A close-up photo capturing a pair of hands meticulously scrubbing under carefully trimmed nails, water droplets glistening against the skin, showcasing the importance of cleanliness and hygiene.

How To Keep Your Nails Looking Clean And Healthy

Having clean fingernails is not only important for good hygiene but also gives confidence and makes a good impression. If you want your nails to look their best, it’s important to have a good nail care routine.

Here’s a quick answer on how to keep your nails clean: regularly trim and file your nails, use a nail brush and soap when washing hands, push back and clean under nails daily, and apply nail oil. Read on below for more details on keeping nails looking tidy and healthy.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over some key tips and best practices for keeping fingernails looking clean, presentable and healthy. With some simple habits and the right tools, you can avoid dirty looking nails and maintain strong, beautiful nails.

Trim Nails Regularly

Trimming your nails on a regular basis is crucial for maintaining healthy, clean-looking nails. Professionals recommend trimming your nails once a week to keep them at a manageable length and prevent breakage or tears.

After a bath or shower is an ideal time to trim your nails, as the warm water softens them, making them easier to cut. Be sure to use a high-quality nail clipper with sharp, precise blades for a clean, even trim.

Trim nails straight across

When trimming your nails, avoid rounding off or shaping the edges. Instead, keep the nail clipper perpendicular to the nail and slice straight across to achieve an evenly trimmed nail. Trimming nails straight across prevents painful hangnails and encourages the nail to grow out healthily.

Use sharp nail clippers

Investing in a professional-grade nail clipper is essential for proper nail care. Look for nail clippers made of strong stainless steel with hand-sharpened blades. Unlike cheaper nail clippers, professional clippers cut accurately without crushing or tearing nails.

For ideal results, replace your nail clippers every 6-12 months when the blades become dull.

Trim nails after bathing

Soaking your hands and nails in warm water for 5-10 minutes softens them, allowing for easier, safer trimming. The steam from a bath or shower raises the moisture levels in the nail, making it more pliable.

Trimming nails post-bathing also allows you to remove dirt and debris lodged under nails while clipping them. This two-step process keeps nails looking their cleanest.

File Nails

Use a nail file

Using a nail file is one of the best ways to keep your nails looking clean, smooth, and healthy. Filing removes small flaws and rough edges from the nails, preventing snags and breaks. Here are some tips for effective nail filing:

  • Opt for a high-quality metal nail file. Emery boards may be cheaper but they tend to wear out quickly. A good metal nail file will last a long time.
  • File nails after showering or washing hands when they are soft and moist. This prevents breaking.
  • Always file in one direction, moving the file from the outside of the nail towards the center. Sawing back and forth can weaken nails.
  • Use a light touch and don’t file too aggressively. Over-filing can thin out the nails.
  • File from the corner to the center of the nail to blend the edge smoothly.
  • File both the underside and topside of nails to prevent imbalances.
  • Finish with a buffer block to shine and smooth nails.

Filing nails every few days removes flaws before they worsen and keeps the edge neat. It only takes a few minutes to file nails but makes a big difference in their appearance.

File in one direction

When filing nails, always file in one direction, moving the file from the outside edge of the nail towards the center. Filing back and forth can weaken nails and cause breaks.

Filing in a sawing motion damages the nail layers. Moving the file in one straight downward stroke per nail creates a clean, smooth edge safely. Apply light pressure and avoid over-filing. After filing each nail, sweep the file from side to side to blend and shape the tip.

Choosing a high-quality nail file is key for one-direction filing. Emery boards are not durable enough. A sturdy metal file with a fine grit will glide easily across the nail when used properly.

Get into the good habit of filing nails in one direction every time. This prevents weak points from developing in the layers of the nail that can lead to chips and cracks. One-direction filing is a simple technique that keeps nails strong.

File nails after trimming

It’s important to always file nails after trimming them. Here’s why:

  • Trimming can leave rough edges that snag and tear.
  • The pressure of the clippers or scissors can create tiny stress lines.
  • Filing smoothes and seals the edge.
  • It blends the length for a neat look.

Use a quality nail clipper or trimmer to cut nails straight across to avoid jagged edges. Once trimmed, use a fine-grit emery board or metal nail file to shape and smooth the edges. File in one direction, moving from the outer corners to the center of the nail.

Light, even strokes will remove rough areas and flaws. Don’t file too aggressively or you may thin out the nail. Filing seals the edge to prevent splitting and peeling.

Finish by gently buffing nails to create a natural shine. Filing after every trim only takes a minute or two and keeps nails looking their best.

Choose a fine grit file

When shopping for a nail file, it’s important to choose one with a fine grit. Coarse files are too abrasive and can damage nails. Look for the following specifications:

  • #180 grit or higher – This is a fine grade for smooth filing.
  • Surgical stainless steel – More durable than cardboard emery boards.
  • Washable – Can be cleaned to extend the life.
  • Single-sided – Easier to handle and file properly.

Avoid metal files with two rough sides, as these make it harder to file in one direction. Multisided glass and crystal nail files are another very fine option.

The right nail file can make all the difference. With a fine grit, you can gently file away small flaws and shape nails without thinning them out. Always file in one direction and use a light touch. Smooth, seal and shape nails after every trim for the healthiest, best-looking nails.

Scrub Nails When Washing Hands

Use soap and water

Washing hands properly with soap and water is crucial for getting rid of dirt, germs, and debris from underneath and around the nails (1). Lather up your hands with soap, getting in between the fingers and nails.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing (2). This allows the soap and water adequate time to lift grime from the nails.

Use a fingernail brush

Investing in a small fingernail brush can make scrubbing nails even more effective. These brushes have short, sturdy bristles designed to brush underneath and around nails. Add soap to the nails and scrub with the brush, applying moderate pressure.

The scrubbing motion helps dislodge particulates from underneath nails. Using a brush regularly when washing hands will keep nails looking their cleanest.

Scrub under nails

Pay extra attention to scrubbing underneath nails when washing hands. Dirt and bacteria easily accumulate in this area out of sight. Using a brush or washing hands for a full 20-30 seconds gives adequate time to thoroughly clean underneath nails.

Make sure to regularly scrub under nails on all fingers to prevent buildup.

Dry thoroughly after washing

Properly drying hands and nails after washing is just as important as scrubbing. Bacteria multiply faster in damp environments (3). Thoroughly pat dry hands and nails with a clean towel. Pay special attention to drying thoroughly under nails where moisture gets trapped.

Letting nails air dry for a few minutes before putting gloves on can also help prevent bacteria growth.

Clean Under Nails Daily

Use a nail pick

Using a nail pick daily is a great way to keep nails clean. Metal nail picks can remove debris trapped under and around nails. Gently run the pointed end under the nail tip and along the edges. This dislodges any dirt or germs hiding in crevices.

Taking a minute to do this after showering helps relax cuticles to release grime more easily. Just don’t be too aggressive, as metal tools can damage nails if used carelessly.

Gently push back cuticles

Pushing back cuticles after a shower or bath helps fully clean nail beds. The steam and moisture soften cuticles so they can be safely nudged without tearing. Use a towel, washcloth, soft-bristle brush or gentle cuticle pusher to lightly push them back.

Avoid cutting cuticles, as this can lead to infection. Gently pressing them back to reveal more nail instead keeps the nail bed tidy and promotes healthy nail growth.

Remove debris under nails

Bits of dirt, food and bacteria easily wedge under nails. If allowed to remain, this debris can cause nail discoloration, infection or unpleasant odors. The best way to banish grime is using warm water and soap while scrubbing thoroughly with a nail brush.

Pay close attention to cleaning under and around nails. This may take some effort if debris is really lodged in there. Repeating daily helps prevent buildup so particles don’t have a chance to cement themselves to the nail.

Be gentle around skin

When cleaning around nails, treat surrounding skin gently. The skin framing nails is delicate and important for nail health. Scrubbing too vigorously can lead to redness, swelling and tiny tears in the cuticle. This opens the door to infection risk.

Instead, lightly massage around each nail with a soft-bristle brush and mild soap. Rinse thoroughly after washing hands. Moisturize any skin feeling dry or tight. Petroleum jelly is ideal for protecting tender cuticles after cleansing. Being gentle prevents irritation allowing healthy nails to emerge.

Moisturize Nails and Cuticles

Apply nail oil daily

Applying nail oil daily is one of the best ways to keep your nails moisturized and prevent brittle, dry nails. Look for a nail oil that contains moisturizing ingredients like vitamin E, jojoba oil, or coconut oil. Simply brush a few drops of oil onto each nail and cuticle once or twice per day.

The oil will sink in quickly but can be massaged into nails and cuticles for an extra nourishing treatment.

Massage oil into nails

Don’t just brush on nail oil – take an extra minute to really massage it into the nail plate and cuticles. Use gentle circular motions to work the oil into the nail bed and surrounding skin. This stimulates blood flow and allows the moisturizing oils to fully penetrate.

Doing this daily will keep your nail beds supple and nails strong.

Choose a nourishing oil

Look for nail oils that contain ingredients to moisturize nails and cuticles. Vitamin E, coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, and argan oil are all great options. Avoid oils with harsh chemicals or fragrances which could irritate skin. A simple oil like virgin coconut oil can work well for many people.

For extremely brittle nails, choose a formula with vitamins and botanical extracts designed specifically for nails.

Prevent brittle nails

Brittle nails that crack and split easily are no fun. Using a nail oil daily moisturizes nails and prevents brittleness by restoring lipids and oils. Vitamin E in nail oils also helps strengthen weak nails prone to peeling and breaking. Besides using oil, you can prevent brittle nails by:

  • Avoiding excessive exposure to water and soap which can dry out nails
  • Using a hand cream after washing hands
  • Taking biotin supplements to strengthen nails
  • Avoiding harsh nail products like acrylics
  • Filing nails properly to avoid thin edges

Healthy nails start with daily TLC. Take a couple minutes each day to massage in some nourishing nail oil to keep your nails beautiful and strong.


Keeping your fingernails clean takes just a few minutes a day. By adopting some simple nail hygiene habits like regularly trimming, filing, scrubbing and moisturizing nails, you can maintain healthy, dirt-free nails. Make nail care part of your handwashing or shower routine.

With the right tools and techniques, your nails will look tidy and in top shape.

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