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How to Eliminate Foot Fungus from Your Shoes

Keeping feet dry and alternating shoes are important steps for discouraging foot fungus. Soaking feet in dilute vinegar or Listerine may help.

Foot fungus, aka athlete’s foot, is a common complaint. Fungus-infected skin may become itchy and red, and sometimes starts to blister and peel. Readers have shared some favorite home remedies for this problem. Others are puzzled as to why we don’t endorse one of their favorites, the bleach bath.

Why We Don’t Recommend Bleach for Foot Fungus:

Q. I have read your caution not to use a dilute bleach solution to treat athlete’s foot. My podiatrist recommended a bleach bath for my athlete’s foot, and my dermatologist agreed. Why are you opposed?

A. The bleach bath your podiatrist suggested was probably Dakin’s solution. During World War I, field medics needed a convenient antiseptic to treat wounds. British chemist Henry Dakin developed a topical solution containing dilute chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and a buffer in sterile water.

Dakin’s solution is still sold in pharmacies today. Once opened, however, it only lasts a few days.

The Department of Inpatient Nursing at Ohio State University provides this formula:

Boil 1 quart (4 cups) of water for 15 minutes. Add ½ teaspoon baking soda and 3 oz of household bleach. Keep it in a tightly closed sterile jar away from light. Throw away left over solution after two days.

Some people are highly sensitive to any amount of bleach and develop a serious skin reaction. That’s why we do not recommend using dilute bleach for fungal infections of the skin or nails.

An over-the-counter antifungal cream with ingredients such as clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine or tolnaftate can often clear up an infection. For those who prefer home remedies, soaking the feet in a solution containing dilute vinegar, amber Listerine or Epsom salts may also work.

Other Home Remedies for Athlete’s Foot:

Not long ago, we heard from an older adult who is staying physically active. She realizes that activity can help her stay healthy and sharp, but occasionally there are stumbling blocks. She wrote us to find out how to get rid of foot fungus lurking in her shoes.

Athlete’s Foot Fungus:

Q. I have contracted athlete’s foot for the first time in my life. I probably picked it up at my yoga class.

I am treating it, but my question concerns my shoes. Is there a way to kill the fungus in them so I don’t re-infect my feet?

I wear Birkenstocks mostly, and I don’t want to have to dump them all. Will time in the sun possibly kill the fungus, or should I spray bleach inside them?

Discouraging Foot Fungus in Shoes:

A. Leaving shoes to air-dry in the sun is a good first step to killing the fungus. Some people spray the insides with Lysol, rubbing alcohol or another disinfectant to kill the fungus. Bleach might be quite effective, but we worry that it could damage the shoes.

Try sprinkling a foot powder containing cornstarch and zinc oxide in your socks or shoes to control athlete’s foot. Zinc oxide has antifungal properties that could be quite helpful.

Cherry wrote:

“Wet a paper towel, squeeze excess water out, then soak with white vinegar. Wipe your feet down 2x a day (once in morning, once at night) with this vinegar-soaked towel. That will kill the smelly foot fungus.”

White vinegar might also be sprayed in the shoes between wearings.

Don’t Wear the Same Shoes Two Days Running:

It’s also smart to switch shoes frequently so you don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. You don’t need a closet like Imelda Marcos’s to accomplish this. If you have only two pairs, you can alternate, wearing one pair and then the other.

You mention Birkenstocks. Wearing sandals is a smart way to help combat foot fungus, since the shoe is open to the air as soon as you remove your foot. The other solutions we have suggested might also help.

Other readers have suggested going barefoot when possible, such as in your own home. This exposes both the foot and the shoes to air and helps discourage the fungus that causes athlete’s foot.

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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..
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