What you don’t know about salon hygiene

What you don’t know about salon hygiene

I feel so compelled to start this blog, as yesterday I experienced something so shocking whilst having a pedicure. Having been in the skin and beauty industry for over 25 years, worked, managed and owned salons, I feel more than qualified to start this blog and share my knowledge.

So, this all started when a good friend of mine suggested I join her and her friend for a spa
pedicure. What a great idea? Being in the industry, I certainly don’t treat myself enough.
My friend insisted that this place was really clean and that they were fast — and cheap!
So I gave them a call to see if they could accommodate me as well. How bad could it be?


Located in the best street in an exclusive Melbourne suburb, surrounded by designer wedding boutiques & antique emporiums and the best coffee shops!

When I called, the staff rambled the salon name and told me yes they could fit me in.
All they asked for was my first name. No phone number or deposit needed.

Very excitedly, I arrive at my allotted time. The salon is packed, absolutely packed.
Rows of pedicure spa chairs. Rows of manicure tables. Rows of polish bottles. Rows of unknowing, innocent clients.

I say hi, introduce myself. I am asked upfront for the $30 for my pedicure. I am then told to choose my polish colour. Fabulous collection of colours. Not asked for any further information or to fill out any health, history forms.

As I tell the staff that I am waiting for my friends, I am told to go to one of the many vinyl massage chairs. So I guess that meant I should make myself comfy and sit down.

The lovely lady in the chair next to me with her feet bubbling suggests I immerse my feet in the foot spa.

I gingerly place my feet into the warm bubbly not so clean looking water.

Uh-oh! I notice that the pedi spa is oily looking; not clean! Not a great feeling when you can see floaters of dead skin in the water and you know it’s not yours!

The salon owner comes along and throws a blue powder into the water and walks off. Oh, so that must be spa salts or maybe, hopefully disinfectant.

I start to relax and my two friends arrive. The massage chair has started doing its work.
The pedicure girls are doing their thing, running around with face masks and rubber gloves. Yes, it does look very hygienic!

I hear in the distance one of the clients ask her operator not to cut her toenails too short, she was worried about ingrown toenails.

My feet are still bubbling away, it’s now been 20 minutes and the lovely lady next to me is finally being attended to. Her feet are gently taken out of the bubbling water and placed on a nice clean towel.
Oh God, Horror – she has a fungal nail infection, obvious for all the salon to see! At this point, I cannot breathe.


The salon operator, with her rubber gloves and face mask, is protecting herself. But only herself!
She picks up a grubby looking nail file from the plastic container of communal nail files and starts filing this lovely lady’s fungus infested toe nails. I stare in absolute disbelief!
Now, I really cannot breathe, I want to vomit! Will she throw out that nail file after filing those infected toenails? No not a chance, the file goes straight back into the communal plastic container with all the other nail files.

Then the cuticle and nail clippers start working. At this point I cannot take it any more.
Where will they go after she’s finished clipping off the lovely lady’s dead skin and hang nails?
Straight back in the container and given a quick wipe for me, or the next unknowing client. I did not see an autoclave or even a jar of hospital grade disinfectant for soaking instruments.

All my years of experience and expertise told me to ‘run’ and I did!
I politely excused myself from not wanting to pick up tinea, a plantar wart or a fungal nail infection. My friends thought I was crazy. They didn’t quite understand the seriousness of my exit.
And why would they? How could they possibly understand?
All those trusting clients, all at risk of picking up an infection.

Fungus breeds in warm water. The little ‘spray and wipe’ of the pedi spa basin will not kill fungi, viruses or bacteria.

Feet should be checked or examined first by the operator for any fungal diseases or infected toenails or plantar warts, verrucas, whatever you want to call them. It is contraindicated, against health regulations, to treat ANYONE with a contagious foot disease. Disposable files and emery boards for all nails and foot files and pumices for the removal of dead skin should be opened new for each client, or BYO.

And what if the client is diabetic? He or she should never have their toenails cut.

Feet should be placed on disposable paper towels, unless towels are boiled, bleached and disinfected between clients, to properly clean them.

Always take your own bottle of polish, the thought of painting those fungal infested toenails and then the little polish brush put straight back into the bottle for the next trusting client.

The most surprising thing about this salon was that there were certificates on the wall claiming that this salon passed all the councils hygiene codes of practice.

First impression for anyone walking into a salon like that is that all the staff were wearing gloves and masks: you would have to think it was clean and hygienic. Well, it’s not. I really implore you to take note when you next have a manicure or pedicure.

Do not be afraid to ask them how they sterilise or disinfect their tools if you are concerned about the hygiene.

Infection in the salon is very real and very contagious, and it’s disgusting that these types of salons can operate without the general public realizing what a health risk they are.

Paula Abdul and Victoria Azarenka were onto something. They learnt the hard way.


23 responses »

    • Please don’t be put off completely.Pedicures can be wonderful.There are many reputable salons that follow strict hygiene protocol.
      It is just so important to be made aware of what is to be expected in our industry.
      Never be afraid to ask the salon for their protocol if you are concerned.

  1. Great advice and a warning to all, I refuse to treat any infected nail, I had one client who wanted it done badly for a wedding and I said the only way we would do it was for her to buy the polish and as always throw away the files etc and used a disposable bowl to soak her feet in, I don’t advise anyone to use this practise unless you yourself are there to make sure everything is disposed of correctly.

    • Thanks for reading. I won’t mention the name of any salons,but at least you can now look out for any unacceptable salon practice.
      My goal is not to name and shame salons but to share and educate clients to become aware.

  2. Yep been there done that, I interrogated the tech when he moved aside the dirty implements from the last client and laid my “clean” ones on the same towel.Never again!

    • That is so disgusting. What was the outcome? It’s just such a shame that so many salons / techs get away with this and a majority of clients are none the wiser.

  3. This sounds so familiar!! I’ve been struggling to get rid of my nail fungal infection for almost 2 years now after a pedicure at a salon verrrrrrrry similar to you have described. I’ve spent atleast $300-400 on Loceryl & Canesten! I will never ever be able to get myself to get a pedicure in a salon/spa ever again. How do I know who is or not doing the right thing?

    • Hi KC,
      Sounds like you have had an awful experience. At the time of booking your treatment, be sure to ask as many questions as you like.
      You are the customer.
      When you arrive for the appointment, if you feel that the experience may not be what you expect and you feel that the practice is not delivering what they promised, you do not have to stay there.
      You can always take a copy of my article and show them 🙂
      If they are a professional salon then they will not be offended or feel threatened by this blog.
      Good luck! There are so many professional salons/nail technicians out there, you just need to be aware of the ones that aren’t.

  4. Okay. I hear you. I understand your passion. But don’t let that get in the way of facts.

    Firstly, how were you able to diagnose a fungal infection? You can’t. You just assumed it was. Bacteria, bruising and medical conditions can cause discolouration under the nail. Just because it looks like fungus to you doesn’t mean it is.

    Secondly, why did you not communicate with the staff rather than make assumptions as you have above?

    Why did you not name this institution? After all, you’re anonymous. It’s not as though they’ll chase you down and sue you.

    Diabetics can have their toenails cut. I’m not sure where you got this little gem of falsehood but as a diabetic, I do cut my toenails and it has no negative bearing on my health whatsoever. I think what you perhaps meant to say was that diabetics should be more careful with whom they choose to carry out their pedicure as a foot infection can have very serious implications for them. But yes, we can get our toenails cut. In fact, it’s unhealthy not to.

    If you are going to report rotten apples in the industry (which I fully support) then please do so without having to make things up.

    There are plenty of real life examples available to work from. Creativity serves no purpose here.

    • Hi Sheena,
      Thank you for taking the time out to respond.
      As a beauty therapist, I do not need to diagnose fungal infections, but I am fully aware of what they look like. This client’s nails were not discoloured, but rather thickened, lifted off the nail bed and deformed and cracked. It was most likely a fungal infection. However, this is not the point. The point is that the lack of hygiene put other people at risk of developing a fungal – or other – infection from this client or someone else.

      Secondly, I did not make assumptions: what I witnessed was fact.
      The nail file was taken from an unsterile communal container, the footbath was dirty and there was no enquiry as to any condition that may have suggested that they should not work on my nails.

      Thirdly, it is because I am working anonymously, that I have chosen not to name and shame. I am just trying to make the public aware of what the professional standards are, rather than reviewing and critiquing salons. I probably should have told the staff, but I had not gone into the salon as a critic or therapist; I just wanted to have my nails done.

      Beauty therapist training clearly states that it is contraindicated to cut diabetics nails because they are more susceptible to infections if the skin is broken. We were instructed that this should be left to podiatrists. Of course diabetics need their nails cut, but professionals who understand the importance of care in diabetes should do it.

      I hope these points help to address your concerns.

  5. excellent post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector don’t notice this. You must continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

    • Thank You for reading my blog and for your very encouraging comments. I really appreciate it. My readers base is certainly growing by the day and it’s Thanks to people like you.

  6. Great article! This reminds me of a friend of mine who always told me I’m ‘wasting my money’ paying more than she was for a pedicure until she got a nasty case of tinea that just would not go away! She is the type of girl who always looks out for the best bargain and doesn’t take things into consideration like everything you have mentioned in this article. Once her tootsies were back to normal she finally started going with me to this lovely salon in patterson road and has thanked me ever since! Debora, the owner of the salon I go to keeps my very own nail file stored for me when I visit or will use a new one each time I see her. Couldn’t be happier!

  7. I could not believe my eyes reading this now! I am also a Health and Skincare Therapist, still very new in this industry and also very passionate about it. I must say that since I have been studying Health and Skincare Therapy, my eyes went open as to the hygiene in Salons and also Spas. I can say from personal experience that even in what you think is the most glamorous Spa, there can be a terrible lack of hygiene, and yet it’s the first and most important thing they teach you in college! I am so glad you posted this blog to educate the clients, it is so important to know and not to fool our clients.

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