How to Color Code Your Keys Using Nail Polish

Do you own more keys than a high school janitor? Does this cause you to bumble for the right key every time you need to get into your home or office, while you grow increasingly frustrated that you can’t find the right one? There’s a simple, old-fashioned solution that anyone can do––paint specific keys using different nail polish colors. By color coding your keys, you can eliminate the “right key shuffle.”


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    Decide if you want to paint the entire set or just a few important keys. Either approach is fine, as long as it works for you. And bear in mind that painting your keys different colors must actually help you. If you're unlikely to remember what the “red” key is used for, there's little point in painting them. On the positive side, it shouldn't take too long to train yourself to know which color means which door.
    • Choose between painting the entire key head, entire key or just placing a discerning nail polish “dot” at the top of the key. It's not really recommended that you paint the entire key, as the polish will flake over time and it'll end up sitting in your pocket or bag with repeated use. Plus, too much color can look a bit tacky. In general, a small dot, especially in a subtle color like blue, black or even green, can easily organize keys without too much effort or in-your-face glare.
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    • Consider adding specific colors to a base color for keys that are used at one spot, but in multiple areas. For example, if you have a set of keys for your office, but one key opens the front door and another one works in your office space you could paint all keys that are dedicated for office use the color red, but place a green dot on the key that opens your office.
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    • Consider using day-glow colors so you can discern keys at night or in the dark. Some shimmery colors such as silver or gold may be effective for seeing at night too. Or, use glow-in-the-dark nail polish if you will be using the keys at night or in the dark. You might want to dedicate glow-in-the-dark nail polish just for that set of keys.
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    Create a small map that will help you to remember which key corresponds to a certain color. While doing this may sound silly, if you're someone who has a lot of keys, it may be tough to remember which color corresponds with which key. Moreover, you need to plan ahead as to which color will fit with which key. It's a good idea to either make the map digitally or to scan in your map and keep a copy on your smartphone and computer, for ease of finding.
    • Write down each color and its corresponding key. Scan this in if done on paper or simply keep a file if done digitally. It's probably also a very good idea to keep a paper copy in your bag or wallet for those times when the cellphone battery has died.
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    Get creative with this project. Although painting your keys in an effort to organize and categorize them is the name of the game, you may want to brighten up the simple dot and turn it into something with more of a flourish, such as:
    • Use artful designs to distinguish specific keys. Paint flowers, hearts or clovers on certain keys to help you distinguish which key belongs to which building.
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    • Check out fingernail stickers to add to certain keys. Add small stickers specially made for nails or you could add other small stickers for fun.
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    Paint the keys. Once you've planned the color code and chosen the colors or designs, simply use the nail polish brush (or small brush if using other paint) and paint on the dot, colored head or other design. Do this over a prepared work space, laying down newspaper or similar to prevent staining if a spill occurs.
    • As you're painting the keys, if you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to erase with nail polish remover and try again. Since you're working with hard steel, you can re-do your keys if you don’t like the design.
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    Allow time to dry before using. The polish should air dry quite quickly, but give it a good half hour to an hour to be extra sure.


  • The nail polish will likely chip over time; simply reapply as necessary.
  • If you don’t want to paint the keys with nail polish, you could generate tiny labels that you could affix to the top of the keys using clear tape.


  • Paint only the Head of the Key. Any polish or paint applied to the blade of the key will wear off inside the lock and will eventually require a costly repair.
  • Always work in a well-ventilated area when using nail polish, paints or nail polish remover.
  • Do not put stickers on the blade of keys. These could easily end up jamming your key or even breaking a lock.

Things You'll Need

  • Nail polish colors
  • Small stickers (optional)
  • Nail polish remover (just in case)
  • Set of keys
  • Newspaper

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