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Dirty White Nail Polish? Here’s how to keep it clean

Last Updated on March 26, 2021
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written by nail expert Jess Rowley

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Everything you need to know about how to keep white nail polish clean

We all love a fresh French manicure or a fresh set of icy white nails but it doesn’t take a lot for these beauties to taint and stain- most of the time it happens within the first few days.

But why does white nail polish stain so easily?

There are many reasons this happens such as overexposure to the sun of UV light, your hands coming in contact with harsh chemicals such as cleaning products, cigarettes, even some spices in your cupboard. 

But if it’s so easy to stain how can I prevent it? 

You’re not alone with this struggle, in fact, many people suffer from this issue, but let’s get to the bottom of this, some of these tips are actually super easy and the results, they give you will be shocked.

Despite there being many ways this discoloration can be caused, it can also be prevented, no one wants our white nails to turn yellow. Let’s jump into what causes discoloration and how to clean and prevent it. 

white nails

Firstly, what colors this staining/ discoloration? 

You may be here looking for one reason this happens but it can actually be many, it could be a combination and can happen at any time- I know frustrating. 

For some people this discoloration can appear within the first few days, others it can happen after a week or two. But let’s get into the most common reasons why pretty white nails turn yellow. 

Using poor quality nail polish or gel: 

Gel nails are non-porous, they don’t soak up liquids or get stained when they come into contact with chemicals or dirt.

However not all gel is like this, you may find that a cheap gel you find on Amazon or in Walmart or Target won’t be the same quality of gel that you would get in the salon, this may cause your nails to be more prone to discoloring. 

The same idea with regular nail polish, but nail polish is even more prone to this issue as they have pores, which can hold onto stains. 


Smoking is one of the most common causes of stains on your nails, people often forget that smoking doesn’t just cause yellow stains on your teeth but also on your nails. 

If you smoke frequently you will notice that your white or even pale color nails will start to discolor and turn yellow quicker than a non-smoker, you’ll notice it more on your dominant hand.  

If you love pretty white nails maybe this is the perfect reason to try and stop smoking! 

Exposure to the sunlight of self-tanners

Overexposure to sunlight or tanners can also lead to discoloration of white nails, you will often find this more in the summer when on holiday, it can be such a pain, especially if you love a summer tan.

Nothing tops of a tan more than white nails but UV rays can cause nails to discolor quicker.

Harsh chemicals

There are many chemicals that can actually be damaging to your nails and nail color, some even you may not expect. 

Cleaning products such as washing up soap and using other cleaning substances, without gloves and reduce the life span of your nails, causing discoloration, and in some cases, they can even chip. 

Even some hair dyes and skincare products have chemicals that can cause yellowing- even some makeup products! 

So, how do I clean my nails if this happens? 

Despite discoloration being easily done it can also be easily removed, here are the best tips to get rid of yellow stains. 

How to clean white gel nail polish?

Rubbing alcohol: 

If the discoloration is rather mild then you can gently use an acetone-free nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol. Do it quickly after you’ve noticed the stain. 

Use a Q-tip dipped in the remover and lightly rub over the stain, not too hard as it may remove some of the gel paint. 

Wash your hands and scrub well:

If you’ve just eaten a colorful meal, like a pot of curry ramen, or some beets just wash your hands in soapy water while scrubbing your nails, make sure you don’t use any soap that is too harsh. 


If the stain has been there for a while then I would recommend using hairspray. All you need to do is spray some on your nail then use a Q-tip to gently rub away the stains, wash your hands after.  

Tea-tree oil:

Tee-tree is a natural stain remover, all you need to do is soak your nails in a small bowl of tee-tree oil for around 10 minutes then wash your hands. If the stain is still there keep repeating until it disappears. 

If none of these works, I’m afraid that the staining may be beyond repair, and would be better just to redo your nails. 


white and gold nails

How to clean regular white nail polish:

Cleaning a stain of ordinary nail polish can be slightly more tricky as using nail polish remover will just remove the whole polish so here are some tricks to clean ordinary nail polish.

Warm water: 

Soaking your nails in warm water for 10 minutes can help to gently remove a stain, after soaking apply a small amount of moisturizing lotion and massage it into your skin. 

Using a cuticle pusher/cleaner to scrape the first from under your nails to keep your pretty white nails looking fresh for longer. 

Also, use a top coat every few days to prevent staining. 

How to prevent staining/ discoloration: 

While we can’t prevent staining forever you can slow it down and postpone it. 

If you’re doing your nails at home, I would invest in a UV or LED lamp to cure your nails with, it will strengthen the bond of the nails and prevent staining. 

Also using a good quality base coat and regularly reapplying the topcoat every couple of days, will restore the durability and restore the barrier to prevent chipping and discoloring

Make sure you keep your hands and nails moisturized, apply cuticle oil daily to keep your nails nourished. 

Whenever possible use gloves, when around cleaning products and harsh chemicals that can cause your nails to stain. 


I hope this has been helpful in providing tips and tricks as to how to clean your nails and prevent nail discoloration. Check my best white nail polish guide! 

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