How to Whiten Yellow Nails Fast

RIP stains. You won't be missed.

cropped hands gesturing against shadow on yellow background
(Image credit: Alexandra Troyan / EyeEm)

Real talk: There are few things we despise more than taking off our nail polish. No matter how much nail polish remover we douse our fingers with, it seems like we always inevitably end up with weird, dingy-yellow stains that no amount of cotton balls and scrubbing can get rid of. Sound familiar? Since quitting nail polish will never be a part of our agenda, we set out to find the easiest, fastest ways to bring yellowed nails back from the dead. We spoke to an expert to find out how to whiten yellow nails and make your relationship with nail polish a hell of a lot stronger.

Find out why your nails are yellow.

Before you touch any DIY concoctions, it’s a good idea to figure out why your nails are yellowing. According to New York City dermatologist Dana Stern, staining from nail polish isn’t the only possible cause.

“You want to get a proper diagnosis and treatment if you're constantly battling stained nails,” says Stern, who specializes in nail health. It's possible that you have an infection or that your nails might point to an underlying health issue, like poor liver or lung function. You should also take note of thickened, yellow, and super-curved nails, which could be sign of yellow nail syndrome, an uncommon but serious disorder.

This all sound scary, but don't freak—if your nail texture hasn’t really changed, it's most likely that your polish is to blame.

Prepare your nails before you paint them.

Yellowing is both common and unavoidable with regular nail polish use, but Stern recommends getting into the habit of using a base coat every time you paint your nails, since it creates a stain-proof barrier between you and your polish. Yeah, it sounds obvious, but be honest—how often do you really use a base coat every single time you paint? If you don't have one collecting dust under your sink, try one of our favorites.

It’s also important to pay attention to the dye content of your polish. While all shades, brands, and formulas can stain your nails, it’s a more common side effect with darker hues like purples, blues, deep reds, and black.

Make an at-home soak to rid your nails of stains.

If you didn't heed our advice on the base-coat thing, then you're going to need a proper scrub or soak. If the stains are pretty mild, try scrubbing them off with a blob of whitening toothpaste and a damp nail brush for a few minutes. If that doesn't work, or the stains are more severe, "they can be lightened by using a dilution of hydrogen peroxide,” says Stern. Here's how:

orange colored toothbrush

(Image credit: MirageC)

1. Mix 3-4 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with a half-cup of warm water in a bowl, stirring well.

2. Grab a seat, get comfortable, maybe watch a YouTube video or three, and soak your nails for two minutes.

3. Using a soft, clean toothbrush, gently scrub and buff the surface of your nails, re-dipping the brush in the bowl.

4. Rinse your hands, slather on some lotion, and voilà—your nails should be clean as hell (or, at the very least, well on their way). For maximum results, Stern recommends repeating this process two to three times per week, especially if you're into the good ole' black polish and zero base coats.

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Ruby was the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covered beauty across print and digital. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, Fashionista, and StyleCaster. Follow her on Instagram.