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. carmen
    oakland ca

    Hello everyone.
    I’ve been dealing with foot fungus for about 10 long years, I’ve been trying to treat it with home remedies like Vicks, vinegar and garlic. Now I’m trying pink salt and coconut oil. Pink salt been helping my try foot so hopefully it well help with the fungus as well, I’ll do a update to see if it works or not.

  2. Helen
    S Georgia

    My husband has been suffering from awful toe fungus on both of his feet for years. We have searched high and low for something that would get rid of this naturally and after years, someone recommended we look at Neem. Skeptical at first, we did some research and found that the top Neem benefit is that it is anti fungal. We found that Neem Oil is great and also found a cream called ‘Alpha Fungal Neem Cream’ from All About Neem that is perfect. This way we can kill the fungus and moisturize at the same time.

    The company is SO helpful with any questions you have and I am extremely grateful to my friend who pointed me in this direction. We also found that Neem can help so many other areas of our health and have tried other things now that my husbands toe fungus has improved. Wish we could share our before and after pictures.

  3. Paul
    New Mexico

    I had curled up toe nails on only one foot for years and tried all the remedies listed here, plus more. The only thing that worked was warm water and Apple Cider vinegar soaks every day for 10 days. I mixed it 50/50 warm water and the vinegar and soaked both feet for 10 mins a day for the prescribed 10 days and the fungus is gone. I have to wait for the nails to grow out to see if the curling straightens out but I am thrilled with the lack of fungus.

  4. Charlie

    I had a a thick yellow ugly crumbly big toenail for about two years. I’d been to the doc’s and sent the clippings off and had the result of fungal nail infection. Tried the tablets but had a reaction to them , so just tried to cover it up with nail varnish. Then I read about Vicks. I’ve been putting cutting the nail short and apply with a cotton bud under the nail every night sometimes morning as well,since about last September. I’ve now got a lovely new nail,I almost can’t believe it. I’m still putting a bit of Vick on it at night hopefully to make sure it doesn’t come back.

  5. Lisa Marie
    Warrenton, GA

    I had toenail fungus in both of my big toes. I tried everything that people were claiming to work, the tea tree oil, the available OTC’s for nail fungus, the natural home remedy’s. None of them worked.

    Finally I figured out a method that did. I basically encapsulated my two big toes with the corners that I had cut off of plastic sandwich bags and then covered them with a 2% yeast cream that women use to treat yeast infections. I know that sounds crazy.

    I tried to find it stronger than the 2% in the over the counter, but couldn’t. I bought sandwich bags and would cut the corners off of the bags just big enough to cover my large toenails and basically filled them with just enough of the cream to keep the toenail covered. I did this twice a day. Once in the morning after I showered and then again at night before I went to bed. Then, on the weekends I would go without them being covered and would wear sandals to let them air out. I just wore closed toe shoes for that whole year.

    You need to wash your feet and the affected nails twice a day and put new medication on them and new covers each time. And, as the toenail grows out, keep cutting away the old nail.

    I did this faithfully for about a year. I estimated that it cost me a little over a hundred dollars in the OTC 2% vaginal yeast cream and the sandwich bags and the tape. Eventually two healthy toenails grew in and I haven’t had a reoccurrence. I will use the same method if I ever get toenail fungus again. Before I found this method, I had spent about a year and a lot of money on the other methods.

    If you have nails that have thickened and curled — then I would think that you need to take an emery board and file down (or cut away) the thickness of the existing nail as much as possible because the yeast is actually growing under the nail.

    It takes dedication and persistence, but if you make your mind up to stay with this routine — it may work for you too. And, believe me, this method will seem crazy to others, but if it works — then who’s the crazy one?

  6. Selena

    Maybe somone can help me I’ve been dealing with this for 2 years now , My nail fold is very red dry and has pus leaking from it doctor says its fungus but I’m not convinced could this be a cuticle infection or paronychia there is no debri in my nail except it’s alittle white in area where there’s excessive skin my skin around toenail it’s dry peeling and darkened?

    • Lisa Marie
      Warrenton, GA

      @ Selena in Massachusetts: I’m not a doctor, but it sounds like you have two things going on with your feet. First, it sounds like you have an infection of skin around the nail and then second, you have a fungal infection in your nail.

      You first need to treat the infection of the skin around the nail and, then begin to treat the nail fungus.

      First off, everyone needs to know that getting rid of a nail fungal infection is not an overnight process or even a one to two week process. You’re going to be dealing with this process for a year or maybe longer. Toenail fungus infections are extremely hard to get rid of, that’s the reality of it.

      After the infected skin heals, which may take a week or two, then you can begin to treat the fungal infection.

      Go out and buy a tube of 2% Myconozal Vaginal Cream (OTC) that women use to treat vaginal yeast infections. Then purchase small sandwich bags and surgical adhesive tape (or any tape that will supply a strong hold and doesn’t irritate the skin).

      Every morning after showering:

      1. Dry your feet and toenails really well.
      2. Get your plastic bags and cut the corners off, large enough to cover the end of your toe.
      3. Put the 2% Myconozal Cream directly on top of the infected nail (use a lot).
      4. Take the corner of the plastic sandwich bag and place it over the end of your toe.
      5. You need to encapsulate the nail with the cream inside the corner of the bag.
      6. Don’t get the cream all over the toe itself, because you have to tape the bag closed.
      7. Get the tape and wrap it around the plastic, covering the nail and your toe.
      8. Put your closed-toe shoes on over the wrapped toe and go to work or wherever.
      9. Before you go to bed at night – again wash and dry your feet really well and REPEAT.
      10. You’ll be treating your toenail using this method twice a day.
      11. On the weekends, at home, wear sandals to let your nails dry out and get air to them.
      12. But, if you go out, then wear closed toe shoes and cover the nails with the bags and med.
      13. As your nails grow out — cut away the old nail. Keep your toenails on the short side.

      After sticking to this routine for about a year — you’ll see two perfectly healthy toenails grow out. I did this and it worked and I haven’t had a reoccurrence of the fungal infection. If I do, then I will just do this all over again.

      Any of the vaginal yeast ‘creams’ with 2% will work. Don’t use anything but the cream. And, guys — this will work for you too. No one will have to know because you’ll be wearing shoes to hide it. Hey, you’re hiding your feet anyway because of the fungal infection — so what’s the difference?

    • Anthony
      Eccles England

      Hi Selena. I think that it was your hard work and dedication rather than what you used that helped. I found that washing and drying every day with a hair dryer and separating the toes with toilet paper cured me after 30 years. Fungus likes dark damp places so do the opposite. Good Luck ! Anthony

  7. Birinder

    I read about using Decolorised Iodinne to treat Nail fungus. Does it work?

  8. Courtney

    I have had a fungus on my big toes for a very long time. Over a decade on one. I tried numerous over the counter and pinterest supported “cures”. After a while I decided that the information about nail fungi all noted that moisture is the key factor. Many doctors also noted that people typically get foot fungus infections opposed to hand. Main point being that your hands are exposed to air and typically are cleaned easier and more frequently. I decided to stop using nail polish and to trim my nails as low as I could comfortably get them. Then each morning I use a nail brush to clean with soap and water in the shower. When I get out of the shower I use a thin metal nail cleaner to scrape out any debris in the part of the nail where I know the fungus is. Making it dry and clean. (takes all of a minute) Use rubbing alcohol on the tool after every time I use it. I replaced all my socks with as high a percentage of cotton as I could find (lets air through) and remove my shoes and go barefoot as soon as I get home. I started this process around April and believe one nail is now pretty close to being fungus free when the nail grows out. My other big toe looks markedly better but I think will take longer as the fungus was further down.
    Patience and consistency is the key…. keep it clean, free of debris and make sure air is getting at it.

  9. pascal yang

    I don’t see anyone talking about using chinese tea to deal with fungus of the toes. Buy some cheap chinese tea (some tea are expensive). Boil it and leave it overnight (must leave overnight) the next day wash your toes in with this tea and pat dry do not dry the toes too much so that some tea moisture is left to heal.

    Do this morning and at night before going to bed. Try not to wear leather shoes or socks if possible. If you live near the sea, carry buckets of sea water back home and soak (20 minutes) your feet with it. Or visit the seashore and wash your feet there.

    Sea water probably do the trick. My tiny toes almost eaten away by the fungus and the sea water cures it in a week or so. I was lucky I used to live near the sea.

  10. LT

    3 TBS. regular table salt in bowl of warm water. Every night, no less than 30 min. Anything over 30 minutes up to an hour is bonus. I tried EVERYTHING religiously for over a decade and NOTHING worked. This is the one thing that finally FINALLY did! I can finally wear sandles again.

  11. 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?

    • Jessica

      I’ve tried almost everything…. then someone mentioned cornmeal. It sounded weird, but thought why not. It really does work to my surprise!
      Mix cornmeal and water into a paste. Slap it on your toes (I do all even though I only have one toe that is bad) let it set for half hour every other day for a week. After that once a week. You will notice a difference right away.

  12. 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.

  13. 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….

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    • Mojo

      Why would doc prescribe abx for a fungus?

  16. 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…

  17. 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!!!!!

  18. Chuck Morton
    United States

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

  19. 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.

  20. Tasha E.
    Albany ga.

    My big toe has a fungus… yellowish

    • Tasha E.

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

  21. Debbie

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

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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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