Before we jump into our breakdown of the various at-home remedies (and homoeopathic remedies hyped on Amazon and other websites) – we just want to say that we understand your perspective.
If you’re reading this guide, you’re probably not super worried about your toe (or fingernail). It’s probably a little discolouration that you noticed, and you want to nip that infection in the bud. That’s totally fine. This is probably paired with not having the time or money to spend going to the doctor or chemist at the moment. Life is pretty busy, and if you can fix this nail fungus with an at-home remedy like you dealt with your acne, brittle hair, and dry skin, all the better right?
We completely understand and absolutely encourage you to try out a few of these treatments. However, it is important to know before you test out any of these that they are not all medical solutions to your fungal infection. Some have been tested with positive results, but it is very unlikely that one of these will be a ‘miracle cure’ for you.
A lot of these treatments are anecdotally-derived and may or may not work – it really depends on your body and how it reacts to different remedies. For some people, snakeroot oil will work a charm, but for others, it might not effect any improvement. Long story short, just be aware that these may work less effectively than some wellness and homoeopathic blogs would have you believe.
It’s important to note that if your nail is disintegrating or falling out and the fungal infection has taken over the entire nail bed, this is not the time to try out an at-home remedy, this is the time to go to your doctor for an antifungal prescription.
At-home remedies are premised on one key element: there are medicinal and healing properties in the things that we keep around our homes. This, to a large extent, is true – people have been using herb concoctions and poultices to heal ailments and ward off sicknesses for years before germ theory and modern medicine came to the forefront of scientific thought.
We’re talking about things like essential oils, vinegar, salt, baking soda, herbs, alcohol, and other things that you may indeed have sitting around your house. Many of these things do have healthy aspects and properties that may, in fact, help you fight off that suspicious discolouration under your nail. In this guide, we want to break down the most popularly championed nail fungus at-home remedies, how they could potentially help from a scientific perspective, and whether or not they’re worth the hype.
We decided to start with the most likely category of at-home remedies you will see during your average internet search. We took five minutes to clang around a few different listicles that spoke about at-home treatments for nail fungus and we found no less than 15 different essential oils that have been pushed as the most helpful for your fungal infection.
We’re not here to dissuade you of the multipurpose uses of essential oils. Far from it! We just want to let you know that one may not necessarily be better than another. For every essential oil that you see online, there is usually a study that says that the key ingredient has antifungal, antibacterial, or antiseptic properties, and you shouldn’t discount that. Some essential oils most definitely dry out sections of your skin that it is applied to, like tea tree oil, and thus could help dehydrate a budding fungus trying to grow in the damp space between your toe and your nail.
It is important to note, however, that essential oils are what is known as complementary or alternative medicine, meaning that they count as treatment outside the normal purview of health care and may or may not work. So rather than telling you that you should choose one over the other, we say to try a whole lot of them – perhaps take a few and combine them. Essential oils are designed to be soft and safe to apply to the human body, so combining a few drops of a few different oils to apply to your nail should do no harm.
Yes, sure, fine. Extract and oil are essentially the same – but we wanted snakeroot extract to have its own special section in this guide. While each list on Google has its own combination of different essential oils, nearly all of them talk about snakeroot extract as a treatment for fungal nail infections, apart from essential oils.
Snakeroot is a fall-blooming weed native to eastern North America that has a strangely sordid past and has the dubious notoriety of being Abraham Lincoln’s mother’s cause of death. However, we’re not suggesting that you eat this product – simply acquiring some and applying it to your nail might be helpful to combat nail fungus. Snakeroot is also used as an active ingredient in ciclopirox, one of the more popular medical antifungal topicals on the market. So, while snakeroot extract is still an at-home remedy, it is used in a medical-grade solution for certain nail fungus medicines. Snakeroot extract might not be something you keep around the house, but it is definitely something you can order online.
This wouldn’t be an at-home remedy guide if it didn’t include vinegar, right? You can find vinegar as a natural remedy for dozens of ailments – from acne to ingrown hairs, to dry skin, to fungal nails. And this isn’t just because Big Vinegar is trying to sell you their newest and trendiest kind of vinegar (apple cider vinegar is really ‘on trend’ right now). It is also because vinegar has a long and storied history of being a powerful cleaning agent and antiseptic.
However, with this comes a caveat – though traditional folk medicine holds vinegar in high esteem, studies have shown that vinegar may not be as healthful as some people claim. However, we’re not touting vinegar as a cure for diabetes, cancer, or weight loss – how does it affect nail fungus?
Vinegar still contains acetic acid which may help break down fungi, so soaking your foot in vinegar and warm water may help and certainly won’t hurt other than giving you some wrinkly feet for a couple of minutes.
Baking soda, like its rival vinegar, tends to have several uses that you can read about online – from being a natural deodorant to a powerful cleaning tool to combating acid reflux in your stomach. We’ll admit – baking soda has some pretty cool properties, and the naturally absorbent qualities have our seal of approval.
Consider this: if nail fungus is able to thrive in dark, damp locations, the best thing you can do to combat it in the early stages is to limit its access to the dark and the damp. However, maybe you work in an office building that frowns on taking your shoes off, thus keeping your suffering toes in the dark all day. We recommend sprinkling some baking soda in your shoes (especially the affected toe) and putting on a fresh pair of socks. The baking soda’s absorbent qualities will make sure that any excess moisture that the fungus is feeding on will disappear, allowing the fungus to wither and die before it can spread further.
So, all the remedies mentioned so far are par for the course, right? Listerine may be the first one that one would describe as ‘out there’. However, when you think about it, Listerine and mouthwash have some properties that make sense in treating nail fungus.
Listerine was created to be an antibacterial mouthwash, and anyone who has ever swished some around in their mouth will attest to the powerful, menthol feeling that it leaves in your mouth as it kills off any germs that your toothbrush missed.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that soaking your affected nail in a basin with equal parts mouthwash and water for 30 minutes and then brushing them with a nail brush is the best way to treat your fungal infection with Listerine.
Garlic is strong – it’s been used for centuries to combat illnesses from the common cold to (again) our very own foot fungus. While some studies say that there is evidence that garlic contains antibacterial qualities, garlic seems to be better for your gastrointestinal or internal health rather than being applied to the outside of your body.
However, we are certainly not the type of people who would dissuade someone from rubbing their body with chopped up garlic – we think you should at least give it a shot on your nail if you have some extra cloves lying around. Garlic does have some pretty potent chemicals in it such as allicin and ajoene that are antibacterial and antifungal in nature. How well it works, however, it up to chance and how your body reacts to raw garlic. Just a word of caution – too much garlic on your skin too long could result in a chemical burn, so be careful!
This one, like Listerine, may be a little more of a head-scratcher than most, but we can see the value in it. Again like Listerine, Vicks uses menthol as an active ingredient that leaves that cool, tingly feeling where you apply it. In using Vicks for its traditional purpose, you’d apply under your nose or on your chest to stimulate opening your lungs or suppress coughing, but apparently it can work wonders for your toenail fungus too.
A study conducted in 2011 found that Vicks had a positive clinical effect in combating nail fungus when applied directly to the infected nail – the active agents in Vaporub were quite effective in killing the fungi they came into contact with. So if you’ve got some extra Vicks sitting in the bathroom and gathering dust, give it a shot!
Thinking of making cornbread? How about a delicious corn tortilla? Nope – you should stick your foot into it instead. Corn (or maize to you smart folks out there) has an active fungus in it that combats the fungus that is currently stuck under your toenail. Sound like fighting fire with fire? Not exactly. The fungus in cornmeal is harmless to the human body but dangerous to candida, the active fungus in nail infections.
In all seriousness, don’t stick your foot in a bucket of cornmeal. Instead, mix it into a paste and apply it to the toe in question, or mix it with some more water and let your toe soak in it for 30 minutes.
We’re going to go ahead and recommend that no matter what else you do, you’ve read through nine different at-home remedies for toenail fungus – you’ve expended enough effort to deserve an Epsom salt bath and an early night with a glass of wine.
And Epsom salt may actually be helpful to your fungal infection – it can help draw moisture from your nail, not unlike baking soda. So maybe give it a little extra sprinkle after you get out of the tub and see what happens!
Happy experimenting! If you do try out any of the above-mentioned home remedies or treatments please let us know how they panned out for you in the comments below. We always want to know what works and what doesn’t so that we can better inform our readers in the future.