Do Fingernails Decompose?

One of the things that sticks out when cutting your fingernails is that they don’t decompose quickly.

You may have clipped a piece of nail and kept it to verify for yourself if it decomposes.

However, after several months, it will still be intact.

Some people use them for composting, which may seem a little strange, but it certainly works for growing plants in your garden.

Yes, fingernails are biodegradable, but how long do they take to decompose?

Let’s explore more about this in this article.

Do Fingernails Decompose?

Yes, fingernails do decompose, but at a much slower rate than other tissues in the body.

Many people are aware that fingernails are made up of a material called keratin, which is essentially a protein.

Keratin is highly resistant to decomposition and takes ages to break down.

Humans have discovered ancient tombs with mummies where their fingernails were still intact.

This was a shock to many people because it meant our nails would not break down for hundreds of years in the right circumstances.

However, in hot and humid conditions, the decomposition process is quicker.

Still, it will take many years for it to break down since microorganisms do not readily target keratin.

However, this does not mean it won’t happen over a long period of time.

Typically, you can expect them to last decades, if not centuries.

In hot and humid conditions, the process will be faster but still take at least a few decades.

Fingernails Composition

Fingernails are made of a range of components, with the primary substance being a protein called keratin.

Let’s explore the composition of fingernails, focusing on keratin and protein.


Keratin is a fibrous protein that forms the main structural component of not only fingernails but also hair and the outer layer of the human skin.

This tough and insoluble protein is responsible for the strength and durability of fingernails, protecting them from damage.

Keratin is formed through a process called keratinization, where cells from the nail root, known as matrix cells, produce and push older cells outwards.

The older cells are filled with keratin, compacted, and eventually form the hard nail plate we see on our fingertips.


As mentioned earlier, the main component of fingernails is a protein called keratin. However, there are other types of proteins also present in smaller amounts.

These proteins work together to ensure that the nails are strong, durable, and able to withstand daily wear and tear.

Furthermore, proteins ensure proper nail growth, influencing the color, thickness, and shape of the nail, adding the nails’ unique texture.

Proteins are essential for maintaining healthy nails, which explains why a balanced diet that includes sufficient protein intake is crucial for nail health.

Nail abnormalities, such as brittleness or ridges, could be indications of protein deficiencies or other health issues.

Factors Affecting Decomposition of Fingernails

While the decomposition of fingernails can take many years, here are some factors that impact the process.


The environment plays a crucial role in the decomposition of fingernails.

When exposed to a moist environment, it becomes easier for microorganisms to break down the nails into soil-enriching nutrients like amino acids and nitrogen.

On the other hand, in dry conditions, it takes longer for the decomposition process to occur.


Temperature is another essential factor in the decomposition of fingernails. Higher temperatures speed up the process, allowing bacteria and fungi to break down the nails more quickly.

Conversely, lower temperatures slow down decomposition, meaning it takes longer for fingernails to decompose.

The presence of these microorganisms turns fingernails into nutrients that are good for the soil.

Decomposition of Different Types of Nails

Let’s learn about the decomposition of different types of fingernails

Natural Nails

Natural nails are made of keratin, a protein that is also found in our hair and skin.

These nails can decompose over time, but the process highly depends on the environment, temperature, and humidity.

In a moist and warm environment, natural nails typically decompose in a few months.

However, if they are in cold or freezing temperatures, they can last for thousands of years.

This is why ancient mummies still have bits of nails remaining on their corpses.

False Nails

False nails, such as acrylics, are made from synthetic materials and not the same protein as natural nails.

Acrylic nails are formed by the combination of a liquid and powder to create a gel-like substance that hardens on the nail.

As these nails are made from synthetic materials, they may take longer to decompose than natural nails.

However, the specific information about the decomposition process of different types of artificial nails is limited.

Nails with Nail Polish

Nail polish is a lacquer that is applied to nails for decorative purposes. It typically contains ingredients like resins, solvents, and pigments.

Since nail polish is designed to have a protective and long-lasting effect, it may not decompose as quickly as natural nails.

Most nail polishes are not biodegradable, but there are eco-friendly alternatives available in the market.

They use natural and biodegradable ingredients, like water and plant-based resins.

These eco-friendly options will break down faster in comparison to traditional nail polishes and nail polish removers.

Also read: How to Dispose of Hair?

Decomposition Process of Fingernails

The decomposition process of fingernails involves the breakdown of their primary component, keratin, into simpler compounds.

This process is carried out by microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria that thrive in various environments.


Microorganisms are tiny living organisms, many of which play a crucial role in the decomposition process.

These tiny creatures break down organic matter, like fingernails, into simpler compounds that can be used as nutrients by plants and other organisms in the soil.

Some common microorganisms involved in decomposition include bacteria and fungi.

They work together to break down the protein-rich keratin found in fingernails.


Fungi are another group of organisms that play an essential role in the decomposition process.

They thrive in moist environments and help break down the keratin protein in fingernails.

Some species of fungi can decompose keratin more effectively than others. These efficient decomposers release enzymes called keratinases, which break the bonds between the amino acids in the keratin protein.

This process helps to make the nutrients more readily available for other organisms.


Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms responsible for breaking down organic matter and releasing nutrients back into the environment.

In the decomposition process of fingernails, bacteria work alongside fungi to digest the keratin protein present.

Bacteria, especially those found in the soil, produce enzymes that further break down the complex protein into simpler compounds.

During the decomposition process of fingernails in a compost pile or soil, all these microorganisms work together to break down the keratin and release valuable nutrients.

Also read: How to Dispose of Hair Dyes (the right way)

How to Improve Your Soil Using Fingernails?

Since fingernails do have essential nutrients for the soil, like nitrogen and biotin, they can be used to enhance your soil’s properties.

However, they do not produce any real effects by themselves and need to be combined with other materials like food scraps.

Two essential by-products of decomposing nails are nitrites and phosphorus. These act as essential nutrients and are perfect for growing plants.

In most cases, you do not have to go to the trouble of making a compost pile.

You can simply collect your fingernails every month or so and add them to your flowerpots or garden soil.

The decomposition process will occur by itself. It will happen more quickly in spring and summer, especially if you water your plants regularly.

There is no point trying to bury your fingernails in the soil. You can simply sprinkle them on top and wait for nature to take its course.

Although they will not decompose straight away, a portion of the nitrogen from the fingernails will seep into the soil in only a few months.

This is often enough to enhance the soil’s nutrient properties, leading to optimal plant growth.

If you wish to experiment with this, you may need to collect more fingernails from other people in the house.

Collect them in a bag over several months if you need to. Then when you have enough, you can use them to enhance your soil.

Also read: How to Dispose of Human Ashes?

Fingernails Decomposition in Landfills and Nature

Fingernails are a part of our body that we often do not consider when thinking about waste and decomposition.

However, just like other organic materials, fingernails do decompose over time.

In this section, we will discuss how fingernails decompose in both landfills and natural environments.

Landfill Decomposition

In a landfill, the decomposition process for fingernails can be slower due to the lack of oxygen and other necessary elements for the break down.

As fingernails are primarily composed of a hard protein called keratin, they will eventually break down through the action of microorganisms.

However, the process can take several months or even longer, depending on the specific conditions of the landfill.

The decomposition of fingernails in a landfill is not considered harmful, as they do not release toxic chemicals.

However, their slow degradation may contribute to the overall buildup of waste in the landfill, adding to the carbon footprint of these sites.

Natural Decomposition

When disposed of in natural environments, such as through composting or burying, fingernails can actually provide benefits to the ecosystem.

As they decompose, they release nutrients like calcium and phosphorus, which can aid in the growth of plants and other organisms.

The natural decomposition process of fingernails can be faster compared to landfills, as they are exposed to more favorable conditions for breaking down.

Exposure to oxygen and microorganisms in soil or compost piles can aid in the decomposition process, turning the keratin in fingernails into valuable organic material.

Also read: How To Dispose Of Human Waste From Portable Toilets

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Fingernails Dissolve in the Stomach?

Fingernails do not dissolve in the stomach, as they consist of a hard protein called keratin, which is resistant to the stomach’s digestive enzymes and acids.

Although they may soften a bit, they will likely pass through the digestive system mostly intact.

How Long Do Toenails Take To Decompose?

Toenails, like fingernails, are made up of keratin, which decomposes slowly.

The exact time it takes for toenails to decompose varies depending on factors such as environmental conditions and the presence of decomposing organisms.

However, in general, it can take several months to several years for them to break down completely.

Do Fingernails Decompose in Water?

Fingernails can decompose in water, but the process is usually slow.

The decomposition rate depends on factors like water temperature, acidity, and the presence of microorganisms.

In stagnant water with favorable conditions, decomposition may be quicker, while in clean water with less favorable conditions, it might take longer.

Are Fingernails Good for Plants?

Fingernails contain keratin, calcium, and phosphorus, which can be beneficial for plants.

However, they take a very long time to decompose, making their contribution to soil nutrients minimal compared to other organic materials.

If added to a compost pile, their decomposition process can be accelerated, eventually benefiting the plants.

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