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How to Whiten Yellow/Stained Nails – Part 1

To keep my natural nails looking nice and clean, I like to whiten them once a week, or at least each time I do a good manicure. Over the last couple months I have tried ALL the methods I could find and thought it would be fun to share my results with all of you.

I found TEN different methods to whiten your nails at home with common household items. I am breaking this post into parts, this is Part 1 – Scrub & Soak Nail Whitening Methods. First though, you might wonder why nails stain at all.

Why Do My Nails Stain?

Natural nails get discolored from one of two reasons – a problem with the nail or staining from nail polish pigments. Assuming your nails are healthy, most staining is from prolonged exposure to nail polish, and can range from a slight discoloration to a really dark yellow, almost brown stain or even a stain of the actual pigment from your polish such as red or blue. This type of stain is harmless and isn’t a health concern.

It’s easy to tell if a stain is from polish because once you remove your manicure and your nails grow out a little, you will see your natural nail color grow out from the cuticle and the stain will start to fade over time. If not, you should consider seeing your doctor about a possible nail infection.

An Ounce of Prevention

Here are a few tips to prevent your nails from staining in the first place, listed in order of most effective and efficient, to least:

  • Use two to three coats of a good basecoat or nail treatment under every manicure. This is probably the BEST way to prevent staining besides not using nail polish at all. Use a basecoat that bonds with your nail so that it provides a protective “shield” between your nail and your nail polish color. I really like Opi Nail Envy.
  • Keep your nails moisturized and healthy – weak, brittle nails are more porous leaving them open to absorb more pigment.
  • Don’t leave your manicure on for too long – this can give your nail polish more of a chance to soak into your nail bed.
  • Completely remove nail polish between manicures.
  • Try polishes that are 3-Free or 5-Free, meaning they are free from certain chemicals such as formaldehyde which may cause staining.

Very effective methods that of course I don’t like 😉 are:

  • Avoid dark colors, reds, and other pigments you know stain your nails (no fun!).
  • Let your nails grow out polish free (again, no fun!).

Scrub & Soak Nail Whitening Methods

These are all simple and easy ways to whiten your nails in 15 minutes or less, depending on how long you soak. All of them work at least a little bit, but which one works best?

Baking Soda & Water

  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda

Here are my nails BEFORE whitening (and a manicure!).

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Before

Here are my nails after a light scrub for 1-2 minutes, and soaking for 5 minutes with just baking soda and water. It makes a noticeable difference, I can see they look much cleaner and whiter. Another reason I really like this method is because it cleans up the weird extra yellow line I have right at the start of my free edge.

Whiten Nails Baking Soda After

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Compare

Lemon Juice & Baking Soda

  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 5-10 drops lemon juice (this will make the solution bubble up)

Here are my nails BEFORE whitening after wearing a Sally Hansen Sugar Coat skittle manicure for about two weeks.

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Lemon Before

I was testing to see if the Sally Hansen Sugar Coat polishes stained if I wore them for only a short period of time, (YES!) so that is why there is staining further down on this second picture, but it also shows how well this method works.

Here are my nails after a light scrub for 2 minutes, and soaking for 10 minutes. It made a HUGE difference! Both the blue polish stains and the overall yellowing are much less noticeable now.

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Lemon After

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Lemon Compare

Baking Soda & Peroxide with Lemon

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide (this will make the solution bubble up)
  • Optional: A wedge of lemon juice, or about 10 drops (1 ml) of lemon concentrate (which I did add)

Here are my nails BEFORE whitening, still stained from my blue and green Sugar Coat skittle manicure above. This is about two and a half weeks later. Before proceeding with this method I made sure that the Sugar Coat polishes didn’t have any chromium on the ingredient list, which you shouldn’t mix with hydrogen peroxide.

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Peroxide Before

Here are my nails a week later (they had the EXACT same stains as above, with a new little repaired crack on my middle finger) after a light scrub for 2 minutes, and soaking for 10 minutes.

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Peroxide After

Whiten Nails Baking Soda Peroxide Compare

I am really happy with this method – my nails look brighter and more evenly colored, my ridges are less noticeable, the blue stain is almost gone and most of the dirty looking yellow was lifted away. I’d have to say this combination method (it’s really all three together in one, isn’t it?) works best.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Scrub & Soak Full Instructions

For each of these methods you will need a:

  • Soft toothbrush
  • Small, shallow plastic or glass container
  • Your yellow and/or stained nails

Whiten Yellow Nails Scrub Consistency

Combine your ingredients in the bowl to create a paste like consistency – thick enough that it will stay in place if you move around a little bit. If your mixture is too thin add more baking soda, if it is too thick, add just a couple drops of liquid at a time until you get the right consistency.

Whiten Yellow Nails Scrub

Use the toothbrush to scrub the mixture into your nail bed on one hand for 1-2 minutes. Then glob it on top of your nails and under your free edge, or dip your fingertips in the bowl, and let them soak for 2-15 minutes even as long as 25 minutes. After your soak rinse with warm water, using the toothbrush to gently scrub your nails clean. Repeat on other hand if you didn’t do both at the same time.

Whiten Yellow Nails Scrub During

Some of these ingredients will dry out the nail and surrounding skin, so you might want to follow-up with a thick lotion and 5-20 minutes in cotton gloves.

Scrub & Soak Nail Whitening Conclusion

The Winner: Baking Soda & Peroxide with Lemon

So what did I learn from all of this experimentation? Lots!

  • Brighten vs. Whiten – Although these methods usually claim to “whiten” your nails I would call them “brightening” treatments. They only partially lift out stains and don’t do much to actually “whiten” your nails. But don’t despair, this is only Part 1 and I saved the best for last of course.
  • Basecoat – A good basecoat is probably the number one thing you can do to prevent staining besides not wearing nail polish at all. Using two to three coats of a top quality basecoat under polishes that you know stain can prevent it altogether.
  • Pigment – The pigment in the nail polish you use will be a big factor in how your nails stain. Prolonged exposure to any nail polish will cause at least slight yellowing, but certain colors will sink in. In my experience certain dark, red, purple and blue polishes can really stain, especially “mint” or “teal” toned polishes.
  • PVA Basecoat – The white-glue method of basecoat removal is the WORST for staining – it seems to cause the nail bed to absorb even more of the polish color. How do you prevent this? Same as above, BEFORE applying your glue basecoat just slap on a couple coats of your normal basecoat first. Wish I had learned this earlier! Got that handy trick from LabMuffin, see link below in  resources.
  • Scrubbing – Why scrub? Usually stains are only present in the top couple layers of the nail bed so it’s sometimes possible to lift the stain out with gentle scrubbing that will not damage your nails.
  • Time – As you can see in the last two methods, just regular nail maintenance and manicure removal will eventually remove the stains since mostly likely only the top layer or two of the nail was affected.

Other Weird Methods

Other techniques that I would not personally recommend, and do not use:

  • Nail Whitening Pencils – These are a non-permanent way to “fake” white nails by using a white pencil to “color” underneath your nail tip.
  • Bleach or Household Cleaners – Bleach and other cleaning products can be corrosive, which means they will eat away at the nail bed and weaken your nails. Not good!
  • Buffing – I don’t buff my nails because it thins out the nail bed, also weakening the nail. My nails are already thin enough on their own.

Resources

Related Posts - More Nails!

33 comments

  1. Lisa Ann Williamson

    How can I remove a red stain look off my nails I had red polish on for a week & removed the polish w polish remover but they are stained red HELP! please

  2. Jen

    Hi I am going to try this method for whitening my nails. I was wonder how you keep your nails so nice and long?!?!? I would love if mine looked even half as good as yours… Mine seem to grow just a little then start to break or peel. I use nail revitalizer and it helps a lot but they still break… 🙁 any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • Hello Jen! Thank you for your comment. I should tell you first that the last year is the first times in my life I have ever had long nails. Since my nails are so thin it really takes a commitment. Mine also peel so I had to stop picking at my nails ;). My best suggestions are to be really conscience of how you use your hands and to not use them as tools and use gloves when doing anything rough. I also use Opi Nail Envy, which is a nail strengthener that actually bonds with your nail. And lotion and cuticle oil – I have lotion all around my house and use it often. Good luck!

  3. Morgan

    I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions on growing longer nails. Mine grow fast but always break!

    • Great question Morgan. I actually want to write a post of JUST tips and tricks and was thinking about this the other day. Here are my top 3 tips: #1 – Pay attention to what you do with your hands and stop the abuse to your nails. Wear gloves when doing chores such as dishes, and just basically try not to bang your hands around. This made the biggest difference for me – I had to learn to not use my nails as tools OR the tips of my fingers. I even type differently now. #2 – Keep your nails painted. Even just polish helps, but a real layered manicure seems to work best for me (when I use 2 coats Opi Nail Envy as a base, 2-4 coats of color, and 1 thick coat of Seche Vite topcoat). #3 – Moisturize! Your nails grow from your cuticles so slap on lotion and cuticle oil frequently.

      Good luck and I hope this helps!

  4. Pdon

    Thanks for the post!!! I used the peroxide BS and l.juice and it worked WONDERS on my blue stained toes :D:D gunna do this regularly on my finger nails too cuz they look wonderful.

  5. Bella

    I tried all 3 and the Hp with lemon and baking soda worked the best! Could you send me a link to part 2 when it is done? I also have that yellow line at the start of my free edge and this was the only methed that cured it. Thanks again!

    • Hello Esti! If you look just a couple comments up you will see my top three tips for growing your nails long. But my number one tip is to be really careful with your hands and not use the ends of your fingers as much as possible, but instead your finger pads when you do chores and errands. My nails are really thin so basically if I bump them at all they tear, break or split.

  6. Prajakta

    Hello,

    Even I do this same method after removal of nail polish. But to this mixture I add whitening toothpaste also, in proportion of 1/4 teaspoon whitening toothpaste + 1 teaspoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide + 2 teaspoon of baking soda. This is quite enough for both hands & feet nails. Without fail I use this mixture so my nails won’t ever look stained. But immediately after washing this mixture I use cuticle oil, as this is very drying. After this I give my nail rest for a day before reapplying next shade of nail polish.

  7. Fantastic post! Can’t wait for part 2 🙂 I always use NE, but only a single coat. I’m going to double up from now on because I hate yellowing nails and just can’t stay away from the vamp shades! I usually buff once a month and give my nails a weeks “rest” every couple months to avoid dark staining but I’d much rather keep them painted and not buff so I’m going to try the BS and lemon next 🙂

  8. Hanna

    First home treatment that actually worked<3 I have a trampoline and tumbling meet this weekend, and I'm glad my nails no longer look disgusting:)

  9. Thanks for sharing these tips. I was just searching for effective ways to whiten fingernails until I stumbled your site. I tried toothpaste but it didn’t work. I’ve heard a lot of benefits of using baking soda but haven’t tried this with nails as well. Thanks again and I’ll definitely try these methods.

    • Glad you visited the blog, I hope it worked out for you! I use the winning method once a week week. I’ve tried to do part 2 & 3 of this post many times – but I can’t get my nails to stain badly again, lol.

  10. Phyu Phyu May

    thanks for this post.
    Actually I was searching for how to remove the dirts n stain under growing longer nails n couldn’t find this.
    Could u please tell me how to do?

    • Hi Phyu,

      I would use the exact same technique and just get the solution under your nail and also use a very soft tootbrush or nail brush to scrub the underneath part of your nail. Have to do this carefully if you have a strong c-curve to your nail but sometimes that can be good to set the solution in there and let it sit a few minutes. Good luck!

  11. trample

    Greetings, There’s no doubt that your site may be having browser compatibility problems.
    When I look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in IE, it’s got some overlapping issues.
    I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Besides that, fantastic website!

    • Thank you so much for letting me know, it took me a second to maybe see what you are seeing. Are you using an older version of IE? I didn’t see problems in the recent one which is why I didn’t catch it, but IE8 for sure had some issues when I back checked that. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Thank you! Yeah I actually didn’t used to mind staining since I keep my nails polished, but then this new “negative space” idea it’s kinda ugly if your nails are stained. I have more coming on this but I seriously can’t get them to stain like this again…

  12. Lauren

    Hey,
    You are a life saver!!!!! Me being the silly girl I am, did a neon green nail polish with out a base coat and oh god, my nails were horrible.Even with no polish on for a week you could still see bright stains. I was so scared I would never get it off in time for my wedding in 10 days but your HP, BS and L.Juice did wonders. My nails look so great. I think once more in a few days and it will all be gone. Again, thank you so much. You have saved me so much stress and worry.

    • So glad this worked out for you! Fortunately I have found (for whatever reason) that green is usually the easiest to get off as long as it’s not a blueish-green. Hope you had a beautiful wedding!

  13. Dan Clark

    Hi. Im a dude with patches of psoriasis,usual elbows and knees, but the symptom I am embarrassed about is the nail psoriasis.Any tips on disguising (not that keen on coloured nail polish haha) or whitening the yellowing ends of the nail as it lifts from the nail bed ? Looks like I smoke 40 a day but use all my fingers to hold them !!!
    Any suggestions appreciated.
    Desperate Dan

    • Hello Dan! Sorry to hear about your issue but I wouldn’t be embarrassed – just proactive! =) I would first recommend that you see your normal, primary physician/doctor and ask for their advice. If it is an infection or other type of issue, they will let you know and steer you in the right direction. If you get the all clear there and they tell you that it is a fungus they will probably recommend an over the counter treatment. You can find many nail fungus treatments at your local drugstores and they work like a charm – if that is the real issue. Happy healing!

  14. Robert Volschenk

    Hi,

    Thanx for your write up about the stained nails, I had 2 toenails removed a few days ago due to nail fungus and the doctor advised me to soak my feet once a day in 5Lt Warm Water, 4 Drops Gentian Violet and a literally a knife point full of Potassium permanganate for 30min for 5 days. He told me that I shouldn’t make the solution too strong as it might stain my feet, but what he did not tell me is no matter what I do, it WILL stain my nails a dark rust brown. I am yet to try your HP, BS and L.Juice solution to see if it will make me want to go out in public again! So, if you are struggling to stain your nails for more tests, here you have the solution to your problem:-)

  15. Pingback: 16 Genius Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide around the House | How Does She

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