Understanding Athlete's Foot: Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on January 31, 2023
5 min read

Most cases of athlete's foot can be cured with over-the-counter antifungal products and basic good hygiene.  Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection, so the way to get rid of it is to stop the fungus from growing.

If it’s not treated properly and promptly, athlete's foot can be very stubborn. Even when you treat it with antifungal drugs, the infection may take several weeks to disappear and may come back after treatment.

More serious cases may need to be seen by a doctor.

There are many types of over-the-counter antifungal powders, creams, gels, lotions, and sprays. You might have to try a few before you find one that works best for you.

Follow the instructions on the label of the product you buy. Generally, you apply them every day after you wash and dry your feet.  Continue treatment for 1-2 weeks after the infection has cleared to prevent it from recurring.

If the itchy rash on your feet doesn’t clear up after a couple of weeks, see your doctor. They can recommend a prescription cream or antifungal pills.

In addition to treatment, good foot hygiene is important when you have athlete’s foot.  Wash and dry your feet (including between the toes) every morning and evening. And make sure your feet get plenty of air. If you can't go barefoot or wear sandals, wear synthetic socks that wick away moisture. Cotton tends to trap the moisture and promote fungal growth. 


  • Wear shoes made of a porous material.
  • Change socks or stockings daily.
  • Don't wear the same shoes day after day to allow them time to dry completely before wearing them again. 
  • Wash your socks and towels in the hottest water possible.


Many people have their own ways to deal with athlete’s foot at home. There’s not much scientific research on how well these remedies work, but some have shown promise.

Tea tree oil. This oil comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in Australia. Because it can kill some types of bacteria and fungus, people have used it as a home remedy for many years.

When rubbed into your skin twice a day, tea tree oil may be able to reduce the itching, scaling, swelling, and burning of athlete’s foot. But it can take up to a month to see progress. And it doesn’t work for everyone.

Tea tree oil can cause a skin rash or trigger allergies. So talk with your doctor before you try it. They can suggest a tea tree product for you to try or explain how to dilute the oil to avoid side effects.

Never take tea tree oil by mouth since it can be toxic.

Bitter orange. This fruit has been used for years in Chinese medicine and by people who live in the Amazon rainforest.

Bitter orange oil is a natural fungus fighter. Besides athlete’s foot, it may help to clear up ringworm and jock itch.

One study found that when people applied a watered-down form of bitter orange oil to their feet three times a day, the fungus cleared up after a week or two.

Bitter orange can inflame your skin if you use it in its pure form. It can also make you more likely to get a sunburn, so be sure to protect your skin from the sun if you use it.

Ajoene from garlic. Ajoene is a chemical found in garlic that may ease symptoms of athlete’s foot. You can take it by mouth as an antifungal pill. You can also find it in gel form.

In one study, people who applied ajoene to their feet once a day saw their athlete’s foot symptoms go away after a week. This method might also help keep athlete’s foot from coming back.

Sunflower oil. Made from the pressed seeds of sunflowers, this oil has long been said to fight germs. Although athlete's foot is not a germ, a brand called Oleozon, which contains ozone (another germ-killer), has been shown to get rid of athlete’s foot when applied to the feet. It’s unclear whether other brands of sunflower oil might work as well, but it may be worth trying.

Green tea. Nutrients in green tea called polyphenols have antifungal powers. Soak your feet in lukewarm green tea and you may notice less peeling and redness. 

But this method won’t work quickly. You may have to soak your feet every day for 3 months. And more studies are needed to prove that green tea can get rid of the fungus, not just make your feet feel and look better.

Sosa. People in rural parts of Mexico use leaves of the Solanum chrysotrichum plant, also called giant devil’s fig. Studies show that a cream made from an extract of this shrubby plant works as an antifungal for athlete’s foot. It could also prevent it from coming back.

But while studies show that sosa is safe to put on your skin, it may be hard to find.

Vinegar. Some people believe that soaking your feet in a mixture of water and vinegar will get rid of athlete’s foot. While a vinegar soak won’t do your feet any harm, there’s not enough research to prove it will do much good, either.

Athlete's foot is contagious. So don't go barefoot in public areas such as the pool or gym where many others have walked with bare feet.  And since moisture helps the fungus grow, cut your risk by keeping your feet clean and dry.

 Other sensible steps:

  • Take your shoes off when you go home and let your feet be exposed to the air.
  • Never share shoes, socks, or towels.
  • Be doubly cautious if you take an antibiotic for another condition. The medication can kill beneficial bacteria that normally control the fungus that causes athlete's foot.