Why Do My Nails Get Dirty So Easy? (10 Reasons)

Female hands with dirty nails in studio


Are you constantly struggling with dirty nails but are not sure how to fix the problem?

It’s normal for your nails to get dirty from time to time, but if it’s something you struggle with regularly, you probably want a solution.

Here are 10 reasons your nails might be getting dirty along with solutions for each reason!


Why Do My Nails Get Dirty So Easy? (10 Reasons)


1. False Nails

Nail design on shiny and matte nail Polish with smooth curves


If you wear false nails, you are going to struggle more with dirty nails.

In fact, false nails can be so unsanitary that they are banned in some hospitals.

Healthcare workers who work with vulnerable patients are sometimes not allowed to wear artificial nails.

Part of the reasoning behind this is that even after hand washing, the nails of healthcare workers were found to have “substantial numbers of potential pathogens.”

The Centers for Disease Control found that healthcare workers who wear faux nails pose a risk to patients.

Both before and after washing their hands, healthcare workers with false nails had a higher number of pathogens on their fingertips than those with natural nails.

The process of getting false nails can introduce bacteria to your nail as well.

You buff the nail bed when getting most types of false nails.

This means you file down the surface of your nail.

The purpose of this is to create micro abrasions that help the false nail adhere.

However, these micro-abrasions also give bacteria a chance to enter your nail.

This can result in a bacterial infection which causes the nail to turn green.

This phenomenon is called “green nail syndrome.”

If you notice your fingernail is turning light green or even black, this might be the cause.

Green nail syndrome occurs when a bacteria called pseudomonas aeruginosa enters the nail.

It is so common that most nail technicians used to receive training about how to treat it.

Nowadays, treatment is left to the doctors.

Solution: Go natural!

Not only will it save you time and money, but it will also have a positive impact on your health.

In addition to spreading fewer bacteria, wearing your nails naturally will prevent you from exposing them to harmful chemicals.

If you have contracted green nail syndrome, you are going to want to talk to your doctor about treatment.

They might recommend soaking your nail in diluted vinegar twice a day.

The most important part of treating green nail syndrome is to keep your nails dry.

Make sure you dry them completely after washing your hands or applying treatment.

If you keep your nails dry and keep treating them, the bacterial growth should eventually stop.

Then you can trim the affected area off as your nails grow out.


2. Long Nails

Female hand with yellow nail design


The longer your nails are, the more surface area there is for dirt to get trapped under.

Even normal activities that most people don’t struggle with can become a problem for those with long nails.

For example, cooking can make your nails dirty if you have long nails.

People with short nails can cook without worrying about food getting trapped underneath the nail.

With long nails, though, ingredients like rice, flour, and even liquids can get stuck under your nails.

It’s not only debris that can get trapped under your nails.

Bacteria and fungi have more of an opportunity to infect your long nails.

Solution: Trim your nails.

By keeping a shorter nail, you take away surface area for dirt to get trapped under.

You might love your long nail and think they are attractive.

How attractive is it to have dirt trapped under your nail?

For most people, there is nothing more attractive than cleanliness.


3. You Never Clean Them

Woman removing nail varnish with acetone on a small cotton pad


Think about it: You shower every day.

You wash your hands every time you use the toilet.

Why wouldn’t you add cleaning your nails into your daily routine?

This is especially true if you are struggling with dirty nails on a regular basis!

Many people think that just by washing their hands and showering they clean their nails.

In reality, you have to get between the nail and the finger if you want to clear out dirt and grime.

When you shower or wash your hands, you are rinsing water over the nail and finger, not between them.

Solution: Get a nail scrubbing brush.

Use it every day when you take a shower.

If you are struggling with dirty nails, get a nail cleaning brush for each sink in your house.

Use it every time you wash your hands.


4. Hard Labor

Female farmer arranging fresh vegetables into a crate on her farm


If you work a labor-intensive job, chances are your nails might get dirty more often than those who simply sit in an office all day.

This isn’t just about work, though.

Even if you sit in a cubicle all day, you might still struggle with dirty nails if you have a hobby that causes you to get your hands dirty.

For example, if you spend the evenings gardening, you should only expect that your nails will be covered in dirt at the end of each day!

Solution: Obviously, getting a new job or abandoning your hobby isn’t the solution.

After all, you have to make money!

You shouldn’t get rid of a hobby that brings you joy just because you get a little dirt under your nails.

Instead, the solution will be to clean your nails frequently and vigorously.

The best way to make sure that your nails stay clean is to keep a nail scrubbing brush with you at all times.

Make sure you scrub your nails each time you wash your hands.


5. Sweat & Moisture

ired frustrated business woman or office worker


Sweat and moisture can create significant problems for your nails!

This is especially true of your feet, which probably spend a lot of time trapped inside socks and shoes.

If sweat is getting trapped under the nail, it could lead to bacterial or fungal infections.

Bacteria and fungi thrive in moist environments.

Solution: Change your socks regularly.

If you can, wear open-toed shoes in hot weather to let your feet breathe.


6. Fungal Infection

Young woman scratching the itch on her hands


You might think your nails are dirty when you are actually struggling with a fungal infection.

Fungal infections can make the nail appear discolored.

This is why you might think your nail is dirty.

It also often makes the nail thick and prone to cracking.

Certain people can be more prone to getting fungal infections on their nails.

You might be at risk if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Problems with blood circulation
  • Diabetes
  • A weak immune system
  • A nail injury
  • Advanced age

Solution: Make sure you change your socks and shoes regularly.

Don’t wear wet shoes or wet socks.

Moisture can encourage the fungus to grow.

Keeping your hands and feet dry goes a long way in preventing a fungal infection.

Don’t share your nail clippers with other people.

This also applies to other products, like cuticle pushers and trimmers.

Make sure that every salon you visit has high standards of cleanliness.

Salons should have procedures in place for sterilizing every piece of equipment they use.

You also want to make sure that the salon has the proper license.

The same goes for your nail tech.

Make sure they are properly trained.

Ensure you do not walk barefoot in public areas.

This can expose you to bacteria.

This includes public showers in pools, hostels, camping sites, and rest stops.

If you already have a fungal infection, go to your doctor for an official diagnosis.

This might be done by taking a nail clipping for testing.

In some cases, they might be able to diagnose you by looking at the nail.

Follow your doctor’s instructions on how best to get rid of the fungal infection.

The most common way to treat a fungal infection is by oral pills.

In a worst-case scenario, a doctor might remove your nail.

With treatment, it typically takes the infection several months to a year to go away.


7. Stains

female hands are holding white cotton cosmetic sponge


You might think your nail is dirty when it is actually stained.

There can be many causes of stained nails.

This can be caused by dark nail polish that you have not completely removed from your nail.

Nail polish residue can leave the nail appearing dirty.

Low-quality nail polishes can leave a stain even after they have been fully removed

Another potential cause is exposure to a liquid that tends to stain.

Some juices and teas can stain skin.

You might have gotten an art product or pigment on your nail as well.

Solution: If you have recently removed dark nail polish but your nail is still discolored, try removing it an additional time.

Use an acetone-based nail polish remover.

Soak your nail in the polish remover for a minute if it is not coming off.

If the color persists, that likely means that the nail is stained.

The best thing to do is give it time.

You can cover the discoloration with nail polish.

Just make sure not to use the same polish that gave you the issues in the first place!


8. Smoking

close up of young woman smoking a cigarette


If you are a smoker (or were in the past) this might be the reason for your dirty nails.

Smoking tobacco is known to cause nail discoloration.

If your nail discoloration is caused by smoking, your nails will have a yellow tint to them.

This yellow stain can give them a dirty appearance.

It won’t go away with scrubbing either! If your nails look yellow and dirty even after a wash, this could be why.

There are a variety of reasons smoking turns your nails yellow.

Firstly, the tar in cigarettes can leave a yellow stain.

This is why it is most likely to appear on your pointer finger and middle finger, which hold the cigarette.

Another contributing factor is that smoking can prevent oxygen flow.

If your body is struggling with oxygen flow, this can also make your nails appear yellow.

Solution: The most important thing to do for your nails is to stop smoking.

If they are simply stained by the tobacco, stopping smoking will ensure that the new nail growth is not yellow.

If they are yellow because of blocked oxygen, it might take longer to see the effects of stopping smoking.

Over time, you should start to see the discoloration go away.

In addition to stopping smoking, you can take supplements to help heal your damaged nails.

A B12 supplement can help with nail strength.

You can also paint over the stain to hide it.

This isn’t a permanent solution of course.

However, it can be used in conjunction with quitting tobacco.

Getting regular manicures can cover up your nail problem while it has time to heal.


9. Injury

Woman suffering from pain in hand.


You might see a big dark splotch on your finger and assume it’s dirt.

In reality, though, it might simply be a bruise.

If you have recently banged that finger in a door, it can cause something called a sublingual hematoma.

This is when blood pools under a nail.

However, a simple bruise can be caused by even a small bump.

This might be why your nail is changing colors even if you don’t remember injuring yourself.

If the discoloration is in the toenails, it could even be caused by poorly fitting shoes.

Shoes that are too tight can put pressure on the nail and cause blood vessels to break.

This usually becomes more of a problem for active individuals.

A high level of activity paired with tight shoes can put a strain on your feet.

When the blood under the toenail dries black, it can give the nail a very dirty appearance.

Solution: Time is the best healer for these wounds.

This is especially true with bruising, which should typically go away or fade in appearance within a week.

If it is caused by shoes that are too tight then you need to get proper fitting shoes.

If you are experiencing sublingual hematoma but the affected area is small and the pain is not excessive, it will usually resolve on its own.

If the pain is significant, though, it is time to seek out help from a doctor.


10. Health Issues

Dermatologist examining moles of patient on light background


There are a wide variety of health issues that can cause nail discoloration.

Your nails might appear dirty because you see dark splotches on them.

However, if it doesn’t come off with scrubbing, it’s probably due to another cause.

Here are some potential health reasons for discolored nails.


A. Melanoma

If you notice a dark streak under your nails, it might be time to go to the doctor.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer.

If the streak has just made an appearance or you notice it changing, you probably want to get it checked out.

Solution: Go to a dermatologist ASAP.

If you allow the melanoma to grow, it could be quite dangerous for your health.

They will let you know if it is something to be concerned about.


B. Pitting

Pitting is a nail issue that causes little dents to appear throughout the nail.

It can look like your nails were punctured by a pin or needle.

Often, these little dents can get dirt trapped inside of them, which can cause the nail to appear dirty.

Solution: Pitted nails are oftentimes a sign that you have a disease that is affecting your body as a whole.

People who have pitted nails may be experiencing one of the following health problems:

  • Psoriasis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Alopecia areata

The proper treatment is going to depend on the underlying cause.

It is important to visit a doctor as soon as possible to determine the root of the discoloration.


C. Washboard Nail

If you have a line of ridges that go through the center of your nail, you might be experiencing “washboard nails.”

This condition can make your nails appear dirty because the groves easily attract dirt and debris.

Solution: Washboard nails are most often caused by pushing back the cuticles on your nails.

It can also be a result of picking at the nail.

If you have developed this habit, the solution will be to break it.

Talking to a specialist about how to change this habit might help you.

The nails should grow out healthy once you stop picking at them.

While you wait for your nails to heal, you can regularly scrub them with a nail brush to remove the dirt trapped in the ridges.


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