How To Clean Under Nails: 7 Common Mistakes People Make

How To Clean Under Nails: 7 Common Mistakes People Make

Does it seem like no matter how much you wash your hands, your fingernails still seem to be dingy underneath? That dingy dirt is common, harmless, and nothing to be ashamed of, so don’t hide your hands just yet. Let’s dive deeper into what that yucky stuff is and how to nix it once and for all.

What Is That Stuff?

Your fingernails consist of a protein called keratin. Keratin debris and skin cells accumulate underneath the fingernail and turn a grayish color when they come in contact with dirt and oil. It is also common for remnants of personal care products such as lotions, makeup, and soaps to accumulate under the nails. And how many times have you dipped your fingers into a bag of chips? (ahem!)

Is It Harmful?

If the color of the gunk changes to a greenish pigment, that may be a sign of bacterial growth. This bacteria can grow into an infection, which often occurs with people who wear artificial nails such as acrylic or gel nails. Acrylic and gel nails carry a higher risk for infection because they are usually longer and have micro-openings that trap bacteria, making them the perfect environment for bacterial growth.

Tips For Keeping It Clean

So, now you know what causes that yucky stuff underneath your nails, but how do you keep your nails sparkling clean daily? Nail care is essential for healthy nails and skin, so here are seven tips.

  • Keep it short: Shorter nails carry less of an opportunity for bacterial growth. Never share your nail clippers with others because this will spread germs and could lead to infection.
  • Lather up: Washing your hands frequently with warm, soapy water is the most basic thing you can do to keep your digits clean and germ-free. It may be tempting to switch the soap and water for antibacterial hand gel, but nothing beats the old-fashioned soap and water. Soap will kill the germs, while the water will rinse it down the drain. 
  • Stay dry: Make sure to dry your hands thoroughly after washing your hands. Keeping your hands dry reduces the chance of your nails becoming too soft from moisture and minimizes the chance of infection and breakage.
  • Trim it: If you have a hangnail, trim it with nail clippers a soon as you can. Never use your teeth (ew, we know!) because this will introduce bacteria to the site and possibly damage your pearly whites.
  • Go for the bar: Dig your nails into a bar of fresh, white soap. It may sound strange, but doing this will pull the dirt out from underneath your nails and help whiten the underneath of them as well.
  • Mind your moisturizer: Thick creams trap oil and dirt, making them more likely to slide right underneath your nails with the cream. Opt for a thinner lotion rather than a thick hand cream.
  • Stick to it: Nail brushes can harbor bacteria when not properly cleaned, plus a study performed on brushes and picks showed that they aren’t necessary. An orangewood stick will sweep the visible dirt out from underneath your nails effectively instead. Be careful because the skin tissue underneath the nail is very delicate.
  • Take a breather: Give your nails a break from nail polish, overlays, and other artificial nail treatments. Once a year for three to four weeks is sufficient for natural nails to regain their strength. Gel nail wearers should take a break once every eight weeks for one week.

Five Steps for a Nail Deep Cleaning

If you’re looking for a way to occasionally deep clean underneath your nails, this is a simple five-step protocol that will leave your hands and nails squeaky clean. 

  1. First, carefully clean the dirt from your nails with an orangewood stick. It is generally easier to clean underneath your nails when they are dry than when they are softer after cleansing. Trim your nails with nail clippers if necessary.
  2. Next, wash your hands with soap and water while scrubbing for 20 seconds.
  3. Deep clean by soaking your nails in a bowl of equal parts of clean water and apple cider vinegar for 20 minutes. This type of vinegar is high in acetic and malic acids, famous for its anti-fungal and cleansing properties. These acids help whiten the nails and prevent infection.
  4. After the apple cider vinegar soak, rewash your hands in warm, soapy water.
  5. Complete the cleaning by pampering your nails with moisture. Massage a small amount of cuticle oil, coconut oil, aloe, cocoa butter, or tea tree oil into each nail. Some of these are thick in texture, so make sure your hands are thoroughly clean and dry before applying.

7 Common Nail Cleaning Mistakes

No one wants to sabotage their nail health intentionally, but some of us may be doing just that without even realizing it. Here are seven common nail cleaning mistakes that people make every day. Don’t fall into the trap of the following nail blunders.

  1. Not cleaning your tools: It is easy to forget to clean your nail tools when you’re in a hurry, but not doing so will spread germs and possible infection. Keep your nail tools clean by washing them in warm, soapy water, rinsing well, and wiping them with 100% pure isopropyl alcohol.
  2. Buffing too often: Buffing your nails is great, but too much buffing will lead to thin, weak nails. 
  3. Picking your polish: One of the worst things to do to your nails is to peel off your polish. When you pick and peel the polish, you risk the potential of peeling layers of your nails with it.
  4. Sawing back and forth: No, we aren’t referring to a horror movie. The act of filing your nails with a back and forth sawing motion is damaging to your nails and causes breakage. Opt to file in one direction instead to save your nail health.
  5. Ignoring your cuticles: The skin around your nails and hands is just as important as it is on your face. Keep it hydrated with cuticle oil to maintain healthy, strong nails.
  6. Skipping base coat: A base coat is often an afterthought, but it should be on top of the to-do list. A base coat fills in ridges and helps nail polish remain on the nails longer. It also strengthens the nails.
  7. Using chemical-laden polishes: Formaldehyde and toluene pose serious health risks. Unfortunately, these chemicals exist in many nail polishes today. Read the polish labels before opting to drench your nails in their color. 


Keeping your nails clean is an essential part of maintaining your hygiene. Washing your hands daily, removing dirt and oil from under your nails, and keeping your hands hydrated are not only crucial elements to your health, but they make you feel and look good too.

Nailboo is here to help you continue looking your best. Our dip powder manicure powders create beautiful nail sets, so check out our dip kit and nail essentials. It’s everything you need for healthy, beautiful hands all year long. 

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Brushes and picks used on nails during the surgical scrub to reduce bacteria: a randomized trial | Science Direct

When and How to Wash Your Hands | Handwashing | CDC 

Keep your healthy nails and get a break from nail polish | Today

Nail Care Products | FDA

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