Can You Compost Nail Clippings? (And Are They Biodegradable?)

Impatience, frustration, boredom, concentration, stress, and anxiety are different human feelings and can be characterized by one trait; biting one’s nails. Many people bite their nails at some point, especially as children and is a trait that cannot be fully explained.

Nails are an important part of the human body and need to be kept clean since they grow daily and collect a lot of dirt. After clipping them, the majority of the people simply throw them away. However, can they be composted and be used to better the health of your garden and plants? This article looks into composting fingernails.

Are Nail Clippings Compostable?

Yes, nail clippings are completely compostable. Like human hair, fingernail and toenail clippings can be composted, meaning these parts of the human body that have been sentenced to the trash, can end up helping in the composting bin.

The same applies to animal claw clippings and although they do not add a lot of bulk to the heap, unless you have lots, they will be fine inside the composting bin.

However, there are specific types of nails that should not be composted. These are excessively polished nails, real or fake, and fake nails or acrylics. The compostable nail clippings should be free from all nail polish and if you happen to use peanuts to keep your toes apart during a pedicure, compost those as well.

Nails can take a while to fully biodegrade and turn into the compost because they contain heavy metals from the environment which have entered the body. The good thing is if the levels of the heavy metals are too high, the person would likely have some health problems, certainly over time.

Because they take some time before they fully decompose, they are a slow-release source of nitrogen, one incredibly important ingredient of the composting process, the other being carbon.

Human nails disintegrate faster or slower depending on the environment and the presence of relevant microorganisms. Tiny microorganisms, bacteria, and other lifeforms will feed on the nails. When those lifeforms produce waste, your nails become carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Fingernails are not digestible and biting and fiddling them can kill or maim you. They are also a threat to birds like pigeons and sparrows who might eat the nails from the ground assuming they are food. Since they are indigestible, they will become toxic and could result in the death of the birds. Therefore, be careful about your nail clippings and simply compost them.

The problem with composting polished nails is that the polish and its removers are considered hazardous waste because they are toxic and flammable. The chemicals in the polish will leech into the compost and continue into the garden, poisoning it and the plants.

Acrylic nails, on the other hand, are simply non-biodegradable. They are a combination of a liquid monomer and a powder polymer that creates a hard protective layer over your natural nails. As they are non-biodegradable, do not compost them.

Are Fingernails Biodegradable?

Yes, fingernails are biodegradable. Nails are made of keratin, a type of protein that makes them biodegradable. However, keratin is one of the tougher sides of proteins and takes a long time to decompose, explaining why the process takes a while.

This is why human hair and nails have been found in archaeological excavations, although not universally. Human nails disintegrate faster or slower depending on the environment and the presence of relevant microorganisms.

Acrylic nails are a combination of a liquid monomer and a powder polymer that creates a hard protective layer over your natural nails. This makes them non-biodegradable, and should therefore not be composted.

Are Nail Clippings Good for Plants?

Yes, fingernails are suitable for plants. Again, to best understand this, we have to go back to keratin and biotin, the components that make fingernails. Keratin is a naturally occurring protein and contains small amounts of calcium and phosphorus.

In case you did not know, the two are wealthy soil nutrients and have significant benefits to plants. Well, you can also argue that since the fingernails are tiny, the phosphorous and calcium will not be significant enough to be beneficial to plants.

However, to a reasonable extent, keratin and biotin contain these nutrients that are extremely rich in soil nutrients and will, in turn, be beneficial to the plants. To effectively have your fingernails working wonders for your plants, compost them first.

Fingernails can biodegrade but the biodegrading process is primarily determined by several factors. These factors include, but are not limited to the environment and the presence of relevant microorganisms.

The process can also take ridiculously long and only composting can achieve these results a bit more quickly. Therefore, do not bury the fingernails if you intend to have them pass on nutrients to the plants as this will take decades.

Also, do not flush them for you will have lost your source of nutrients. Simply add them to your compost and watch as your plants flourish. Nail clippings are made of keratin, a fibrous protein that is naturally occurring.

As a result, they will biodegrade and break down in the soil. Microorganisms will then consume the nails and turn them into usable nutrients.

The best way to utilize nail clippings is in a compost pile. When composted, the nails will go through the decomposition process like other organic materials. Tiny microorganisms, bacteria, and other lifeforms will feed on the nails and when those lifeforms produce waste, your nails become carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Fingernails, in theory, can also benefit the soil directly as fertilizer, without being composted first. In addition to keratin, your nails have phosphorous and calcium deposits, both of which are essential nutrients in the fertilizer.

Unfortunately, nail clippings only have trace amounts of these nutrients and will not do much to amend your soil considerably. If you have large amounts of nails, that could do the trick.

Mixing the nails up with soil will improve the overall aeration and drainage of the soil, although they will not make any noticeable differences to soil quality; they are better off in the compost bin.

Can You Flush Fingernails?

Well, you should not flush fingernails down the drain or toilet. So, if you have been doing this, first, don’t do it again. And secondly, you were doing something wrong. The major justification for slushing them is that they are tiny and harmless.

Also, once they are cut, there is no other place to take the clippings and should simply be trashed or flushed. Here is the truth: fingernails are made of keratin and biotin. These compositions are rigid that even microorganisms are unable to break them down and act on them.

This is primarily why nails do not rot or become moldy. As they cannot rot easily, they accumulate quickly. This means they will gather and stir up trouble for your sewage system. If flushed, they will clog sinks and bring about plumbing issues in your home.

Luckily, there are several other environmentally safe ways of getting rid of fingernail clippings. First, you can trash them. By placing them in your garbage can, they will most likely end up in landfills. They are really small and do not have an effect on the environment, so they will be okay in landfills.

Secondly, you can burn them. It is not a popular way of getting rid of nails, but it is safe. The keratin in nails is not like that in bones and teeth but is a little stronger than skin. Just like skin, it will easily burn and the heat will cause the nails to melt. Getting rid of nails through incineration is the same as those who prefer to be cremated after death.

Thirdly, you can bury them, a method preferred by those who are done with them and do not want to dispose of them in any other manner.

Finally, you can compost them and improve the structure of your soil.

How Long Does It Take for Nail Clippings to Decompose?

As we have already established that nail clippings can take a long time to decompose. This is why it is possible to find fingernails and hair long after death, yet they are not growing anymore. Some usually say that one’s fingernails and hair continue to grow even after death, but this is untrue.

What happens is that after death, dehydration occurs, causing the skin and other soft tissues to shrink. When the skin around the nails retracts the nails and hair may appear longer.

With the typical exposure of fingernails to heat and moisture, it can take between five and 40 years before the nails completely decompose. However, if the nails are kept in a cool and dry place, they can last for as long as a thousand years.

If composted, where the conditions for decomposition are right, nails will decompose in a few months. In a conducive environment, about 35 to 40% of the nitrogen in nails converts to nitrates in only 120 days.

What Can Yo Do With Nail Clippings

1. Make a pot scrubber

If you happen to run out of steel wool, you can fashion up a pot scrubber for your pots and pans encrusted with impossibly hardened food bits. All you need to do is to collect your fingernail clips and empty them into the foot of some discarded pantyhose. Tie it off, and voila! You have an instant, free, only mildly repulsive pot scrubber

2. Making fine art

You can do as Tim Hawkinson did and create Avant-garde sculptures with your fingernail clippings. You never know, your body-by-product art might land you with an opening at the Whitney—Hawkinson’s bird skeleton and egg pieces made entirely out of fingernails did.

3. Make an engagement ring

Well, this will sound disgusting, so buckle up! In 2019, a man-made engagement ring from fingernail clippings that he had collected for a year. The unnamed man in Japan shared the process of how he made the engagement ring.

He collected the year-long worth of nails in a blender, blended them and ground them into a very fine powder before mixing them with water in a pan. He then compressed the substance and squeezed out any excess liquid until he was left with a small amount of powder.

The man then compressed the powder inside a bolt once again, before placing it in the oven for 90 minutes. From there, he revealed the powder had transformed into a black sticky clay-like substance. The man then went on to press the clay-like substance into a diamond shape mold, creating a silver ring, which he had also made himself.

Once the ring was complete, he placed the dull, black stone, which had no resemblance to fingernails, in place.  Well, isn’t that a creative way to give your significant other a part of yourself? Side note, how disgusting does that sound?

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.