Foot Care Essentials

How to Practice Good Foot Hygiene

Few people think of foot hygiene as part of their daily routine, yet it should be. Because our feet are the foundation of our mobility, we need to care for them and pay attention to any problems that arise; otherwise, our ability to walk, work, do chores and engage in recreational activities may be compromised. Practicing good foot hygiene is a cornerstone of preventive foot health.

Foot hygiene involves more than simply washing your feet when you take a bath or shower. IPFH suggests following this three-part process.

1. Daily Foot Care

  • Wash and thoroughly dry your feet every day. Use mild soap, and wash between the toes.  Be sure to dry thoroughly, especially between the toes.
  • Wear clean socks and change them at least daily—more frequently if you are active and/or your feet perspire heavily  (IPFH suggests padded socks for their moisture-wicking properties). Man-made fibers or blends help move (“wick”) moisture away from the feet, reducing the chances of problems such as athlete’s foot or blisters.
  • Keep shoes clean, inside as well as outside.
  • Rotate shoes—don’t wear the same pair two days in a row.  Give your shoes time to dry out, especially if you are active or perspire heavily.
  • For optimal foot protection, IPFH recommends wearing properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with shoes with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional.
  • Avoid going barefoot, particularly in public areas; if you do, wash your feet carefully afterwards.

2. Toenail Care

  • Trim toenails regularly (at least every two weeks).  Cut them straight across, not on a curve, and file down sharp edges using an emery board.

  • Use clean nail clippers or scissors. Sanitize them periodically by immersing them in alcohol.

  • Do not attempt to cut your own toenails if you have trouble reaching them, cannot see them well, or if you have diabetes and/or neuropathy (loss of sensation in the feet), peripheral vascular disease or other circulatory issues in the feet and legs.  Instead, visit a foot health professional.

  • Seek medical attention for discolored toenails, which could indicate an underlying health problem. Healthy toenails should be pale pink where they are attached to the skin, and the part that grows above the toe should be clear where it is not adhered to the skin.

  • Do not put nail polish or lacquer on discolored toenails.

3. Daily Foot Inspection

  • Check the tops and bottoms of your feet, as well as your toes, between your toes and your toenails.  Look and feel for the following:
    • Bumps, lumps, blisters or bruises.
    • Cuts, sores, or cracked skin. Even the tiniest crack can become infected.
    • Temperature differences (one part warm, another cold). These can signal lack of blood flow.
  • Pain, tingling, numbness or no feeling at all. These can signal nerve problems.
  • Ingrown toenails with red, puffy skin along the nail and tenderness or pain.
  • Loss of hair on foot or leg can indicate circulation problems.
  • If you have trouble seeing the bottom or other parts of your feet, use a mirror to help you.
  • If your feet hurt, try to identify the source and manage it appropriately (see Foot Conditions for information on specific conditions.
  • If you can’t tell what’s causing the pain, or if pain does not go away on its own, consult a physician or foot health professional.  Remember that minor issues can become major issues if left alone and unresolved. 


Reviewed by: Robert P. Thompson, C.Ped, IPFH Scientific Advisory Board
Last updated: March 31, 2016