Growing up I used to think my mom had hand-model caliber nails. I know it sounds weird to fangirl over your mom’s fingernails, but seriously, she had naturally long nails with white tips and perfectly polished cuticles. They always looked freshly manicured, even if she hadn’t touched a nail file in months.
Me? I was blessed with yellowish nails that stain easily and usually break before they ever get that gloriously white French-tip look. And my toenails are even worse. You win some, you lose some, I guess. So I make the best of it with at-home manicures and a few tips and tricks for finger and toenail whitening to keep things looking smooth, polished and in tip-top shape.
8 ways to whiten nails at home
Nails are pretty porous, so it’s no wonder that they can turn yellow when exposed to things like nail polish, dirt, and everyday wear and tear. And your toenails, understandably, take the brunt of the abuse since they’re often trapped inside shoes and socks for long stretches of time. To keep tips looking light and bright, you need to whiten the area underneath the nail while gently buffing away stains on the nail surface.
Finger and toenail whitening is an art, not a science. There are a lot of ways you can whiten nails at home but the easiest way is to experiment with some ingredients from your kitchen pantry. Here are some of my favorite ways to whiten nails without the harsh chemicals.
1. Soak in hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a natural lightening agent that, when used carefully, can gently whiten nails without damaging the layers underneath or leading to hangnails.
Simply fill a small bowl with one part water and one part hydrogen peroxide. Place fingers or toes in the bowl so that nails are completely covered and let soak for 15 minutes. Rinse well. Repeat daily until nail are whiter and stains have disappeared. If using for longer than 3-4 days, use sweet almond or coconut oil to seal in moisture and keep cuticles from drying out.
2. Buff away stains
Sometimes the stain is simply topical and doesn’t require a deep soak to remedy. If you see noticeable stains as opposed to general yellowing, try buffing nails gently before committing to a deeper lightening agent. Using the fine side of a buffing block, hold it parallel to your nail and work in a quick X-pattern over your nails, applying a gentle amount of pressure. Since nails can weaken pretty quickly, aim for about 6 strokes per nail and no more.
3. Try tea tree oil
Essential oils are very nourishing to your nails, and they’re also my favorite trick for hassle-free toenail whitening at home. Place a drop or two of tea tree oil onto the nail bed and let it sink in. Rinse off after 5 to 10 minutes if you have sensitive skin, or leave on all day and reapply as necessary until nails are sufficiently lightened. Continue applying for several weeks to see dramatic results.
4. Apply strawberries
We’ve been using strawberries to whiten our teeth for years, but it turns out they can whiten nails as well. Cut a fresh strawberry in half and rub it liberally against the surface of each nail. Let sit for 5-10 minutes then rinse well under warm water. If you don’t see results as quickly as you’d like, crush 4 strawberries in a small bowl and add 1 teaspoon baking soda. Apply a thin layer to nails and let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
5. Use whitening toothpaste
Whitening toothpaste isn’t reserved just for teeth. Turns out it can lighten nails as well. Rub a small dollop of toothpaste into nails and let sit for 10 minutes. Once time is up, grab a soft bristle brush (an old toothbrush is great for this!) and gently scrub nails under warm water. Repeat for a few days if needed to get rid of stains.
6. Scrub with lemon juice and baking soda
Lemon juice and baking soda are the ultimate 1-2 punch for yellow nails: lemon juice lifts set-in stains while baking soda scrubs away topical discoloration. Mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Apply as a paste to the top of nails and just underneath the tip of each nail.
Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then gentle massage into nails before rinsing off with warm water. Just a heads up: lemon juice will burn, so keep away from cuts, tears and hangnails if you can.
7. Give denture soak a go
It sounds strange, but denture soak is super effective at whitening stubborn discoloration on nails (and it just so happens to be one of my favorite lightening methods). Pick up a few whitening denture soak tablets and pop one in a small bowl of warm water. After it has fizzed up a bit, pop your fingertips in the water and give them a good soak. Relax for 10-15 minutes then rinse off.
Repeat once a day until nails have lightened and stains have substantially faded. Be sure to follow up with a nourishing cuticle oil to lock in moisture and prevent peeling.
8. Prevent stains with a base coat
Prevention is sometimes the best medicine. Once you’ve successfully whitened the nails, go ahead and apply and generous base coat to seal nails and prevent them from yellowing further. Not only will it keep nails white longer, it will also strengthen nails so they’ll grow long without any chipping, breaking or peeling.22