Our fingers are our tangible connection to the world. We type with them, eat with them, and work with them.
It’s no wonder, then, that our fingernails can get pretty disgusting, harboring everything from bacteria to dead skin to things best left unmentioned. Using clippers to keep them short is wise, but that may not totally prevent accumulated gunk. If you find a lot of build-up under your nails but don’t normally make it to a manicurist, check out a few tips to get your nails clean and healthy.
1. Use dish soap.
Liquid or bar soap is fine for getting your hands clean, but trapped grease or other dirt can be more easily loosened by using dish soap. You can also use specialized bar soaps made for heavy dirt, but most people will do fine with a dab of liquid detergent.
2. Try bar soap.
If no other soap is doing the job, get a bar of soap—any kind will do—and really dig into it with your nails. The soap will get under the nail and loosen anything that’s sticking around in there.
3. Use an orange stick.
Don’t go digging under your nail bed with a toothpick, pen, or other pointy object. Instead, use an orange stick. It’s a soft, contoured wooden stick designed to fit under the nail to loosen anything lodged in there. But don’t get too aggressive: If you do, you risk separating the nail from the nail bed.
4. Keep an eye on the white stuff.
Most white “gunk” under the nail is keratin, the fibrous protein that makes up nails and hair. Since it can trap bacteria—and will sometimes turn green if it does—it’s best to remove it on a regular basis.
5. Avoid nail brushes.
They might be effective, but the bristles make them hard to sterilize. Unless you’re buying a new one every time, you risk introducing more bacteria than you remove.
6. Watch out for artificial nails.
Because artificial nails are longer and may not form a complete seal, they’re more susceptible to harboring bacteria. Keep them clean and don’t leave them on for too long.
7. Clean your gloves.
You might notice more nail build-up in the colder months. If that’s the case, check your winter gloves. Because they accumulate lint, they might be stuffing your nails full of debris every time you put them on. Turn them inside-out and give them a good shake. The same goes for coat pockets.
8. Don’t bite your nails.
In addition to being a fairly unpleasant habit, it’s not doing much good for your nails. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), biting your nails can introduce bacteria to the nail bed.
Of course, keeping nails trimmed, washed, and healthy goes a long way. Try to trim nails after a shower when they’re soft, and dry thoroughly after washing so they stay firm.