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How to Soften Toenails [Everything That You Should Try]

There’s nothing fun about having hard toenails. Not only are they not pleasant to feel, if you brush up against yourself or somebody else, they can be unpleasant to see. Hard toenails are often visibly thicker than normal toenails, making them a pain to have in sandal season. Some hard toenails might even cause pain, making them a literal pain to have in the boot season, as well. And, when you go in for a pedicure, it might be embarrassing. But what can you do to restore your toenails? This is what you need to do.

So, how do you soften toenails? Thankfully, there are several ways to soften your toenails—everything from fungal treatments to medical-grade toenail clippers to soaking your feet and then applying moisturizing creams. What is best ultimately depends on the cause of drying and hardening, to begin with.

And it’s always going to be a great relief when it happens!

But first, why do toenails harden in the first place?

This way, we can get right to the source and, hopefully, stop this from developing again in the future!

What Makes Toenails Harden?

Aging, injury, tight shoes, athletics, as well as fungal and yeast infections are all common causes of toenail hardening.

There are many different causes of hard toenails. Some, you can take care of by yourself.

Others, you may need to see a doctor for. But none of them are particularly hazardous to your health, being more of an eyesore than a real threat.


The first major cause is aging. As people get older, their toenails tend to get thicker and, in the process, harder.

This is often just another part of aging, and you shouldn’t worry about it too much unless it’s causing you pain or you are having trouble grooming yourself because of it.

The methods used to soften toenails below may help you clip stubborn nails or ease the look of thick, hard nails.


Injury, too, can cause nails to grow back hard. If you’ve injured your nail bed or have hurt your foot in the past, your nail may just grow back hard from now on.

This is likely if you’ve sustained an injury, and it’s only one toenail. You should probably seek medical treatment, or at least an opinion, before attempting any type of softening at home.

There is a chance this is something that needs to be handled by a physician.


Wear a lot of tight shoes? That may be the source of your hard toenail problems.

Wearing shoes that are too tight around the toes can cause damage to the nail bed, as well. This may lead to toenails growing back hardened.

Change your shoes out for some that are looser, and head to the doctor for more tips. You might need a checkup over this.


Athletics, or physical art such as dance, may also be what’s causing your toenails to harden. These activities often put stress on your toes and pressure on your nails.

Ballerinas, in particular, are infamous for toenail trauma and the problems that go with it.

If you participate in these activities, they’re likely a cause for why you’re dealing with hard toenails.

Take some time off, if possible. Get a checkup, if you can.


Lastly, and probably the biggest reason: Fungal and yeast infections.

A full fifth of the adult population carries the most common fungus that causes nail-hardening, so it’s not a rare thing, and nothing to be ashamed amount.

This is probably the most easily fixable cause of toenail hardening on this list.

You can find over-the-counter remedies to kill the fungus or yeast so that your toenails can heal from their infection.

Only if they don’t work, or you begin growing concerned, should you see a doctor.

Common Medical Causes Of Hard Toenails

The most common medical cause of hard toenails is a fungal or yeast infection. It’s normally treatable at home.

Hardening may also be caused by prior injury. If you believe this is the case, speak to your doctor.

If your toenails are hardening, and there’s a medical reason, it’s almost certainly one particular one: Fungal or yeast infections.

With so many adults infected with this, it’s something almost everyone will deal with at one point or another. It’s also nothing to be too embarrassed about.

Treatments are easy, with many options not requiring any input or prescription from your doctor.

Only after you have been unable to cure your infection on your own should you make an appointment.

It is worth treating with more than one type of product to make sure that it’s the infection that’s the problem and not what you bought.

On the other hand, if you’ve experienced an injury to the area in the past, and the hardening is localized to the area or even one toe?

This might be damage to the nail bed. You should speak to your doctor about it at your next checkup, or sooner if you’re worried about it.

How Do You Soften Hard Toenails?

First, determine what might be the cause. For most serious issues, including sports and related injuries, make lifestyle changes or see a doctor. For fungus or yeast infections, try over-the-counter treatments. Afterward, try soaking your feet in an Epsom salt bath. Dry thoroughly. The next day, apply nail softening cream. You may also apply VapoRub and tea tree oil. White vinegar or apple cider vinegar may also work.

If you have thick toenails, don’t feel too bad.

Up to 20% of the population has a fungus that is one of the biggest causes!

So you’re in good (if rather uncomfortable and probably close-toed-shoe-wearing) company. But you probably want that taken care of, right?

Good news: There are ways to do it!

First, be sure that you’re dealing with something that can be changed without seeing your doctor.

For injury, a doctor is almost certainly necessary.

If it’s overuse or athletics, you may be able to stop it with lifestyle changes.

A doctor is needed if you don’t get results.

The people who can use home remedies successfully are almost always those with a fungal or yeast infection.

Is that you? Then let’s get started!

Begin by ridding yourself of the infection, if you can.

There are over-the-counter options to treat fungus and yeast infections of the toenails.

Find a brand you like.

Kerasal is one of the more famous toenail fungus treatment brands if you can’t choose.

Besides, it has considerably positive reviews on Amazon 👇

Kerasal Nail Renewal, Restores Appearance of Discolored or Damaged Nails, 0.33 fl oz (Packaging May Vary)
  • Rapid Results: Start seeing results in just 2 days using Kerasal Fungal Nail Renewal.
  • Dual Action: Kerasal’s breathable patented formula combats the effects of fungal damage and exfoliates to improve the appearance of the nail.
  • Easy To Use: Precision tip applicator for no-mess coverage of damaged nails.
  • Clinically Proven Ingredients: Developed by a dermatologist and clinically studied for over 30 years.
  • Multi-Symptom Relief: Targets common signs of fungal nail damage including discoloration, brittle nails, thickness, roughness, and ridges.

With whatever product you choose, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use their treatment, whether it’s by soaking or some other method.

Finish out the course, and be sure that your fungus is gone.

Otherwise, your thick toenails are likely to return. H\

However, you can still try to soften them, even if the fungus or yeast is still there. It just may not be a one-time fix.

Next, you’ll want to soak your feet. Epsom salt should be added to a foot bath or your regular bathtub.

Immerse your feet in the warm water for half an hour, minimum. This allows the water to soften the keratin in your toenails.

Afterward, be sure that you dry your feet thoroughly. Fungus and yeast love moist environments!

So be sure that you don’t give them one. Every bit of water should be gone, particularly under your toenails.

The day after, apply the nail softening cream of your choice. It can be any brand that you prefer.

Again, Kerasal has an option that can be painted onto your toenails like polish to soften your nails. Apply whatever your choice is.

Afterward, if you feel up to it, you can attempt to clip your nails.

You might also try to apply either VapoRub or tea tree oil to the nails before cutting.

These two options can help soften your nails more quickly than others. White vinegar or apple cider vinegar, too, could be used.

Simply apply to cotton balls, and dab onto the nails until they feel softer.

From there, you should be able to clip your nails again.

What Products Softens Toenails?

There are creams, paint-on treatments, and ointments that can soften toenails. For home remedies, you can try tea tree oil, VapoRub, white cider vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.

You can find plenty of different options on the market when looking to soften your toenails.

Many grocery stores, department stores, and pharmacies are full of over counter options that can help make your toenails soft again.

For me, I look no further than Amazon.

This Amazon search, for instance, will provide you with a range of different treatment options.

These come in various types, in many different brands, and many have different types of ways to apply them.

One type is cream.

This is normally rubbed into your toenail and usually allowed to rest overnight. You can find them in containers, much like lotion, such as jars, tubes, and similar containers.

Ointments are similar, though usually come in a smaller tube.

There are also liquid treatments that are painted on, much like nail polish.

They come in a small container and will normally include a brush. This makes the application relatively easy and mess-free. Perfect for travel.

Home remedies can work, too.

Tea tree oil and VapoRub can be applied to your toenails to help soften them. White vinegar or apple cider vinegar, when put on a cotton ball, can be dabbed onto your toenails.

This can cause quick softening.

How To Stop Your Toenails Hardening Going Forward

Keep your feet dry to avoid fungi from growing. Be sure that your shoes are properly fitted. If necessary, wear steel-toed boots to work. Take a break from athletics and dance occasionally.

The best tip? Try to keep your feet dry.

Since most preventable toenail hardening is because of fungus or yeast infections, keeping them at bay can also mean keeping hard toenails away. 

The best way to do that? Keep them dry.

This doesn’t just mean water. It means sweat, too.

So be sure that you’re wearing sweat-wicking socks and occasionally letting your feet breathe.

Going barefoot around the house can help it from creeping up. Also, avoid frequently getting your shoes wet since the same issues might result.

Think your shoes are to blame? Be sure that you’re getting shoes that actually fit your feet.

While a pair might look nice, if they press on your toes and make you uncomfortable, give them a pass.

Heel-lovers might sigh at a pair of ultra-pointy heels for sale, but you’ll regret it in sandal season if you give in.

Do you work in a profession where you are likely to experience damage to the toenail area?

If so, take precautions now. Steel-toed boots can protect you from heavy things suddenly fallen and can protect your toenails even more.

They’re worth the money.

Are you a ballerina, or just someone who plays a sport that’s rough on your feet?

If you’re dealing with toenail hardening, particularly at a young age, consider a break.

You may be doing permanent damage to your nails, and you don’t want that to happen. Consult a doctor before any big decisions.

Unfortunately, if they’re just from aging, there isn’t much you can do to stop it.

It’s going to keep happening because it’s a natural part of life.

Your best bet is to continue treating it and trying to keep your nails soft.

Do make sure that it isn’t a fungus, though!

Cutting An Infected Toenail

Start by softening your toenails via our instructions above.

Then, you can proceed to cutting.

But do use the right tools: Medical-grade clippers.

Make small cuts, not big ones. Clip carefully, and avoid what causes you too much pain.

Finish by filing. See a doctor if treatments don’t work.

Begin by following the instructions we give on softening your toenails.

If nothing else, be sure to soak your feet for ten minutes in a warm Epsom salt bath before beginning.

This softens your nails and allows the clipper to work better.

Be sure that you’re starting out with the right clipper. Even normal heavy-duty ones might not do the trick.

Try to get medical-grade clippers, which can do a better job of it.

But, if nothing else, heavy-duty clippers will work.

When cutting, aim for smaller cuts, not big ones. Take off what you can, and worry about evening it out with a file later.

Try to avoid things that cause pain or make you bleed. Don’t hurt yourself.

Finally, finish off the process by filing your nails down until there are no jagged bits left.

After that, you’re done!

Still, having problems?

If you can’t cut your nails because of pain or can’t get a fungus or other problem to go away, see your doctor about your concerns.


Dry toenails are certainly not desirable. In fact, you likely want to soften them up as soon as you can.

Thankfully, hard toenails are very treatable.

The only thing is finding out the underlying cause.

Because treatment ranges based on cause, and you do want to resolve this long-term.

Nevertheless, moisturizing and hydrating the area is always going to be beneficial.

Just be sure to use the right products!

You don’t want to make matters worse!