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Sophie Aubrey was sitting at her desk, filing her nails, when she caught wind of an odor so foul it could've blown her hair back.

As the Australian writer described for Mamamia, the smell was: “[...] Something ugly. Something ... putrid.”

As she looked around for the source, it occurred to her that perhaps the fumes were emanating from the file in her hand.

She carefully lifted the emery board to her nose:

And ohmigod. A rank stench invaded my nostrils.

On a scale of one to 10 where one is roses and 10 is rotting flesh, it scored a six.

Revolted, Aubrey took to Google in order to find out why her nail file was exuding such a horrible odor. As it turned out, the noxious tool should have been thrown away ages ago.

Search results informed Aubrey that nail files should be discarded every three months to every three uses. Why? Because as the nail is filed, dead skin cells accumulate and collect bacteria.

As far as risks to the nail file are concerned, the bacteria can be spread around and under the nail. Should the skin be broken at all, germs can then enter the bloodstream, causing an infection.

The information was enough to have Aubrey saying sayonara to all of her old nail files immediately, as she wrote: “I thank you for your faithful and prolonged service, dearest nail files. But it's time to let you go.”

Aubrey's experience, while happening with her own hygiene tools, might make patrons of nail salons wonder if a dirty, rancid file has ever been used on them.

According to, most states have a “one client, one file” rule that states any instrument that cannot be disinfected is to be thrown away; however, it is one of the “worst complied with regulations.”

Aubrey's research found that “classic cardboard” nail files are only intended for a few uses (on one person) while other materials, such as acrylic, glass, and metal can be washed and disinfected for multiple uses.

As for sterilizing equipment, Elle Magazine wrote that liquid disinfectant should always be used. The UV sanitation machines “that resemble toaster ovens” aren't enough. Elle warned that nail files should always either be discarded or disinfected after each use.

According to the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University, podiatrists have reported that nail and skin infections are often seen in people who regularly visit nail salons, with pedicures being of particular concern. Although the risk of infection is low, one infection can create a health problem.

The institute advised to make sure salons and technicians are licensed by the state; equipment is cleaned properly “(it takes more than 10 minutes for tools to be sterilized in a sterilizer or 25 minutes if UV light is used; a quick spritz of alcohol is not enough)”; and to find out how the pedicure basins are cleaned.

Dirty tools aren't the only culprits for infection. In 2016, a woman contracted a painful, disfiguring bacterial infection in her legs from an unsanitary foot basin at her local nail salon.

The Women's Health Research Institute wrote that foot basins can be particularly unsafe if the filter is not changed regularly.

Some women have even found adverse reactions to the repeated application of nail polish to their nails. One Australian woman discovered she had developed an allergy to gel nail polish so intense she would scrub her cuticles until they turned bright red.

Combine any open wound with unsanitary equipment and a person is poised for infection.

The Women's Health Research Institute advised several measures to protect oneself before a manicure or pedicure:

  • Bring your own tools (some salons will store them for you)
  • Avoid cutting cuticles and using a razor to shave calluses.
  • Do not shave your legs before your appointment.
  • Do not be shy if you see something you feel is unsafe — point it out to the owner.

Add keeping an eye out for a well-worn nail file to the list.