Cutting Toenails

Cutting Your Toenails

Some people may find the idea of a guide for clipping their toenails comical. After all, toenail trimming is an everyday chore that everyone learns on their own. However, because you have always cut your toenails a certain way does not mean it is correct.

It may come as a surprise that, in many cases, how people cut their toenails is one of the primary reasons they eventually need to visit a foot and ankle doctor about uncomfortable and painful foot conditions like ingrown toenails (“onychocryptosis”), torn or detached toenails and fungal nail infections (or “onychomycosis”).

Trimming your toenails correctly is a vital component of maintaining proper foot health. To that end, check out these toenail-cutting tips:

Should Toenails be Cut Curved or Straight?

If there is going to be a heated debate over toenail cutting, it will most likely be around this question: is it best to cut your toenails straight across the top or curve in the corners?

If you want to avoid ingrown toenails, the ideal method is straight across. While curved edges allow your nails to grow into your skin instead, a straight cut will help ensure that your toenails grow forward as they should.

If you are worried about your toenails being a bit scratchy and catching on your socks, simply file them down rather than cutting them. There is nothing wrong with a bit of roundness there.

Do Not Cut Your Toenails Too Short

Never completely remove the white half-moon area at the base of your toenails (also called the lunula). If you do that, you will likely cut your nails far too short and risk severe nail bed injury.

An ideal range is around 1-2 mm of white — this is enough to avoid cutting too deeply, but not so much that you risk damaging the nails. Toenails grow at a rate of roughly 1 to 2 mm per month on average. For most people, cutting them every 6 to 8 weeks should be ideal.

Use the Proper Tools for the Job

The ideal tool for fingernails may not be the same as the ideal tool for toenails!

Fingernail clippers are often smaller, have less leverage and cutting force, and cut in a more curved manner. This is good for fingernails that are smaller and thinner. Using a fingernail clipper on thicker, larger toenails, on the other hand, can be problematic. To get through a larger toenail, you will need more clips, which means you will be more likely to cut your toenails unevenly or even tear them with a fingernail clipper.

In addition to a pair of sharp toenail clippers (or professional nail nippers if you have thick nails), you will need a nail filer. Standard scissors or knives that are not specially designed for cutting toenails should be avoided.

Is It Necessary to Soften Your Toenails?

Are your toenails generally so thick that you have to work hard to get your clippers through them?

Cutting your toenails after a shower or soaking them in warm water is a good idea because the nail tissue gets softer and a lot easier to work with. Getting your nails done will take considerably less effort, and you will have the extra benefit of having clean feet before you start! Just make sure your feet are completely dry before you begin cutting to minimize the risk of slipping and avoid cuts and abrasions.

We should mention that if you can generally cut your toenails with ease, you should probably avoid doing it shortly after getting them soft. There is such a thing as too soft nails, and attempting to cut them can lead to the nail bending or tearing.

Additional Tips

  • Don’t Let Too Much Time Pass Between Toe Nail Trimmings: While toenails do not grow as quickly as fingernails, they must still be trimmed regularly — ideally, once every eight weeks. Long toenails are not only uncomfortable when walking, but they also raise the likelihood of the toenail breaking, bending, or splitting, which further increases the risk of infection.
  • Toenails should not be ripped, peeled, or bitten: Never use your fingers or any other body part to “cut” your toenails as it can increase the risk of infection (plus, it is unhygienic). You have very little control when ripping, peeling, or biting your toenail, and the nail is more likely to be left overly short, uneven, or removed too deeply.
  • Do not use dirty tools: A decent pair of toenail clippers should be clean. Wipe them down with isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) regularly to remove any harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi and replace them if they begin to look worn out or dirty.


Proper nail cutting habits can go a long way toward keeping your feet looking and feeling wonderful — but there are times when other issues require medical attention, such as:

  • Painful and recurring ingrown toenails
  • Nail fungus (also called onychomycosis)
  • Black (or otherwise discolored) toenail
  • Toenail falling off

If you think you have a toenail problem, consult a qualified podiatrist right away, especially if you have other medical conditions such as diabetes. Read our blog on the relationship between foot problems and diabetes here. A podiatrist can help identify the source of the problem and recommend a course of action for a healthier and more comfortable foot situation.

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Posted in Foot Care News.