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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Damn You Stained Nails! PT 1 – How to Prevent Staining by Lab Muffin
- Does Nail Polish Turn Your Nails Yellow? by You Beauty
- Home Remedies for Whitening Yellow Fingernails by Crystal Ray
- How to Whiten Yellow Nails by Marie Claire