Gardener’s Hand Care 101: Protection For Skin

If you enjoy puttering around in the dirt outside, you know how quickly it seems to accumulate under the fingernails and in every crack and crevice in the skin. Wearing gloves does help but soil still seems to find its way in.

PlantingSometimes all it takes is an easy washup to get rid of the grime, but more often than not it takes a bit of work to get clean.

Here are tips for protecting hands when digging around in the soil, removing stains and a few moisturizing suggestions.

If you prefer working with bare hands, make sure tetanus shots are up-to-date. Who knows what kind of parasites are living in the soil that you’re up to your elbows in (this is one reason why some get so miserable about neighborhood cats lurking around their yards).

  • The first line of defense is wearing gloves. If fabric ones are too clumsy to work with, try using latex or surgical ones instead, they fit nicely and are less bulky around the fingers. Sprinkle on a little talcum powder or cornstarch first before putting them on to help absorb moisture and make removal easier. They can be used over and over again until they rip or tear.
  • Consider slipping on a pair of latex or surgical ones underneath a fabric pair first (now there are two layers), this does an excellent job of keeping out dirt.

If happiest digging around with bare hands, make sure to scrub up well with hot soapy water (including underneath fingernails) and avoid touching mouth, nose and eyes until washing up. If pregnant, it’s safest to wear gloves.

Lather Up:

Before putting on gloves, try lathering them up with lotions, lards and moisturizers to make washup easier (the idea is that the dirt will be trapped by the heavy oils and will come off with the moisturizer).

Some ideas:

  • Crisco (or other soft lard)
  • Vaseline
  • Moisturizing lotions

If a greasy residue is left behind, try rubbing with a bit of cornmeal or oatmeal to help strip grease.

  • A popular old-timers remedy is to run fingernails through a bar of soap to provide a barrier underneath the nails. Another favorite is to dip fingertips into Vaseline so the Vaseline will provide the barrier. Do this before putting on gloves.

Scrubs & Stain Removers:

Make an easy, all-natural scrub with two tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil and three tablespoons of sugar. Rub in gently for a couple minutes then rinse off.

  • Paste: Combine oatmeal and milk, rub in for a few minutes then wash off.
  • Other exfoliators found in the pantry can be used, try baking soda, salt, sugar or cornmeal with a bit of water added.
  • Heavy Duty: Dissolve a denture tablet in warm water then soak in this. For grass stains, dip hands into hydrogen peroxide then rinse with clear water after a couple minutes.
  • Berry & Fruit Stains: Soak in household vinegar or cider vinegar. Also try drizzling fresh lemon juice over them.


  • Nail brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Luffa Sponge

Drizzle liquid soap over bristles before scrubbing underneath fingernails. They can also be used on hands but be careful not to break or scrape skin.

  • Tip: Fill an empty mesh bag (from veggies) or a leg of panty hose with leftover soap pieces. Tie shut and hang by the outdoor tap so you can lather up and exfoliate with the bag while outside.

After Care:

Here are some ideas for moisturizing with items from the pantry:

If cuticles are taking a hit, try massaging a bit of warm olive oil into them.

Assorted Recipes

Homemade Pumice Cleaner:

4 oz mason’s sand
1 oz pumice powder

  • Mix ingredients together with enough glycerin to moisten. Store in a glass jar (sealed tight while being stored). Use 1 tablespoon as needed.
  • For a fresh citrus smell, try adding a bit of fresh orange or lemon juice.

Powder & Exfoliator:

  • Combine equal parts: Baking Soda, Dry Milk Powder, Lavender Buds
  • Keep in an airtight container and shake before use. Pour a bit on wet hands and rub in for a few minutes.


Warm water
2 TBS milk
2 TBS olive oil

  • Fill a bowl with ingredients. After washing off surface grime, soak them in the mixture for about 20 minutes.

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    • marwick

    If you make your own laundry soap, just dip your hands in the bucket of laundry soap, then rub them a little and rinse, all the grime will be gone in a flash! Apply a little hand lotion and you’re done.

    • Marti

    Thanks for bringing us all these great ideas. I always read my Tipnuts as soon as it hits my mail box!

    • Régina

    Leave the dishes until after your gardening, rub a bit of any ordinary cooking oil on your hands then wash the dishes with a bit of Javex added to the dish water. Afterwards rinse your hands with vinegar and apply any lotion. Your hands will be spotless!

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