toes with nail fungus

Q. What is a good home remedy for yellow, ugly toenails? Yuck!

A. Just when we thought everyone in the known universe had become sick and tired of reading about remedies for nail fungus, along comes this question from Pat in Irvine, California. Perhaps there are a few other people who are also suffering from unsightly thick, yellow-brown nails.

The official dermatological name for this condition is virtually unpronounceable: “onychomycosis.” Dermatologists do love their Latin and Greek names. “Mycosis” means infection caused by fungus. “Onych” or “onycho”) means a condition of the finger or toe nail. A German doctor (Rudolf Virchow) came up with the name in 1856 and derms still use it to this day. They also refer to it as tinea unguium.

We have been writing and talking about nail fungus for decades and offering a variety of creative solutions to solve this unsightly problem.

First, some questions to ponder:

Why do some people get fungal infections under their nails while others appear resistant?

As far as we know, the dermatological community does not have a good answer. We suspect there is an immune component, because people tend to be more susceptible as they age and their immune systems seem less capable of fighting off the invasion.

Why do some people get quick relief with a particular home remedy (like Vicks VapoRub) and others see no benefit even after several months of diligent application?

Again, there is no good answer. We are constantly surprised why some people respond to one approach but others say it is worthless. Part of the difference may be which specific fungus is causing the infection. They may have differing sensitivities.

Why do dermatologists generally reject home remedies for nail fungus as a waste of money?

We are a bit puzzled by this attitude, though we suspect they may see a lot of patients who report home remedy failures. People who are happy with the results of a home remedy are not likely to go back and mention their success to a doubting doctor. Generally, home remedies are a lot less toxic and expensive than prescription anti-fungal medications.

People’s Pharmacy Remedies for Nail Fungus:

We make no promises about any of these approaches. What works for one may not do the job for another. We have heard from many people, though, that these remedies can be surprisingly effective.

Vicks VapoRub

“I have been using the Vicks for a number of years. It takes a long time (about 6 months) for the nail to grow out, but the fungus is gone. However, it does come back and the treatment has to be repeated.” M.W.

“I have had fungus and nail bed damage on my right thumb nail (about half way up the nail) for approximately 8 eight years. My nail technician has suggested, and I have tried, everything: anti-fungal treatments, vinegar, etc. She said the nail would probably never grow out because of unknown nail bed damage.

“At one point, we even glued one half of an acrylic nail on each week for about a year to protect the nail. Nothing helped, or even looked right. I always had to have my nails polished because of the ugly discoloration.

“About six months ago, on my own, after reading one of your columns, I began using Vicks VapoRub twice a day. I just dabbed a little on a toothpick and gently rubbed it around and under the nail. Low and behold, after two months, I could see new growth! Now, it has almost completely grown out. I am so excited! I only use the Vicks once a day now. Hope this long information helps someone else.” Martha

Cornmeal Foot Soaks

“When examining me my doctor noticed that I had nail fungus affecting toes on each foot.  He recommended that I make a batter by mixing cornmeal and water, let it sit for an hour, and then using a shallow pan, soak my feet for an hour.  He told me to do this once a week for a month.  If the fungus was not gone, I was supposed to apply Vicks Vaporub once a week for a month.

“I did the cornmeal therapy for three week and the fungus was gone. I don’t know why it works, but it’s cheap, harmless, and it worked for me.” Larry

“I’ve used vinegar and Listerine foot soaks in the past and it does help but takes an extremely long time to see good results. In the last year, I started soaking my feel in the cornmeal paste (also reported by the Graedons) once a week and started seeing results within three weeks and by three months the fungus was gone and within six months my toenails had grown to the point where I started wearing toeless shoes again and was no longer embarrassed about hideous toenails.

“I highly recommend the warm cornmeal paste and found that it was so easy because I’d soak my feet for an hour while reading the morning paper. (Killing two birds with one stone.)” Shirley

Listerine & White Vinegar Foot Soaks

“I have tried Vicks, hydrogen peroxide and tea tree oil with no benefit. The Listerine and white vinegar soaks was the only treatment that worked on my nails. I used it for about 2 months and saw things get better.

“Then I went to a festival for 3 days. It was 30 degrees and did not bring anything for my nails. Needless to say back to square one. Is it possible that results could show after like half a year? Maybe I just quit too soon.” L.M.

“I have been using generic white vinegar and generic brown Listerine for a couple years now ever since I read about it in the Peoples’ Pharmacy. I just do a maintenance soak twice a month now, mostly because it makes my feet feel so good. A nice side affect. You will never have athletes’ feet again! Thanks again Peoples’ Pharmacy!” Kathleen

“I have been keeping up on your ideas to combat toenail fungus. I am happy to say that since March, 2013 I have been soaking my toes every day for 30 minutes with a combination of Listerine and ACV (apple cider vinegar) with great success. All my nails are nice and pink-colored now except for one. That one will require more soaking to complete the deal.

“What a sight to see (normal nails). I also treat my nails with Vicks for the remainder of the day. Thanks so much! I will continue to treat sparingly to stay ahead of any returning fungus.” N.P.

To learn more details of these and many more approaches to overcoming nail fungus we recommend our 264-page book Quick & Handy Home Remedies (published by National Geographic). You will learn about cornmeal mush foot soaks, hydrogen peroxide, de-colorized iodine, Listerine and vinegar and tea tree oil, not to mention the strangest of all… urine soaks!

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  1. Janice

    Interesting that corn meal can be used to treat toenail fungus. Corn meal is also suggested for treating Hollyhock Rust ( a fungus affecting Hollyhocks) in the garden. Corn meal apparently has some anti-fungal properties. What are the proportions of water to cornmeal to use for the soak?

  2. Hee

    I tried it and it works.
    I had toenail fungus for about 5 years on my big toe, and trust me, I’ve used all sorts of “remedies.” I know how stressful and embarrassing it is to have toenail fungus.
    I’m sure there are other things that work, but I personally recommend using tea tree oil. Garlic is pretty nasty to smell on your feet everyday, and foot soaks are too time consuming. I used about 3 drops of pure tea tree oil on the toenail every night (and morning when I wasn’t too lazy) and made sure to trim off any white stuff. It takes some time (for me it took about 3-4 months), but the nail that was once so affected (that I had to trim the whole thing off) was back to normal! I started seeing results even after a week of using tea tree oil. Also, make sure to wash your feet with soap and keep them dry. Every time I took a shower or washed my feet, I dried them with a blowdryer so there’s no moisture left. Try to wear shoes that ventilate well (I didn’t worry too much about methods of socks or shoes). Now I can confidently wear sandals or flip-flops in summer :D However, I still use tea tree oil regularly on my toe, just in case there’s still some fungus left.
    Good luck to you all.

  3. g

    I’ve had nail fungus for a long time on my fingers when it got bad it was really itchy.. I looked for medications but were expensive for me. What I did was I used garlic. I scraped the garlic and got the juice and put it on the affected area…oh my gosh…I never thought i’d see my nail go back to normal….the skin around it peeled off and it dried..a new nail grew, the side of the nail attached to the skin again…and I continued medicating it with salicylic acid the garlic juice especially….

  4. Susan
    Portland, OR

    I have fairly severe fungus on three toenails. Thickened, discolored, jagged nails. After years of trying things like Vicks, Listerine & ACV and Tea Tree, with no success, I think I might have come upon a more effective strategy. I found this on a Seattle area podiatrists’s website I found while searching for anything new about treatments.
    1. Treat entire foot for fungus (even if you don’t think you have athlete’s foot).
    2. Use Callex to exfoliate dry, dead skin. (I also use a MediCool pedicure file to gently remove dead skin, and scrub my feet really well using soap and a back brush once a day.)
    3. Use Nonyx gel on nails every evening after scrubbing to dissolve keratin build up. This is what causes the icky yellow color.
    4. Brush Fungazoil anti-fungal on nails every morning.
    This is the first time I’ve seen any real change from treatment. The whole thing (including the MediCool file) costs around $150, which seemed reasonable to me for something that works. And takes about 5 minutes per day, which is doable for me over the long term. I’ve been doing this for about two months and am seeing clearer, pinker nails and softer feet too.

  5. Lisa

    I had toenail infection on my big toe. My doctor prescribed antibiotics but I was reluctant to take them for such an insignificant condition. It was Summer so I covered the affected nails with a false toe nail and the glue that comes with it, as well as nail varnish. It stayed on for months and I filed it occasionally as the nail underneath slowly grew and became visible. Eventually the fake nail needed replacing. When I removed it the affected nail was cured! I believe that perhaps cutting the air off to the nail killed the fungus?? Never worked out how, but the false nail and glue cured me.

  6. susan
    United Kingdom

    My toenails are awful tried vicks not working, they are all discoloured and breaking and crumbling. Going on holiday in two weeks to Barbados feel ashamed with my feet in sandals got no big toenails, help me what can I do? out of my mind shoing my feet

    • g

      I hope it would work for you too…garlic juice…not the commercial ones.. buy a native garlic and scrape it and apply the juice on the affected area…I also used salicylic acid when the nail grew back…

  7. B

    My big toe had a fungal infection for more than 5 years. It didn’t spread to other nails (thank goodness) but it was unsightly and embarrassing.

    Literally, after soaking my foot in white vinegar (straight ~ not mixed with water or anything else) once a day for five days (five minutes a day), the disgusting nail fell of. And already underneath was a nail. Very thin but the start of a beautiful healthy nail.

    I should have done this years sooner!

    • Bern

      I have been soaking/spraying my toenail fungus on my 2 big toes with white vinegar for over 18 months. It only took a few weeks for the clear nail to grow through from the cuticle which was so encouraging and exciting!! During this time however, I’ve covered them up with nail polish so I can wear sandals in public which turns out to be a bad setback when the polish comes off so back to consistent vinegar soaks/spraying. Consistency is the key. I also try and put my toes in the sun as much as I can. It is to the point where I am confident to wear sandals without nail polish. I will never use nail polish again. If I’m away I always take a spray bottle of vinegar to treat them easily. I’m so committed to getting rid of this fungus. I wish I had the same commitment to losing the extra weight I’m carrying though!!!!!

  8. Chuck Morton
    United States

    Fungus thrives in a warm moist environment. Ditch the shoes for a while and it will go away.

  9. Anightowl

    As a child I suffered from fungus between the toes. Finely I was able to get rid of the problem by keeping my shoes in a “hot locker – closet” used to keep the shoes and clothes from getting moldy in the damp area we lived in. The heat did dry out the leather shoes but no more fungus. After about 6 months of the heat the fungus was gone.

    Also I use the plunger end of a needle like tool used to give medication to a child or an animal to apply liquids (like ACV) to toes with toenail fungus.

  10. Tasha E.
    Albany ga.

    My big toe has a fungus… yellowish

    • Tasha E.

      What do I need to do…need help ASAP. ..

  11. Debbie

    Do you let the paste sit for an hour and then add water to it?

  12. cindy

    I have had horrible toenail fungus for years… on 7 of my toes.. I have tried everything out there: all the tea tree oils, vicks, vinegar, and everything under the sun…

    I finally started putting drops of straight listerine original amber colored… (Listerine) on my toenails 3-4 times a day and it started working in a week… my fungus started dying and my pink toenails are starting to show near the cuticle… I’m so excited. I think soaking dilutes the listerine and slows the affect. Straight listerine!!!! Drops all over the nail works!! Yahoo

  13. RH

    My toenail fungus was cured with daily applications of oregano oil. I put it on the infected nail after my shower and let it soak in for a few minutes, then put on socks and shoes. It took about two months to see new healthy toenail growing in.

  14. J. M.

    after trying a number of your remedies I tried Udderly Smooth with 20% urea, used it twice a day on my toes for 6 months, it ate away all the white mushy stuff. Then I used vicks about 4 months, I’m still using it.
    a couple of the toes are back to normal, and the rest are showing good improvement. just don’t give up. hope it works for you

  15. Mairzy

    I have a different toenail condition, on only one toe. The podiatrist told me my fungus is genetic, and I would never get rid of it, only control it. His prescription used nail polish remover to clear once a week, and I cannot do that. So he gave me a fungus control prescription, which did not do much good.
    I found success with control using Vicks Vaporub. I put it on at least once a day, and it does keep it from growing. I do this combined with filing, the way the podiatrist did.
    BTW, my mother had this condition on all her toes. I only have one.

  16. J Mohr

    I had some fungus mainly on my big toes. I finally asked my doctor for help. I was tired of not being able to wear sandals. I went through two sessions of anti yeast medication to be rid of the fungus. Some time later I noticed it was starting to come back. When I mentioned that to my doctor, she suggested I try vick salve. I have been using the salve anytime I think it is coming back.

    • Pat

      What it work for me was the “creme peroxide for hair 30 Vol- 9%”. I applied it with a Q-tip and after 2 to 3 minutes i clean the toe nail with a wet tissue. I did this for 5 days, The fungus is gone. (Every month I apply for 2 days the same treatment.)Before this treatment I tried everything on the market and in the health shop, nothing work. The creme peroxide 30 vol is the best kill everything.

  17. Page

    my sister-inlaw gave me this trick….use a eyedropper and put listerine under the nail. it only took 10 days to get rid of mine.

  18. FJackson

    After treating toenail fungus on my two big toes for a number of years with topical Lamasil, a culture was taken of the nails and now the reason for the thickness and discoloration of the nails is a “bacterial infection.” I have been using an over the counter lotion for four months containing 10% Urea on toothpicks, under the nails. The nails are thinner but still discolored. Any suggestions for treating toenails with bacterial infection?

    • Jian

      I think laser treatment with antibiotics is good option. I want to try it myself- I’m considering a laser nail therapy clinic in Los Angles but would love to hear any other suggestions.

      • Pav
        San Diego

        I’ve had this for about 8 years or more. I think it started when I first went hiking and broke my toenail. It spread to all the toes on my right foot. Really bad, and I tried a lot of different things. I got some relief from soaking in apple cider vinegar, but it would grow back again. I got terrible athlete’s foot too. I couldn’t afford laser treatment and Lamisil would ruin my already weak liver. I read somewhere a suggestion to use a magnifying glass and concentrate the sunlight on my nails. I decided to try it. I’d “burn” them until it began to sting but not damage my skin. I did this as often as I could over a few weeks. I also began dumping athlete’s foot powder in my shoe and sock. It’s been about 2 months, and I think it worked! The nails aren’t getting thicker, like before, and there’s healthy pink under the nails. Is it cured? I don’t know, but I think so. Maybe you can try it. Beats the cost of laser, and the danger of ingesting Lamisil.

  19. M.C.

    Permanently curing a fungal infection of the toes can be very difficult. Fungus reproduces with spores. When you have a fungal infection in your toenails, the spores can be found in your socks and your shoes. To prevent recurrence, it is possible to kill the spores by boiling your socks, but there is no practical way to sterilize your shoes. The only solution is to throw out all of your old shoes which are infected and wear new shoes. Unfortunately, that can be expensive. But if you don’t do it, the old shoes could continually reinfect you.

    • Robin M

      M.C. I am glad you brought up this information about shoes and socks. I think it hasn’t been talked about enough on any sites. I think it is as important as the treatment or even more so. No one talks about sterilizing your clippers or files after cutting your nails either. Or about not cutting other “good” nails with the clippers until you have cleaned them. I am assuming these things are important.

      I am wondering how you know that boiling works? Washing the socks isn’t good enough ? Or is there something we can add to the wash that kills the fungal spores?

      What are the spores affected/ killed by? Heat? Rubbing alcohol? Tea tree oil with water? Oregano oil?

      I have noticed that my feet are showing unhealthy conditions as well such as cracking, white flaking skin etc. Is that caused by my use of tea tree oil with water soaks or is it a fungal condition that is not limited to my toe nails. I had a dermatologist tell me that I had a fungal condition on my feet and he had a cream for it.

      So far I haven’t seen a real comprehensive explanation of this situation on any site.

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