Do Fingernails Decompose?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: October 10, 2021
  • Time to read: 4 min.

After a day of gardening, your hands are filthy with a few broken, jagged nails. 

This will be no good because it will cause inadvertent scratching and catch on material, among other things. 

So, you clip the nails to even them out. But, before you chuck them into the garbage, consider the following question: Do fingernails decompose?

Yes, they do but it does take a little bit of time for them to do it completely. 

Believe it or not, they’re perfect to add to compost pile or add directly to the soil of your growing pots. 

They will decompose within a few months and contain plenty of nutrients that make up a good, fertile soil.

What Is the Length of Time It Takes for Fingernails to Decompose?

While it is possible for fingernails to decompose, it can take quite some time. 

This will largely depend on the environment they’re in that will determine the speed of decomposition. A temperature maintained at 70°F will be most appropriate.

If they’re in a moist and warm environment, they’ll decompose in a few months. 

But, if they remain in cold, freezing temperatures, they can last for thousands of years. 

This is why you’ll see ancient mummies and other cadavers with some bits of nail and hair remaining on their corpses

The conditions they sat in preserved these things.

Can You Add Nail Clippings to a Compost Pile?

You can very much add nail clippings to your compost pile. 

However, the environment should be fairly warm and moist with about 35% of the nitrogen converting to nitrates in about three months. 

But the environment has to stay warm, balmy and fairly wet.

Are Nail Clippings from Painted ; False Nails Okay for a Compost Pile?

Avoid adding nail clippings from false nails or ones with nail polish for that matter. It’s best to add natural, unpolished nails. 

The thing is that polished nails will be hazardous waste which can contaminate the soil and thus your plants.

False Nails Like Acrylics

False nails, even with the polish removed, are non-biodegradable. 

This is particularly true of acrylic nails since they comprise liquid and powdered polymers.

While these make a beautiful protective layer over natural nails, they will not decompose. 

Therefore, you should not compost them.

These are not ideal for a compost pile and can actually contaminate the environment. 

This toxicity will transfer to plants and other growing things. 

So, in these cases, toss them in the garbage.

Can You Add Animal Nail Clippings ; Claws to a Compost Pile?

Yes, animal claws and nail clippings can also go into your compost pile. 

The same rules apply for ones that come from your own claws . . . oops . . . nails. 

The environment must be warm and moist for them to decompose efficiently.

Why Do Nails Take Awhile to Decompose?

While nails in and of themselves are highly organic and biodegradable, the materials we come into contact with everyday create some issues. 

Oftentimes, there’s a high level of heavy metals that build up within the body.

These enter the body and exit out of places like our nails and hair. 

Metal doesn’t decompose. When you add them to a compost pile, it’s not like metal is going to degrade anytime soon or fast.

Can Fingernail Clippings Benefit Plants?

Yes, fingernail clippings are a great benefit to plants. 

The main constituents of fingernails are nitrogen, biotin and keratin. 

All are excellent for enriching soil with nutrients and trace minerals. 

The nitrogen converts into nitrites, which soil and plants love. 

Nails also convert into phosphorous, another nutrient that promotes plant growth.

Add Them Right to the Pot

But you can just add them right to the pot where you have flowers or plants growing. 

You don’t have to add them directly to the compost pile. 

What’s more, you don’t have to bury them into the soil either. 

Just sprinkle your natural nail clippings over the top soil of whatever plant you like.

However, if you want to put them in the compost pile, it’s best not to bury them. 

Toss them on the top and allow the rain and other elements to take care of the rest. 

As you add more to your composting, it will decay and decompose.


When you’re curious about whether fingernails will decompose, understand that they will. 

But it won’t be a fast process. 

Even under ideal conditions, it will take them at least three months. 

That said, they can help contribute wonderful nutrients to the soil.

But, remember, they should be natural nails. 

Don’t add ones that have nail polish on them or ones that comprise things like acrylic. 

These will not be ideal and will create a toxicity issue, especially in growing pots and compost piles.

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