How To Properly Cut And Clean Nails To Fight Against Germs

Nails are hotbed of germs. Experts share DIY manicure and cleaning tips in lieu of regular salon visits during the coronavirus crisis.

The guidelines and restrictions in place to limit social interaction around the world are imperative to halting the spread of the coronavirus, despite the cultural and financial implications for businesses like hair and nail salons, which in many places are closed for the foreseeable future.

As we all settle into a new normal, many of our routine activities, such as haircuts and manicures, are off the table. But there’s a reason to be cognizant of our nails that has nothing to do with vanity ― nails, especially long ones, can play host to germs and bacteria, including those associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

With that in mind, and in an effort to keep our nails from becoming a hazard to ourselves, we called upon the experts to break down best practices for nail health and maintenance at home.

Sorry but ― it’s time to go short.

New York-based dermatologist Jessica Krant offered a hard truth to the long nail lovers among us: Now might not be the time.

“The best and safest way to keep nails is short, smooth and clean,” Krant said. “Normally this only really applies in health care work, but these days, with COVID-19 around, we should all ideally keep our nails as free from germs as possible.” She said the best way to do that is to keep them trimmed short, with about 1-2 millimeters of white showing and shaped like the natural end of your nail bed. “It’s also very important to smooth them gently with a file, so rough edges and corners are gone,” she said. “This makes them the strongest and also easiest to clean, and to use with protective gloves.”

But if you’re going to stay long, buy a brush.

Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June, a Los Angeles-based boutique nail salon that also offers a line of tools that make great manicures possible at home (their Poppy nail tool has a cult-like following), recommends changing out files every few months as well as washing metal tools thoroughly after each use.

“Germs can live underneath all nail lengths, but especially long nails,” Tuttle told HuffPost. “The most effective defense is making sure you’re washing and drying your hands consistently and properly. To make sure you’re getting underneath the nail, you can also use a nail brush with antibacterial soap. But just make sure you’re keeping that brush clean, as well.”

Don’t get too clipper-happy.

There’s short, and then there’s dangerously short, Krant explained.

“Do NOT cut all of the white part off,” Krant said. “That risks injury to the seal against the nail bed and opens your finger up to infections getting inside.”

Take your time soaking off gel.

Thick gel polishes can create crevices in your nails that host germs and bacteria, so it’s time to get rid of them.

Losing access to our opposable thumbs while soaking gels off can be a challenge, but think of it this way ― there’s no reason to rush to do anything, especially something like a manicure, right now.

“Proper removal of gels at home requires time,” Tuttle said. “I recommend removal while you’re FaceTiming a friend or watching TV, so you’re not tempted to damage your nails by rushing. You’ll need a file, acetone, tin foil and a hot towel as a bonus.

“First, file a bit to break the top coat seal. Then, place cotton balls soaked in acetone on your nails and wrap your fingertip in tin foil. Ideally, soak until the gels are lifting off entirely, which will take around 10-15 minutes. We like to wrap a hot towel around as well to expedite the soaking process. And the most important piece is having the patience to allow the gels to lift before removing the cotton. No harsh removal or picking, please!”

If you have acrylics, consider settling in for a movie.

“The removal process for acrylics is similar to gel, but much longer,” Tuttle said. “You will first need to clip the edge of the acrylic nail down before you file to properly break the seal. Then follow the same steps for gel removal. You’ll also need to let your nails soak for close to an hour until the acrylics are removing easily on their own.”

In the event that you do get sick and need to seek medical care, it might be best to take your polish off completely.

Krant offered some insight about our nails that poses an entirely different problem.

“When you go to the hospital, the physicians there will need to place a pulse oximeter on your fingertip,” Krant said. “This helps them easily check how well your lungs are able to bring oxygen to the rest of your body. With COVID-19, this is a critical measure to see how well you are doing, or whether you need more help. Though not all medical professionals agree, Krant said that nail polish alone prevents proper readings. Sometimes they can find some acetone in the hospital to remove your polish, but you can’t rely on that. Artificial nails totally prevent the use of a finger pulse oximeter. They may have other simple methods to measure your oxygen levels at hand, or they may not.”

Now that you have the best practices, there’s no time like the present to try DIYing at home. Tuttle has been hosting manicure boot camps on the Olive & June Instagram page that cover a broad range of mani-curiosities, from general care to nail art.

Tuttle also shared her steps for a perfect at-home manicure:

Shape, Clip and File

It’s all about the 90/10 rule: 90% of your shape comes from your nail clipper; 10% from filing. First, use flat edge clippers to cut your nail into your desired shape. Then, gently smooth out the edges. If you have polish on, all the better. Shaping with polish on helps you visualize the final shape without being distracted by the natural whites of the nails.


Dip each nail in a polish remover pot to remove old polish and excess oils that can interfere with your polish adhering to your nail bed. Pro tip: once you’ve prepped your nails, avoid touching your face and hair, which have natural oils.

Trim (hangnails only!) and buff cuticles

Using your buffer, gently glide the buffer cube back and forth along the edge of the cuticle to erase dry skin and smooth things out.


Paint, dry; paint, dry; apply top coat: dry, dry, dry. If you’re just starting out, anchoring your non-dominant hand (or even the whole arm) on a flat work surface gives you a steady canvas.

To apply your first coat of polish, start with a center swipe of polish, then swipe on either side. You should be able to cover the average nail plate in 2-3 strokes. Repeat on each nail.

Waiting 5-10 minutes in between coats makes a world of difference. It will decrease the chance of bubbles and it dries faster! Then seal your nails with the top coat formulated with your polish to maximize shine and protect your polish.


Once your top coat has fully dried, apply cuticle serum to make your mani shine. Cuticle serum is a must-have, can’t/won’t/don’t-leave-home-without-it product. You could have zero polish on and give your cuticles a dose of cuticle serum and it would add instant luster.

Pro tip: If you’ve gotten any nail polish on your cuticles or fingertips, dip a clean-up brush in your nail polish remover, then use it to remove any unwanted color or to clean up polish lines.

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