Q. I have a PhD in mycology [study of fungi] and probably picked up my toenail fungus on a research visit to the tropics. I heard a physician on one of your radio shows note that Listerine was used to eliminate the fungus.
Since I understand fungi pretty well, that made sense. I used a less expensive Listerine equivalent and soaked my infected toe for 10 minutes once a day. I did this for only three weeks but within a month my toenail gradually started to grow out healthy.
I have begun this procedure again for a different toenail that is more severely affected. I will probably try to do this daily for six weeks. I can’t believe my doctor wanted me to take a pill with dangerous side effects! I know he doesn’t understand fungi and I do.

A. Old-fashioned amber Listerine contains alcohol and herbal oils that appear to have antifungal activity. Others have reported success with this and other foot treatments (cornmeal, vinegar, peroxide, Vicks VapoRub and oregano oil) for fighting nail fungus. We are sending you our Guide to Hair and Nail Care with details about these and other fungus fighters.
Another reader wrote: “My doctor will not prescribe any pills for fungus. He says they’re too expensive, take too long and have bad side effects. Plus the fungus frequently comes back even with such medicine.
“The treatment that blew me away (and I don’t have a clue why it works, but it does) is the one using cornmeal in tepid water.”

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  1. Richard
    North Carolina

    I just recently finished curing my toenail fungus. First, I trimmed the nail as short as I could since the skin in the fungus infected area is dead, being careful not to trim too much. I used a cotton swab with the cotton on both ends. I dipped one end in Listerine and applied to the end of the nail and around the edges. I dipped the other end in apple cider vinegar and applied to the end of the nail and around the edges. This was done in the morning and at bed time. It took six months or longer, but was certainly worth the wait.

  2. DS

    I’ve never noticed any undue odor. I think it’s because you tend to use so little. I apply it after my shower in the am, before going to bed, and pay particular attention to rubbing it in especially around the cuticle and edges. It really works, but give it a few weeks before expecting any improvement.

  3. Frank

    What about the vicks smell around the house and bed? If I try this I’ll do it in the morning.

  4. DS

    I had nail fungus on my thumbnails for years. After reading an article in Dr. Gott’s column on Vick’s Vapor Rub I applied it both morning and night and continue to do so. The nails cleared up and I’ve had no problems. It’s easy to apply and cheap.

  5. aw

    In response to use of Listerine for toenail fungus, can you soak a cotton ball in the Listerine and leave it on the affected toenail for 10 minutes? It seems like such a waste to have to soak your whole foot just for the toenails.

  6. Lue

    Re tea tree oil used for toenail fungus: where does one acquire tea tree oil? I have never seen it in any stores or pharmacies. Thanks for any help.

    • Mare

      Health food stores carry it; Google it, or search within Amazon for a variety of choices – it is easy to find.

  7. bpmc

    People’s Pharmacy column in our local newspaper is the first article I look for.
    Toe nail fungus has been a recurring problem with me. First used a generic Listerine product mixed with white vinegar (50/50) and soaked for 30 minutes per day. It helped somewhat.
    Went to brand name Listerine and continued the generic white vinegar solution(50/50) and am soaking for 30 minutes per day. The yellowish dark look of the nails are starting to disappear and being replaced with a white healthy looking cuticle. Been doing this for two weeks now.
    Will let you know the results.

  8. CO

    I’m soaking in amber listerine and apple cider vinegar now! Thanks for your tip!

  9. Virginia

    My husband battled with severe athletes foot fungus for 20 years. I told him to start peeing on it in the shower. Ba-ba-bing! Gone within a month.

  10. CEC

    Absorbine Jr. The only thing that works against fungus for me. Whether foot or nail, it works easily and fast. Within 2 or 3 days athletes foot fungus is dead.

  11. Susan

    I am trying Listerine for my toenail fungus and wonder if I have to immerse my toes in Listerine. The couple nights I did this I used a lot of Listerine. Now I am soaking a cotton ball with Listerine and covering the toenail with the cotton ball for 10 min. Do you think this is ok?

  12. Bill

    I am going to try this remedy starting tomorrow. My question is, should I throw out my old slippers that I wear every morning without socks? It seems to me that I may be perpetuating the problem by continuing to wear them.

  13. Charles W.

    Thanks for the information about using Listerine for toenail fungus.
    Cross you fingers for me.

  14. Kim

    I know tea tree oil worked for me. The key is to keep doing it for awhile. My pharmacist was the one who told me to use it instead of the pills.

  15. Brent B.

    I’ll have to tell my mom about this. I know the tea tree oil works well, but sometimes it helps to dilute it a bit so it’s not so abrasive. I’ve also heard that the Sea Breeze astringent makes a pretty good insect repellent so that’s probably worth a try too. Does People’s Pharmacy have a book on off-label uses for common household products? Sounds like that would be a good idea. Some of these original formulations are more effective than today’s “cutting-edge science” synthetics, so check your own cabinet and see what you can find!

  16. SNH

    The key to all these treatments (peroxide, vapor rub, Listerine) is doing them daily til the nail grows out, which can take a long time. It’s easy to slack off especially if you don’t see immediate results.
    BUT The same is true of the pills, and these remedies are certainly safer and cheaper than that.

  17. TOM C.

    Do you mix the Listerine with water? If so, how much water to Listerine? And can the mix be used more than once?
    Thank you.

  18. cpmt

    I think also tree oil has anti-fungal properties and (cream or oil) anything with eucalyptus will also help.

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