Skip to main content

How to Cure Athlete's Foot Between Toes and Toenail Fungus

Passionate about health, Alison is a freelance writer/researcher for clients working in nutrition, physiotherapy, and chiropractic.

Interdigital athlete's foot between the toes and spreading around the side of foot.

Interdigital athlete's foot between the toes and spreading around the side of foot.

This article will teach you all about athlete's foot, toenail fungus, and what to do about these conditions. You will learn:

  • What causes it
  • How I cured my own athlete's foot problem
  • The best home remedy solutions
  • How to cure it with proprietary medication
  • How to prevent it from coming back
  • How to know when to seek medical attention

Types of Foot Fungus

We'll take a look at over-the-counter, prescription, and home remedies that really work for two kinds of foot fungus:

  • Athlete's foot (Tinea pedis)
  • Fungal nail Infections (Tinea unguium)

Which Type of Athlete's Foot Do You Have?

There are three different types of athlete's foot:

  • Interdigital or toe web type is the most common and usually begins between the two smallest toes. It can cause itching and burning sensations, peeling or flaking skin, and can spread from between the toes to the underside of the foot.
  • Moccasin can affect a more widespread area on the foot. Often the first symptoms are mild irritation and a feeling of skin dryness. This can affect the sole and sides of the foot and can be itchy and scaly. The affected skin may crack and become very sore.
  • Vesicular athlete's foot is less common. It's characterized by fluid-filled blisters that can easily become infected. You should not attempt to treat this with home remedies as it could be cellulitis and would require antibiotics.

SteriShoes Worked for Me!

I have been going to the gym two-three times a week since August 2015. This has brought some health benefits, and I have lost around 15 lbs since then. Unfortunately, there has also been a downside - I kept getting Athlete's foot between my 'pinkie' toe and the next one - on both feet. Despite wearing all-cotton socks and airing my trainers between each gym session, the problem persisted.

I read about SteriShoes that can kill the foot fungus that can breed inside your shoes using ultraviolet light to kill germs, bacteria, and fungal spores.

Our feet have more than a quarter of a million sweat glands - each! Up to eight fluid ounces of perspiration comes out of each foot, every day. The perspiration from our feet helps the inside of our shoes to become a sort of smorgasbord banquet for the fungal spores and bacteria that cause Athletes foot and toenail fungus.

Shoes that we wear when we perspire most, such as sports shoes and trainers are affected the most. I read, in the information about SteriShoes that they can also be helpful if you have a pre-existing medical condition such as a circulatory problem or diabetes by cutting off the source of these infections.

I have a health problem that my immune system doesn't work as well as it should and I believe that this might have been part of the reason why I got these recurrent foot infections. So, back in the summer of this year, when I was plagued with the problem, I decided to buy a pair of SteriShoes - and I have to say, they have been worth the investment! I pop them in my trainers after each wearing and they have done their job in just 15 minutes. I have also used them in my walking boots.

SteriShoes claim that their product is also effective against toenail fungus - I can't personally comment on that as I have never had this problem. What I can say, though, is that since I bought these and got the bout of Athlete's foot infection that I had at that time, cleared up, I have not had the problem again, so I can personally recommend them.

I should mention, that I got the more expensive Sterishoe+ sanitizer because 1) it does the job in just 15 minutes, compared to the SteriShoe "Essential" which takes 45 minutes and 2) because it has a built in shoe dryer. I feel confident that they will last for ages too, because of the stainless steel frame.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Youmemindbody


Over-the-Counter Remedies

Most cases respond well to over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments.

Many creams contain one of these active ingredients: Terbinafine, Miconazole, or Tolnaftate, an effective anti-fungal treatment that may be combined with other ingredients to relieve inflammation and irritation.

To use these, wash and dry the affected area carefully and follow the pack directions closely.

Prescription Medications

If drugstore options do not prove effective when used as directed, your doctor may prescribe alternative topical creams with different active ingredients or a stronger formulation. In some cases, oral anti-fungal medications are prescribed in the form of pills. However, these are not without side-effects of their own, and your health will be closely monitored if these medications are prescribed for you.

Effective Homemade Foot Soaks

Soaking the affected foot in one of the following solutions will help cure athlete's foot. You need to be persistent and follow preventive measures for the treatment to be effective.

Gently wash and dry the feet before doing these. Repeat daily for effectiveness and continue for a couple of weeks after any sign of the infection has gone.

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon sticks are expensive, so rather than use 8 or10 of these at a time, you could also use 8 teaspoons of cinnamon powder tied in a piece of muslin. Boil this or the cinnamon sticks—whichever you prefer—in two pints of water. Simmer the mixture for around five minutes and then turn off the heat. Leave the mixture to infuse for about 45 minutes before soaking your foot for up to half an hour.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar makes a very effective foot soak and you can use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. The proportions are one cup of vinegar to two quarts of water, which you can warm for comfort. Soak your feet each night before bed for around thirty minutes. You can also make a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water and dab this onto affected areas and leave to dry. Bear in mind that vinegar is acidic and will sting if you have any broken skin.
  • Tea Bags: Make up a strong pot of tea, using six tea bags in a pint of boiling water. Ordinary black tea works best as it is higher in Tannic acid. Allow to brew for ten minutes or so to get the maximum benefit from the tannic acid in the tea which acts as a natural astringent and will help to soothe the skin irritation and kill the fungus. Pour the tea into a suitable bowl in which you have put one pint of cold water. Soak your foot for at least fifteen minutes.
  • Salt Water: Use normal table salt or sea salt in proportions of one teaspoon of salt to half a pint of warm water. Make sufficient to cover your foot. Soak for around ten minutes before drying your foot carefully.
Cut cloves of garlic.

Cut cloves of garlic.

Garlic as an Anti-Fungal

Garlic contains ajoene which has been proven to be as effective as the medication Lamisil. It is not possible to buy Ajoene creams commercially. However, according to the New York Times, experts recommend:

"Simply adding a few finely crushed cloves of garlic to a foot bath and soaking the affected foot for 30 minutes, or mincing a few garlic cloves, mixing the minced garlic with olive oil, and then using a cotton ball to rub some of the solution on the affected area."

There are natural treatments which contain garlic extract. Perhaps the most popular and effective of these is Tripod Labs Athlete's Foot, which contains a number of well-known natural ingredients including tea tree oil and lavender oil as well as garlic extracts.

Untreated, fungal nail infections can spread to affect all your toenails.

Untreated, fungal nail infections can spread to affect all your toenails.

Toenail Fungus

Nail fungus, or onychomycosis, can be caused by a variety of different fungi that affect the nail bed. These fungi take hold on the toenail area for the same reasons as athlete's foot, affecting the skin. They like warm, moist conditions and they are easily spread on surfaces and from person to person. There are a few kinds:

  • Trichophyton rubrum: If one or more of your toenails is showing signs of looking like the picture above, you are probably afflicted with this, the most common type of fungus. It causes the nails to develop a brown or yellow color and become thickened and hard, with a tendency to become brittle and flakey. Often the nail will lift up at the tip and separate from the nail bed, with debris underneath.
  • Candida albicans: Also responsible for thrush, this can also infect toenails. When this affects the nails, the condition is known as Candida onychomycosis. An overgrowth of Candida usually occurs in people whose immune system is not working as it should and the symptoms are nails that are painful with an unpleasant smell and the formation of pus along the edges adjacent to the skin. This sort of nail fungus usually requires treatment with antibiotics, so you should see your doctor if you have these symptoms.
  • White Superficial Onychomycosis: If you have white patches on the surface of your toenails, you might be suffering from this. It has no single organism that causes it and although there is "white" in the name, the patches themselves may also be brown or yellowish. If it spreads, the nail becomes so badly affected that it becomes deformed and very brittle.

How to Cure It?

A small patch of infection on a single nail may not seem much of a problem, but if allowed to spread it can turn into a much bigger problem that can make it painful to walk, stand, wear nice shoes, and generally make life miserable.

Unfortunately, it can also spread to your skin and to other people. If you do not treat it appropriately can permanently damage the nail bed, making the affected nail misshapen even after you have managed to cure the problem.

It takes quite a long time to completely eliminate an infection. There are over-the-counter treatments including creams and lotions but one, very popular treatment is anti-fungal nail polish.

Using Antifungal Nail Polish

Curanail is a very popular treatment and gets excellent reviews, including one reviewer said she found it a great alternative to prescription Ciclopirox.

There are many different brand names, and some anti-fungal polishes are available in colors so you can more effectively disguise any discoloration.

  • Curanail only needs applying once a week and one pack has all you need for about three months.
  • You should not treat more than two nails at once. If you have more than two affected nails, see your doctor for advice and possible alternative treatments.
  • Be patient, as it can take as long as a year for the nail to completely grow out if the big toe is the one affected. But you will start to see results sooner so you will know it is working.
  • Don't use normal nail polish on affected nails, nor to use this method on any nail affected by Candida fungus, which will need antibiotics.

Kerasil Fungal Nail Treatment

Kerasil is a 'paint-on' treatment for nails and is clinically proven effective for penetrating the nail and improving the appearance of nails in 92% of users. This safe formula is made in Germany and has no smell or added preservatives.

Oral Antifungal Pills

These can be prescribed for severe infections, but you need to be carefully monitored and should never take them if you have previously had any heart or liver problem.

Home Remedy Treatments

There are many home remedy treatments out there, but here are a few of the most effective. You will need patience and perseverance, as there is no overnight cure.

  • Tea Tree Oil: This staple ingredient of many home medicine cabinets is helpful in treating the condition. Treating the problem with tea tree oil is simple. Soak your foot to soften the nail as much as possible first. Make a 50/50 mixture of tea tree oil and either olive oil or thyme oil and apply the mixture on a cotton bud (q-tip), paying particular attention to the skin at the edge and the base of the nail and also under the top edge of the nail as much as you can. Some people say to scrub the nail afterwards with a toothbrush.
  • Vinegar: This is one of the most effective and simple treatments. You need to soak the affected toenail or nails, so make enough solution to do this. The proportions are: two parts warm water to one part white vinegar. Soak the affected toe or toes for ten to fifteen minutes then rinse and dry carefully. Most people say they get the best results doing this before bed each night. You should start to see results in about four weeks.
  • Garlic: As mentioned in the section on athlete's foot, garlic is extremely effective. Raw garlic used on the skin can cause irritation or even burning, but garlic oil, mixed 50/50 with white vinegar, can be safely applied over the affected nail and the skin surrounding it. Many people advise using a cotton wool ball or pad soaked in the mixture held in place over the nail with tape. This enables the mixture to be left on overnight. You will need to keep repeating this process to get results.
  • Foot-soaks. Use any of the foot-soaks mentioned above for athlete's foot if you have a toenail infection, either alone or before one of the treatments above.

Vicks VapoRub?

This, bizarre as it sounds, is a home remedy actually recommended by doctors! Apparently, the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub help it penetrate the infected nail much better than other remedies.

Simply apply the rub over the surface and edges of the nail and cover with a light, cotton sock. Make sure it is cotton to ensure any perspiration is wicked away. Apply at night for best results.

Home Remedies to Prevent Fungal Problems

  • Sprinkle ordinary bicarbonate of soda inside your shoes and trainers when you take them off at the end of the day. This will absorb moisture, deodorize your shoes, and can be tapped out or vacuumed out the following day. Doing this will make your shoes and trainers much less likely to harbor the spores that causes the infection.
  • Prevent future infections by wearing shoes that allow your feet to breathe and wearing open-toed sandals if you can in hot weather.
  • Similarly, another preventative measure is to sprinkle cornstarch powder on your feet to absorb moisture before putting on your socks.
  • Change your socks daily and after exercise.
  • Wear different shoes on consecutive days and change out of trainers immediately after exercise to prevent a fungal infection from getting a hold.
  • At home, after your bath or shower, use a cleaner containing antiseptic to prevent spreading fungus to other family members through the shower. Ensure you use only your own towel and change your bed linens frequently.

When to See a Doctor

Fungal infections of the skin are easier to cure than those of the nails. Perseverance can pay off, but there may come a time when you need to get medical advice:

  • If you have a skin infection which spreads or gets worse, especially if the skin cracks and bleeds or if any blisters develop needs medical intervention. You must consult a doctor and not try to continue treating it at home.
  • If you have a fungal toenail infection and you have any underlying health condition, such as diabetes, you should also see your doctor before the condition worsens.

Home remedies and over-the-counter treatments can be very effective, but if the fungal infection is not responding or getting worse, take action!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can cleaning vinegar be used to treat athlete's foot?

Answer: I would avoid using cleaning vinegar. Cleaning vinegar has an acetic acid concentration of 6% compared to 'regular' white vinegar which is 5%. This percentage increase may not sound much, but it boosts the concentration by 20% and may be too strong for to the skin.


Kevin Cramer on May 26, 2017:

I suffered for 12 years from toenail fungus and nothing I tried worked.

Drugs, nutrition, all types of name it--the suffering never really went away.

Fortunately, I found out about a natural way that finally got rid of my toenail fungus for good.

This article talks about it...

Alison Graham (author) from UK on January 02, 2017:

Hi, I think that you may be having problems because you are not using the cream for long enough. Use the cream for at least two weeks after all itching or signs of fungal infection have gone - completely! Do not discontinue use before then and hopefully, it will not come back if you continue using good hygiene. Good luck, and yes, any tea will help!

Adunola on December 24, 2016:

Hello pls I have use series of anti fungal cream and it will stop itching for some days and later it will itch me again and if I scratch it it will bleed.and aside from d black tea can I use Lipton tea thank you

Alison Graham (author) from UK on November 25, 2016:

Thanks for the tip Glenn - Econazole Nitrate can be helpful for many sufferers of Athlete's foot fungus. However, it is not suitable for everyone as side effects can include itching, stinging and burning, reddening of the skin or skin rash - symptoms can be severe in some cases.In addition, it is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding

Glenn on November 24, 2016:

Just go to a dermatologist get some Econazole Nitrate cream 1% that goes for 89 bucks with no insurance and apply twice a day. No more odor, no fungus so simple.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on August 17, 2016:

Hi Lipnancy, thank you for your question. Black tea (the sort we usually use for a cuppa) works best to make a foot soak for athletes foot any brand will do, I use Twinings or Clipper - I need to add this to the information above.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on August 16, 2016:

Is there any kind of tea that works better for the method described above?

Alison Graham (author) from UK on July 31, 2016:

Hi Michelle, I did include Vick VapoRub as an unusual but effective remedy for fungal toenail infections - it's nice to know that the generic version works just as well - did you use it for Athlete's foot or for toenail fungus? Thanks for your comment.

Michelle on July 30, 2016:

Medicated chest rub! No lie. Not even the more expensive name brand one either. I didn't think it would work and had an old bottle I was going to throw away so I said "why not?". The $35.00 wild oregano oil didn't do it for me. It would start to heal but it would always come back.

Alison Graham (author) from UK on March 24, 2016:

Hi zwelakhe, I'm sorry to hear of your infection problem and hope that the information I have provided about fungal foot infections and toenail infections will be helpful to you in finally clearing it up. Best wishes, Alison

zwelakhe on March 23, 2016:

Thanks its three years now living with this infection,I even decided to stopped road workout that I use to do every Friday.

zoliswa on February 26, 2015:

Thanks I will try

Alison Graham (author) from UK on July 12, 2013:

sgbrown, thanks for leaving your comment, I hope you find the vinegar and garlic soak beneficial. Toenail fungus problems are hard to beat but I prefer natural remedies and a lot of patience!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on July 11, 2013:

My husband and I both have trouble with toenail fungus. We both wear tennis shoes most of the time. I wear flip flops inside the house, but living in the country, it's not wise to walk around outside in them. I am going to try your vinegar and garlic soak as the prescriptions that he has tried have not worked well. Voting this up, useful, interesting, pinning and sharing! :)

Alison Graham (author) from UK on March 22, 2013:

Shara, thank you for your perceptive comment. To be honest, in my little bit of the world, it is hard to think that what I have written on the pages of HubPages could be being read by people almost anywhere in the world. Your comment has helped me to think about ALL the people who might be reading my articles and I thank you for that insight.

Farhat from Delhi on March 21, 2013:

Alison Graham, thankyou for sharing this informative hub ... Fungul foot is very common here in my country...specially in women who for their house holds remain in contact with water for longer duraion...this hub is really useful for least I hope so...thanks a lot!!

Related Articles