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What is an Orange Stick?

By R. Wood
Updated May 21, 2024
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An orange stick is a manicure tool used for cleaning fingernails and pushing back cuticles. It is traditionally made of wood, but can also be metal; sometimes it is orange in color, but not usually. One end of the stick is generally pointed and somewhat sharp while the other is flat and angled, and manicurists use each for different functions. The tool is very portable and generally inexpensive, making it an easy way to maintain nails on the go.

General Characteristics

These tools are typically quite small, and are often said to resemble a narrow pencil at first glance. They tend to be roughly 4 inches (about 10 cm) long and anywhere from 0.25 to 0.5 inches (about 1.25 cm) in diameter, and as such they fit comfortably in the palms of most people’s hands. The end that is flat is most often used to push the cuticles away from the nail beds of both the fingers and toes and to buff the edge and top surface of the nail itself. The pointed, sharper end can scrape debris from underneath the nail.

Most modern orange sticks are made of inexpensive wood, and often come in multi-packs of 10 or more. They are often considered more or less disposable and aren’t usually designed to last a lifetime. Sturdier metal models, on the other hand, may hold up better, but these tend to be more expensive.

There is some controversy when it comes to how the name “orange stick” came to be. One common belief is that the original tools were made of wood from the orange tree. A competing theory teaches that one of the most popular early manufacturers delivered the sticks to clients in an orange paper envelope. The name has stuck whatever its origins, even though the sticks themselves are rarely ever orange in color.

In Manicures and Pedicures

These tools are typically used at the beginning of a manicure. Clients will usually soften their cuticles first, often by soaking the hands in warm water or coating them in a paraffin wax. Once the skin is loose and malleable the manicurist will use the flat end of the stick to push the cuticle skin lower on the nail. This action is usually performed gently, as the skin around the nails can be quite delicate. The top of the nail’s surface can be buffed to a sheen with the flat end, too.

Soaking the hands will usually also loosen dirt and other debris that may be stuck underneath the fingernail itself. Nail technicians can use the pointed end to scrape this out, but again they will want to be gentle to avoid poking the sensitive skin beneath the nail bed. The stick may make a reappearance at the end of a manicure to clean around the nails, particularly if polish has been applied. Either the pointed or the flat edge can be useful in cleaning up errant color and making sure that painted edges are tidy and neat.

The tool can be used during a pedicure in much the same way, though most technicians are careful to keep sticks used on the hands and feet separate. As such, a person getting both a manicure and a pedicure will typically require two orange sticks, even if they are getting both procedures at the same time by the same technician. In most cases this is a safety precaution since the feet often carry bacteria that can cause infection. Bacteria typically only pass through broken skin, but the scraping done on and around the cuticles is often sensitive enough that technicians don’t want to take any risks.

Home Use

These sticks are also popular for individuals to use on themselves, either as part of a home manicure or just as a means of regular nail maintenance and upkeep. In most cases they are very economical to purchase and are very portable; people often keep one at home, one at the office, and one in a purse or briefcase. Sometimes they also come with a protective carry case to keep them from collecting dust and debris.

Health and Safety Precautions

Orange sticks should be kept sterile to help prevent infections. This is particularly important in salons where multiple clients cycle through in a day. Metal sticks should be cleaned thoroughly after each use and are often soaked in an antibacterial solution between clients. Professional nail studios usually throw wooden ones away after a single use. Germs may build up on them that can spread bacteria between people, and it’s harder to get the porous wooden surface completely sanitized.

When the sticks are only used by a single person some of these precautions can be relaxed, but cleanliness is still important. The tools should be freshly washed before being inserted under the nails or used to penetrate the cuticle bed, and sharing with others is usually discouraged.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1006831 — On May 26, 2022

Real orange sticks are made from orange wood, with natural oils (like teak) so all these sticks that are now sold as orange sticks are not made from orange wood; they are just sticks.

Wood is the safest cuticle pusher -- ceramic sticks, plastic sticks, metal sticks all damage the nail. I've tried them all. All those sticks are not made from orange wood and do not have any natural oils so quit calling them orange sticks.

I have a tiny piece of an orange stick made from real orange wood and now I can't find any real orange sticks. I am so unhappy that I threw out all my orange sticks before I thought of cutting them down when they got dull.

By anon954435 — On Jun 01, 2014

A long time ago, orange sticks were used to adjust transformers on TRF and superhet radios. Any metal would change the frequency, so wood was used.

By anon180703 — On May 27, 2011

I've used orange sticks my whole life (I'm 55). I massage around the softened cuticle in small circles. I keep one in the bathroom so several times a month, after my shower, I can push back my cuticles.

I try to remember to massage in cuticle cream before I go to bed, even when wearing polish. This keeps my cuticles in great condition. I've also found that I can use an emery board on the angled area of an orange stick and file it smoother, removing any sharp or worn edges.

By rs4life — On May 26, 2011

My grandmother used to say that no one should ever use anything harder than a towel to push the cuticles back. Orange sticks were definitely out of the question. She said they damaged the nail bed. Maybe it's an old grandma's tale, but to this day I still don't use them.

By Apunkin — On May 25, 2011

Last year I told my husband that wanted him to put orange sticks in my stocking for Christmas. It never dawned on me that he wouldn't know what they were. Christmas morning my stocking was filled with chocolate covered orange stick candies!

I didn't complain; they were *delicious*!

By dagaZ — On May 23, 2011

@vogueknit17-I've never seen an orange colored orange stick either! I never really thought about it before, but I wonder how they got their name?

By vogueknit17 — On May 08, 2011

I've never seen an orange stick that was actually orange, so the name has never made sense to me.

I also never use them myself, and don't see how some people can consider them to be so necessary; it seems to be a love or hate thing. I personally cannot stand the sound or sensation of nails being buffed with one of these.

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