Proper Toe Nail Cutting: Essential Techniques for Healthy Feet


Cutting toenails is pretty easy…right?

Well, actually, a lot of folks end up seeing a podiatrist because of toenail problems. These issues could be anything from fungal infections to ingrown nails, or even just difficulty reaching their feet to trim their nails. While most people might think clipping toenails is pretty basic, it turns out many end up with serious nail problems due to not cutting their toenails properly.

Let’s talk about the right tools, techniques, and tips to keep your feet healthy. We’ll cover how to avoid common mistakes and when to seek professional help, ensuring your toes are properly maintained from the first snip to the final file.

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Key Takeaways

  • Trimming your toenails to the right length (AKA not cutting them too short or leaving them too long) is vital for preventing complications like thickened toenails or fungal nail infection, and for ensuring the pressure is evenly distributed across your feet.Nail Cutting
  • Use clean nail clippers for your feet to prevent bacterial and fungal transfer, and soak your toes before cutting to soften the nail bed, ensuring a straight and safe cut.
  • It’s essential to gently file your toenails after trimming to avoid any sharp edges that could cause tears or discomfort; if your nails are thickened, it’s important to soak them, trim them with care, and seek advice from a healthcare provider when needed.

The Importance of Proper Toe Nail Cutting

The simple act of cutting your toenails can have profound effects on your overall foot health. Basically, how nails are cut directly affects the way they grow.

Nails that are cut too far down either side of the nail plate can be extremely painful and often become ingrown. In serious cases, when left untreated, this complication is corrected through a nail surgery procedure known as a ‘Partial Nail Avulsion’. This involves injecting a small amount of local anaesthetic into the toe and removing the section of the nail that is growing into the skin.

On the flip side, nails that are cut too short can damage the hyponychium, which joins the free edge of the nail and the skin of the fingertip and is responsible for protecting the nail bed. Nails that are left with jagged edges or sharp tips are susceptible to getting caught on socks and bed sheets, which can result in a very painful injury to the nail.

Preparing for the Perfect Trim

Preparing for the perfect trim is the crucial first step in the nail-cutting process. Soak your toenails in warm water for 5-10 minutes to help soften them. This can make it easier to trim or shape them. This is best done after a bath or shower when your nails are naturally softer. Once softened, thoroughly dry your feet with a towel to prevent slipping and avoid bending or tearing the nails during cutting.

In addition to the preparation of your nails, it’s also essential to prepare your tools. Use separate clippers for your feet to prevent the transfer of bacteria or fungus from your hands or other parts of the body. Make sure to clean your clippers thoroughly between uses to maintain hygiene and protect your toes from potential infections.

How to Cut Your Toenails Straight

Now that your feet are ready, let’s get into how to cut your toenails straight. Why straight, you might ask? Cutting your toenails straight across is crucial to prevent painful ingrown toenails. Trimming them in a curved fashion can encourage the sides of the nail to grow into the surrounding skin, leading to pain and potential infections. To ensure a clean, straight cut, we recommend using the two-cut technique, which we’ll discuss shortly.

When it comes to tools, not just any will do. Use proper nail-cutting tools, such as specialised nail clippers or manicure scissors. These are designed specifically for cutting toenails straight, helping you avoid making any mistakes. After cutting, make sure your toenails are left long enough so that the corners lie loosely against the skin at the sides. This prevents the nails from getting caught and tearing, while still avoiding the risk of an ingrown toenail.

Finding the Right Length

One of the key aspects of proper toenail cutting is finding the right length. Maintaining toenails at a certain length is crucial to avoid issues associated with nails that are too short or too long. But what exactly is the “right” length?

The recommended length of the white area to leave at the tips of your toenails is 1-2mm. Leaving this amount of nail above where they attach to the toe helps prevent ingrown toenails and the discomfort associated with tearing. So next time you trim your nails, keep this length in mind for optimal foot health.

Two-Cut Technique

Now, onto the two-cut trim technique. This technique ensures a clean, straight cut and helps prevent the formation of an ingrown toenail. To create a straight edge, the first cut with the clippers slightly off the side of the nail should be made. This will help ensure a clean and even cut.

Next, the second cut should remove the rest of the nail following the line of the straight edge from the first cut to ensure the toenail is cut straight across. This two-cut technique helps ensure that the nail grows properly.

Remember, when using this technique, ensure that the final length of the toenail allows the corners to lie loosely against the skin, preventing them from being cut too short and causing discomfort.

Smoothing Out the Edges

After cutting your toenails, it’s essential to smooth out the sharp edges. Filing the nails with an emery board after cutting is crucial to smooth any jagged edges and prevent future nail tear. Removing sharp edges and hooks that can lead to issues like ingrown toenails is key, and a nail file can help you achieve this.

Gently filing the corners of your toenails can prevent them from poking or catching on socks and causing discomfort. This is particularly important when dealing with thickened toenails. After trimming, gently file them gently to avoid the nails catching on clothing or causing injury.

Addressing Thickened Toenails

Thickened toenails can be a challenge to deal with and can result from a variety of causes such as:

  • Aging
  • Fungal nail infections
  • Tight-fitting shoes
  • Injury
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis

However, with the right approach, you can manage this condition effectively. When dealing with thick toenails, it’s important to:

  1. Soften dry nails by soaking
  2. Trim carefully to prevent splintering and discomfort
  3. Start at the corner and make small straight cuts across the nail. This will help prevent painful tearing or further thickening
  4. If your thick toenails are painful or are too thick to be cut, or if there are signs of a fungal infection, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional.

Maintaining Healthy Feet and Toenails

Proper toenail cutting is just one part of maintaining healthy feet and toenails. To trim your toenails correctly, good foot hygiene is equally important. This can be achieved by wearing properly fitting shoes and washing your feet daily. It’s also crucial to limit excessive moisture in your shoes to prevent foot skin conditions and fungal infections.

Beyond cleanliness, caring for your toenails also involves:

  • Keeping the nail plate moisturised to prevent cracks
  • Regularly wiping down toenail clippers with rubbing alcohol and replacing them when needed to maintain hygiene
  • For intensive nail moisturising, try applying a generous amount of hand cream or petroleum jelly to your toes before bed and wear socks to enhance absorption
  • Using a humidifier during dry seasons to prevent your toenails from becoming brittle

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Despite our best efforts, mistakes can occur when it comes to toenail cutting. Common errors include using inappropriate tools such as regular scissors, which can damage toenails. This is why it’s crucial to use proper nail-cutting tools like nail clippers or manicure scissors.

Another common mistake is not cleaning your nail clippers between uses, which can increase the chance of bacterial or fungal contamination in the nail bed.

Finally, many people cut their toenails while they’re still wet from a shower or bath. While this may seem like a good idea, cutting toenails when they’re wet can lead to bending or tearing due to increased susceptibility, which can result in an uneven cut and tear and potential injury.

When to Seek Professional Help

While most toenail concerns can be managed at home with proper care and technique, there are instances where professional help should be sought. If you’re experiencing persistent fungal nail infection, it’s crucial to consult a medical professional for appropriate treatment. Signs of melanoma under toenails also require immediate medical attention.

Moreover, certain individuals should seek professional assistance with toenail care to ensure proper foot health and to avoid complications. This includes seniors, those with limited mobility or vision, and individuals with diabetes. Complications from conditions like a fungal nail infection can be particularly severe for individuals with diabetes, necessitating proactive and professional toenail maintenance.


The importance of cutting your toenails properly cannot be overstated. From preventing painful ingrown toenails to maintaining balance and preventing foot strain, the benefits of proper toenail cutting extend far beyond appearance.

Your feet carry you through life; take care of them, and they’ll take care of you. To learn more about the significance of toenails for foot health and to explore the various toenail issues that a podiatrist can address, visit our Skin & Nails page.

Should you encounter any problems with your toenails or if you face challenges in trimming them yourself, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with our skilled podiatrists at Watsonia Podiatry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do podiatrists cut toenails?

Yes, podiatrists regularly assist patients with toenail care, as many people have issues preventing them from cutting their own toenails properly.

Can I cut my toenails with scissors?

No, cutting your toenails with scissors is not recommended as it can be risky and may not do the job properly. It’s better to use dedicated nail clippers or manicure scissors for this task.

Do toenails need to be cut?

Yes, toenails need to be cut regularly to maintain good personal hygiene and prevent overgrowth.

Why do we need to cut toenails straight across?

Cutting toenails straight across is recommended to prevent ingrown toenails. Rounded corners or cutting too far back can cause the nails to curve and grow into the skin, leading to ingrown toenails.

What is the right length for my toenails?

Keep your toenails at a length of 1-2mm to prevent ingrown toenails and tearing discomfort.


Aaron Dri