There are times when you realize that no matter how many times you wash and scrub your nails, you still feel that your nails look dirty underneath. Not to worry, as this usually is something many people experience.

The main reason that causes dirty nails is the old skin cells accumulation underneath your nails. Other reasons might be your hygiene practices or the applications of too many hand lotions. The last one is that you work with heavy substances like grease, oil, or dirt that stick under the cuticles and underneath the nails.

Let us look at each of those instances and how you should wash your hands properly to avoid dirty nails.

Causes of dirty nails

In most cases, dirty nails mean that the old skin cells have not fallen off your skin. Others, dirty fingernails mean just that, dirt underneath your nails.

Dirty nails might be a byproduct of your regular skin

In most cases, the whitish powdery substance underneath your nails is common. The old skin cells should shed off but do not have a chance to do so.

Our skin layer constantly sheds off its old skin cells and replaces them with new ones. For example, in part of the skin where it is exposed, old skin cells are physically removed by scrubbing or by coming in contact with other objects such as clothes, gloves, or shoes, to name a few.

When you notice the whitish, powdery substance underneath your nails, it might be just your own old skin cells that still remain since it does not have a chance to shed away.

This phenomenon is easier to tell when you grow your nails long. You will see a thin powdery layer that is stuck under your nails. You can scrape it off without any effort.

If you like to let your nails grow out, you think that your long nails get dirty quickly, but in this case, it is just a usual way how your skin function.

Dirty looking nails can be the from dark color polishes

Prolonged use of dark color regular polishes without applying base coat can stain your nailsOpens in a new tab. and make them yellowish, dirty looking. On the other hand, gel color polish does not stain the natural nails as much.

If you are in this group of people who skip using regular base coat, and if you like to use regular color polish for your nails because they cause the least damage, then start using base coat before putting on color polish.

Keep in mind that it will that about four to six months for the stain to grow out.

Too much hand lotion can cause dirty nails

Your nails can get dirty if you use too much oily hand lotion or moisturizer. These products do have some oily substances to keep the skin moisturized. However, if they get underneath the nails, they will prevent the old skin cell from shedding away. Worse yet, the oily substances will combine with the old skin cells and create a flaky crust when they are dry.

Working with dark, oily chemicals or dirt itself

Interactions with the products and items around you. If you come into contact with a lot of dirt and debris, there is a high chance of you getting dirt under your nails.

What can dirty nails cause?

While everyone gets some kind of dirt under their fingernails and toenails, some people have more dirt under their nails than others. This dirt might not be bad, but when left there for a long time, there is a chance it will harbor bacteria and cause infection if there is a cut on the skin or on cuticles. You can also get germs that can upset your stomach if you eat food using dirty fingers.

With all these hidden dangers related to dirty nails, especially when the dirt is underneath, it helps if you know what things cause too much dirt, which might lead to the accumulation of bacteria underneath your nails. Next are the reasons why your nails might get dirty.

Why do my fingernails get dirty quickly?

Now you know dirt underneath your nails might not be dirt itself, but it could be your old skin cells combined with extra lotion, hand moisturizer, or Vaseline. So if your fingernails get dirty quickly, it might be the dirty work you do daily. If you come into contact with dirt or dark oily chemicals daily, there is a high chance your nails might get dirty fast. Other than that, it might be that you like to have long nails.

Wearing artificial nails or having long nails does look good, but they might lead to a higher chance of getting dirt trapped under them. Many people who have long nails forget that they should also spend some time cleaning underneath their nails to remove the old skin cells and any other foreign matter such as food, sauce, dirt, etc., so they will not stick on the nails and discolor them.

The best way to keep your nails looking clean all the time is to clean them often, and it does not take a lot of your time if you know when and how to do it.

Long nails can get dirty easily

People who prefer long nails, whether their own or artificial, tend to notice that they get dirty underneath.

Having long nails mean having more surface area for old skin cells to stick to, more chance for hand lotion to deposit, or any other food particles or dirt itself to stay.

If wearing long nails is your thing, you should spend a little extra time cleaning them to maintain their best look, both on top and underneath.

How to keep fingernails from looking dirty

An inexpensive nail brush is the best tool to keep the nails and underneath them clean. You can use an old toothbrush if you do not have one. However, I find the best nail brush is the one large enough that you can hold in your palm so it will stay in your slippery hands while you are in a shower.

The best time to scrub your nails with this brush is after your hands are wet for about 5 minutes. This time coincides with the time after you wash dishes by hand or at the end of your daily shower.

After being wet for 5 minutes, anything stuck underneath your nails will soften up, and you can easily remove them using a nail brush. Cleaning your nails this way only takes you less than one minute each time to brush off any build-up underneath ten nails.

In the case of long nails, do not scrub them with excessive force because you might cause the bond to come loose, and you will have premature lifting.

Preventing dirty fingernails

Wear gloves to protect your fingers and nails from getting stained and dirty.

If your fingernails are dirty with some hard-to-remove substances like ink, permanent marker, automotive grease, or oil, the best way to remove them is to wash your hands and fingernails as soon as possible.

If you scrub your nails daily underneath often and practice wearing gloves whenever you do a dirty job, you will keep your nails looking their best all the time.

All you need is your regular dishwasher soap or any soap you shower with.

You do not have to buy extra hand cleaner or use any other chemicals to clean your nails with this method. Not only do you save money, additional time to use these chemicals, but you also keep your bathroom or kitchen from having one more bottle of chemicals.

If you insist on using additional nail cleaning products, I suggest that you try cleaning your nails with toothpaste, lemon juice, or hydrogen peroxide. These everyday products have extra cleaning power, and see which one you like best.

Last but not least, keeping your nails short is an excellent way to keep them looking clean.

How to get the dirt out of nails

You should know how to get the dirt out from under nails safely. The best way to get it out is to use a nail brush to scrub it off with your hand soap or dish-washing soap as soon as possible.

If there is stubborn gunk around and under your nails, you can use a pointy end of an orangewood stick or something similar to scrape the dirt off but be careful to not push back the skin line. Doing so might push it too much and cause bleeding, which you do not want.

If dirt remains under your nails after you wash and scrub them, do not try too hard to remove it. Instead, it will come off after a couple of dish-washing or shower times later.

The best nail brush for dirty fingernails

These inexpensive nail brushes can clean your dirty fingernails effectively. They are ergonomic. Buy this pack and put them in all your bathrooms. Give your family and friends the extras to put them to good use. They are available on AmazonOpens in a new tab. at your local beauty store.

What causes dirty toenails?

For people who like to wear sandals all day long and walk on a dirt road or work in their garden, for example, the chance for the toenails to be exposed to dirt and dust and they are more likely to get dirty.

On the other hand (toe, if I may), if your toenails are inside your shoes for most of your waking time, they are less likely to get dirt or dust on them. However, even if they are inside your shoes a lot, they could get dirty in some different ways.

Skin cell build-up or overgrown cuticles cause dirty toenails

Like your fingernails, old skin cell build-up or overgrown cuticles will make your toenails look dirty. Old skin cells will make your toenails look chalky or powdery and cover the healthy, shiny skin cells underneath. On the other hand, overgrown cuticles will make your toenails look much smaller than they are because they will cover a good part of your toenails.

Over use of lotion can make toenails look dirty

A lot of lotion on the feet and toes will negatively affect its good use. Excessive lotion or cream will trap moisture, sweat, and old skin cells, making it a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus to grow.

I had my fair share of knowing people who thought they did the feet and toes a favor when they applied a little too much lotion. However, they use too much lotion and apply it at the wrong time because most of them apply lotion right after the shower. This was when their feet and toes were still wet, and lotion would trap in this moisture and cause any bacteria or fungus to set up camp.

If some of your toenails look like they have some gaps underneath, you might have some toenail fungus. If you notice their shapes change recently, read this articleOpens in a new tab. so you know how to identify the issue and treat it before it becoming any worse.

Wearing dirty socks or shoes will make toenails dirty

Dirty socks and shoes will contribute to dirty toenails. Worse yet, they can give you more serious skin conditions if your toenails are wrapped in this for an extended period. Dirty socks will contain old skin cells, sweat, and moisture. This will make any shoes dirty, and the two form a dark, damp with food for any bacteria and fungus to develop and multiply.

With all of the above three factors working together, your toenails can help but project a dirty image because they are unclean.

How to prevent dirty toenails

By practicing foot hygiene, you can prevent toenails from getting dirty, keep the clean look longer and avoid getting athlete’s foot or toenail fungus.

  • Wear dry and clean socks and shoes
  • Trim your toenails short once a month
  • Scrub feet and toenails at the end of your shower with a nail brush.

The best nail brush for both dirty nails and toenails

I find this best nail brush to clean both dirty fingernails and toenails in a shower is a shower brush with a long handle. These shower brushes are two-sided, with one side having natural stiffer bristles and the other having softer nylon bristles. This way, it can be used by either people who like firmer scrubbing or those with more gentle force.

If you find them too rough, you can run the brush under warm water for a few seconds, the bristles will soften up.

With a long handle, you can reach for the toes and scrub them without bending down so much, which can be cumbersome for some people.

I prefer the solid handle over the removable and the folding kind because they either can come loose or the handle can be weak if I want to work on my tough callous spots on my feet.

You can find them on AmazonOpens in a new tab..

I have trouble holding on the handle in the shower when it is wet and the handle become slippery so it is hard to have a firm grip. I use about six large rubber band (the size that they use for lettuce) and wrap them around the handle to increase friction and it helps a lot. so far, I have not seen any shower brushes that address this by having better handle design.

If you do have this problem, wrapping a few rubber bands will help solve it.


Now you know keeping your nails, whether fingernails or toenails, clean and looking their best does not take a lot of your time if you practice what you just read.

The best thing is, you do not need any other extra nail cleaning chemicals to make your nails look healthy, but a simple, regular cleaning hackOpens in a new tab. I mention in this article will nail it, and you will be happy and proud to show off your clean nails.

Last but not least, Knowing how to cut your fingernails and toenailsOpens in a new tab. properly is also important in keeping the dirt out and making them look healthy.

Relating articles:

Know how to cut your nail properly is the article that goes into detail about how you should cut your fingernails and toenails the right, so they look nice, and you can also avoid any issues that can arise from trimming them the wrong way.

How to treat toenail fungus at home by using just ordinary household vinegar. If your toenails do not look normal like they were before, you might have some toenail fungus. This article will tell you how to treat them and keep them from happening to you again.

Notice concerning medical entries:
Articles having medical content shall serve exclusively for the purpose of general information. Such articles are not suitable for any (self-) diagnosis and treatment of individual illnesses and medical indications. In particular, they cannot substitute for the examination, advice, or treatment by a licensed physician or pharmacist. No replies to any individual questions shall be effected through the articles.


  1. Nail infection

2. What lives under your nails?Opens in a new tab.

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