 inches is fine (too close and you’ll get bubbles).

I find that you can be a lot more precise with a can of air which saved me a bit of time I think!

  • Use cooking oil.

Spraying cooking oil like Pam on your nails might sound a little weird, but by all accounts it works pretty well.

In fact, any oil spray will help to dry nail polish faster because aerosol sprays contain propellants that work to speed up the evaporation process.

And as a bonus, as well as helping your nails to dry faster, oil also moisturises your cuticles too – winner!

For this method you don’t need a base coat or a topcoat either!

Apply 2 coats of your chosen polish as normal, then spray your nails (from a distance of around 6 inches) with the cooking oil and wait for 2 minutes.

Then wash off the oil with cold water and test by lightly touching the nails.

Honestly, this method is a little tricky and messy (it’s hard to get the cooking spray to go right where you want it to) and personally I’d rather just use a quick drying top coat.

How do you tell if your nails are dry without messing them up?

OMG I’m super impatient, so I used to mess up my nails A LOT just by checking if they were dry yet.

I soon got sick of seeing ugly fingerprints on my gorgeous new nails, so I learned a trick or two to check if they are dry – without ruining them!

Here are a couple of techniques I tried to check my nails without making a nasty mark.

  • The pinky tap.

How it works:

Gently tap your 2 pinky nails together. If they come apart really easily they are dry.

If they are still a bit tacky they will stick a little bit and it might make a slight mark.

But if it does it won’t be noticeable (because it’s on your pinkies) and it won’t be anywhere near as bad as if you touched it with your finger!

  • The nail edge nudge.

To check if a nail is dry – choose a corner or an edge of any nail (I suggest you do this on your pinky as it’s the nail people are least likely to look at) and lightly press into it using the free edge of your thumb nail.

If your nail is dry, you should be able to do this without making a mark. But if your nails aren’t dry yet, you could risk messing up 2 nails at once!

For that reason, you may want to try using the edge of a toothpick or even a metal hair grip to test your nail.

  • Try this if you mess up a nail!

I don’t know the science behind this one, but trust me it works!

Spit on your nail (I know it sounds gross but just go with it) and rub lightly – you’ll be surprised at how well this works and fixing minor dents and marks while your polish is still drying!

Final thoughts:

Wow that was a lot of information!

I tried to answer as many of your questions as I could and I hope that I’ve helped you out in some small way.

If I can help you to build up your confidence a little with doing your nails or to solve a problem you’ve been having then I’m happy.

Drying nails is a huge topic – there is way too much information and too many questions to cover everything in a single post.

So if you didn’t see your question check the table of contents at the top of part 2

Hopefully you will bookmark this page and share it so you can help your friends cut down on their drying times too.

For more tips and tricks for how to dry your nails check out next part of this guide.