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How to Clean Fingernails: Senior Care

*Griswold Home Care does not offer nail cutting services, please consult your healthcare provider before starting a new treatment and discuss what options are available to you

Cleaning under fingernails can be a surprisingly tricky task for seniors. Like nearly every other part of our bodies, our nails change as we age. They become more brittle and prone to infection, which makes keeping them clean even more important. Women, in particular, tend to see changes in their nail health and strength related to osteoporosis. Luckily there are some tips and tricks you can use for yourself and your loved ones to get dirt out from under nails and keep them clean.

How to Clean Under Fingernails

Generally, our fingernails are cleaned out when we shampoo our hair due to the lathering and scrubbing. But if your senior loved one cannot wash their own hair, that option will not work for them. If your loved one likes to wear their nails long, you can use a soft brush to gently scrub the nails and underneath the nails to get all the dirt out.

It is important to make sure the hands are completely dry after cleaning dirty fingernails, and even after normal hand washing. The nails and nail beds are prone to fungal infections, and bacteria loves dampness. Keeping the hands dry will help prevent infections.

How to Keep Fingernails Clean

Rather than constantly worrying about how to get dirt out of fingernails, you can take some steps to make sure the fingernails stay clean. Some tips to keep your nails clean and healthy are:

  • Keep nails shaped and short. Nails need to be trimmed and shaped every two to three weeks - more often if you have fast-growing nails. The safest option is to keep them even with the edge of the fingertip, making it tougher to get dirt underneath them. Shaping them is also important since it helps keep the end of the nail from chipping or breaking, which can lead to cuts and infections.

  • Avoid gel manicures. While they look lovely and last longer than a regular manicure, they can also dry out and damage the nails.

  • Do not remove cuticles. Cuticles are important to keep the nail bed healthy and safe and avoid infection.

  • Do not peel off hangnails. Use a trimmer or nail file.

  • Do not use your nails as tools. It’s so easy to rip open a bag or use your nail to scratch dirt off something. But opening things with your nails can cause your nails to break painfully.

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Did you know your diet can affect your nails? Eating foods high in zinc (like eggs) or vitamin E (like almonds) can help the health of your nails. Collagen supplements can also be useful to keep your nails strong and healthy.

If you notice something wrong or weird about your nails - like yellowing, brittleness, or lines on the nails - don’t be afraid to mention it to your doctor. It may be a sign of an underlying issue, and they may be able to help.