How to Prevent Foot Fungus

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 28, 2024
6 min read

Foot fungus is a skin infection caused by mold-like germs that live in dead cells on your skin, hair, and nails. There are more than 80 types of fungi on your feet. That's way more than those on other parts of the body, even the palms of your hands. Although some of these fungi get a bad rap, most aren’t harmful.

Athlete’s foot is the most common type of foot fungus. Up to 70% of people will get this itchy, even painful infection at some point in their lives, and 3%-15% of people have it at any given time. It usually grows between the toes but can spread to the soles and toenails. If you scratch your foot and then touch other parts of your body, such as your armpits or groin, it can spread there, too.

Fungi like dark, warm, moist places, like your shoes. That’s why they like your feet. Each foot has over 250,000 sweat glands. To stop the spread of foot fungus, dry your feet after they get wet. Let your shoes air out before you wear them again.

The medical term for athlete's foot is tinea pedis. There are different types of this infection:

  • Toe-web infection is the most common type. Usually, the skin between your pinkie toe and your fourth toe is affected.
  • Moccasin-type infections affect the heel, sole, and edges of your foot.
  • Vesicular-type infection is named for vesicles, which are blisters filled with fluid. You'll typically get these on the bottoms of your feet, but they can show up anywhere on your feet.
  • Ulcerative-type infection is the rarest kind. When you have this, you get open sores (skin ulcers), usually between your toes. They can appear on the bottoms of your feet, too.

You can pick up the fungus that causes athlete's foot through contact. Some common sources:

  • Someone who is infected
  • Towels
  • Floors
  • Shoes

Once you have foot fungus, you can spread it to other parts of your body through contact.

Fungi enter your body through tiny cracks in your skin. You can catch them by touching someone who has them. You can also catch fungi if your bare feet come in contact with them. This might happen when you walk barefoot in warm, moist areas, such as a locker room or public pool.

Athlete's foot might cause you to have:

  • Itchy feet, which might be most intense right after you take off your shoes and socks 
  • Burning or stinging
  • Smelly feet

What does foot fungus look like?

If you have athlete's foot, you might see:

  • The skin between your toes cracking, peeling, or turning scaly
  • Discolored patches of skin that might be red, purple, or gray depending on your skin tone
  • Blisters
  • Scaly, dry skin on the bottom of your foot. It might also appear on the sides of your foot and onto your heel.

Foot fungus is not as contagious as you might think. This fungus loves wet places, but you might have a better chance of catching it if you don’t wash or dry your feet well, or don't change your socks and shoes often.

Anyone can get foot fungus, but it's more common among those assigned male at birth and people older than 60. Some medical conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, place you at higher risk for foot fungus. You're also more vulnerable to it if you have a weakened immune system or your feet have wounds or tissue damage. 

Certain activities and lifestyle factors also raise your risk. Those include:

  • Sweaty feet
  • Wearing closed shoes often
  • Walking barefoot in public places such as locker rooms, pool decks, and saunas

Yes. Foot fungus can linger on sheets, towels, or other common objects. Don’t share towels, and keep surfaces clean. Wash your feet with soap and water at least once each day and keep them dry.

It's important not to scratch. This may make the irritation worse and could spread the infection. Soak your feet in cool water to relieve symptoms.

Wash your feet with soap and water twice a day. Make sure you dry the skin between your toes with a clean towel.

Foot fungus creams

You can treat foot fungus at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Check the label for one of these ingredients that kill fungi:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Terbinafine
  • Tolnaftate

Antifungal medicines also come in powders, ointments, and sprays.

If your foot fungus doesn't clear up, see your doctor. You may need a prescription-strength topical treatment. For especially stubborn cases, a doctor might prescribe an oral antifungal you take as a pill. You'll need to follow the directions and take all the medicine as prescribed. If you stop too soon, your foot fungus could come back and be tougher to treat.

Foot fungus home remedies

You might see various essential oils promoted as natural remedies for athlete's foot. But studies have found evidence that only one might be helpful: tea tree oil. Hydrogen peroxide also crops up as a potential home remedy. It had been used for years to disinfect wounds, but that's no longer advised. Hydrogen peroxide can irritate your skin and damage cells that your body needs for healing. Some people believe soaking your feet in a baking soda and water solution will cure athlete's foot. Although studies have shown baking soda has some antifungal effect, there's no evidence that it works better than OTC medicines.

You can pick up foot fungus or reinfect yourself by walking barefoot at home -- even in your own shower and on your own carpets.

Always wear shoes in public places. You never know what germs or fungi lurk there. If you’re using a public pool or shower, wear sandals or shower shoes.

Pedicures are generally safe, but not if you have any open wounds on your feet. Check to make sure that the salon disinfects its tubs for each customer and uses fresh tools. Or take your own tools for the salon to use. The person doing your pedicure should wear gloves and change them between clients.

You can take steps to prevent foot fungus. They include:

  • Change your socks at least once a day. You may need to do this more often if your feet get especially sweaty.
  • Wear light shoes that let your feet breathe.
  • Avoid shoes made of vinyl or rubber.
  • Let your feet dry out by wearing sandals.
  • Don't wear the same shoes every day. This will give your shoes a chance to dry.
  • Don't share shoes.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after you've swum, showered, or bathed.
  • Use talcum powder to help keep your feet dry.
  • Choose socks made of cotton, wool, or a synthetic material designed to wick moisture away.
  • Wash your towels and bed linens in hot water.
  • Put your socks on before your underwear. If you have foot fungus, this will reduce the chance of spreading it to your groin.

Foot fungus, also called athlete's foot, is a common condition. It's an irritating problem caused by fungus infecting the skin of your feet. You can treat it with OTC medicines that contain antifungal agents. Your best defense against foot fungus is keeping your feet clean and dry.

How do I get rid of fungus on my feet?

You can buy OTC creams, powders, sprays, and ointments that treat athlete's foot. If it doesn't clear up with OTC treatment, talk to your doctor. You may need prescription-strength medicine.

What kills foot fungus fast? 

Look for OTC medicines that contain antifungal ingredients such as clotrimazole, miconazole, tolnaftate, and terbinafine. Your athlete's foot could clear up in as little as a week. But be aware that it might take as long as 8 weeks.

How do I know if I have fungus on my feet?

Look for cracking, peeling, or scaly skin. Check the bottoms of your feet and the spaces between your toes. Do your feet itch, especially right after you take off your shoes and socks? That can be a sign of athlete's foot.