If there’s one thing I loathe about gardening – dirty fingernails are IT. And I get them because (a) I spot a weed that’s rising up against my garden which immediately needs to be pulled out (even if I’m in my Sunday best), or (b) the kids have nicked off with my gloves – again, or (c) if I wait another 20 minutes to plant these damn ranunculi they may not flower in time.

But really, dirty fingernails are a hallmark of a gardener – a trophy, if you like. They tell the world that I’m okay with getting them dirty and I’m no sissy who needs a manicure every Thursday afternoon.

Which is okay if you’re not an habitual fingernail biter remembering that you previously waded through the compost as you crunch down on something that tastes sweeter than normal.


Still, I’m not averse to letting my hands soak in the soil and be stained from the enjoyment – much like a child sporting a scarlet blemish after chowing down a large stake of berry pie. It’s just that there seems to be very few options to getting them clean again. Or is there?

Here’s a few tips from around the garden blogosphere;

  • Marcy from My Quilts ‘N Stuff uses high pressure water aimed right under her fingernails. The pressure dislodges any dirt and the nails are cleaned almost immediately.
  • While still visiting Marcy’s blog, one of her readers commented on another tip that some gardeners use by rubbing soap under the fingernails before gardening. I agree with the conversation – which is better soap or dirt? Sorry, the jury’s still out on that one…
  • The Gardenweb forums have all manner of answers from using Borax powder, LavaPro soap, disposable gloves under your normal gardening gloves while others reverse this and wear cotton gloves underneath a pair of latex.
  • What about a nailbrush? It seems these are fairly effective and quite cheap. Some people complain that they’re harsh on their hands and nails, and admittedly they have been known to rip skin from flesh. Maybe, you could create your own Luffa sponge instead. They’re organic and if you grow the cucumbers yourself are dirt cheap and environmentally-friendly when disposed of.
  • Some gardeners find that shielding lotions are another protection that can taken – at least for their skin’s benefit. These lotions can help retain moisture and shield the dirt from our skin’s lines and wrinkles. They don’t do a lot for your fingernails but your hands will remain supple.
  • And finally, one great tip I read recently (but can’t for the life of me now find) was sewing a small shade cloth bag that allowed a bar of soap to be inserted and then hung under a garden tap. The coarseness of the shade cloth acted in much the same way as the luffa sponge but was far more durable with the added soap bonus.

If you find yourself gouging large pieces of dirt from beneath your fingernails, try one of the tips ‘n ideas above. They may not be the prettiest nails in the world, but they certainly won’t be the ugliest.