woman applying nail polish

Q. I have nasty nail fungus on a thumb and both big toes. My doctor will not prescribe pills because of possible liver damage, so I would like anything that will get rid of the fungus. My thumbnail really looks bad when the polish is removed during a manicure.

The nurse said to try Vicks VapoRub. A friend recommended white vinegar or lime juice. I can’t figure out how to get any of these under the nail. I’ve heard it might take six months to get rid of the fungus. Is there anything else that would work faster?

A. Getting rid of nasty nail fungus is a slow process because the treated nail has to grow out healthy. This can take months.

There are many solutions you can use at home to discourage fungus, including Listerine and Pau d’Arco tea as well as vinegar or Vicks. No one remedy works for everyone.

Success Stories

Julia:

“I’ve had toenail fungus for over 10 years and I’m just 25 :-( so it’s been hard. I would always hide my toes and wear closed shoes due to my toenails being so thick, yellow, dry and disgusting. People tell me I’m a beautiful, but the nail fungus brought tremendous insecurity into life. I grew up to be a shy person as a result.

“I recently started to use tea tree oil, and even though it makes my nails dry, its working perfectly. This is what I do:

  1. I file my infected nails to reduce the size of the infected areas.
  2. Then I take a shower and I scrub my feet really well to get rid of the dead skin.
  3. After I’m done showering I spray white vinegar on my feet and nails, just in case I spread the fungus around. I then let the nails air dry.
  4. Once my toenails are completely dry, I put some drops of tea tree oil on all of my toenails, even the ones that are not infected.
  5. Sometimes I alternate with oregano oil.
  6. Finally I seal the toenails with Vicks VapoRub.

“Your nails will become so clean, that you won’t be embarrassed to wear sandals anymore, even if you are missing some of your toenail. They might get a lil dark in the beginning due to the fungus dying but a little patience will make it better :-).

“You won’t spend too much money or time. Tea tree oil is $10 or less, afoot scrubber is less than $4, white vinegar is less than $3 for a decent size and Vicks is less than $6. All these supplies will last a very long time, and we already have most of them at home. GOOD LUCK!”

Sharon:

“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 [a British saying for it worked great]. 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.”

JMG:

“I’ve had 2-3 fingernail fungus attacks; I used the half-water half vinegar solution to soak the nail for 20-30 minutes twice a day and it worked! It is not speedy, taking about a month or so to kill the fungus. It takes discipline, but it gives me an excuse to sit down, read, and relax while I’m undergoing my ‘treatment’!”

Serena:

“I’ve been using the vinegar/Listerine mixture on my feet now for a month. It is working beautifully.

“I got toenail fungus from a nail salon, and have had it for over 3 years. This is the only thing that has even touched the fungus (I’ve done tea-tree oil, Vicks VapoRub, and painted some of everything on my toes religiously).

“My nail is now finally growing back normally and the fungus has turned white (from greenish-brown) and the toenail is no longer spongy. I’ll be able to wear sandals without bandaids very soon! Not only is Listerine/vinegar good for the toenails, but my feet have never looked better – the cracks and redness have disappeared.

“I soak my feet every night for 15-30 minutes. And I’m going to continue doing this until my toenails have completely grown out, at least 3 times per week.”

Penetrating the Nail Bed

As you have correctly pointed out, getting anti-fungal ingredients under the nail is challenging. You cannot lift the nail without causing serious harm. Long soaks (at least 30 minutes) though, appear to allow enough penetration to begin the assault on nasty nail fungus.

As our readers above have noted, patience is the critical ingredient. We have found this to be true for ourselves. Reading a book for half an hour or watching television while you soak your tootsies once a day is a great start. But it could take anywhere from six to nine months to see the nails growing out pink and healthy.

What About Anti-fungal Drugs?

Lest you think six to nine months is far too long to be practical and “real” medicine might be just the ticket, consider this. Information about a new prescription like Jublia (the manufacturer is advertising this topical product on television), offers some sobering stats. In studies of this pricey prescription topical medicine the “complete cure” rate after almost a year of continuous treatment was between 15 and 18 percent. That means the vast majority of subjects did not achieve full success in ridding their nails of fungus. If insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a bottle, you could pay over $400 for 4 milliliters and you will need quite a few bottles to complete the program.

As Julia pointed out above, the cost of the home remedies she used was under $25 and there would be enough to last for a very long time.

You will find additional directions for these and other home remedies in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. By the way, please be cautious with lime juice. Using it before sun exposure can lead to a severe sunburn.

Have you tried a home remedy to fight your own nail fungus? How did it work? Leave your story in the comment section below.

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  1. Debbie
    St Louis
    Reply

    I’ve had toenail fungus for years all the women in my family seem to get it and it never goes away I’ve been getting treated by a foot doctor for it for years I’ve been on pills, layered and the only that helps us some special nail polish the doctor developed that keeps its at bay. The doctor has since retired and I don’t know if I will be able to get it anymore

  2. paul k.
    TX
    Reply

    What about laser treatments?

  3. Amy
    Bangor PA
    Reply

    Has anyone had the experience of using tea tree oil for toenail fungus, only to have it get much worse and migrate to other areas of the foot? This happened to me and is most puzzling. I am immune compromised. Now the fungus seems to be traveling up my shins as well. I stopped the tea tree oil and am using OTC antifungals now, which are not much help either.

  4. Miss Nancy
    Reply

    Apple cider vinegar applied by a Q tip or dipping the whole toe in it twice a day. Had big toe fungus for 21 years, and this is the only thing I tried that worked. Or you can spend $1000 on laser treatments and pills that may or may not work. Wow, I cured mine for under $3! Up to you! FYI, got toenail fungus wearing steel-toed safety boots at the factory I once worked in. My feet got sweaty and no circulation. Good luck!

  5. Jo
    California
    Reply

    Tea tree oil has been working for my 2 toes that have been infected for over 11 years. I use a cotton swap with a generous amount of oil, 2-3 times a day, and file them down before applying it a couple of times a week. The new nails are growing, slowly, and the thick, lifted and raised part of the nails are now close to my skin. It’s been 6 months, and I expect a clean, pink nail in another 3 or 4 months. I’m very pleased! Another important thing is to let your toes air out–wear sandals as much as possible to dry out the fungus, even in the winter when you’re home. I always had my toes covered in socks and shoes, and this made the fungus continue to grow. Good luck to all!

    • Renee
      Philippines
      Reply

      I do hope that the tea tree oil will be the solution for the nail lifting problem of mine. I got so stressed by just looking at my fingernails.

  6. Tina Tinacious
    Tampa
    Reply

    Here’s a great way to make the Vic’s Vapor Rub stay on, and not get wiped away on your sock…put a ton of it on, and then wrap it up in Saran Wrap before slipping your feet into socks and shoes. No tape needed, it all stays together and my guess is that it helps keep the air out and a lack of fresh oxygen in this case, is a good thing.

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