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How Long Should Toenails Be? [And How To Keep Them There]

Keeping your toenails the right length is essential. Not only does it keep your nails neat-looking, but it also keeps them healthy and can go a long way to preventing pain. But what is the right length, exactly? Where should you be trimming your nails to and what is generally recommended? Let’s find out.

So, how long should toenails be? The average person’s toenails are best kept at a length where there is 1mm to 2mm of free edge (the white part at the end of your nail). That can change, though, depending on your preferences, activities, and lifestyle. So in actuality, there are no exact numbers that work with everyone.

Keeping your toenails at a suitable length is actually quite a science.

Unlike fingernails, there are definite limits to the length that most people would consider “standard” or even “acceptable.”

And those limits are definitely smaller than the same given for fingernails.

That means that you have less room for error when determining whether you’re clipping your toenails short enough or if you’ve gone too far.

And at the same time, the physical act of trimming should be done very carefully – using the right tools, in the right way.
Simple picking won’t do – that can come with a whole host of issues.

So with this all in mind, let us delve deeper into keeping your toenails at an optimal length.

How o You Know If Your Toenails Are Too Long?

Anything over 1mm to 2mm of free edge is considered too long, though that is far from the only criteria. If your toenails feel uncomfortable in your shoes, they cut into your toes, collect too much debris too easily, curl, become ingrown, look too thick or hang over the top; they are likely too long.

Consider The Standard

First, keep in mind the standard given for your toenails: 1mm to 2mm of “free edge,” the white at the end of the nail.

That’s a good starting point for someone who isn’t accustomed to this.

But numbers alone can’t tell you if your nails are the right length. You need to go by comfort.


If your shoes are feeling uncomfortable because of your toenails, there’s a good chance that your toenails are too long.

You should clip them.


For the times when you’re barefoot, such as in bed, you can judge by how your toenails “treat” the rest of your body.

Or, unfortunately, perhaps your partner’s body. (Sorry, honey!)

If you find your toenails cutting into you or someone else, they’re probably too long. You may even notice more and more debris getting caught beneath the toenails. (Gross!)

Curling or Tipping

More visible signs of overly-long toenails are nails that curl downward over the tip of the toe. You may even notice ingrown nails occurring more and more.


Nails may even grow thicker, though not in a good way.
Again, you want to pay attention to any discomfort you’re feeling here. It’s a sign the nails are too long.

Should Toenails Be Round Or Square?

Toenails are best when they are kept “square.” Keeping your toenails straight, not curved, is vital to avoiding potential nail problems.

It can be easy to think of your toenails as rounded.

After all, your toes do look rather round themselves.

However, the more natural and healthy shape for your nails is to keep them mostly straight.

Even at the edges of the nail, you have to be sure that you’re cutting it without leaving a curve.

Otherwise, you run the risk of causing it to become ingrown.
And ingrown nails can cause problems of their own, including infections.

Something that you’re probably hoping to avoid.

So, in short, it is better for your toenails to be square-shaped than round.

Thankfully, getting this shape is pretty easy to do!

You don’t need a lot of extra tools or any specific skills in order to get this done.

Instead, you just need your standard toenail-clipping equipment and a few minutes to get the job done correctly.

That’s all that it takes!

You want to avoid the roundness of the nail, both at the sides and at the top.

Both of these can cause problems.

But both can also be fixed during clipping!

Just be sure that you’re using the right methods when clipping your nails.

Every clip should be done carefully, only removing a bit of nail at a time.

Small clips are better than bigger ones because it’s easier to manage how much is being taken off and what direction you’re clipping in.

You can always clip a little extra; you can’t add back any if you’ve clipped too much.

While you’re clipping, remember what you’re aiming for: A straight edge on your nail, all the way across.

You don’t need to break out a ruler or anything, but trying to get the straightest edge possible is exactly right.

You shouldn’t forget about the corners, either.

Many people think you need to aim for a curve going into the side of the nail.

In some cases, that may even be the natural shape of the nail!

But the best way to cut the corners of your nail is as straight as possible.

Don’t try to curve it, and make it a rounded shape.

Remember: It’s hip to be square!

What Happens If You Dont Cut Your Nails

Annoyance, pain, and discomfort initially, followed by difficulty cleaning, odors, and if not managed, fungal infections. Curving and losing the nail are potential consequences further down the line and the loss of a foot in worst-case scenarios!

It’s a small thing, cutting your toenails.

For some, it can be hard to believe that such a small task can do much damage at all.

But, if you don’t do it regularly, you can absolutely cause yourself severe trouble.

This includes losing your toenail – something that can take a year to grow back – or even losing your entire foot!

Not clipping your toenails isn’t much of a problem early on.
Everyone has gone a little too long without clipping their nails, after all.

At that point, you probably don’t have anything to worry about, except perhaps the cosmetic look.

As time goes on, however, you may experience more obvious signs that you should clip them.

They will begin by growing longer, and likely, more jagged.


This can be painful if you accidentally jab yourself with your toenail.

Sharing a bed with a partner can be a real problem once your toenails become too long!

Difficulty Wearing Certain Shoes

You may have a hard time wearing certain kinds of shoes, such as pointy-toed heels or, for the more rugged, steel-toed boots.

Eventually, any shoes at all that aren’t open-toed would become uncomfortable to wear.

Difficulty Cleaning & Odor

Having overgrown nails also makes it more difficult to clean them since there is more space under them, and you have more toenail to get under than usual.

This causes dirt and debris to build up. The result of this dirt and debris? Odor. Sometimes bad odor.


You may also find yourself with infections of different kinds.
Fungal infections are fairly common in situations like these – and again can be painful, unsightly to look at, and smelly!

With a fungal infection, you’ll begin to notice your nails become discolored, thicker, and crumbly.


Looks-wise, as you don’t cut your toenails, they begin to curve down as they grow.

At the same time, they’ll look more unhealthy than ever before: Discolored, overly thick (or possibly thin), crumbly, and all-around unpleasant.

Loss Of Toenail

After a while, the toenail itself might come off! This takes a long time to grow back.

Bacterial infections, too, are possible.

Here, you’ll notice bad smells, swelling, heat in the area, and even pus.

You’ll need to go to a doctor for antibiotics.

Otherwise, be forewarned: You could lose your foot to the infection!

The takeaway? Clip your toenails.

What Is The Best Way To Clip Your Toenails?

With sharp, clean toenail clippers. Soak your toenails to soften them, dry, and cut straight across with small cuts rather than big ones. File to finish.

Now that everyone’s been scared by what could happen if you don’t clip your nails let’s learn the best way to go about clipping.

It isn’t too difficult; definitely, something that can be done relatively quickly as part of anyone’s grooming routine.

Compared to what could happen if you don’t, it’s a walk in the park!

Get The Right Tools

Start off by having the right tools.

You should always use toenail clippers when clipping toenails, not the tools made for fingernails.

Because fingernails aren’t as thick as toenails, fingernail clippers don’t have the strength or bite to easily get through them.

This can cause ragged toenails and similar issues.

These clippers should also be sharp!

Like any other kind of bladed instrument, clippers eventually become dull.

This can cause many of the same problems as using fingernail clippers.

If yours are dull, you can choose whether it’s best to replace them (if it’s a cheap set) or sharpen them (for pricier clippers).

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You should also be sure they’re clean; rub them down with rubbing alcohol before and after every use.

You need to make sure your nails are in the right shape for cutting, too.

It’s best to start out with clean toenails and feet in case something happens to break the skin.

However, it isn’t absolutely required.

Soak Your Nails

Toenails a little thicker than usual? If you’re worried about thick toenails, you can always soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salt for ten or fifteen minutes.

This can help soften them, making them easier to clip.

But you should always be sure to dry them thoroughly because clipping wet nails is a bad idea.

Wet nails are more likely to tear and bend, making it harder to get a smooth, even cut.

Cut Straight

Once you start cutting, remember to think straight. You’re aiming for your toenails to be straight all the way across.

Unlike your fingernails, your toenails shouldn’t have much of a curve, if any.

No need to break out a level or anything, but do try to keep things even!

You’ll be more likely to get this right if you use a lot of smaller cuts rather than a few big ones.

When you get to the corners of your toenail, don’t clip them so that they curve in.

Instead, make sure they’re straight. Rounded corners on toenails, particularly your big toenail, are likely to turn into ingrown toenails.

Leave Ample Toenail

It seems counterproductive, but you should also leave your toenails a little long.

After all, the harping on about clipping your nails, it might be confusing to be told to leave them long now.

But you should!

Too-short toenails are more likely to turn into ingrown toenails and can also leave you more likely to end up with an infection. It can also be uncomfortable or even painful!

Finish By Filing

Have some jagged edges left, despite your best efforts? You can absolutely file your toenails! Be sure that you’re using a good emery board or nail file.

Then, file in only one direction, not back and forth.

Try to be gentle, not overly vigorous: You don’t want to overdo it! When done correctly, this can help smooth out any problem areas.

Push Back The Cuticles

Lastly, your cuticles.

These are sticky subjects for some people, whether it’s your toenails or fingernails.

Many people prefer to cut them, but you absolutely should not! When you cut your cuticles, you risk bleeding or even an infection.
It’s far better to push them back, instead.

The most common tool used is an orange stick or cuticle pusher, which you can find in most beauty supply stores and drug stores or on Amazon.


There certainly is a range when it comes to your toenails – not too long, nor too short.

While 1-2mm of free edge is a good general number to have in mind, ultimately, you need to keep your toenails that are at a length that feels right, comfortable, and practical for you.