Having hired hundreds of mobile nail technicians since our humble beginnings, we’ve learned a lot about people, products and process. Most disturbingly, we’ve learned how most cheap New York City nail salons can afford to keep their doors open with $20 manicures and pedicures.

Here’s how:

1. Product Dilution / Replacement

Many cheap nail salons dilute products such as foot scrubs, alcohol, CSpray and nail polishes – foot scrubs and liquids are diluted with water, and nail polishes are diluted with acetone, which causes chips shortly down the road.

Furthermore, many salons refill expensive, vegan-based lotion bottles with generic lotions, or swap innovative brand name products, such as essie Quick-E quick drying drops with significantly cheaper versions.

Don’t be fooled in thinking every nail salon is alike based on the products you see  – a cheaper price tag is generally the telltale sign that the products have been altered  – we’ve even heard claims from suppliers and manufacturers of high-end counterfeit polishes, such as the ones we use (essie Gel Couture and CND Shellac).

2. One-time-use Tools, Re-used

The two tools we found being re-used over and over are the file & buffer, and the light blue sanitization packet in which the tools come in. All three are meant to be used once and then tossed.

Reports from our experienced technicians are that the disposable file and buffer at the cheap nail salons gets rewashed up to 5 times! That means, the skin, bacteria and dead nail deposit from 5 previous clients is probably still on the file and being transferred to your nail bed in the form of a multi-fungal monster. Not only is this disgusting, it is downright unsafe and violates public health codes.

The saddest story we’ve heard is of nail salon owners saving and re-using paper towels!

3. Sterilization and Cleanliness

Cleaning solutions are expensive, and many cheap nail salons will simply wash the tools in a sink without a cleaning solution and bag them up in a one-time use sterilization packet, or skip the sterilization process altogether.

Reviews from Yelp and other first-hand accounts tell us of horror stories of seeing cuticles from previous clients remaining on their technician’s cuticle nippers, and of black fungus spots growing under gel nails (due to improper sterilization).

You may have never had a problem with this, but eventually, you will. If you stick with the cheap nail salon, be sure the technician is only using tools from the sterilization pouch; and ask to look at the tools inside the pouch first – bright purple specs inside (caused by liquid sterilization) is a clear sign of a bacterial presence.

4. Poorly Trained and Misrepresented

The best nail technicians in New York City have a Nail Specialty License or 3+ years of experience. However, at cheap nail salons, workers have as little as 6 months of hands-on salon experience and no license.

As you might suspect, these workers have significantly lower wages, and are actually practicing their craft on real clients (like you!) for years until they get better and are able to get paid a wage. What’s more, cheap nail salon owners will claim to have “licensed technicians” and will show you their operational license, simply to build your trust and confidence.

Poorly trained technicians have a poor understanding of how to do things the right “ethical” way – from sterilization and cleaning, to polish application and total nail and skin treatment.

5. Minimum & Illegal Wages, Fees

This is the worst of all, and unfortunately true at many cheap nail salons. We’ve heard stories of emigrating nail technicians being mislead by salon owners to pay fees of up to $1,000 to acquire nail technician licenses, having their paychecks and tips withheld, and required to work more than 50 hours per week at a wage $5-7 below what’s required by law ($10.50) with NO overtime pay.

Unfortunately, cheap nail salon owners plead ignorance while they continue improving their margins and take advantage of Chinese and Latin immigrant workers. Some technicians aren’t even paid a wage, and instead, are required to be offer themselves up as “unpaid servants” who work 50+ hours a week and go home to a shared apartment with several other technicians in the same situation.

Its your choice to get your nails done at a cheap nail salon or an expensive nail salon. Lets just say, you definitely get what you pay for!