Q. I am a 21-year-old college student, and I have not had a “normal” big toenail on my left foot since I was 14. It came off when I was a freshman in high school as I was removing nail polish.

Since then, the toenail has grown back (with fungus) over and over and then repeatedly fallen off.
A podiatrist prescribed me paint-on medication that made no difference at all. The toenail continued to grow back rough and a yellow-brown color. It was unsightly and embarrassing.

In the summers I covered it with a Bandaid or a fake nail glued over my ugly toenail. My toenail was annoying and bothersome. If I could change anything, I’d just want pretty feet.

A friend’s mom told me about tea tree oil. I tried it for a few months and thought the toenail was growing in clear, but then it fell off again. I gave up on tea tree oil.

I finally went online and found your web site with home remedies. I was skeptical, but it was worth a try. I bought Listerine, Vicks VapoRub, and white vinegar at the beginning of June. Since then, I have soaked my toenails for thirty minutes a day in a mixture of equal amounts of Listerine and vinegar.

At night I put Vicks on my toenails and then socks (the Vicks does stain!). Because I have been using both Vicks and Listerine, I don’t know which is actually curing my toenail, but something is working!

My big toenail has grown out almost completely and it is completely healthy. I cannot believe that it has worked so well.  I honestly thought that I would never have a pretty toenail again.

A. Treating toenail fungus takes a lot of patience because the nails grow slowly. Thanks for letting us know about your success!

We first learned about applying Vicks VapoRub to nails in 1999 from Jane Kelley, RN, a foot care nurse in Massachusetts. She told us that some of her colleagues were using Vicks VapoRub on patients’ fungus-infected toenails.

Since then we have heard from so many people about the benefits of Vicks that we have lost count. Here are just a few recent stories:

“I also had a nail fungus. My podiatrist had a “new” treatment not covered by insurance. I had to pay $600 up front for laser treatments–a second one free if the 1st didn’t do it.”

“After 3 treatments there was no improvement. After 18 months of ugly toenails I tried Vicks Vaporub and the nails are growing in clear and the ugly, thick yellow stuff is gone. Cost: $9.95 plus tax. Got the advice from my daughter who listens The People’s Pharmacy on NPR–thanks!” J.J.


Not everyone gets benefit, though. Here is an interesting story from Bette:

“Quite a while ago I think I read in your column that putting Vicks on the bottom of your feet would help with a cold, congestion, etc. Easily done. I discovered from doing that, that my cracked feet, and fingers, from applying the stuff, have cleared up, after 20 plus years of cracking, and using every RX or cream, lotion known to woman, due to my thyroid condition!!!

“I apply every night, and now also to fingernails and cuticle, they have never looked better, and I am 72, with gorgeous hands and nails. The Vicks has not particularly worked on my toenail fungus, which I have had for years and years, and seems to get no better and no worse. I have also taken biotin for years and years for my nails that were cracking from that condition. Regular straight doctors don’t have much to offer for such things.”


Then there are these:

“I had several toenails removed on the same toe for nail fungus. A friend told me to use Vicks vapor rub on my toes. No problem since I started using it.” Dennis


“A couple of years ago I had a fungal infection so bad in my toenail that it was about to fall off. My GP recommended Vicks Vaporub and it worked a treat. It took several months for the new nail to grow out, but once it did it was perfect. Because of my occupation as a nurse I was prone to these infections, and now I use the rub a couple of times a week to prevent the problem from returning. It may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try.” Sharon

If you would like to learn more about how to improve your nasty nails, we discuss this and other home remedies for nail fungus in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. If you would like to discover more about the fascinating things people do with Vicks VapoRub (think hemorrhoids, warts, paper cuts, bug bites, splinters, and so much more) consider downloading our $1 Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks.  

If you find these sorts of practical, affordable home remedies of interest, you may wish to subscribe to our free online newsletter. It offers questions and answers about drugs, home remedies, nutrition and non-drug approaches to healing; commentaries on the most pressing health issues of the day; special alerts on breaking health news as it happens and coverage of the top health headlines of the week. It’s also easy to find us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for the free podcast of our weekly radio shows. Stay informed with us, The People’s Pharmacy.

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  1. yarnigras
    Reply

    I’ve always had pretty feet but dropped a can of tomatoes on my big toe in 2006. The nail didn’t fall off but drastically changed. It never turned yellow but got crusty and striped so I just painted over it. Like an ostrich with my head in the sand.
    Over the course of a few years, it thickened so I bought otc fungal stuff. Tried a variety and none of it worked. I found an image that looked just like my toe and it said the toenail had possible separated from the nail bed. I read about Listerine working for that. I poured a little on each toenail, even those not affected after I showered. It worked so well that after about a month, I stopped… only to have the nail start thickening again. Now I do it every day. I’m not soaking or anything but I pour a little on every morning and let it air dry before dressing for work. The discoloration is pretty much gone and the nail isn’t thickened. I can see the healthy growth which starts at the cuticle and is about half way up the nail bed. I am just trimming it as it grows off. Hope this helps someone. Goggling images really helped me out.

  2. Mel
    Reply

    Vicks & Vinegar works!!! I removed toenail polish only to discover half of the nail on my big toe was black! Horrors! After an initial panic, I calmed down, googled and found this website. After only 3 days of vinegar soaks and Vicks 2x per day the nail is almost clear. In between vinegar soaks, about once per day I soak my toe in warm Epsom salt water and baking soda. Very glad I tried this first instead of running to the doctor. Warning! Don’t use old nail polish! I’m thinking this is where the fungus originated since I’ve never had this issue before. I will say that my success with this regimin may be due to the fact it was caught early- my nails were fine when I applied the polish. Anyway, thanks for all the posts that led me to try this great home remedy.

  3. Vanessa
    Reply

    Hello! I’m just wondering if you have noticed any improvement in your nails??

  4. P.J.S.
    Reply

    I’ve had toenail fungus for twenty years. I got it from having a pedicure in one of those pedicure places you see all over the place. This was in a very fashionable area, a location you wouldn’t associate with disease and dirt.
    I had found a wonderful pedicurist but she moved so I went to another one in the same location. I noted a sloppy attitude in the way they handled themselves so I think that’s where I picked up the disease.
    Since that time, I’ve had my toenail getting yellower and yellower. Oral and topical medicines that I got from a podiatrist and my internist have barely worked.
    I went to a senior health fair and the podiatrist there said I should have a vinegar and water soak. No directions given so I just I came to the internet and here I am. I will have to buy vinegar and Listerine or Vicks as I don’t have these in the house.
    What doesn’t sound right is people here saying that in four days they saw an improvement. THAT I don’t believe as toenails are very slow in growing.

  5. David
    Reply

    This month I’ve started to use a white vinegar/Listerine solution 50/50. It stinks up the house something awful and my family hates me for it. I hope it gets fixed soon. I am using the solution once a day for 30 minutes. I dump it out after the second time I use it. I’m trying to cure my right big toe which has had a fungus there for about 20 years. It’s embarrassed me long enough and I want to finally rid myself of its’ nastiness. I’m hoping it’s gone before the snow melts up here in MN…if it ever does. I will try and post any progress in the months ahead.

  6. chris
    Reply

    I had a reasonably bad case of toe nail fungus. My worst toe was my left big toe. Most of my other toe nails were affected as well. One day I decided to deal to it. So I cut as much as I could off each toe nail and then with a pair if fine scissors scraped as much fungus from under each nail. I then cut the nails again. Once I had done that I got a nail file and filed each nail on the face of the toe nail.
    None of this at all hurt. After I had done all that and removed as much fungus as I could I got some white vinegar and filled the cap and rubbed a cap full of straight white vinegar on each toe nail.
    I continued every night before I went to bed rubbing vinegar on each nail and after a week I noticed a dramatic improvement.
    I presume removing as much fungus first and then scratching the nail surface allowing the vinegar to penetrate into the toe helped a lot and sped up the recovery.

  7. SM
    Reply

    I have had toenail fungus for the past 8 years on every toenail of my left foot, with the big toe being the worse. I have attempted to address it with over the counter fungal medications, which was successful with the skin on my foot, but not the toenails. I am determined to have my pretty feet back, and to wear sandals this summer; therefore, I am starting today (January 6, 2013), with the vinegar, Listerine, and Vick’s treatment to see how it goes. I plan to do the vinegar and Listerine soak every night for 30 minutes, apply the Vick’s on my toes immediately after drying my feet, and place socks on, leaving the Vick’s on my toes throughout the night. I will give an update in 4 weeks as to the progress. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  8. Allan P.
    Reply

    Well I think I’ve reached my end with a 50/50 vinegar/water half hour soak a day followed with a Tea tree oil treatment. I’ve been doing this for over two years (yes I’m persistent). All toes have it; the big toe on the left foot being the worst. I’ve tried prescription topical and internal and neither worked. So maybe I’ll give the Vicks/vinegar a whirl.

  9. Wendy
    Reply

    I had my left toe nail that was rotting from fungus. I tried everything that you could imagine. I even saw a podiatrist and what he recommended did not work.
    After much research, I came to find out that vinegar and Listerine (regular not flavored) work amazingly for toe nail fungus and callus.
    I took a bottle of water, drank the water, then poured half white vinegar and half Listerine (regular not flavored) into the empty water bottle. I did not want to waste my time soaking both feet so I cam up with another plan.
    I would take a cotton ball, soak it completely with the homemade mixture then duct tape the cotton ball to the affected toe. I would do this at night while my toenail soaked in my sleep. When I woke up, I would shower, clean the affected toenail by cutting the excess nail and sanding it down until smooth. After that, I would take another cotton ball, soak it completely with the homemade mixture then duct tape the cotton ball again.
    I would leave it on the entire working day and remove it when I got home. I would take another shower and clean my feet well by ensuring that I remove any excess and sand it down until smooth. I would let my toenail breathe at this point since it’s been soaking all day.
    I would then redo the entire process when I went to bed. I did this for 3 weeks straight (day and night) until my toenail couldn’t take it anymore. I allowed the remaining months to take care of itself. Bacteria cannot live without oxygen. I suffocated my toenail to death with Listerine and white vinegar.
    My toenail was infected for two years. I started this mixture in April 2012 and have a full grown nail now in December 2012. I make sure that I keep my toenail clean and trimmed to avoid this from occurring again. Hope this helps somebody! Good luck! =)

  10. Michelle UK
    Reply

    I have had toenail fungus for a couple of years now. I got it from a luxury spa day with a pedicure!
    I got rid of it (one toe on each foot) and then it started to return on one foot. It wasn’t too bad originally, but now it has returned it has become really bad. My toenail has been filed down and there is barely anything left other than an ugly yellow/brown tiny bit of nail, which I am so embarrassed about.
    I have tried topical remedies but I don’t think they really work well when the fungal infection has reached a certain degree of severity, so I have decided to try all angles! Am using both a prescription topical treatment and a home remedy. 50/50 distilled vinegar and boiled water, a good tablespoon of sea salt, with ten drops of lavender and ten drops tea tree essential oils, as hot as I can stand it for about 20-30 mins each night as a foot soak.
    I have only started this a few days ago so will have to see how it works.
    I have to say that I think whichever treatment you use, you must continue for several months after it looks better, as I believe that this is why mine returned on one foot. Also I has purchased a shoe disinfectant similar to the ones they use in bowling shoe rental.
    It is a very costly affair!!!!

  11. howdy
    Reply

    Happy to have found this site for sharing info and tips on toenail fungus. Based on this site and other research on the web, I am going to start the regimen of vinegar soak (30 mins per day) and vicks on toes with socks. I will post updates. Going to start April 1/2012. Background of my condition. I am a foot obsessed lady — up until about 5 years ago, beautiful feet. I had a big toe injury (wearing a flip flop driving a stick shift !) and my big toe had major trauma. Never came off, but I thought I ripped off the nail.
    Well, a short time later, discoloration and finally after seeing a podiatrist, diagnosed with toenail fungus. I have taken and tried all Rx and OTC. Oral medication, and yes, had the blood work done to ensure I could take the regimen. So I have used Penlac, Lamisil numerous times over the last 5 years and while some success — never resolved. The podiatrist says that mine is one of the toughest cases he has ever seen.
    I also run and that has not helped some of my other toes and the fungus has spread to a couple toes on each foot. So I am done, so over this toenail issue. I will give this home remedy a go and see what results are achieved. Thanks to all for sharing your tips.

  12. JOC
    Reply

    I also have toenail fungus on 4 out of my 5 toes, actually I have had it for about 20 years (due to an injury around then)!
    Late in 2010 I decided to finally address it with Vinegar/Listerine soak not wanting to go the Lamasil route due to potential liver damage (actually I used the cheap Listerine copy from target) and soaked my foot in 70% vinegar 30% listerine for about 6 months. I did occasionally miss days, sometimes multiple days in fact (due to travel, etc.) as it is very hard to keep it up *every* day.
    Anyway, after about 4 months of almost regular soaking, *one* of the toenails cleared up (I even took pictures of before and after :-), but the other three toenails did not even after 6 months.
    Still, I was happy that there was some progress. I’m guessing that these remedies probably do eventually work, but it might be the case that one needs to keep at it for a year or more. It’s probably also the case that it is hard and expensive to do controlled studies of this kind of treatment which is why the medical community has not yet done it. I am also fairly convinced that soaking for only a few days or weeks will probably not work at all on a bad case of fungus.

  13. robeir d.
    Reply

    LOSE THE LISTERINE..VICKS AND WHITE VINIGAR MIXED AND SMEARED ON MY TOES TURNED AROUND A BAD FUNGUS SITUATION ,THAT NOTHING ELSE HELPED IN VERY LITTLE TIME..

  14. DVH
    Reply

    I used the vinegar and generic Listerine treatment on nail fungus for about 3 months last year. The fungus was the thickened yellow nail which has something that looks like strands under the nail. It was doing well but I stopped since I thought it was good enough to wear sandals. I was using it once a day as a soak for 10 minutes. I am starting again and wanted to offer a few tips.
    First, do go to a 20 to 30 minute soak. Also, I mix 50/50 about 2/3 full in a 32 ounce vinegar bottle. Add a couple of drops of dish detergent to help penetration. I put all of this (about 20 fluid ounces) into a plastic paint roller pan so that I only have to submerse my toes; the heels being up on the incline. To the person that uses nail polish – don’t do this since it actually creates conditions to help fungus growth. The solution can be reused multiple times.
    I mix fresh about once per week. I also use Vapo-rub a couple of times a week but wash it off before the vinegar treatment. Seems to me that the oils would prevent penetration. Hope this helps. The treatment works if you stay diligent.

  15. TommyKnockerz
    Reply

    I had a fungus on EVERY toe, the big toe being the worst. The big toe was discolored and actually were rough and…. I can’t even really describe it. They would peal off in layers from the top to the nail bed but there would be just an awful looking mess. I’ve never seen anything like it. The rest of my toes were just very brittle and the toe next to my big toe was slightly discolored.
    The drug considered the best to fight nail fungus is Lamasil but I heard that it has a rather high risk of side effects, particularly liver damage, that I decided there was no way I’d risk it. I ruptured my liver in an accident so I wasn’t going to gamble with it. I decided to try home remedies. I had heard they actually had more success than the prescription medication anyway. I used the vinegar (seemed to be the most popular in the forums I read but there were a few that people used successfully), putting it on with an eye dropper 2 times a day for a couple of months and then the nail started to clear up and the rough part started growing out. Behind that was decent nail, still brittle and not tight to the nail bed but still much better.
    Once I had a decent nail coming out it seemed to stop working. It stayed brittle and slightly discolored. I had heard that if I stopped before it was COMPLETELY GONE that it would come right back so I didn’t stop but I knew I had to do something. I thought it may have something to do with the fact that the nail was thick again. I figured that the eye dropper wasn’t putting enough vinegar on to soak into the thick nail. I figured that when the nail was falling off, splitting off in layers, that the vinegar easily penetrated the nail but once it was hard it couldn’t penetrate it anymore.
    Rather than the dropper, I started soaking my feet in a tub of vinegar but vinegar is actually acidic so it’s harsh to the skin. It started to split the skin so I put the tub at an angle. The angle allowed the vinegar to cover just my toes and I noticed that it started working again and showing improvement. I would soak them for 20 minutes 2 times a day. It took almost a year but I finally had nice nails again.
    If I had it to do all over again, I think I would soak them from the start rather than using the eye dropper but I think I’d try a combination of remedies to MAKE SURE I found the right one for me. I would mix vinegar and Listerine (I believe a generic brand would be fine), soak 2 times a day for 20-30 minutes. On top of that I would put Vicks on them at night and maybe tea tree oil during the day in between the morning and evening soaks. I’d do that just to ‘hit it’ from all sides….LOL. You may not know which remedy worked the best by I’m quite certain it will work and I’m absolutely certain that you won’t care which remedy worked the best….LOL.
    I Don’t say this about all home remedies but; the prescription medications are expensive and potentially dangerous!!! When it comes to nail fungus, try the home remedies first, the only thing you have to lose is a little time. They are safe and they work much better than the prescription meds!!!!

  16. Carolee
    Reply

    I developed a nail fungus on my left big toe about 6 months ago, 1/2 my nail fell off. I think it was from getting pedicures. I too went to the podiatrist and she told me to use this expensive stuff like clear nail polish. I tried it and nothing changed. I found lots of websites that mentioned the vinegar and vick’s option and decided to give it a try.
    I have had great success. My nail is almost back to normal, and it has not spread to my other toes yet, which worried me because this is highly contagious and spreads easily. I never tried the Listerine, just the pure white vinegar and after a 1/2 soak in the evenings, I put some vick’s on w/ a Q-tip and put socks on for the night. I too am unsure as to weather this should continue even after the nail is completely grown back clear. Maybe someone can clarify this for me too, but I am very happy about the success of this cheap and safe option.

  17. Janene J.
    Reply

    My question is a little different from the vinegar/Listerine use…but I am having problems with my big toenail. It’s like it is squeezing together, so instead of a nice flat toenail, it’s kind of humped. (can’t figure how else to describe it!) I asked a podiatrist, and he said, ‘oh, toenails do that sometimes. Just be careful of ingrown toenails.’ Not good enough! It’s ugly! Is this because I’m getting older?!

  18. Carol
    Reply

    About 2 years ago I injured one of my toes and ever since I have found that my toe nail doesn’t grow normally and now I believe that it has fungus. Now, I have cut down almost the entire nail off and I’m willing to use these remedies and hope to have a beautiful nail again!
    I will start with VaporRub nightly along with Listerine and Vinegar.

  19. c
    Reply

    could anyone please tell me how long to soak in the vinegar/listerine mixture? may i safely assume that a ‘generic’ listerine may be used or is there a specific ingredient in the brand name that makes it effective?

  20. gnar
    Reply

    I’ve had a discolored left big toenail for about 10 years now, and I just recently decided to tackle it. I’ve been putting it off because it hasn’t really spread and I don’t like the idea of soaking it for 30 minutes every day for a year, etc. Several days ago, I clipped off as much of the discoloration as I could, and began scraping the top of the discoloration with a small knife. Then, I apply a mixture of apple cider vinegar and listerine mixed with petroleum jelly to help it stay adhered. I do this once a day, and after 4 days the improvement is noticeable. This has been much quicker than any of the remedies I’ve read about, and I recommend it.

  21. exc
    Reply

    I have been using the Listerine and vinegar mixture at night for about 3 weeks, then applying vicks and putting back on my socks. Have seen some improvement in my toenails. also had a major problem with my fingernails and am doing the same thing there. I do see a difference, and will keep using both the mixture and the vicks. My question is.. once my nails improve will I have to continue this?

  22. mbs
    Reply

    regarding the vicks, vinegar and listerine soaks, do I have to remove my toe nail polish for the soak to be effective?. My toes are so bad they need to be covered.

  23. AWI
    Reply

    Could you please tell me exactly how much vinegar, Listerine and Vaseline you used? I don’t know if you are talking about large amounts or small amounts. Please give exact measurements. Am willing to try anything!!! Thanks

  24. Ann
    Reply

    I’ve successfully used white vinegar right from the bottle to cure toenail fungus on both feet over many years. No side effects … and cheap!

  25. J. J. B.
    Reply

    I tried soaking my foot 25 minutes a day in 50% vinegar for five weeks. I was hopeful, and I had no development of athlete’s foot fungi, even though it was a sweaty summer. However, the improvement in the toenail was essentially zero.

  26. S.K.
    Reply

    I had ignored my feet for many years. The nails on the big toes began to change. I did not recognize it as toenail fungus. A shoe size that became more tight fitting as I grew older lead to irritation of the big toe and the next toe.
    Last winter I presented to my doctor with a foot that was so painful that it was difficult to walk. The toe next to my big toe was very sensitive and purple on the end. I tried vinegar soaks and Vick’s and noticed improvement, but the redness and tenderness were still there and were aggravated by walking.
    I was sent to a podiatrist. After checking to be sure I was not diabetic, and that circulation to my feet was normal he prescribed, Econazole nitrate. This is a cream applied to the nails and toes each night. Treatment continued for about a month. Soon after treatment began the redness, sensitivity, and pain disappeared and I could walk again without discomfort.
    Now, eight months later, over 2/3s of the big toenails are regrowth: new, smooth, and without any sign of fungus. There has been no recurrence. Of course, I am very grateful for the success of the treatment. And I take the utmost care to practice good foot hygiene now, including rinsing my feet thoroughly after showering.

  27. Ed P.
    Reply

    It worked for me and I recommend it at least three
    times a week until the nail
    grows out.

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