Home Remedies for Foot Conditions: What the Evidence Shows
NOTE: This article is for educational purposes only. The remedies described are not recommended or endorsed by the Institute for Preventive Foot Health or anyone affiliated with IPFH.
Reviewed by IPFH Scientific Advisory Board member Lori Weisenfeld, DPM, Diplomate, American Board of Podiatric Surgery and Diplomate, American Board of Podiatric Medicine
Internet searches, conversations with colleagues and friends, and advice from parents and family members turned up a number of home remedies used for various foot conditions. Clinicians are likely to have come across them in practice. Some are evidence-based; some are unproven, but supported by anecdotal evidence; some are actually dangerous. Here’s what you need to know.
Antiperspirant deodorant (underarm) for foot odor (bromhidrosis) – According to the IPFH/NPD 2012 National Foot Health Assessment, 16% of adults (more than 35 million people) in the United States said they had at some time experienced foot odor. So it should not be surprising that there are plenty of home remedies for this condition. Foot odor is caused by bacteria that breed in wet or moist environments on and around the feet. People whose feet sweat excessively (hyperhidrosis) are more likely to experience serious cases of foot odor. Therefore, many home remedies focus on reducing perspiration.
The active ingredients in most underarm antiperspirants are aluminum-based. When applied to the skin, the aluminum ions are taken into the cells that line the sweat ducts on the top layer of the skin. As these ions are absorbed into the cells, water goes along with them, and as more goes in, the cells swell and squeeze the ducts closed, preventing sweat from getting out.
Anecdotally, these antiperspirants can be effective in reducing odor when used under the arm, but no research shows they prevent foot perspiration.
Chlorine bleach applications or soaking feet in bleach for athlete’s foot – Chlorine bleach has good antimicrobial properties when used as a cleaning agent, but it should not be applied to the skin of the feet (or anywhere else on the body). It can dry and damage skin, and even cause “burns” if applied in concentrated form. Chlorine bleach kills the fungus that causes athlete’s foot and fungal toenail when used to clean surfaces where those fungi live and breed (such as the shower, the bathroom floor and anywhere else where patients might go barefoot). Patients should be advised to wear latex gloves or some other form of skin protection while cleaning these areas (also see tea tree oil).
Concentrated tea soak for foot odor. The tannic acid in tea acts as an astringent (cleans and dries the skin and contracts the pores).
Corn starch/baking soda in shoes or on feet for foot odor (bromhidrosis) – Both corn starch and baking soda do reduce foot odor for many people, although there is no research to support their efficacy. There is no harm in trying either one to see if it works.
Disinfecting shoes for foot odor. The bacteria responsible for foot odor often live in shoes; therefore, disinfecting shoes with any common disinfectant could help.