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Nail Polish 101: Dealing With Stained Nails


Stained nails

As CF’s current resident nail blogger, it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with polish. I own more than 80 bottles of varnish, I paint my nails three times a week and my nails are very rarely chipped, or even polish-free.

The biggest downside to this fascination (apart from my ever-dwindling bank account) is that my bare nails are often an awful shade of yellow – gross, right? It gets even worse in the wintertime, when we all start rocking deeper, darker shades. This is by far the biggest downside of wearing nail polish, but can be (somewhat) prevented and avoided. Are you sick of yellow nails? Here are a few tips to help you get rid of the problem:

How to Avoid & Get Rid of Yellow Nails:

Here are my two best tips for preventing and getting rid of yellow nails caused by dark polish. In my experience, these are the only two methods that really work.

1. Use a Base Coat

Orly Bonder Base Coat

I know, I know – I also used to think that applying base coat was a completely useless step, but I can assure you that it isn’t! Not only does it help your polish stay on, it protects your nail big-time from stains.

I cannot stress this enough, if you’re not using a base coat, you absolutely must! After wearing a dark shade for a few days, my bare nails are much less yellow than they would be if I hadn’t been using a good base coat. A few months ago I outlined my favorite base coats, so definitely pick up one of those up and be on your way to cleaner, pinker nails.

2. Let Them Breathe

Photo Credit: I Am Fabulously Vain

To a polish-fiend like myself, this is basically the kiss of death – you want me to show my yellow, bare nails when I could just paint my nails any other gorgeous shade? Unfortunately, yes.

Every 5 or 6 weeks, I try going polish-free for at least 3 to 4 days. At the beginning, my nails are unsightly, but by the end, they’re back to their healthy, normal pink shade. This is, unfortunately, the only fool-proof way to get rid of stains on your nails.

What WON’T Work:

I’ve showed you the methods that do fix this issue, but there are two popular methods that, from my experience, don’t work at all. Don’t waste your time on…

Lemon Juice:


When I first got nail stains, I googled and googled and the tip that kept popping up was to put my nails in lemon juice, as lemon juice is allegedly a bleach and will remove stains. Too bad that this totally does not work at all, and the only thing it achieves is making your hands reek of lemon juice for hours.

Buffing your Nails:

Okay, so this technically will work, but buffing your nails is really bad for them – it completely thins and weakens the nail bed. If you have to do this, make sure to use this solution extremely sparingly!

If You’re In A Pinch:


Sometimes during my half week off from polish, I have times when I absolutely need my nails to look presentable. In these situations, I wait till the last minute and put on a thin coat of my favorite light, semi-sheer pink polish.

My favorite light polish is Essie’s Mademoiselle ($6.09 at Amazon,) but I’d recommend going to the drugstore and trying on different colors to find your perfect light pink shade. This gives your nail a nice, neat, natural, polished look, and best of all, it will camouflage any stained nails!

What do you guys do when you have stained nails?

Any other tips or tricks for fixing stained nails? Do you have this problem a lot? Tell me everything in the comments!

Posted on on November 18, 2011 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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30 Responses to “Nail Polish 101: Dealing With Stained Nails”

  1. 1
    November 18th, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I wear a lot of dark polish in the winter, and found that a regular clear base coat doesn’t protect my nails from getting stained. Instead, I use a white nail polish. It also has the added benefit of making my reds and purples more vibrant!

  2. 2
    November 18th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Beauty supply stores make stain removing soaks and scrubs for your nails. Also, baking soda, whitening tooth paste and denture cleaner tablets all work wonders (it makes sense if you think about it).

  3. 3
    November 18th, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Just as a head’s-up, Bonder is not known for preventing stains. It’s definitely a great basecoat, but not great at stain prevention. Doubling up on basecoat (I like OPI Natural Nail or Essie First Base) can definitely help if you’re using a polish you know is likely to stain. Letting my nails breathe has never lessened staining for me, although I don’t think it’s a bad idea unless you like your nails long and need the support.

    Buffing is the only thing that lessens bad staining for me. If you do it only occasionally with a gentle/high-grit buffer then you probably won’t notice a difference in nail strength. It should be avoided for people with thin/weak nails though. I think the biggest issue is people get overzealous and buff too much, which can result in all sorts of unpleasantness. I think the key, as with most things, is moderation.

  4. 4
    November 18th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    I never even thought of this but I only do my nails around holidays so thanks for the tips!!

  5. 5
    November 18th, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’ve had good luck with hydrogen peroxide in a pinch!

  6. 6
    November 19th, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Lemon juice has always worked for me. Maybe you’re not soaking your nails long enough.

  7. 7
    November 19th, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Youare totally right. I don’t use a lot of polish so my nails do not get stained.

  8. 8
    November 19th, 2011 at 1:44 am

    I hate when my nails get nasty and stained from nail polish, too. I’ll start using a base coat and see how it works out :)

  9. 9
    November 19th, 2011 at 3:09 am

    It depends on what brand you use as well. Some of the cheaper brands can cause staining on the nails, so your best best is to use base coat.

    I let my nails breathe for a couple of days every 5-6 wks too

  10. 10
    November 19th, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Lemon juice works for me. I think the trick is to cut a lemon into wedges and instead of squeezing the juice into a bowl, use that wedge (like you would a cotton ball with nail polish remover) and just rub them down. It works for me ;)

  11. 11
    November 19th, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I usually wear nail polish, and when I want to get rid of stains, I usually soak my nails in white vinegar or hydrogen perodixe. First, I dilute 2 spoons of one of them in a cup of water. Then, I soak my nails for about fifteen minutes. For me, this have always worked perfectly.

  12. 12
    November 19th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I’m a nailpolish addict too! You will very rarely see me with chipped or bare nails, even during the busiest weeks of the school year. I find that using a good base coat works to keep my nails their proper colour. It’s probably a good idea though to let your nails breathe – after reading your article I might do that, but as you said, it sounds like the kiss of death!

  13. 13
    November 19th, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    I just took off my coat of Essie’s Sugar Daddy to find stained nails, but I’ve been keeping them bare so the stain will fade away and my nails will go back to its natural hue again :) Thanks for the great tips!

  14. 14
    November 20th, 2011 at 12:19 am

    mix two and a half tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide (3%) and mix it until pasty. used a cotton swab to apply it to ur nail and under it. let sit for @ least 3 minutes and rinse with warm water. whitens beautifullyyyy

  15. 15
    November 20th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I hate when my nails stain. They don’t stain much but sometimes they look a little yellow. Cheap nail polishes can stain nails but also certain nail polish colors regardless of brand. I’ve switched my base coat to Orly Bonder recently which certainly helps manicures last. However, I have read people complaining about staining issues with it. Perhaps another base coat would help prevent staining?

    Luckily I haven’t had any major staining issues using it. I think the amount of time wearing polish plays into it too. I almost never have “naked” nails, because I like to keep my nails protected, but when I do it helps return them to their state. I, too, am obsessed with nail polish and can’t bear to not have it on. My collection is over 200 polishes now, yikes! I’ve heard that hydrogen peroxide works but I haven’t tried it myself. You could always cover up the staining with polish. :)

  16. 16
    November 30th, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    I love pale colors so my nails don’t get terribly stained but I found the perfect fix. Mix hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Cover your nails with the mixture and leave it on for five minutes. Wash your fingers off and they’ll be pale pink again. :)

  17. 17
    March 30th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    What I usually do to avoid stained nails is – apart from the obvious base coat – I always take off my nail polish in the weekends. Nobody sees them then, and it gives them a good 2 1/2 days to air a little bit, and be good to go throughout the workweek :)

  18. 18
    May 29th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I am a nail polish addict, too! I usually only paint about once a week though, during the summer it could be every few days. I also rarely keep my nails bare because I hate the way my nails look bare. Most recently, I removed my nail polish to discover they were stained. I use a base coat all the time and my nails are usually not stained even after I use a red or dark blue. So I decided to let the, breathe, but not before I shined and re filed to make sure they look….decent.

  19. 19
    June 18th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I love nail polish! Especially a teal colour i bought 2 months ago… The only problem is that the colour stains my nails soo badly! The only thing that works for me is: two tablespoons of hudrogen peroxide mixed with teo tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/2 cup of water. Soak them for 10 mins
    And rinse. After that i get whitening toothpaste and apply it to my nails for 2 mins and brush with a nail brush. That makes my nails soo mush better!

  20. 20
    July 10th, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I heard from somewhere that Whitening Toothpaste helps.
    Put some toothpaste on an old toothbrush and just scrub and then rinse.
    I used this method today and it totally worked. My nails were stained because of a certain polish i used, it totally lifted up the stain on my nails, now they’re as good as when i first put on the polish.

  21. 21
    August 31st, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks so much for all the great tips! I recently took my polish off to discover my nails look like I’ve been smoking for many years, and I was horrified. I will try to get them back to normal with my new knowledge.

  22. 22
    October 24th, 2012 at 12:54 am

    I was addicted to dark colors as I grew my nails out and broke my nail biting habit but made a few mistakes.

    I buffed a lot! I thought it was good for nails.

    I let them get stained.

    I know that denture cleaners, like Efferdent, work great to lighten up mild stains, but I had nicotine nails…and I don’t even smoke!

    SO I used bleach. I put a nail brush in and brushed it on like polish, three or four times. Immediately brought them perfectly back…but I’d only do it in a jif or if you need SERIOUS repair..

  23. 23
    November 24th, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    love it

  24. 24
    January 20th, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I have never found the base coat idea to work for me. The first time my nails stained with the polish was when I was wearing a neon green black light nail polish and it turned my nails super yellow. The second time(today) that my nails stained was because of a bright blue. I had to use the nail file on my nails because i needed to change the color to a french tip to look professional for an interview. I very lightly scraped the bed of my nail from bottom to top repeatedly to remove the stain then put a base coat on immediately afterwards to strengthen my nails and give it the natural look all over again.

  25. 25
    January 31st, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Hi there, I discovered your website by the use of Google while searching for a related topic, your site got here up, it appears to be like great. I have bookmarked to favourites|added to my bookmarks.

  26. 26
    June 20th, 2013 at 11:30 am

    i used a base coat before painting my nails a medium-purple colour, but they still got stained. is there a reason for this? o.O

  27. 27
    July 19th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Trying the lemon juice now… but not noticing a difference…hmmm

  28. 28
    October 16th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Someone told me my nails turned orange from not getting any oxygen as I wear polish all the time. is it that? or is it staining???

  29. 29
    November 1st, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    mine were stained pink after taking off gel polish that had been applied at the salon. I know she used a base coat! I used soft scrub with bleach and a toothbrush… was careful to only apply on the nail and not on the skin around it… then scrubbed it off with hand soap and the tooth brush. worked fine, I’m going to put some nailtiques nail protein on it now.

  30. 30
    September 13th, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I have used Rock Hard nail polish base/hardener but it does not help keep staining from happening. My nails look horrible! I’ve tried bleach for 10 min at a time, I’ve tried it all. Nothing seems to work. I’m really frustrated.

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