Why Do My Nails Smell When I File Them? (We Have the Answer!)

why do my nails smell when I file them

Hand hygiene is incredibly important, given how much our hands come into contact with on a daily basis. Our nails need to be taken care of just as much as the skin of our hands. When maintaining your nails, such as with a nail file, you might notice a strange odor coming from your nails. 

If you’ve given yourself a manicure or have brought your hands to your face and asked why do my nails smell, or why do my nails smell why I file them, the answer might not be a cause for concern. 

Why Do My Nails Smell?

Sometimes, a smell coming from your nails when you bring them close to your face is nothing to be concerned about. What we might not realize is how much of this dirt, grime, and bacteria gets caught in our nails. However, smelly nails can also be a sign that you’ve caught some kind of fungus or infection. 

When you notice this smell after filing or cutting your nails, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Pay close attention to washing your fingernails. If the odor doesn’t seem to go away, or you notice some other strange symptoms, it might be time to call your doctor. 

Simply running your hands under water and quickly scrubbing doesn’t do enough to thoroughly clean your nails. You should be scrubbing your nails, either rubbing them into a soapy palm or using a sponge. Not removing dirt and debris from under your nails each day can also lead to a bad smell. 

Why Nail Files Make Nails Smell?

When you rub a nail file along the tips of your fingers, you’re activating the sulfur that exists within the keratin in your nails. The sulfur is what causes the unpleasant smell, but it should go away after some time. The files can also make gross odors come to the surface if you’ve been touching things that smell bad and haven’t cleaned under your nails. 

Should you have some kind of infection lurking under your nails, filing them could make the smell a bit more obvious. The friction may also make the file smell as well. You can wash your hands before and after using your file to try and reduce the smell. Making sure the nail file itself is clean as well helps.

Why Do Toenails Smell When You Cut Them?

Toenails can smell for the same reason that fingernails do when they are cut. It’s also possible that there’s a lingering fungus or infection in your toenails as well. It can be difficult to catch any kind of infection on your feet until it starts to spread since we don’t often examine our feet like we would our hands. 

Just like our fingernails, our toenails can come into contact with a lot of dirt, sweat, and germs throughout the day. Wearing shoes and socks all day doesn’t help either, as sweat can’t escape anywhere. That moisture can create some nasty odors that can also accumulate under the toenails. 

Thus, when filing or cutting our toenails, we can smell some pretty unsavory smells coming from under the nails. Keeping our feet clean is a major priority, especially if they sweat a lot or you’re on your feet all day. Even rubbing the nails with a cotton ball and some rubbing alcohol is recommended to kill any germs before they turn infectious. 

How Do I Know If Something Is Making My Nails Smell?

Nail fungus, whether in your fingernails or toenails, will show signs apart from creating an unpleasant smell. There will often be some kind of discoloration, and the appearance of fungus may start to develop. Your nails will start to become more fragile than they used to be, and you may even notice that they are growing irregularly. 

In some cases, nails can smell as a result of a medical condition. There will be accompanying symptoms, and it’s likely that you are at least aware of the condition that is causing this. For example, diabetes can cause a sweet aroma to come from the nails if it’s not being taken care of, and liver issues can cause nails to smell like bleach. 

There might also be some kind of residue on or under your nails that could range in color. You might also notice that the color changes as the infection progresses or starts to heal. Coloring can range from white to yellow to brown. 

How Do You Get Rid Of The Smell Under Your Nails?

If the smell comes simply from trimming or filing your nails, time is the best way to get rid of the smell. The sulfur and the keratin are both naturally occurring, and there’s nothing you can do that will stop the reaction from happening. 

If the smell is caused by some kind of fungus or infection, then you’ll have to seek out the proper treatment. You can buy fungal creams and ointments at your local pharmacy, though consulting your doctor is the best course of action to ensure you use the right product to target your specific infection. 

Prevention is also a key component of trying to stop your nails from smelling. Be sure that you’re careful when cutting your nails, and should you break any skin, clean it out thoroughly right away. Wash your feet carefully when in the shower, and wash your hands after handling things like food or using the bathroom. 


You don’t need to be alarmed simply because you notice a smell when you file or trim them. It’s not enjoyable, but the odor doesn’t often last. If it lingers, and your nails seem to be degrading, it’s possible that something else is the culprit and you should chat with your doctor. 

As with many types of infections, it doesn’t take much to cause one given how often we are exposed to germs. Practicing consistent hand washing and taking care of your nails, on both your hands and feet, should help reduce any bad smells outside of what’s natural. 

Related articles

A website made to help everyone with personal care from how-to guides, and helpful pieces of advices to product recommendations.