Fingernail etiquette - what do you do?
November 11, 2018 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Do you clip your fingernails or bite them or tear them? Where? Would you consider it weird to e.g. clip off a hangnail at work?

I somehow ended up on the AskMe question regarding toenails, and realized I have a similar question about fingernails.

I had a housemate years ago who refused to lend me a nail clipper because it seemed too "personal." Do you agree, or would you not really consider this a hygiene item in the same zone as e.g. sharing a toothbrush (which I'm a little grossed out by even with my sweetie)?
posted by aspersioncast to Society & Culture (39 answers total)
Clip; my dentist says that biting is really bad for your teeth.
At home; I would consider it weird to do this at work, given the possibility of ricochets.
Not sharing with housemates; I would share with family but not beyond.
posted by Paragon at 2:18 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I will bite my nails if absolutely necessary to remove a hangnail in a pinch, but I generally clip them. I do it in private, either in the bathroom or sometimes over the rubbish bin if no one else is home. I don't think there is anything outrageous about clipping a singular nail at work, but feel full-on nail clipping is over the line.

I can definitely see not wanting to share clippers. I would lend mine to someone I am close to, but a flatmate who I wasn't also good friends with, I dunno. I would probably do it for the sake of flat harmony but I wouldn't be stoked about it. Fungus is really difficult to get rid of in some situations, and I don't want to risk infection from clippers.
posted by BeeJiddy at 2:22 PM on November 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

I try to clip them, but it's really probably a 65/35 split with biting.

No more than 2 clips in office setting, emergencies only. Filing is preferable. My new job, it seems to be the culture that cutting nails at work is OK and I hate it.

My husband and I share, but that's it. I would let close friends use mine on occasion, but not like have a shared pair/set with me and my roommates, no.
posted by Fig at 2:30 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've both clipped at work and lent my clippers to co-workers for them to clip at work.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:31 PM on November 11, 2018

I bite them but I shouldn’t.
I would share clippers no problem.
At work is Disgusting (but I do sneak a clip under dire conditions, guiltily and as stealthily as possible).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Clip, definitely, biting or tearing seems more like a way to cause hangnails.

Clipping a hangnail at work is medical care, not hygiene, but save the full spectrum clipping for home. NEVER CLIP ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT

I would not consider sharing a nail clipper as unhygienic and am surprised to learn some people do! But if my flat mate didn’t want to share their clippers I wouldn’t be offended.
posted by ejs at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I bite my nails constantly, it is a terrible habit for me. I would not consider it weird to clip off a hangnail in a private office, over a garbage can. I once saw a very senior person at my office clipping his nails while waiting for the coffee machine and that was universally considered unbecoming. I would not hesitate to lend someone nail clippers.
posted by hepta at 2:34 PM on November 11, 2018

Definitely clip rather than biting. To me, any nail-care in a public setting where people can hear you is gross. Clipping one hangnail at work in a desperate situation is acceptable if it's rare, but clipping multiple nails is not. Personally I think filing nails at work is just as bad as clipping, though it seems to be much more common. I just imaging all the fingernail dust that's getting sent up into the air I'm breathing. Yuck. And I would not want to share clippers, though I would probably do it if it was for a one-time hangnail situation with someone I know well.
posted by vytae at 2:42 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I prefer clipping my nails. I have torn them, but only if they've split and it won't cause pain and will stop catching on things, but that's as a last resort.

I've clipped at work in emergencies when I've broken a nail and it's left a sharp edge or catches on things. I've also lent my clippers. We work in a job where we are always washing our hands, so I don't find it gross to lend to coworkers.

I did once date a guy who didn't have toenail clippers. THAT grossed me out.
posted by annieb at 2:44 PM on November 11, 2018

Ask a Manager has addressed this. The general consensus in the many comments was that it’s ok to make a quick fix at work, preferably in private, but that full-on grooming should be done at home.

I think that in general any maintenance done using your mouth in public is way, way grosser than clipping. I wouldn’t flinch at borrowing or lending clippers, but I teach a class where you have to have short fingernails to succeed and I would never ever make a student use mine because I know that I would catch hell over it (I tell them to fix at home and come back the next day- and that smart kids keep clippers in their instrument case).
posted by charmedimsure at 2:45 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

All sorts of gunk can accumulate under nails, there is a reason why medical professionals tend to have short nails and why nail brushes are a thing - nails are difficult to keep clean. In addition, there is nail fungus, the fact that people don’t wash there hands let alone their nails etc. And you may end up going too deep and start to bleed. So all of that grime ends up on the clippers. So I refuse to share.

Please limit nail care at work to dealing with emergencies and do your manicure at home. Personally I prefer to use a file for that but either way, try to contain any dust or bits of nail.

Please never clip or file on public transport, you’re literally spreading around bits of you, which is never becoming.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

My nails grow until they chip and then I'll usually just tear them off (in private) or clip them. My toenails I clip. I know a lot of people feel that nail care items are a more personal type of hygiene device along the lines of a toothbrush but I see it a lot more along the lines of a comb.
posted by jessamyn at 3:05 PM on November 11, 2018

Clip, definitely, though I'll gnaw off a hangnail in extremis. At home; if I had a situation at work where I needed to e.g. trim a damaged nail, I'd do it in the bathroom. And nobody ever asks to borrow my clippers so I'm not even totally sure how I'd feel about it if they asked.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:11 PM on November 11, 2018

If you need to clip (or file) at work, definitely do it in the bathroom. I wouldn't share clippers. There's a reason that nail salons sanitize everything.
posted by pinochiette at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I easily share clippers with housemates. I figure at least one party would know and disclose if anyone had a nail fungus, which is the only sanitary concern I have.

I used to have a solid biting habit but quit in late high school, painting them helped immensely (clear matte is available and seldom noticed if you don’t want the look of obvious nail polish)

I have no problem with people addressing hang nails at work, it’s basically an injury requiring medical intervention, like putting on a bandaid.

And like a bandaid, please don’t mess with them in the lunch room or make a big deal out of it wherever you do it, try to keep it minimal and to yourself.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:47 PM on November 11, 2018

I bite them when necessary. Sometimes it just is. But it's strictly an emergency measure.

I used to work with a guy who clipped his nails at work and omg. Snick. Snick. Snick. Snick. Snick. Twenty years later and it's the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of this otherwise fine man. But, more importantly than never doing this at work except in the privacy of a bathroom stall in an emergency, NEVER EVER PULL OUT YOUR KEYCHAIN WITH NAIL CLIPPERS ATTACHED, LEAN BACK IN YOUR CHAIR, AND PROCEED TO DO A POSTPRANDIAL NAIL CLIPPING IN A FINE DINING ESTABLISHMENT.

What was the other thing? Oh right. No, I don't really mind sharing clippers with people I'm close to.
posted by HotToddy at 4:03 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would much rather clip off a hangnail at work - or anywhere - than have it catch on something and peel skin down my finger. Watching or hearing people clip their nails is disgusting and something I never want to experience - I'm looking at you dude on the BART clipping your toenails. I've bitten my fingernails since I was in the womb but strangely, when I started Adderall I mostly stopped. Now when I bite them, they're nice and long.
posted by bendy at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2018

I always clip my nails at home in private, but I would share clippers with any one. But one time I used chapstick I found on the sidewalk, and I thought my husband was going to throw up. I never gave it a second thought.
posted by chocolatetiara at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Biting just leads to more uneven edges that turn into more torn nails. Clip.

I can't dream of minding sharing nail clippers, but I also wouldn't ask to borrow them because I'd worry someone else would think it was weird.

I wouldn't be bothered about doing it at work as long as you're doing it straight into a trash can and, notably, only doing it for like one or maybe two nails. More than that isn't so much gross, to me, it's just weird that you'd be doing that level of personal grooming at work, on the level of showing up and only then brushing your hair.
posted by Sequence at 4:49 PM on November 11, 2018

At work, there is one person who clips his nails at his desk. In my 20+ year working since college this is the only person I've encountered who does this.

As an ex-nail biter, I keep a set of nail clippers at my desk that I use to file my nails if I get rough edges. Once, a co-worker asked if he could borrow it. I gave him an odd look, and said he could keep it. He clipped a hang nail and filed it and offered it back. I said he should really keep it (I would have thrown it away if he refused to take it). Apparently I consider it too personal enough to share.

Realistically, I have occasionally drawn blood with nail clippers, if I'm clipping at rough skin - so it shouldn't be something that's shared with someone else unless you'd be willing to share needles with them :) . I've also filed at nails/nailbeds that were already bleeding (my toes might be a mess (no, I don't chew them)), so the file is not safe either.

I clip at home in the bathroom, or while walking the dog outside so I don't need to care about the clippings. I prefer outside, but during Ontario winters I tend to do it indoors.
posted by nobeagle at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2018

If you must clip your nails at work, go do it in the bathroom where all the other disgusting things are done. It's unsanitary and no matter how cautious you are a clipping could easily go flying into my workspace/face/coffee.

Clip, don't bite, ideally, but nailbiting is a hard to kick habit. It's super gross though.

I wouldn't share nail clippers unless I wiped them down with alcohol first. It's unhygenic (I would NEVER voluntarily share a toothbrush with anyone. That's revolting). Hands are germ playgrounds and most people don't wash frequently or correctly, plus clippers also snag at times and get bloody, or are used to cut cuticles. No to sharing!
posted by windykites at 5:56 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Clip, at home, with the clippers shared only with my partner that occasionally get dunked in alcohol. If I have a hangnail at work I’ll bite it but I don’t want to see a coworker clip their nails ever. And nowhere near food.
posted by a halcyon day at 5:58 PM on November 11, 2018

I'm pretty completely grossed out by anyone 'fixing' their bodies in public outside of blowing their nose.

Life partner, roommate, cubicle neighbor...makes no difference. I do not want to see fingernail clippings, whether they are managed through teeth or nail clippers.

Same as I don't want to see people tweezing eyebrows or waxing ear hair or shaving. I'm glad they do it, but I don't want any shared intimacy on this front.

A grody hangnail at work has to be dealt with through a band-aid and a later, quiet execution in the privacy of a bathroom.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:23 PM on November 11, 2018

I'm pretty completely grossed by blowing your nose in public but don't mind you clipping your nails, as I'd like to (but as I've learned this grosses others out, I refrain, except for the occasional quick & necessary fix).

Never bite, so imprecise; we're blessed to live in a time where great little clippers are easily available.
posted by Rash at 7:52 PM on November 11, 2018

I think of the rule as less “don’t clip your nails at work” and more “don’t clip your nails anywhere another human is aware of you doing it”, where the only exception to this rule is other humans you’ve swapped bodily fluids with.

Like, in a private office into a trash can? Long as nobody knows about it, no harm no foul. At the library / coffee shop / at home in front of a roommate / in the middle of a cube farm? Hard no. In front of spouse/kids is fine.

If you have a single hangnail and there is no privacy available? Emergent clip, as discreetly as possible.
posted by telepanda at 8:08 PM on November 11, 2018

Echoing the others who think clipping nails at work or any public place is inappropriate. I can’t even persuade myself to comb my hair in public; I don’t want to imagine bits and pieces of myself being strewn about and certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of other people’s.

Hangnails are dealt with by clipping in a washroom or if there is none, any place that’s discreet.

I could share my fingernail clippers to people I know, but I would not share nor borrow clippers used for toenails. Feet weird me out in general, but I also think people don’t pay attention to their feet hygiene as much as they should (I’m just realizing just how much this is bothering me, ha!).
posted by theappleonatree at 8:12 PM on November 11, 2018

What about clipping your nails in your own house over the toilet? I did this and my spouse just about died.
posted by kerf at 8:13 PM on November 11, 2018

I don't have much to add in the normal sphere of things except I've found that in more workshop/factory/we are building something here situations people seem to be happy to fix what has gone wrong with their nails in the course of their work with whatever tools are to hand. Bastard file is my go to.
posted by deadwax at 10:31 PM on November 11, 2018

If I need to do a quick fix while on the go, I use my Leatherman. The scissors are nice and sharp and the nail file is decent. I don't hesitate to do this in public but I do keep it to just the necessary quick fix. People sometimes look at me like I've grown two heads, but I'm used to that anyway.

I don't mind sharing nail clippers within the household and I wouldn't mind if a guest used them too. I would in that case be happy to see them being rinsed off after use. Rationally, that probably doesn't make much of a difference, but...

I don't enjoy finding nail clippings around the house. Clean that shit up.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:25 PM on November 11, 2018

I bite my nails but acknowledge that it's a super gross habit. Clipping/filing is definitely much better! I definitely don't bite my nails in front of people at work. I don't think clipping or filing nails is at all gross, but doing it at work is overly personal, and I know many people do find it gross. I also wouldn't want to see someone brushing their teeth or putting on a full face of makeup at work.

I would have no problem sharing clippers but I'm on the high-tolerance end of the spectrum so I wouldn't be surprised if other people didn't want to share, and I would only ask someone I was already pretty close to.
posted by aka burlap at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I clip like I floss -- only in private, never in public, and (though I've never once had to) in the bathroom at work if there's an emergency situation. And no sharing except maybe with the SO.

I don't even understand "biting" as a grooming option. I thought that was only a nervous habit. How do you get them even-looking with... teeth?
posted by paperback version at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Those public transit ads about HepC show sharing needles and nail clippers as a vector for transmission. Hidden cameras reveal that the most well groomed people often have filthy habits, like not washing hands or doing any sanitation after they defecate. (So do most scruffy looking people, but the well scrubbed look is a social look and not related to actual hygiene.) It is therefore close to impossible to calculate if a well groomed coworkers permanent monogamous relationship is with a cheater and if they have brought something blood born and nasty home and your squeaky clean co-worker will give you HepC or something equally serious through sharing nail clippers.

Of course I would share my nail clippers. If you need a pair now you are trying to heal or prevent a finger snag that needs to be looked after right now. But once I had my nail clippers back I would not use them again until I had sanitized them by dropping them into rubbing alcohol or bleach. Family members each have their own and spares are stored in the bathroom next to the bottle of rubbing alcohol.

Nail clippers can also be used for urgent wardrobe repair, such as taking pilled threads off a cuff, or cutting threads that mustn't be pulled but do need to be cut.

I try to remember not to look after any of my own physical needs in public. That is what bathroom cubicles are for. When other people look after a physical need - snort, fart, scratch, stretch, blow nose, wipe nose, pull out hair, chew chapped skin off lip, eat salt crumb fished from the corner of their eye, etc. - I feel a little closer and more affectionate towards them and pretend not to notice, especially if I think they are doing it unconsciously.

Cats lose claw tips as they grow in layers and the outer layer can be shed if they are not being sharpened regularly or clipped short. So if you live with cats you may not just have human nail parings turn up in odd places. These claws can be carefully saved until you have enough of them and then threaded on brown thread to create a miniature bear-claw necklace for your pocket doll.

We call the thin slivers of apple cores toenails in our house, and I have distressed non-family members without intending to once or twice by announcing that there are toenails in an apple pie.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:40 AM on November 12, 2018

I clip at home after showering - it softens the nails and results in "cleaner" edges. I find that especially in the drier winters I'll get ragged/ micro-chipped edges if I don't.

Fix ups at work, no problem - over a trash bin.

More clipping than that, do it in the washroom - over a trash bin.

As for sharing... fingernail clippers I have zero squick. For toenail clippers/ picks, I rinse them in isopropanol anyway (I have a shaving mug - I'll schlorp a glug of 2-prop in it to rinse my razor; it degreases the blades and they seem to last a lot longer, I use the same setup for my toenail clippers).
posted by porpoise at 10:51 AM on November 12, 2018

In an ideal world I'd clip my nails, but I usually end up tearing them.

I have a private office, so if I had a clipper, I could easily clip at work, but if I shared an office and had a nail emergency, I'd probably repair to the bathroom and clip over the trash can there, but I also wouldn't have a problem with a coworker clipping in my hearing as long as the little nail bits weren't careening my way.

I share with family, and haven't yet shared with non-family but would probably be OK with it.
posted by telophase at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2018

I was a hardcore nailbiter until my 20’s when I finally stopped and am a clipper. I occasionally file my nails at work and use a cuticle pusher/trimmer tool if I have a hangnail but try to minimize that because its basically gross to do any grooming at work that involves leaving bits of yourself around.

I would only share cutting implements in an emergency, fungus and hepatitis can be potentially spread that way. Considering my 2 gnarly toenails that resemble little hooves from YMCA showers, not gonna risk stuff like that anymore.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2018

I can't believe that no one else has mentioned this, so here goes: I never file or clip my fingernails because I've found that leads to breakage. I only use an emery board on them and I file them very short , leaving a tiny bit of white at the tips. I also avoid hangnails by not clipping, but if I did happen to get one, I wouldn't hesitate to fix it in public with a nail clipper.

For toenails, I have had toenail fungus in both my big toes so I have to both clip and file them. I also clip the others, then file them smooth and even with an emery board.

I wouldn't share nail tools with anyone besides my spouse, but that's me. YMMV.
posted by Lynsey at 2:58 PM on November 12, 2018

I fully acknowledge that it's a gross habit but after a lifetime of biting my nails, I have it down pat and keep my nails to a length that looks clipped. I dunno, I use my teeth like a clipper rather than gnawing/tearing. That said, I only do it in private and would look askance at most people doing any non-emergency nailwork in public.
posted by TwoStride at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2018

Anecdata: Clipping nails at the rock climbing gym in public is normal. To the point where some gyms have a public nail clipper on a string at the front desk.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Interesting mrgoldenbrown! But that custom obviously rises from utility/ necessity. Climbing shoes are tight and you rely a lot on your toes much more than other activities.
posted by porpoise at 5:40 PM on November 12, 2018

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