The People's Perspective on Medicine

Vinegar Solves Toenail Problem

Some time ago, we heard from a reader that soaking her feet in vinegar and Listerine cleared up her toenail problem, a yucky fungus.
Foot bath at a day spa in a bowl feet soak

Toenail fungus is common and often stubborn. Newer medications for this problem can be quite pricey. Just about any treatment for toenail fungus requires a lot of patience. That is because the affected individual needs to keep treating the nails until they grow out completely fungus-free. Consequently, many people use home remedies to take care of their toenail problem.

Several months ago we heard from a reader that soaking her feet in vinegar and Listerine cleaned up her toenail fungus:

“When I read your article about soaking the toes in vinegar and Listerine every day, I figured I had little to lose. I started soaking twice a day and I still am. It’s been three months and all my nails have cleared up except for the big toes. Even they have nearly grown out and are looking pink and healthy. I can’t thank you enough.”

Vinegar and Listerine for a Toenail Problem:

Since then we have heard from others that this inexpensive home remedy has been helpful. Of course, readers want to know what the “right” formula is. In addition, they wonder how long they must soak their tootsies to treat their toenail problem. The answer is, there is no answer. Some people use a half and half dilution. Others dilute the vinegar (2 parts water to 1 part vinegar) first. There is no science here, so experimentation is not only permitted, it is encouraged.

Here is a recent story from Andrea:

“Hi! Just wanted to let you all know that I have been doing the vinegar since January and my toenail is almost cured!

“I don’t soak my foot anymore because I got sick of sitting around and my husband was sick of the terrible smell. So I put some vinegar in a little spray bottle that I would take with me everywhere I go. Whenever I think of it, I spray my toenail, at least 4 times a day. I realized about a month ago that my toenail was much better. I was doing the spraying thing just as a routine, with little hope. In fact, I was considering the pills (a friend told me it worked for her), but I was scared about any side effects.

“So now I will keep spraying my toenail and will do more foot treatments like I used to do. My toenail is growing and the bad part is almost gone!! :)))”

Science on Vinegar for Nail Fungus?

There are few if any scientific studies on vinegar against nail fungus. However, we found an acknowledgment that organic acids such as acetic acid (vinegar) may have value (Sleven et al, Mycoses, May 2016). We haven’t found any clinical trials, though, so readers will have to continue to experiment for themselves. Filing down the thickened nail between treatments may help the vinegar soak through to the fungus infection and help heal the toenail problem.

Revised 4/12/18

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    I am so frustrated with my toenails! I have been battling toenail fungus for several years now. Tried everything! The pills, soaks, topical polish from the Doctor and Vicks under a band-aid. I actually used Tiger Balm instead of Vicks. Nope, nope, nope, and NOPE! I even put my work shoes in a plastic bag, then place in the freezer for 24 hours! I am a server and need to wear socks and sneakers every single day! I never, ever wear the same pair of socks without washing and drying them. I can’t really give my feet a break from my sneakers. I’ve even sprayed my shoes daily.

    I wonder if I could dissolve the toenails off? My toes haven’t seen nail polish in years, and I am SOOOOO self-conscious of how bad they look when I have to run up to the store or whatever. I recently tried a soak recipe I stumbled upon that had boric acid, chlorophyl, and some other wierd stuff in it. But I had a tiny cut where my cuticle is, and that solution burned the cut terribly! It would hurt for the rest of the day and get red and swolen. So I stopped that soak. Any suggestions?????????????

    Medical staff always brings up the contagion issue: Bleach your socks. Spray your shoes. Wear a different pair of shoes each day.

    It’s just not that contagious. I had it on four toes and it never spread to any others. I share a bed with a partner and she never contracted it.

    Not sure why this canard gets so much press.

    I’ve had toenail fungus for many many years and have tried everything under the sun as well as spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Several things have come close to clearing the nail but have not closed out the deal on the fungus and it will return once I stop the application. I have tried acetic acid and it did not work for me. I have now started the regimen of vinegar and Listerine, which stinks to high heaven. while I would like to have hope that this will work, I starting to have doubts best on everything that I have tried in the past unsuccessfully. We’ll give it a chance and report back in due time

    Applying econozole every night for about 3 months cleared up my toenail fungus. (My dermatologist told me that econozole is not effective for nail fungus, but it worked for me!) Since it’s an Rx, it’s not really a home remedy, but it’s a generic Rx. It is really quick and easy.

    I didn’t want to spend so much time doing this and luckily read about using Iodine … it is important to get tincture of Iodine (not Iodide). Paint a little on each day and after a week or so, the nail begins to clear up.

    A neuropathic doc told me to try Oregano capsules twice a day for systemic fungal control.
    In addition to the primary issue, my nail fungus started to improve immediately and after three weeks is almost gone.
    Inexpensive and effective.

    Thanks to PP Some years ago I did the vinegar /brown listerine soak for about 4-6 months, daily for 20-30 minutes. Vicks at night. My affected nails came off and new grew in. Needless to say I was thrilled.
    A word of warning as some have written: Maintenance is necessary ! since after all that time and commitment it all came back.
    Also may have needed to toss my shoes or at least persistently spray them with anti-fungal.
    I used apple cider vinegar. When out a few times used regular
    It worked and need to commit again.

    Presently spraying with hydrogen peroxide after shower just to keep in check and not embarrassing. I certainly hope this will not cause some kind of damage?
    Thank you for helping us all in so many ways.

    I have my big toe on my left foot that has fungus. I started using Vicks Vaporub and covering it with Band-Aids daily. As of now the fungus is almost gone, and the new nail is growing out under the bad nail.

    Heads up to anyone considering the Vicks vapo rub treatment. When I told my wife I was going to try it, she said to use the Mentholatum we already had in the house because “it’s the same”. It wasn’t. Mentholatum did NOT work and even added brown spots under my nail. I finally bought Vicks, and it is working. So far so good.

    I went online and got tea tree oil, and using the dropper that came with it, I put drops under my nail. It flows down under the nail and over the cuticle. I’ve done that every time I take a shower for probably a year. My big toenail, which was ugly and yellow and spongy and nasty-looking, now looks completely normal.

    I am using vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to dissolve my toenail fungus. Nor only is the vinegar dissolving the fungus but also dissolving my toenail as is keeps getting smaller. Is this supposed to be happening as the fungus-infected toenail is going away or is this not normal?

    A question about the vinegar strength: I read a “testimonial” from a person who used a vinegar soak daily, plus application of tea tree oil; he said he uses 9% vinegar, which I cannot find at all where I live — just the 5%, and 6% “cleaning” vinegar. Is the vinegar strength important — and, if I could locate it, is 9% safe?

    We think that most people use the usual 5% strength vinegar. We have not seen 9% and don’t know if it is safe.

    My Dr said use full strength vinegar 30 minutes a day. One of my nails recovered after three treatments. I like the taped cotton ball idea.

    Thank you for all the great info. I’m going to start the Listerine/Vinegar treatment today.

    After keeping nail polish on my toes from a pedicure most of the winter, I noticed my nail was hard to cut on my big toe. It was thick and white, chalky. The top quarter of the nail. The rest of the nail was normal. I read about fungus on many sites and decided to use all the methods. Vinegar and Listerine soak 15 min. in the morning, scrape off skin underneath nail with a toothpick. Sand nail down. Tea tree oil. Pee in shower on occasion. Hot water and Epson salt weekly. Hydrogen peroxide soak at noon.Vicks vapo rub before bed. After 2 months of religiously following the routine, my nail is completely normal. It has been a week with no treatment. Not sure what cured it, but it was probably a little of everything. I also started acidophilus tablets. At the end, I began using cream with 10% urea. Good luck! Stay with it.

    To AMH: It’s almost certainly fungal. It came back when you wore the shoes because it never really went away. It takes a long time to fully leave your system, and only with consistent treatment. Forget those antibiotics; use either an anti-fungal toenail treatment from the drugstore, or try this vinegar/Listerine soak. I can’t personally attest to how well the soak works because I haven’t tried it yet, but everyone posting here seems to have had a lot of success. I plan to try it soon myself.
    One thing I can say for sure is it’s really important to keep your feet clean and dry as much as you can, and try to wear flip flops or sandals. Feet perspire inside closed-toed shoes, so if you have to wear that kind, be sure to wear only white socks with them. Wash your socks in the hottest water with no soap. A little bleach is okay. If there is some kind of stain or grime on the sock, just spot clean it with a little drop of liquid detergent, or one of those Clorox bleach pens. Then wash in the hot, hot water and rinse extremely thoroughly. Only wear fresh, clean socks, never longer than one day in a row. (Don’t be offended; lots of people re-wear their socks. I used to! I wore the same few pairs of socks in layers all winter, several days each time, because my house has no heat. That’s all it took. I won’t be doing that again.)
    I have been using an expensive anti-fungal serum (brushed on like polish) from the dermatologist. It has been helping, but when it runs out soon, I am eager to try the vinegar and Listerine. In fact, I’m going to get generic Listerine from Walmart (Equate brand). Might as well save a couple bucks considering the serum cost over $50 for a 3-month supply!

    As a podiatrist: This is the first and foremost thing to do. BURN YOUR SOCKS. They harbour spores. Most foot and toenail infections are re-infections. Purge your shoes and spray all inside with Canestan spray or rinse with vinegar and dry in sunshine (OK, I live in Australia). There is research on the Vick’s Vaporub, and it works better than the 52% effectiveness of the expensive paint-on. Drugs/Medications do work, but are not good for the liver, and if you take them, give up all alcohol for the duration. (Same detox enzymes in the liver).

    I think the formula is 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup Listerine (could it be the Thymol or the alcohol?) and 1 cup warm water.

    Really, whatever you do will cure it if you do it religiously. (LACK OF) patient compliance is the real problem, along with spores in socks and bed linen. All fungi are killed at 65C. (149F) A bit more for spores. All foot fungi thank you for using the ‘eco’ or cool cycle in your washing machine. HOT WASH, AND LINE DRY IN SUNSHINE.

    This is the third time I had a toenail fungus infection; could I dig it out with a toothpick, or will it eventually dissolve on its own? Because I do not want to make the infection worse.

    I was told to spray inside of shoes to prevent reinfection of fungus. Or buy all new shoes. Change shoes frequently and let them air dry from wearing. Wash sox in hot water with detergent. I dry my sox (usually worn only during winter) in the dryer, then spray them with vinegar and let them air dry. This is my personal preference.

    Another wonderful remedy is TEA TREE OIL…..which is anti-viral/anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Apply directly to affected problem area. Extremely cost effective.

    I have one toe that was red and swollen around the nail and the nail is now half yellow. I took 10 days of antibiotics which cleared up the swelling and pain and redness. A month later, after wearing a loose fitting pair of shoes for a day, it is now red, swollen, and painful again. Yellow nail is gradually growing out. Anyway, I think it’s bacterial, not fungal. Would the vinegar/Listerine soak work for bacterial infection as well?

    That’s good news!

    I have had yellow toenails since I was like 11, I am now 24. I was in karate n had to be bare foot which I’m guessing is the reason I had mild athletes foot as well. I have been putting on white vinegar in a cotton ball n taped it on my toenails for about 4 weeks. It has worked great! My nails are half way grown out and they look great!! Excited till they grow out completely!

    Excellent SJ – I was using my slippers to prop up the heel area creating the same affect! I love how we keep perfecting everyone’s ideas – makes things so much easier without your own “trial-error” process.

    I have used a plastic paint tray that I got from Walmart to soak my feet. It was under $2 and one end is deeper for soaking your toes without needing to fill it as full.

    I got a plastic container the size of a shoe box. I put 1 1/4 cup vinegar + 1 1/4 cup generic brown antiseptic Listerine mouthwash. Swish these together and put both my feet in. It also will clear up any athlete’s feet if you have that at the same time or will prevent athlete’s feet (which is an added bonus)!
    I usually do this for 20-30 mins. I usually plan it around something I like to watch on TV or use this as my reading time.
    My feet feel so good (tingley) when I am done. It is also nice to do it before you go to bed and gives your feet time to completely dry.
    I throw my solution out after each use. I try to do this a couple times a month now just for maintenance.

    If you are reusing the vinegar/Listerine mix, do you pour the liquids into something big enough for your whole foot to just sit in for a while, or do you only dip your toes in, which would require you to keep them pointed? I’m trying to figure out a practical way to do this for 15-20 minutes that is comfortable.

    Did the residue from the Tea Tree and perioxide sting your nail? The Tea Tree helped my nails, but they were still yellow which I do not like. I am going to try the perioxide now too if it doesn’t sting too much.

    I just tried the tea tree oil and peroxide someone posted while reading the remainder comments and wow on my left foot it appears the brown color is gone one the right foot it improved dramatically. Just in a matter of minutes. I’m going to try it again each time I shower for a month to make sure its gone. I know tea tree is an antifungal oil apparently it works. Just in case you didn’t see the post dab the oil on the infected area and the clean off with the peroxide.

    Tried bushing my toe nines with tooth past the burning went next day looks if it might grow ont look good nice and white we will see. The doctor pills no, I try the white vinegar and mouthwash.

    Also file nail down regularly *^*

    Lady’s and gentlemen
    I have been down the lazer route and the pulls route
    Apple cider viniger or any other viniger
    In hot water as hot as you can take it for once 10 min daily
    Every time you put on soaks or shoes or go to sleep use vapor rub. Make sure to cover the whole nail infected so it is
    Both have a chemical that kills the bacteria
    These things for 4 weeks to 12 weeks and you will be rid of your nail infection.

    Found the product even cheaper @ the Dollar Tree. They have both ingredients in generic for a dollar each. I am using it once a month for maintenance. It’s great.

    the white vinegar & brown listerine (or generic) cleared up my toe nail fungus, but does anyone have a remedy for the thick yellow toe nail to make it white again?

    I have had fungus for years. It’s really embarrassing. I’m only 17. I am too scared to Wear anything but close toed shoes. I tried the vinegar treatment a few months ago. I had an empty nail polish bottle that I cleaned out With nail polish remover, then filled with vinegar. It started working, but I started missing days and stopped.
    I’m starting again, and have seen some progress. It works by Disrupting the natural ph (acidity level) of the nail and making it too acidic for the fungus to grow on new nail.

    in Walmart or CVS Pharmacy or any Pharmacy I have bought it in both. Tiny bottle for $3.00. I use it on my scalp too for psoriasis.

    Must be the brown Listerine (or generic) & I use white vinegar (generic OK too)

    I did not experience any issues mixing the white vinegar & antisceptic (brown) mouthwash. It does smell and my husband doesn’t really like the smell and neither does my dog. The dog runs around sneezing every time I do it (ha, ha)!

    It did not hurt my nail polish, but I eventually removed the nail polish so I could see better what was going on under the nail.. After I soak (half vinegar, half generic brand brown mouthwash-antisceptic) I scrape under the toenails with a nailfile to remove the fungus. Just do a little each time so you do not create a sore under the toe nail and cause a place for infection. Eventually, this will clean itself out and my fungus disappeared. Now I just do the soak once a month to freshen up my nails and prevent anything new from growing.

    I just today made an appointment to see a podiatrist but appointment isn’t until the last day of April. I’m wondering about this Listerine/ vinegar mixture…is there no issues with mixing the two? Like you can’t mix javel with toilet cleaner etc? If all is ok., I’ll start this mix tomorrow as I’ve got both my big toes with a fungus and the left big toe is ingrown and won’t out grow..I can’t cut a V to make it grow out cause it’s on same side of the hand I’d need to use to cut very thick nails.. and the ingrown nail is getting red and hurts to have the pressure of my got to try something…

    yes I had fungus. The underside of my nail turned black. I soaked it once a week for half an hour watching my favorite TV show. I used a ratio of half brown listerine and half white vinegar. After soaking use a long fingernail file to clean out the crud under the nail. Do this each week and soon the fungus will disappear. Be careful not to dig too far to irritate the skin under the nail and cause an infection. The vinegar & listerine will also act as an antiseptic to help cleanse and disinfect the toenail area so no new fungus will grow. It worked great for me and now I just do it maybe once a month for maintenance.

    I soak my feet when my favorite TV show is on. I just do it once a week. You will see a difference and then just do it every few months for maintenance.

    I use half white vinegar & half brown listerine mouthwash.

    not a good idea because you cannot detect when the nail is becoming healthy.

    Did you have bad fungus kathleen and what did you do? thanks.

    Vinegar & Listerine worked like a miracle for me also. I can now wear sandals again!

    I had tried Vicks for few weeks I saw results but didn’t fix my nail on my feet. Today I will try Listerine and I will let u know in a week.

    Just wondering about the vinegar, can it be any vinegar or distilled plain vinegar?

    Pure, unrefined shea butter works wonders for almost all skin problems, including dry cracked lips. You can find it online. My son had this problem as well and the chapped lips with the crust ring around his lips. I applied it before he went to bed and it was gone the next morning. Took a little longer for the cracks, he has eczema that i so this for as well…

    My shoes smelled for more than 10 years, I visited a lot of doctors about the athletic foot, but no one gave me the best option to over come this problem. Hear from your site vinegar is a home remedy, I will try it from to day 05 Nov 2012, if things area going good I will be the one to present the gift for this web site.

    Would vinegar by itself work for toe nail fungus? Or do you need the listerine?

    I have worn close tight shoes and now both toenails have turned brown and are coming off, can I used listerine to get the toenail to come off faster what can I use to get this moving. They are about half way, looks bad when I wear open shoes. please let me known something to do about this.

    I’m using the vinegar and Listerine concoction. I’ve also mixed tea tree oil, garlic and myrrh. Let the oil sit for a few days and dab on affected area nightly.

    Possible causes include 1.) Moisture collecting at corners of the mouth caused by poor fitting dentures. This leads to skin breakdown. The broken skin gets infected with bacteria or fungus. 2.) Allergy to something like toothpaste or lipstick
    3.) Vitamin B12 or B9 deficiency. Some people cannot absorb vitamin B12 through the gut, so even if you are taking an oral Vitamin B12 supplement you could still be deficient. A couple of people in my family must have vitamin B12 injections because they cannot absorb it through the gut. It’s not that uncommon. Your doctor can do a simple blood test to see if you are deficient.

    The corners of my mouth split. The left side is worst than the right side. I have taken Vitamin C and orange juice to clear it up. Nothing has helped and it is getting painful and worse. Also I have used vaseline, & medicated ornament. Does anyone know of anything that will help?

    I cannot find the recipe and I am in the middle of treatment for my husband.. I know it is Listerine and white vinegar, but I need the proportions… please e mail them to me!

    Yes, you can wear polish. I have been treating once a day for about four weeks. I spray my toenails every morning with vinegar after I shower (pat dry toes first), and have been wearing polish the entire time. I took my polish off today, and the vertical cream-colored fungus line that used to be there is gone. I am going to continue treatment just to make sure that it goes away completely. So far, so good!

    After spending $1,000 for laser treatment of toenail fungus with no improvement whatsoever, today I started the vinegar/Listerine treatment noted in Reader’s Digest this month and credited to you. I can’t wait to see if this works. As I understand it, the solution does not have to be changed every day. Is that correct?

    The drugstore

    I used peppermint oil on my toenail fungus and it worked. Used it for several weeks at night before bed. I used a dropper. Thought that might be good for the vinegar and Listerine too.

    how long did she soak them?

    My wife had horrible toe nail fungus. Some of her nails were nearly 1/4″ thick or about to fall off. She simply soaked her toes in white vinegar whenever she was sitting down, reading a book, etc. She did this religiously for a few months. Today her toenails are perfect, not a sign of fungus.

    Where does one find this Tea Tree Oil to purchase for nail fungus?

    I went to a podiatrist for toe-nail fungus. She prescribed a very expensive ($235 for 90 gm.) cream which I have been applying daily for at least 5 months without any sign of improvement. She did say it would take about a year to eliminate: I guess I may as well continue as the tube is still about 75% full. I wonder if putting on socks after applying the cream reduces the efficacy of the treatment.

    I used Listerine on a wart that developed on my hand. I soaked a cotton ball in Listerine and lightly applied it to the wart once a day. The wart shrunk and then was gone with no scarring in about two weeks. It worked for me. My husband was amazed, me too,

    I’m going to try the vinegar spray as it seems more convenient. Also in a April 23, 07 column you mentioned using cayenne in a drink such as tomato juice or other juice. How would using a small amount of applesauce instead? I’m desperate and need to try something for my hands. Love your columns in the LA Times just not enough questions that are answered.

    Does the vinegar have to be white or can it be apple cider vinegar for it to work with the Listerine?

    People’s Pharmacy, I have been trying to get answers on how to wash my laundry to prevent cross infection. Can the laundry detergent not kill the fungus? How hot is extra hot water? Thanks.

    Does the listerine have to be the yellow, or will any variety work? Should special steps be taken with washing socks? I’ve probably been perpetuating the problem for months! UGH!

    I just read about the women having problems with a high sex drive. I’ve been lucky to have been married to a man who’s drive was as strong as mine. We’ve had 40 great years. About 3 years ago, he started having problems that affected us. We worked through it, but I hadn’t changed and this was causing me real concern. Then two years ago I had my ovaries removed — I’d had a partial hysterectomy at 43 and I hadn’t noticed any difference in my sex drive. Yet, now after about 3 months, things changed, I no longer have that same drive, yet when we are intimate, I still enjoy it. But it’s no longer that “have to have it 4-5 days a week” feeling!! I don’t know if this is unusual or if it’s because I’m 63, but whatever it is, it works for us. Nina

    I have used white vinegar and Listerine every morning, soaking for a 10 seconds and then putting my socks on. My toenails went from fungal yellow to white and the improvement has been more than cosmetic – they’re looking healthier and the thickening is not nearly as pronounced. Thank you, People’s Pharmacy!! Tom

    Two weeks ago I read on your comment page that vinegar and Listerine was good for an infected toenail on the big toe. I tried it and it seems to be working very well. Since tried this, I have no pain in my big toe and it really seems to help quite a bit. Thanks for the advice.

    Can you ever use same listerine/vinegar solution more than 1 time before discarding?
    I started a week ago and have been using it multiple times.

    How about soaking a cotton pad in the vinegar/listerine solution and putting it on the
    big toe, then wrapping it up with plastic wrap or a baggy and rubber band to hold it for
    an hour or less. Seems this would stay on better than a spray.
    This solution should also work inside a shoe, i.e. a paper towel soaked in the solution
    and left in shoe till dry.
    I know my guy would not sit and soak his toes for an hour/day, better use cotton pad.

    I spray cider vinegar/water in shower over most of my body before soaping up.

    I have a Ph.D. in mycology and probably picked up my toenail fungus from my former frequent visits to the tropics. I heard one of your shows in which a physician noted that Listerine was used to eliminate the fungus.
    Since I understand fungi pretty well, I used a less expensive Listerine-equivalent and soaked just my infected toes for 10 minutes once a day. I did this for only 3 weeks but within a month my toe nail gradually grew out healthy. I have again started this procedure for a different toe nail which is more severely affected and will probably try to do this daily for 6 weeks.
    I can’t believe my regular general practitioner wanted to suggest that pill with the dangerous side effects but I know he doesn’t understand fungi and I do.

    What about putting your toes back into the same old shoes? Won’t that start the problem all over again?

    I’ve successfully used the following formula for a stubborn big toe fungal problem at the advise of a homeopathic provider:
    A few dabs of Tea Tree Oil on a q-tip followed by a dab of hydrogen peroxide on a small cotton swab.

    Does it HAVE to be Listerine? or any mouthwash will do?
    Also, there was so many “recipes” which one is the best? (Got confusing
    there). maybe even the spray bottle is better?????

    Each morning, I take about a third of a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in three ounces of water for the cure of my toe fungus.

    My husband used regular cornmeal as a soak for his fingernail fungus. Cover bottom of container with corn meal; add enough WARM water to cover fingers/toes and let soak 30 minutes. Put the affected appendage in the mixture and soak for 1 hour. repeat once/week. It worked for him in a couple of months! A friend of mine, a podiatrist, told me of a young (twenties) man who had such a bad case of toenail fungus for years, that he just finally asked the doctor to surgically remove all his toenails! The nail beds have calloused over and he is very satisfied with the results.
    Maybe he should have tried vinegar first.

    Thank you for the tip with the spray bottle. Great idea :)

    I have been rubbing Vicks into my toenail every night and this has cured it.

    Can you do this with nail polish on????

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