How to dig out an ingrown toenail

Updated February 21, 2017

Toes are very sensitive because they have a lot of nerve endings. This, and the fact that many bacteria and other organisms live on the feet, are why ingrown toenails hurt badly and easily become infected. In some cases, you can dig out the toenail yourself. However, you should only attempt to dig out an ingrown nail if the nail is not too deeply embedded in the toe. In many cases, trying to get the ingrown toenail out may damage tissue and introduce harmful, or even deadly, bacteria into the toe. Also, do not attempt to dig out the nail if you think it may be infected -- see your doctor for antibiotics and medical treatment.

Soak the foot in a tub of warm water for at least 15 minutes. This helps soften the skin and the nail and may reduce swelling. Wash the toe with a mild soap, gently scrubbing it with a wash cloth.

Place a clean cotton swab in a bowl of hydrogen peroxide to help sterilise it. Sanitise your hands with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitiser.

Place your foot on a towel. Use clean tissues to swab rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide all over the affected toe. This will probably sting quite a bit, but it will help prevent infection.

Use your thumb to pull skin away from the side of the toe, as much as possible. Take the cotton swab in the other hand and gently press it under the nail if possible -- then, slide the swab beneath the nail and lift. Use leverage to lift the ingrown nail. You may have to use pressure. If you are unable to do this with the swab, you can use a very blunt metal nail file to lift the nail -- just be very careful not to puncture the toe.

Lift the edge of the ingrown nail up, and clip the ends with nail clippers. After you've dug the nail out and clipped it, swab the area again with alcohol. Let that dry, and then apply triple antibiotic ointment. You may need to slide a small bit of cotton swab or tissue paper between the nail and the nail bed to keep them separated. Bandage the toe loosely, using a gauze pad with an adhesive bandage over the gauze.


Avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes for a few days after.


It is essential to be as sanitary as possible while doing this. Bacterial infections are very common with ingrown toenails and can become very serious. If you see pus, or the toe is hot and/or swollen, you need to see a doctor.

Things You'll Need

  • Warm water
  • Plastic tub
  • Towel
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Tissues
  • Cotton swab
  • Blunt pointed metal nail file
  • Nail scissors
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile gauze
  • Adhesive bandage
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