Nail cutting

Why correct toenail cutting is important and how to do it.

Why is toenail cutting important?

Many people of all ages, for one reason or another, may find toenail cutting difficult.  This might be temporary, such as following a hip surgery where you may be unable to bend from your hip for a short time or it may be an ongoing requirement.

Incorrect or infrequent toenail cutting can lead to development of several problems:

  • Ingrown toenail
  • Bacterial and fungal infection of the nails or foot by allowing bacteria to accumulate under nail
  • Pain or discomfort from the end of the toenail pressing against the shoe.  This can also eventually lead to thickened nails which make them even more difficult to trim
  • A painful corn can develop under a thickened nail due to constant pressure from shoes
  • Trauma is more likely if the nail is long when caught on a sock or stubbed
  • Damage to footwear and socks from long thickened nails
  • Risk of injury to legs (e.g. while sleeping) which is a concern for older people who may develop leg ulcers or cellutitis
  • Corns or calluses on the adjacent toes where the long nail is rubbing against the skin
  • Difficulty wearing shoes which may lead to reduced mobility and reduced balance

How to cut toenails correctly

At TheFootNurse we can trim the toenail carefully to the correct length and shape.  We clear the sulci (the grooves between the nail plate and the skin on the side of the toe) of any sharp edges. And we clear any debris under the toenail and file the nail. 

Toenail cutting clippers

We use professional, heavy-duty, stainless steel spring-loaded clippers and other instruments.  These make it easier to trim thickened nails. 

Without these, it is possible to tear the nail or cause trauma to the surrounding skin.  

The importance of sterilising clippers/cutters

Like all our reusable instruments, we clean and clinically sterilise them after each use. We do this with superheated steam in an autoclave to avoid any cross infection between clients. Every sterilisation is monitored and logged to ensure it meets the right standards.

You should avoid sharing nail clippers if doing your own toenail cutting. If you have a nail infection, you should also consider sterilisation of your nail clippers and any other implements such as files. Without this, you may spread the nail infection to other nails. If you are being treated to address the infection this is especially important.

Toenail cutting autoclave
Our calibrated autoclaves

Dealing with thickened nails

Some people will develop thicker nails. This may be due to:

  • a medical condition; psoriasis
  • fungal nail infection
  • an injury or
  • simply ageing.

If you are doing your own toenail cutting, you should consider investing in some good quality nippers or at least large, strong toenail clippers (i.e. not the little ones you may use for your fingernails). Soaking your toenails in warm water for a little while before starting will help to soften them. Take small cuts. Great care is needed as thicker nails may be more prone to splitting or tearing.

The nippers are sharp (or should be). Be particularly careful if you have poor circulation, diabetes or you have reduced sensation. You may not notice a small cut if this is the case but it can still become infected.

How we deal with thickened nails at TheFootNurse

If necessary, we will use a podiatrist’s electric file with dust extraction. This is a specialist piece of equipment. It enables us to reduce the nail thickness safely and comfortably before trimming.  We then use clippers to trim and shape the nail before final filing.

We can check if there is a corn under the toenail and, where necessary, trim the nail back more than a client could themselves to treat and remove the corn.

Take care if doing your own toenail cutting

Use of incorrect tools to trim toenails can have serious implications particularly for those with diabetes.  The same applies for those who may be immunocompromised (e.g. clients with rheumatoid arthritis, on high dose steroids or having chemotherapy).  

Small nail scissors or hand nail clippers may not be up to the job. You may be more likely to damage the nail or injure the skin using something like these. We even know of some people who will turn to the tool shed when dealing with tough toenails – this is not a good idea!

Toenail cutting tools dos and don'ts

Any injury to skin or soft tissue during toenail cutting can lead to local infection or more serious infection that would need urgent attention.  Here at TheFootNurse we take great care to use the right tools, techniques and, clean procedures to cut your or your loved one’s toenails correctly. We are also trained to detect, treat, or refer any potential infections, as necessary.

If you would like to discuss how we can help with toenail cutting and your other foot care needs, please get in touch.

Other information about toenail cutting

Please note that these are links to sites outside of our control. Although we have checked the sites at the time of writing and believe them safe, please browse at your own risk.

Toenails and diabetes (

Mayo Clinic – How to trim thickened nails (