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’m always Googling things like “how to whiten nails” and making the most of at-home manicures to keep things looking smooth, polished and in tip-top shape.
10 ways to whiten nails at home
Nails are fairly porous, so it’s no wonder that they can turn yellow when exposed to 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. Buff away stains
Sometimes the stain is simply superficial 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. And don’t be too aggressive with the strokes.
2. 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 nails 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.
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. Some even have the added bonus of antifungal and antibacterial properties.
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, too!
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 stubborn stains.
6. Absorb stains with activated charcoal + bentonite clay
To use, combine 1-2 teaspoons activated charcoal or bentonite clay (you can always mix them together, but that might be overkill) with just enough water to make a loose paste. Apply to nails and let sit for several minutes. Gently massage into nails before rinsing off.
If using activated charcoal, be careful when pouring it into a bowl – it has a tendency to go everywhere! While it won’t stain, it can be pretty messy.
7. 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 (add more lemon juice, if you like a smoother paste). Apply 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.
8. 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.
Once it’s fizzed up a bit, pop your fingertips in the water and let ’em soak. Relax for 10-15 minutes then rinse off.
Repeat once a day until nails have lightened and stains have faded. Be sure to follow up with a nourishing cuticle oil to lock in moisture and prevent peeling.
9. Vinegar soaks
Yellow discoloration of the nails may be a sign of a nail fungal infection. Vinegar has antifungal and antibacterial properties and has been shown to help in the treatment of athlete’s foot and nail fungus. You can use any type of vinegar but raw apple cider vinegar has probiotic properties, which may help tackle bacteria with a one-two punch.
The directions are simple: combine 1 cup of water and 4-5 tablespoons of apple cider or white vinegar in a small basin. Soak your feet for 10 minutes, then gently pat feet dry. Repeat daily for best results.
10. 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 further yellowing. Not only will it keep nails white longer, it will also strengthen nails so they’ll grow long without any chipping, breaking or peeling.
Nail Whitening FAQ
How can I whiten my nails really quickly?
For the quickest results, I recommend using whitening tooth paste. Because it contains both lightening agents and abrasives, it can lighten nails in as little as 10 minutes. Just be careful not to overdue it or it can weaken your nails and dry out your cuticles.
Will bleach whiten my nails?
Bleach is pretty toxic (not to mention caustic!) and should not be used in homemade beauty treatments. Instead, try hydrogen peroxide, which has natural lightening properties.
Can I still whiten my nails if they’re weak and brittle?
Even homemade whitening treatments can dry out nails, which makes brittleness worse. So, it’s best to nourish and strengthen nails prior to lightening. Use cuticle butter to replenish moisture.
And try repairing nails from the inside out with the help of a hair, skin and nails vitamin. After a few weeks, go ahead and try a couple gentle lightening treatments on your nails, just keep an eye out for signs of splitting or weakening.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Rina Mary Allawh, M.D., a dermatologist who performs adult and pediatric medical dermatology, skin cancer treatment and cosmetic dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.129