How to dry nail polish fast when you're in a hurry

Want to know how to dry nail polish fast? These are the tricks that really work

A woman's hands painting her nails yellow and learning how to dry nail polish fast
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

If you're wondering how to dry nail polish fast then you've probably experienced one or more of the following: Denting ostensibly touch-dry nails on your house keys while rummaging in a bag. Smudging polish on your sleeve while dressing, thus ruining your manicure and your jumper. Making yourself late for a night out because you decided on a last-minute mani and had to sit painfully still instead of catching the train. 

The list could go on—because chances are, if you know how to paint your nails then at some point you will have messed up a paint job because it wasn't quite dry yet. Of course, one solution is learning how to do gel nails at home or visiting a salon to choose between gel or acrylic manicures, both of which harden instantly on the nail so don't require drying time like traditional polish. However both techniques are tricky to master and even trickier to remove, so there's something to be said for the DIY simplicity and easy-come-easy-go nature of traditional polish. 

Still, we don't want it to go five minutes after painting, so what can be done? Naturally, time and patience are the best tricks in the book, but the are some hacks that will speed things along when the occasion demands. These are the ones we've tried, tested and that truly work. 

How to dry nail polish fast: 5 tips that really work

1. Try cold temperatures

Ask any pro how to dry nail polish fast and this is probably the first tip they'll give you. After painting on your summer nail color or pastel nails, wait a minute then dip your fingers in a bowl of iced water or hold your hands in the freezer for a few minutes. Bear in mind that cold temperatures thicken the top layer of polish rather than actually drying it. This is useful because it helps your nail designs resist smudging, so you can get on with your day a little quicker. Just remember that the paint underneath the top layer won't be completely dry, so you'll still need to be careful.  

2. Use a quick dry product

This may sound obvious, but it's also the most effective tip on this list. Most nail polish includes solvents (which help polish mix uniformly, then evaporate) and film-formers (which help it to dry as a smooth, even surface on the nail) Quick-dry products contain a higher proportion of solvents, so evaporate more quickly into a set painted nail. Using fast dry polish, or topping your favorite varnish with a quick dry top coat will save you a good 10 minutes of waiting around. Beware false promises of 60-second drying times though—that almost certainly means touch dry, not fully set. 

3. Blow cool air onto the nails

If you've ever sat in a nail salon with your hands under a drying machine and wondered if it actually speeds things up, the answer is yes, a little bit. Exposing the surface of freshly-painted nails to cool temperatures can help the top layer of the polish thicken up, while also evaporating solvents, which helps polish to set in place. You can use your best hair dryer on a cool heat and low power setting for this, just remember to be gentle as too much power can push little wrinkles into the polish. 

4. Apply in layers

A woman's hand painting her nails yellow

(Image credit: Getty images)

If you're wondering how to dry nail polish fast you are probably also looking to save time applying, but loading on one heavy coat instead of three thin ones is a false economy. This is because giving each coat a bit of drying time, however small, before you apply the next one will allow the solvents to begin evaporating and film formers to begin setting for an overall reduction in drying time. It's also much easier to irreparably smudge one heavy coat and have to start again. If you have applied several light layers, a little knock may only affect the top one, so it's easier to smooth out with a little polish remover on a skinny brush. 

5. Oil them up

Finishing your mani with a layer of oil isn't just a smart nail care trick, it can also help prevent smudging. Received wisdom suggests that the oil actually helps the polish dry, although this has been debated by experts. What it will definitely do, however, is create a lubricating barrier on the nail's surface. This means when you're slipping on your coat or rummaging in your handbag anything your nails come into contact with is less likely to drag or pull at the polish. Oil also keeps the nail and cuticle supple, which will prevent flaking and dehydration thus prolonging your manicure. 

Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more beauty products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor back in 2013, working under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism).