The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Natural Treatments Really Help Toenail Fungus?

In looking for a natural treatment to help toenail fungus, consider one with antifungal herbal oils, such as Listerine, Vicks VapoRub or tea tree oil.
Toenail fungus foot

Toenail fungus is ugly. It turns toenails yellow and crumbly and makes them thick. They become difficult to cut. But drugs for nail fungus have drawbacks. Oral medications such as itraconazole (Sporanox) or terbinafine (Lamisil) may occasionally produce side effects such as nausea, rash or, in the case of itraconzole, congestive heart failure. Terbinafine has been linked to immune system disorders and liver damage. Even though such reactions are far from common, people who learn about them are understandably reluctant to risk them for the sake of prettier toenails. So is there a more natural way to help toenail fungus clear up?

Are There Natural Approaches That Help Toenail Fungus?

Q. I just saw an ad on the Internet about a toenail fungus product containing baking soda, animal fat and coconut oil. The visual was of someone’s feet soaking in a solution.

Will a natural treatment like this solve this problem? Does any natural treatment solve toenail fungus?

A. We are not familiar with this greasy-sounding approach to nail fungus. There are, however, many natural approaches that can be helpful against this problem.

Remedies That May Help Toenail Fungus Disappear:

Oily remedies to help toenail fungus include applying tea tree oil or Vicks VapoRub directly to the nails. There are even a few studies of Vicks against toenail fungus (Snell et al, Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Jan-Feb. 2016; Derby et al, Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb. 2011). Vicks VapoRub contains camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol as its active ingredients against cough. We suspect some of the inactive ingredients are also working against toenail fungus: cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, thymol and turpentine oil. Both the cedarleaf oil and the turpentine oil may have some components similar to those of Norway spruce resin. A Finnish test of the coniferous resin found it could help toenail fungus, at least modestly (Sipponen et al, Mycoses, May 2013).

Other Nail Fungus Remedies:

Some people report success from soaking their feet in a 50/50 solution of amber Listerine and white vinegar. Others have used even more unorthodox treatments, such as soaking the affected toenails in cornmeal mush.

Vitamin E Oil to Fight Fungus:

After we wrote about pricking a capsule of vitamin E to let the oil drip out, we heard from a reader about a simpler approach.

Q. You recently wrote about treating nail fungus with vitamin E. You’d have to break the capsules with a pin and squirt the liquid onto the toe. You cited a dermatologist who recommended 400 IU capsules.

It sounded good to me, so I went in search of those magic capsules. To my amazement, I found vitamin E oil: 13,000 mg (30,000 IU) per bottle. The directions said nothing about toenail fungus, but of course I took a bottle home and used it. It’s so much easier than poking a pill with a pin!

Urine Against Toenail Fungus:

One enterprising individual tested the “urine cure” by soaking one foot and not the other. After two months, this reader noted a visible difference.

Quite possibly the active agent in urine is urea. The Mayo Clinic website recommends treating fungus-infected toenails with urea-containing cream to soften them before trimming and filing.

You can learn more about a variety of remedies to help toenail fungus clear up in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

Rate this article
4.2- 84 ratings

Today's Newsletter Reading List

    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
    Hair and Nail Care

    Download the 8-page guide to the best shampoo and conditioners. Drugs that may cause hair loss. Fighting nail fungus with home remedies. Dandruff solutions.

    Hair and Nail Care
    Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

    We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

    Showing 35 comments
    Add your comment

    I found that Tincture of Iodine killed the fungus.

    I bought a 4 oz bottle of vit E oil at a dollar store! Application only for 2 nights on 3 toenails and surrounding skin & covered with a sock. The toes seem fungus-free. I will apply the oil periodically to prevent recurrence.

    I had pretty bad toe fungus with thoroughly deformed nails. Started putting Tea Tree oil on it every day. As the nails grew out I could see that the new growth was unaffected by the fungus. As the nails were clipped and grown the fungus and its ravages went away.

    I had a bad case for a few years long ago.
    I finally soaked in straight Listerine for five minutes every day.
    In a few weeks it started to improve; in a couple of months it was gone.
    I was careful to continue the treatment for a few weeks after it appeared to be gone to be sure.
    Twenty years later, still clean.

    I have used both oil of oregano and tea tree oil successfully. Produces healthy normal nails but needs to be done every day until healthy nails grow out. Daily routine!

    Try applying iodine directly to toes once a day. Only thing that worked for my husband.

    I had a problem with toenail fungus on both feet. Solved the problem by daily spraying peroxide on my toes after a shower and letting my toes air dry. It took about three months to start seeing a difference. In the following months all toe nails cleared of the fungus.

    I still spray my feet daily with peroxide after a shower to make sure the fungus will not come back.

    From my experience I am of the opinion that while several of these oil-based remedies (VapoRub, Vitamin-E, etc.) may result in a temporary improvement in nail appearance, they are unlikely to actually eliminate the fungus. However, I have found Tea Tree Oil to be highly effective for curing the infection in short order, but there’s a trick: The application needs to be protected with an impervious covering to ensure that the Tea Tree Oil is retained on the infected area for an extended time following each application. I found finger cots to be ideal for this purpose on the smaller toes and was able to eradicate the infection with daily applications in a matter of days rather than many months.

    I say if it works for you then by all means it works for you! I think there are some strains of fungus that only respond to prescription medication. I tried all these other remedies, and none worked. And you have to be consistent and persistent in applying them. Vicks Vaporub does stain socks and shoes since it is petroleum based, so beware. After being on Lamisil all the fungus cleared. And I had no side-effects.

    After a year and a half of trying over-the-counter anti-fungal sprays and even urine, Vicks Vaporub (I use the dollar store version) has the same ingredients as Vicks, finally did the trick for me. I’m down from using it daily to about twice a week to keep the fungus in check. If it comes back I’ll give vitamin E oil a try.

    I agree, Dallee.
    After finding the expensive RX totally useless, I have tried months of Vicks Vaporub (nada) Listerine soaks (nada – except for dying my feet green!). Finally, at the suggestion of my nail care technician, I began Epsom Salts soaks – and voila! No more fungus.

    Oil of oregano worked perfectly for a toenail fungus that had been going on years! And nothing from the dermatologist had ever worked.

    My treatment for toenail fungus is to soak my feet in full strength white vinegar. It works for me!

    Some years ago, I was diagnosed with porokeratosis of the feet – on the bottom of my feet – and the doctor had to cut the little painful growths out. I decided to soak my feet in vinegar for this condition and, although it does not totally eliminate the problem, it definitely helps it.

    One thing I’ve never seen mentioned is epsom salts. I was told to soak my feet 2-3 times a day for several weeks after having an ingrown toenail removed. To my surprise, after a few weeks I noticed I now had nice clear nails and soft pink skin once again.

    I had a black toenail on my big toe that would not go away. Tried the Vicks Vaporub and some other antifungal creams but it did not do anything. Then I bought a small bottle of Fungi-Nail at the local pharmacy. It comes with a small brush that you apply like nail polish. I dabbed it around the edges of my nail twice a day. After about a week or so I realised that the brush was going in deeper and deeper behind my nail at the top and that it was bit by bit clearing it out. When it got to about 2/3 down I got a bit worried about what would happen once the entire nail separated from the nail bed, so I made an appointment with a podiatrist. He said the Fungi-Nail was working well and the new nail was beginning to push up. He cut off the part of the nail that had already separated (didn’t feel a thing!) and told me to continue applying the Fungi-Nail at least once a day. It’s going to take a few more months for the new nail to grow out, but at last something is working!

    These home remedies absolutely do work — one may need to rotate through them because there are variations in the type of fungus and not every remedy will work on every fungus. In my experience, try an approach for about two weeks and, if that does not work, shift to another remedy. My toenail fungus vanished on the second home remedy I tried, which worked in pretty short order.

    Further, given the expense of professional treatment by laser or nail removal, or the cost of a course of prescription medicine — either likely to run about $500 for a course of treatment — trying a home remedy first is particularly practical.

    For toe fungus I painted my nails all around nail tip and cuticle with liquid bandage every time I showered. It took six months. But cheaper than prescription. It also cured cracked finger nails. I use once a week as prevention.

    I successfully got rid of toenail fungus on my big toe by taping a juicy wedge of lemon to the toenail every night for about a month. The first time I did it, the fungus came back. But after a second course of lemon wedge treatment, it was gone for good. This was about 25 years ago. It takes awhile for the clean nail to grow out after the fungus has been killed by the lemon, so you have to be patient. A side effect of this treatment is that your toe smells great every morning!

    I had a brief bout with toenail fungus. I applied pure, undiluted Tea Tree Oil directly to the nail and surrounding nail bed, using a cotton swab, for about a week. It was bad enough that my toe nail was separating from the nail bed. After a week of Tea Tree Oil, it disappeared. Hasn’t returned, and that was 5 years ago. My pedicurist says that I have ‘delightful’ toes to pedicure!!!

    I have had that dreaded toe nail fungus. In People’s Pharmacy saw a few times Article about using listerine (amber) and vicks vapor rub. Finally decided to try that after trying the nail polish type of treatment and the pill that was supposed to work in the blood. Neither Worked. I Decided to give this a try.

    Started soaking every other day for about an hour. Every 15 or 20 minutes I used a pen knife to gently clean out the Know Soft Fungus. At the end put vicks under nail and on top of nail. Before Soaking again would clean out any vicks and Soak foot. Did that for about a month the stretched the time to about twice a week, doing Same thing. Did it Work “YES”. I Now am Fungus free. It took about 5 months only because the big Toe nail grows so Slow. Thanks For the Articles I would have never guessed this would work. But DID!!

    I had success with Vicks Vaporub, but it created a matte finish on my toenails. I have also found Vagisil anti-itch cream to be successful (a PP guest said that resorcinol was an anti-fungal). The Vagisil left a healthy, shiny nail surface . I would apply Vicks or Vagisil once/day after a shower. They eliminated the nail fungus, but it returned whenever I quit applying them, so I had to constantly apply them.

    In the winter, I have a lot of problems with athlete’s foot, and I treat it with econazole, an Rx from my dermatologist. Two years ago, I applied the econazole to my toe nails for 3 months. The fungus was gone and I have not applied econozole since. The fungus has returned only a little bit on one toe nail. My dermatologist says that I have the least serious form of toenail fungus, where the nail turns white and separates into layers.

    These treatments may not work for more severe forms. Note: Once your toenail is discolored with fungus, it is not going to go away. All you can do is wait for new, healthy nail to grow out, which will take months.

    Tea tree oil did not work for me, but a “dab” of extra virgin, cold processed, coconut oil works great. I have it in the kitchen for cooking. I keep it several places, by filling empty (small) cosmetic jars. I use it morning & night, all around the nail & cuticle…I push my finger into it and it melts on contact, allowing me to distribute it around, either fingers or toes. It takes time, but it works! Note: You have to keep up the treatment several weeks to months after all traces of fungus are gone. But for me the only “side effect,” was softer skin.

    I found that ‘tincture of Iodine’ (not iodide) was VERY effective against toe nail fungus … daubing the nair a few times a week cleared it up within a month.

    Several years ago I read that horsetail rush could be effective against nail fungus. The plant had invaded our property so obtaining it was not a problem. I had a friend who had bad fungus in her fingernails.

    I had no idea what to do with the horsetail. I crammed as much as I could get in a gallon jar and filled it with hot water. I left it to soak for several weeks and gave it to her. She soaked her fingers in it twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes. Within a few weeks she began to see healthy growth of her nails. Eventually all the fungus grew out.

    I’d like to share a treatment I have just tried for nail fungus. Due to swelling in legs and feet I wear a men’s moccasin type slipper around the house. I think that’s why I got the nasty looking nail fungus. For many years I’ve been using clortrimazol (sp) usually used for athletes foot or jock itch.

    I use it for any rash, like the underbreast rash woman get. When I got the nail fungus I thought to try it on my toenails. I put it on twice a day being sure to rub it into the cuticle well. In a week or less the fungus was gone. I’m of the school of thought to try any kind of remedy that you don’t have to swollen first.

    You can buy clortrimazol at the big online retailer, 5 tube will be under $10. My daughter even used it on her dog foot putting a sock over it to keep him from liking it off.

    My grandma’s first remedy for foot and nail problems was stick it in the turpentine barrel. She ran a general store in Memphis TN in the 1930s and 1940s.

    My foot dr. said there is truth to Vicks Vapor Rub. Putting a dollop onto the toenail at night.

    I used tea tree oil and lavender oil on my toenail for a couple of months with improvement. Then the skin started to react to these oils, and I used colloidal silver instead. This also lead to improvement, and my toenail is ready to come off with a healthy new nail underneath it.

    I soak my feet in cornmeal mush from time to time. For me it does work against both plantar warts and toenail fungus. Afterwards I pour the water and mush over my rose bushes to prevent blackspot and other fungus diseases. Multitasking, so to speak.

    I recall reading that in the second WW the soliders were told to put their urine on their feet after showering (or whenever possible) to keep toenails and feet fungus free–old time solution to a current problem that works.

    I came down with, or just noticed, toenail fungus one year ago (Summer of 2016). I didn’t want to take the prescription option due to risk and expense reasons. Based on what I read about it on this site, The People’s Pharmacy, I bought Vicks Vaporub to see if it would help. I saw clearly visible changes within 3 months and after six months my nails looked completely clear to me (and to my skeptic wife) but as I often work outside in the Sun wearing boots, I decided to keep up the regimen.

    A full year after starting Vicks Vaporub treatment I am unquestionably fungus free and I use it now only on days I will be working in the heat outside. To apply it, I take a Q-tip, dip it into the Vicks, as many times as necessary, until I have slathered it over all my toenails being careful to get it well into the sides of the nails as well as under the front. It takes only a minute. As for the cost? I am only on my second 3.3 oz jar of Vicks which costs about $10/jar.

    Actually have cured toe nail fungus using amber listerine.
    I take a nail file and file the tops of the nail down a little.
    At my age and being rushed in the am,sometimes forget to put it on the nail. So when it came back on one toe nail, I put a small dish with amber listerine by the toilet area and stick my toe in the listerine as I sit on the throne. In one week you can see the diference. In the toe nail.

    I was able to get rid of a toenail fungus using Clove oil. I had been told by my dermatologist that there was no real cure for toenail fungus but if I wanted to he could prescribe a medication that would cost about $1,000 and potentially cause liver damage, but that sometimes it helped get rid of the fungus too. I walked out with the prescription but never filled it.

    I had read about some home remedies and instead of filling the prescription bought a $2.99 bottle of Clove oil from an Indian store and applied it to the afflicted nail (using a q-tip dipped in the oil) once per day before bed. It didn’t smell bad and I figured I had little to lose. Within a few weeks I began to suspect that the nail growing out of the bed was looking like a normal nail.

    I was too afraid to hope at first but sure enough, as the nail continued to grow out it was completely clear of the fungus. Within a few months I had a completely normal nail.

    I had only one nail with fungus and I painted nail liquid bandage over clean nail about every other day and in six months it was gone. The liquid hardens in to a coating.Cheaper than prescription drugs.

    My wife, originally from Bermuda where the humidity is high and temps warm has had various skin fungal infection for years. She was able to clear up her toenail fungus using vicks vaporub.

    It took about 8 months of nightly applications of the vicks but the new nail grew in without being infected. I worked as a retail pharmacist in Bermuda and recommended Vicks for many patients who had fungal infection of the toenail. I personally never had the problem because I never wore shoes or running shoe without socks and I occasionally dusted my shoes with anti fungal powder. Listerine or miconazole cream works on non nail fungal infections fairly well.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^