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How to Get Rid of Toenail Fungus—And the Key Post-Infection Step That Ensures It Never Comes Back

Heal yellowed, ridged toenails quickly with helpers you already have at home

Sandal season is in full swing, but damp environments, pool decks and locker rooms may leave your feet looking a little worse for wear. And when your toenails are brittle, discolored or warped, the last thing you want to do is show them off. To the rescue: Doctors share simple home remedies to get rid of toenail fungus so you can bare your feet beautifully. Just scan the list below to see what’s best based on what you have on hand.

The fastest way to get rid of toenail fungus: apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid that can kill existing spores. In fact, subjects in a study published in the International Journal of Medical Device and Adjuvant Treatments who applied the acid to their nails daily saw improvements in fungus growth within 14 days, and 93% of participants cleared the infection within 24 weeks. To boost results, New Jersey-based podiatrist Dana Canuso, DPM, recommends adding a few drops of tea tree oil, which “inhibits the growth of new fungus, while apple cider vinegar fights fungus that’s already present.” To do: Add 6 drops of tea tree oil to 4 cups of warm water and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. Soak feet for 15 minutes, then rinse and pat dry.

Related: Here’s How To Tell if Your Toenail Fungus Is Dying + 3 Natural Remedies To Speed Healing

How to get rid of toenail fungus with Vicks

Ridges and bumps on your nails are a telltale sign of a fungal infection, but a medicine cabinet staple can clear up the fungus in a cinch. According to research conducted by the U.S. Air Force, dabbing bare nails with Vicks VapoRub once daily killed the fungus for 83% of people. The best part? The treatment only cost $24 — an $876 savings compared to antifungal medication. “VapoRub contains oil of eucalyptus, which has antifungal properties,” explains Dale Isaacson, MD, a dermatologist with DC Derm Docs in Washington, D.C. “It also contains thymol, which has a dry effect that produces an adverse environment for fungus.”

Tip: Repurpose an old toothbrush to work the product into the nooks and crannies under and around your toenails once daily.

How to get rid of toenail fungus with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide

The baking soda you use to keep food in your refrigerator fresh can also help freshen up your feet! The pantry staple can kill up to 79% of infection-causing spores, according to scientists in the journal Mycopathologia. How? Toenail fungus is typically acidic, so basic baking soda helps adjust the pH of your nails and the surrounding area, making it more difficult for the fungus to grow and thrive.

To get the best results, try soaking feet in a mixture of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, which may also help eradicate toenail fungus. Combine ½ cup of baking soda, 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 4 cups of water. Soak any infected toenails, or your whole foot, for 10 to 20 minutes daily, then rinse and dry the area.

Related: How to Remove an Ingrown Toenail Yourself + The Dental Floss Hack That’s All Over TikTok

How to get rid of toenail fungus with garlic

Garlic is another somewhat speedy remedy. The Mediterranean must-have contains a compound called ajoene, which can rapidly clear up fungus spores. According to Venezuelan researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the sulfur extract eradicated 72% of fungal infections in 60 days. To do: Remove skin from garlic and slice in half. Rub the cut sides around and under toenails daily and rinse off after 1 hour. (Click through to see how garlic can cure athlete’s foot.)

How to get rid of toenail fungus with bleach

While dipping your feet in a pool of bleach may seem like a wacky way to clear up an infection, diluted bleach is actually skin-safe and packs a punch when it comes to brightening fungus-yellowed toenails and stopping the infection in its tracks. Credit goes to the hypochlorous acid, a natural antibacterial compound found in bleach, reveals Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. The compound gently lightens the keratin proteins that cause nail yellowing, plus eliminates the infection-causing spores. And the action of soaking affected nails allows the solution to get under the nails, where fungus tends to cluster.

Make your own soak at home by combining no more than 1 Tbs. of bleach with 1 gallon of water. Soak your feet for 10 minutes daily, then cleanse skin with soap and water. Repeat once to twice daily until any noticeable signs of infection are clear. Note: While diluted bleach is safe for most skin types, discontinue this regimen if you experience any irritation or discomfort.

How to get rid of toenail fungus with nail polish

If you want to slip into your favorite sandals while you wait for the infection to clear up, try using an antifungal nail polish, like Dr. Remedy Enriched Nail Polish, which can speed healing, prevent recurring infections and cover discoloration, so you’re worry-free in your toe-bearing shoes. The polish, created by two podiatrists, is formulated with natural ingredients that prevent damage to nails and tea tree oil, an ingredient researchers from the University of California, San Francisco publishing in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health say can cure as many as 80% of cases of toenail fungus. (Click through to learn more about how nail polish can get rid of toenail fungus, plus how to treat dents in nails.)

How to get rid of toenail fungus with your diet

If you’ve struggled with repeat bouts of nail fungus, you may have a susceptibility that’s being driven by diet, says podiatrist Robert Kornfeld, DPM, founder of the Institute for Integrative Podiatric Medicine in Manhasset, New York. “Refined carbohydrates, such as those in table sugar and white flour, actually fuel fungus in the gut,” he says. “And overload in the GI tract results in fungal growth into the nail bed, which can lead to recurrent infections.” Dr. Kornfeld’s advice: Swap refined carbs (like white pasta and cornflakes) for healthier whole-grain versions (like 100% whole-wheat pasta and oatmeal). It’s also smart to skip added sweeteners when possible.

How to get rid of toenail fungus in your shoes

Since fungi can survive on surfaces indefinitely, sanitizing footwear is critical to keeping toes healthy. But the final step to keeping toenail fungus at bay to prevent recurring infections is often missed, leading to up to a 56% risk of recurrent infections. Your closed-toed shoes likely need a little more care since the dark and damp environment inside creates an ideal environment for infection-causing spores to thrive. In fact, studies show that previously worn shoes have as much as 23% more fungi than new ones. 

“A simple antifungal shoe spray usually can get the job done,” Dr. Isaacson notes. Look for one with terbinafine, like Lamisil Athlete’s Foot Antifungal Spray (Buy from Amazon, $15.72), an antifungal medication that eradicated toenail fungus-causing spores within 15 minutes, according to a study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. 

Or if you don’t want to mist your nice kicks, consider zapping them with ultraviolet C, or UVC, light instead. Indeed, one study found that UVC killed 99.9% of fungi on colonized surfaces. One UVC-emitting device designed specifically for footwear: SteriShoe, which is backed by the American Podiatric Medical Association.

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