How Does My Baby Get Dirt Under His Nails? (Newborns & Infants)

Dirty baby fingernails are nothing more than a build-up of dry skin flakes, body oils, and lint from clothing and blankets under your baby’s nails. The build-up varies from baby to baby and can occur within a few hours after you last cleaned your baby’s nails.

Dirt build-up under your baby’s fingernails can be unsightly, but this odd phenomenon tends to alarm some mothers because young infants are not exposed to what adults see as dirt.

You can relax because it is an ongoing natural occurrence that can be controlled to a degree. As part of the control, you will have to clean and groom your baby’s fingernails regularly.

Where does the dirt come from?

Infant fingernails grow very fast, creating a natural trap for anything your baby’s fingers come in contact with.

Newborns literally just eat and sleep, so they are not really exposed to dirt; however, their nails are exposed to a lot of moisture, including oils released by the skin that acts as a type of glue for dry skin from both mom and baby and this gets turned into what we see as dirt under the fingernails.

There is also dust that gets trapped on clothing and blankets, giving off lint and tiny fluff particles that get added to the mix.

You’ll notice that dark-colored blankets and clothing produce dark-colored dirt under your little one’s nails.

Some milk will make contact with your baby’s fingers during feeding, especially when burping your baby halfway through feeding, and your baby’s hands are usually all over the place, in their mouth, clutching on mom’s breast, and at their own face.

At this time, some milk will seep under the fingernails to create the dirt you see.

Moisturizers and baby-wipe also allow moisture to seep under your baby’s nails. Baby powder sprinkled over your baby’s body is another culprit that contributes to the dirt build-up. All these things create the perfect trap for grime to build up under your baby’s fingernails.

Nail care for babies

Mom is using a nail scissor to cut her infant son's nails.

A baby’s fingernails grow faster than their toenails and must be cut and groomed once or twice a week at least. It’s best to inspect your little one’s nails at each diaper change. You should also use a baby wipe to clean between their fingers and toes at this time.

The recommended bath routine for newborns is two to three times a week. Even if you spot dirt under their nails and between their fingers and toes, you should stick with the recommended bath schedule to prevent your baby from developing dry skin.

Using baby wipes to clean the folds in the neck area, between fingers and toes, and folds in the wrist area is usually adequate.

Cleaning the dirt build-up under your baby’s nails is important for good hygiene as it prevents bacterial growth and possible infections.

Begin by trimming your baby’s nails with a baby nail clipper which is part of a baby grooming set sold in most stores that stock baby goods. It’s best to do this after a bath because the nails are softer and easier to manage.

Once cut, you can file them down with a soft emery board to get rid of any sharp edges, then gently brush the nails with a soft nail brush or a baby toothbrush to remove any grime still left behind.


I’m afraid to hurt my little one with nail clippers, so I bite them short using my own teeth. Is it fine to do this?

No, you shouldn’t trim your baby’s nails with your teeth because you could spread bacteria from your mouth that can lead to an infection.

Babies may have microscopic cuts or broken skin around their fingernails that you can’t see, and the human mouth contains a lot of bacteria or germs.

How do I treat the wound if I accidentally cut my baby’s finger with the nail clippers?

Apply a little pressure to stop the bleeding and wipe the area clean with a piece of gauze. You can then apply a very small amount of antibacterial ointment to the wound and leave it open to heal.

Don’t put a plaster or dressing on it because it can become a choking hazard for your baby.

How often should I clean my little one’s nails with a nailbrush?

This can be done daily or at bath time to prevent the build-up of grime. Milk creates a breeding ground for bacteria, so you must monitor your baby’s nails, and if need be, you can clean them more often.


Short, well-kept nails are poor dirt traps. Grime collecting under your baby’s fingernails is natural but can pose problems for your little one if left unchecked. Their nails should be cut to the contour of the fingers, but toenails should be cut straight with the edges filed down.

When cleaning your baby’s nails, remember, soft and gentle. A well-groomed baby is a happy baby.

Was this article helpful?

Hi! I'm Jennely. My hands and mind can't be still; neither can my three-year-old. So I'm either chasing him or my next project. I like to work smarter, not harder. This is why I write on topics that will help parents solve problems and enjoy precious moments with their little ones.

Leave a Comment