Nail File Grit Guide: Everything You Need To Know

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase.

Have you ever bought nail files at the store without looking closely and wondered why sometimes they felt different from ones you’ve purchased previously?

A manicurist is using nail file on a woman's short natural nails

Or have you seen your nail technician using a nail file at the salon and wondered why sometimes it feels heavier and sharper than others?

The answer is simple: it’s because there’s more than one nail file grit. That’s right! Like sandpaper, nail files come in a wide variety of grits for various reasons.

After all, you don’t want to use the same nail file you used to remove your gel polish to shape your natural nails. Why? Read on to find out!

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at nail file grits, what they mean, what they’re for, and how to choose the right kind for you.

What Are Nail File Grits?

But first, let’s answer the most basic question: What are nail file grits?

If you look closely when you buy a nail file, you’ll notice that most files have a number associated with them. You may have seen some in the past and wondered what these numbers meant.

These numbers are the grit on nail files — the size of the abrasive particles on the file and nail file coarseness.

More specifically, the grit number refers to the size of each abrasive grain and references how many abrasive particles fit per square inch of the nail file.

The lower the grit number, the rougher the grit, while the higher the number, the finer the grit. Knowing a file’s grit can help you determine which file you need for various nail care purposes.

Are All Grits Created Equal?

So to summarize:

Higher number = softer grit

Lower number = coarser grit

Now that you know what nail file grits are, the next step is understanding that one file doesn’t necessarily have just one grit.

Some files have different grits on each side for various purposes. But some have the same. If both file numbers are the same, like 100/100 grit, this means both sides have the same 100 grit.

On the other hand, if the numbers are different, this means the sides have different grits. A file with the number 120/180 grit means that one side is softer than the other.

Grit Chart File Guide

An infographic featuring grits and their recommended uses for nail file grit guide

To give you a better understanding of nail file grit levels, here’s an easy cheat sheet. Grit numbers can be as low as 60 and as high as 240.

Although 60 grit is far too coarse for the natural nail, this is usually only used for removing calluses and dead skin cells from the feet.

Meanwhile, 240 is often the most recommended as the best to use for natural nails to help shape the free edge and walls. This is the one that may also be used (gently) on the nail plate.

Check out the other grits and their recommended uses.

  • 60 grit — Used for calluses and dead skin cells on the feet
  • 80 grit — Used for heavy and hard product removal. The sharpest file for nails and is too sharp for the natural nail. Coarse grit nail files can be used for nail product removals like thick gel or acrylic.
  • 100 grit — Can be used for the walls and free edges of acrylic nails. You may use this on artificial nails, but it’s best not to use it on natural nails as grit 100 is still very sharp.
  • 150 grit — May be used to file artificial nails and shape them, as well as to remove lifting before applying any new product.
  • 180 grit — This medium grit nail file can be used to shorten or contour the nail and prep nails before applying polish or other nail products. Grit 180, though, is still not recommended for use on the nail plate directly.
  • 220 grit — This grit file is used on natural nails to file the edges and walls.
  • 240 grit — Finally, this grit is the most recommended for natural nails: on the top of the nail, edges, walls, and even directly used on the nail plate for buffing.

Nail Grit Files for Acrylic Nails vs Natural Nails?

A nail artist using nail file grit to a woman's nails in a salon

Based on the chart above, you can gauge which grit is best for you to use for various purposes. But what is the rule of thumb when it comes to choosing grits for acrylic and natural nails?

The most important thing to remember is that natural nails aren’t as thick or strong as acrylic nails. You can use coarser grits on acrylics, but you should not use them on the natural nail or you might cause breakage and damage.

The best nail file grit for acrylic nails is from 80 to 150. If you opt for higher grits, you may have to exert a little more pressure on acrylic nails, but this will work better for your natural nails and are safer.

If you just want to shape your acrylic nail, the best nail file for shaping acrylics is 150.

What is the best grit for natural nails, on the other hand? 

The best nail file grit for natural nails is 180 to 240. It’s important to use a higher grit so you don’t damage your nails. 

Or if you have a lower grit file, be sure to adjust your pressure when using the file.

Does the Shape of the File Matter?

Now that you know all the different types of grits and their uses, the next question you might have is, does the shape of the file matter?

In the market, there are several different nail file shapes and sizes. Do these matter when selecting the best file for you? And if so, what is the best nail file shape to look for?

Here are the different file shapes and what they are best for:

1. Straight

This shape is good for filing the side walls of the nail all the way to the tip. It’s a go-to shape to achieve classic slim nails.

2. Banana

This is ideal for use on the cuticle area as it is rounded and can help you avoid harsh lines. Plus, the shape is good to help prevent over-exerting your wrist.

3. Half-Moon 

An excellent happy medium between straight and banana, this size allows you to file long strokes on the nail walls while having a curve to fit the cuticles too.

4. Oval 

An oval is rounded and is good for the bottom of the nail and the cuticles. It’s also thicker, which means it can cover more area.

These are basic recommendations, but the truth is that you can use every file for almost every purpose. At the end of the day, the best one for you is up to your personal preference and which shape suits you best.

Nail File vs. Nail Buffer

A woman's hand holding a pink nail polish.

Now that you understand file grits better, let’s look at the different types of nail files available.

The most commonly used nail tools are nail files and nail buffers. Are these the same? After all, the nail buffer also has a rough side. The answer is… no, they aren’t the same!

Simply put, one is used to file the nails, and the other is used to buff and polish the nails. And the way they are made is specifically so they can serve their own purpose.

A nail file is a tool with a hard or stiff core to help file down the nail’s free edge, shape the natural nail, and repair cracks or broken and rough nails. They are also sometimes used to shorten nails instead of cutting them. 

There are several kinds of files, including emery boards, metal, and even glass.

A nail buffer isn’t used to shape the nails but instead is used to smooth the nail surface, even out ridges, and make nails look shiny and healthy. It has a softer core for more flexibility.

A nail buff can also be used as a means of helping polish adhere to the nail’s surface.

While one side of a nail buff can be rough and coarse too, overall, nail files are usually what they are talking about when someone discusses grit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What grit file should I use to remove gel polish?

Since a gel manicure is strong, it must be filed down during removal, requiring a coarse file. Knowing what grit nail file to remove gel polish is important so you can successfully remove the product without damaging the nail underneath.

The best nail file for gel nails is 100 to 150 grit. You can even use 180 if your nails are thin or damaged. A 180 grit nail file is safe for natural nails and can still remove gel polish.

What is a 100 grit nail file used for?

100 grit is quite sharp and is often used for sculpting acrylic nails. This rough nail file should not be used on natural nails.

What is a good grit for nail files?

There is no correct answer to this question as each grit serves a different purpose. For those with acrylics, grits from 100 to 150 are good, but those with natural nails should use 220 to 240.

Which file should I use for different nail shapes?

Your nail shape doesn’t necessarily determine which file to use, and all files can help you achieve different nail shapes, depending on how you use them.

What is the difference between nail file and emery boards?

Nail files come in many forms, and an emery board is just one of them. Emery boards are cardboard or foam sheets with emery on top. They can flake, bend, and break over time.

Other forms of nail files include metal, glass, and crystal.

Different Grits for Different Purposes

Now that you know more about nail file grits, you can be more mindful when choosing the best one for you. Remember, each serves a different purpose, so your best bet is to invest in the grits that can give you what you need.

If you don’t often use gel or acrylics, then opt for higher grits that are better for natural nails. However, investing in more than one file is best if you like using various nail products. 

Do you file your nails or leave that to the professionals? Let us know!

Love all things nails? 

Check out these articles:


  • Michelle Alejandro

    Michelle has had a lifelong love affair with makeup. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Communications /Journalism, she began an illustrious career as a writer. Michelle penned a beauty and lifestyle national newspaper column for over a decade and became the Beauty Editor for Chalk Magazine and Editor-in-Chief for Metro Weddings for over nine years, working with some of the biggest makeup artists and trusted beauty brands in the business. During this time, she also completed a course in Creative Artistic Makeup Design and worked as a freelance makeup artist, beauty editor, and writer.

  • Jasmine Moore

    Jasmine Moore, a licensed nail technician with 3 years of expertise, offers specialized services in Acrylic, Gel X, and Dip Powder applications. Trained by Lena Fam and a graduate of NexGen Nails and Beauty School, Jasmine's accolades include nominations for "Best New Nail Tech" (2021) and "Best Nail Artist" (2023). As the founder of Jazzy Belle Beauty she stays updated on the latest nail trends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *