How To Tell If Your Nail Salon Is Clean And Professional

Wendy Rodewald
A manicure at a nail salon

Is there bacteria on that file?
Photo: Getty Images

Here in New York (and increasingly in other areas), there’s a nail salon on every corner where you can get a cheap $30 mani/pedi special — with varying results of skill and cleanliness. But choosing a top-notch nail salon is important, and not just because they’ll paint your tips with Chanel colors. Manicure tools that aren’t properly sanitized can spread bacteria, fungus and even blood-borne illnesses — not things you want to be exposed to while reading about Kim and Kanye’s new baby in the pedicure chair.

To help you choose better, safer nail services, we asked for tips from Audra Senkus, co-owner of Haven Soho Spa in New York, one of the city’s most luxe destinations for nail and spa services. Here’s how to tell if your nail salon or spa is clean, professional and worthy of your patronage.

Your nail tech asks questions. Before going to work, she should ask what shape and length you want your nails, whether you want your cuticles cut or pushed back, and any other questions to help you get the look you want.

They sterilize cuticle nippers, clippers and other tools. A nail salon should be using a UV sterilizer and a hospital-grade disinfectant to kill bacteria on metal tools between clients. If you’re not sure your tools have been sterilized, it’s fine to ask the tech to do so while you watch, Senkus says. “If somebody rolls their eyes at you when you ask them to soak their nippers again, that’s not good service. They should be making you feel as comfortable as possible about sterilizing the environment.”

They don’t reuse files, buffers and sticks. “You’re not allowed to reuse the non-metal tools — the foot files, the nail files, the wooden stick, the buffers,” says Senkus. “All of that stuff has to be brand new for each client.” The reason? Non-metal instruments can’t be completely sterilized since their surfaces are porous, which means a dirty tool can spread bacteria or nail fungus (ew!).

The pedicure baths are sanitized. “Look at the way they clean up in between clients. Are they cleaning out the sinks properly?” Senkus says. “If they use the jacuzzi kind of jets, they can be a germ party because things get stuck in the pipes.” At Haven, the pedicure baths are equipped with the new style of pipeless jets — ask your salon which type they use.

They don’t use a callus cutter. These razor-like implements that can cut feet and cause bleeding aren’t just illegal for salons to use in many states, they’re not good for the skin on your feet, Senkus says. “If you cut the callus off with one of those razors, it makes it grow back even more,” since a sensitive lower layer of skin will be exposed. Instead, the person doing your pedicure should use a foot file and you should follow up with your own maintenance in the shower each day to remove roughness gradually.

They don’t thin their polishes. At Haven, “We don’t use polish thinners because that affects the quality and will make it chip faster sometimes,” Senkus says.

All nail techs should be licensed. “They should have [credentials] on the wall or in a folder up front,” Senkus says. If you don’t see your tech’s license, just ask.

Read more: How To DIY A Salon-Worthy Manicure