Cutting your toenails properly is an important step in preventing painful ingrown toenails — a condition when nails curve and grow into the skin, which often leads to pain and sometimes to infection.

There are six main components or steps to cutting your toenails properly.

1. Nail clippers

The first step is to use the proper nail-cutting tool. Nail clippers or manicure scissors are appropriate. Avoid tools such as regular scissors or knives that aren’t specifically designed for cutting nails.

You should have two nail clippers — one for your fingers and one for your toes. Since your toenails are broader and thicker, they require a larger clipper. Also, by having separate clippers, you reduce the chance of transferring bacteria or fungus between your feet and hands. Make sure to clean your clippers thoroughly between each use.

2. Cut frequency

The second step is the frequency of cutting. Most people’s toenails grow about 2 millimeters (0.08 inches) a month, so it’s appropriate to cut them every six to eight weeks. That being said, if you are a very active person or an athlete — especially a runner — you will probably be more comfortable if you trim them more often.

3. Cutting wet or dry nails

The third step is answering a common question: “Should I cut my nails before or after I shower?” In most cases, the answer is “before.” Dry toenails are less likely to bend or tear when you cut them, so you will get a cleaner cut.

For people with very thick toenails, cutting will be easier after a shower.

4. Time between cuts

The fourth step is determining how long to leave your toenails following the cut. This is important, because cutting your toenails too short could heighten your risk for ingrown toenails. If you leave your toenails too long, they are more likely to get caught on something and tear.

It’s recommended that you maintain your toenails at a length of about 1 to 2 millimeters (0.04 to 0.08 inches).

5. Cutting the nail

The fifth step is the actual cut. To avoid painful ingrown toenails, cut your toenails straight across. For many people, this is easiest to do in two cuts — the first one with the clippers slightly off the side of the nail to create a straight edge; the second to remove the rest of the nail following the line of the straight cut.

6. Filing the nail

The sixth and final step is to file your nails with an emery board to smooth any jagged edges that could snag and potentially tear the nail as it grows.

Your toenails might be thick for any of a number of reasons, including:

  • fungal infection, such as onychomycosis
  • psoriasis, a skin condition that causes rapid cell build up on the skin’s surface
  • injury
  • tight-fitting shoes

To properly cut your thick toenails, follow these steps:

  1. Soak your feet in warm water for at least 10 minutes to soften your nails, and then use a towel to thoroughly dry your feet and toenails.
  2. Using a nail clipper, make small cuts to avoid splintering the nail and cut straight across. To lessen the chance of the nail becoming ingrown, don’t round off the corners.
  3. Use an emery board to smooth edges and corners that could snag.

If your thickened toenails are painful or you don’t think that you can safely cut your toenails without help, ask your doctor for advice.

Cutting toenails with fungus is similar to the process for cutting thick toenails. If you leave the fungus untreated, your nails will continue to thicken and might get to a thickness that requires some additional action including:

  • medical-grade toenail clippers, as standard clippers may not be able to cut all the way through and can slip off the nail and cut your skin
  • longer foot soak (20 or 30 minutes in warm water)
  • clipper disinfection using alcohol or diluted bleach

If you think that you have a fungal infection, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Cutting your toenails seems like a simple task, but, if done wrong, it can result in ingrown toenails, cut skin, or the spread of fungus.

To properly cut your toenails, cut straight across the nail, use the right tools, and thoroughly clean those tools between uses. If you have unusually thick toenails or have a toe fungus, take special care when clipping your nails.

In many cases, talking to your doctor about foot care is necessary.