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How to Get Dark Denim Dye Off of Your Fingernails

A million (rough count) ways to whiten your nails from whatever caused them to get all discolored.

Fashion blogger Ebba Zingmark wearing dark denim overalls, a white tee shirt, and a camel-colored scarf outside
A manicure disaster in the making.
Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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A friend just asked me a perfect question: "How do you get the blue indigo dye from dark denim out from underneath your fingernails?"

It was a perfect question because it involves both cleaning and nail care, topics about which I am an enthusiast. It was also a perfect question because stained fingernails can happen for so many reasons; I recently ended up with a purple middle fingernail due to a torn hair coloring glove, for example. Cooking, smoking, frequently wearing nail polish, self-tanner application, at-home hair coloring, aging, unfortunate genetics, and many other factors can also contribute to the yellowing of nails.

Fret not, as there are loads of ways to reverse fingernail yellowing.

Here's what I told my pal with the indigo talons: The two easiest options for removing dye stains from fingernails are to dip a nail brush in rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer (hand san has a high concentration of alcohol, which is aces at removing ink and dye stains) and give the stained nails a good scrubbing. Or dissolve a denture tablet in a bowl of warm water and soak the nails in it for about three to five minutes.

I know what you're thinking: "Denture tablets?" Yes, denture tablets! There's actually a weird story about how I learned that denture tablets could be used to great effect to whiten yellow nails. I'm so excited to get to tell you guys, because I feel like you'll fully appreciate the lengths I went to, like I was some sort of crazed J.B. Fletcher, if J.B. Fletcher was more concerned with nail care than with solving the suspiciously high number of murders in her tiny coastal town.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a bottle of $20 Nailtini nail whitening soak at my local Duane Reade. I became transfixed by it, despite the fact that yellowed nails aren't generally a problem for me (don't hate on me, I suffer from other fingernail-related afflictions). I have to believe that my fascination with a product I have no use for was some sort of divine intervention, like the hand of God reached down to tap me on the shoulder so God could say "Jolie, you may not understand why, but you're being called to investigate this nail whitening powder."

Investigate I did, first by seeking out the list of ingredients, which was helpfully included in the product description, and here's what I found. After Googling each individual ingredient, comparing it to what goes into a denture tablet, and double-checking with a chemist to make sure I was getting my science right, I confirmed what I already suspected: The $20 nail whitener that I didn't even need but had become transfixed by was just a bottle full of crushed-up denture tablets.

So listen: Adorable packaging aside, don't spend 20 bucks on something you can get for much, much less. Denture tablets are cheap — especially if you opt to buy a generic brand, which you should do, because they're literally the exact same thing as name brand, but a few dollars less. Soaking fingernails in denture tablets will remove dye stains, as well as reverse yellowing caused by any other factor, like the overwearing of nail polish or the handling of particularly stain-y foodstuffs, like tomatoes, pomegranates, or turmeric. (Sidebar: Be careful with turmeric for skin care purposes — it is not easy to clean and makes me so nervous, you guys.)

But let's say the idea of walking into a drugstore and purchasing a box of denture tablets feels too weird or too mortifying for words. That's fine. There are tons of other ways to reverse fingernail yellowing.

You'll need a nail brush, which you should use in concert with any one of the following, all of which are effective nail whiteners:

  • Hydrogen peroxide;
  • Rubbing alcohol (or hand sanitizer);
  • Lemon juice diluted with equal parts warm water;
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda, diluted with enough water to form a thick paste;
  • Hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice mixed with baking soda;
  • Lemon juice and salt scrub;
  • White vinegar;
  • Whitening toothpaste.

There are also commercial nail whitening products available at a cost that's less steep than the $20 Nailtini stuff, like Develop 10 Nail Whitening Scrub (Ulta, $6.99) and Yellow Buster Instant Nail Brightener (Ulta, $6.99). Nail whitening pencils are also great for covering up staining when you don't have time to treat the problem.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While I can't save you from dye transfer or blueberry juice, there are some tips to keep in mind to prevent chronically yellowed nails. The first is allow your nails a rest day, or days, in between polish changes, since over-wearing will yellow your nails terribly.

Religious use of a base coat will also help to keep staining at bay by creating a barrier between the nail and colored lacquer. It's especially crucial when using very dark or red-based nail polishes, which are particularly prone to leaving behind stains. Plus, base coat will make your manicure look so much more professional, so it's really a win-win!