Nail Care (Fingers and Toes) for CNAs

Written by Amanda R. McDaniel, MS, BSN, RN
Amanda is a BSN/RN with a MS in Physiology and a BA in English. She worked as a medical writer in the pharmaceutical industry for 11 years before pursuing a career in nursing. She now works as a nurse on a NeuroTelemetry unit and continues to write and edit on a freelance basis. Amanda’s LinkedIn

Nail care of both the feet and the hands should be performed as part of the patient’s daily hygiene routine. The status of the patient’s nails can reflect their overall health. Nail issues can also lead to infection that can spread systemically (ex, ingrown nails or fungus). You should never clip a patient’s nails with nail clippers, and always review your institution’s policy about what nail care is allowed.

Performing Nail Care

  1. Collect your supplies.
    • Wash, or emesis basins
    • Towels
    • Soft nail or cuticle brush
    • Nail file or emery board
    • Applicator stick (plastic is preferred to wood to avoid splinters)
    • Gloves
  2. Introduce yourself to the patient, perform hand hygiene, and put on gloves. Explain that you are going to take care of the nails on their hands and feet.
  3. Assist the patient to a chair, or seat them on the side of the bed if doing toenail care.
  4. Move the bedside table to a comfortable height over the patient’s lap if doing fingernail care.
  5. Fill the wash basin (for feet) and emesis basin(s) (for fingers) with warm water. Be sure to test the water temperature. Many patients (especially the elderly), have decreased sensation in their feet and hands and are at high risk for scalding injuries.
  6. Place the wash basin on a towel on the floor and place the patient’s feet in the wash basin.
  7. Lay a towel on the bedside table before placing the emesis basin on it. Have the patient place their fingers in the emesis basin.
  8. Allow hands and feet to soak for at least 10 minutes.
  9. As the hands and feet soak, carefully clean under the nails with the applicator stick.
  10. Using the nail or cuticle brush, clean around the cuticles.
  11. Remove the patient’s hands and feet from the basins and dry them thoroughly.
  12. If allowed by institutional or unit policy, use the emery board or nail file to gently remove any sharp corners from the nails.
  13. Empty the basins and dry any spills. Help the patient back to bed or to a comfortable position.
  14. Remove gloves and perform hand hygiene.
  15. Record the hygiene procedure per institutional or unit policy. Report any patient complaints of pain or tenderness or any signs of nail infections such as redness, unusual warmth, swelling, or misshapen nails to the nurse per policy.

Amanda R. McDaniel, MS, BSN, RN

References

Hygiene. (2014). In A. G. Perry, P. A. Potter, and W. R. Ostendorf (Eds), Clinical nursing skills & techniques (8th ed., pp. 420-424). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

More Resources

Indwelling Catheter Care

Indwelling catheters allow urine to drain from the bladder. They are used when residents are unable to urinate on their own or when the process of cleaning the resident after urination would be difficult for the resident to tolerate (such as during end of life care). Caring for the catheter appropriately is a vital part of preventing infection and skin breakdown.

Supine Position

Supine position is a natural and comfortable position for most people. For this reason, it is a highly utilized position for nursing procedures. Unfortunately, this position puts pressure on many bony prominences that can lead to discomfort and/or pressure ulcers if the pressure is not relieved every so often (typically every two hours or less).

Measuring the Radial Pulse

The radial artery, located in the wrist, is easy to feel and an efficient location to measure heart rate. Changes to the rhythm or strength of the radial pulse can indicate heart disease, damage to the arm, or body fluid status. It is important to remember to check the radial pulse on both sides as differences between left and right can indicate injury or disease processes.

Putting on Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment is worn to protect the mouth, nose, eyes, clothing, and skin from unwanted pathogens. In the health care setting, a patient’s condition often prompts the use of personal protective equipment; however, a health care worker is able to wear personal protective equipment whenever he or she deems it is necessary (e.g., during procedures with the potential for excessive contact with bodily fluids).

Dressing and Undressing a Patient

Patients who have suffered a stroke or have weakness or injury to one side of their body may struggle with dressing and undressing. In order to help these patients regain their strength and independence, it is important that the nurse’s aide only assist them as needed. The nurse’s aide may need to teach patients how to dress and undress safely with their limitations.

Moving the Resident to the Side of the Bed

Residents are usually kept in the center of the bed for safety reasons. However, moving a resident to the side of the bed is an important step to take before turning a resident onto his or her side. Performing this action allows the resident to end up side lying in the center of the bed and not smashed up against the side rail.