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Why Do My Toenails Smell [And What You Can Do About It]

Nobody likes it when their feet smell. It’s something that is embarrassing and something we worry about being noticed. Foot odor usually goes away in the bath. But what about an odor that’s coming, not from sweat or socks, but from your toenails themselves? What is the cause, and what can you do about it? Here is all you need to know.

So, why do my toenails smell? Odor from toenails is often due to one thing: fungus. A toenail fungus can cause your toenails to take on a bad, sometimes cheese-like odor. Alternatively, you may also have an infected wound or debris trapped under your nail.

Still, the fungus is most common.

It’s nothing too serious and is normally fairly easy to remedy.

But it is an inconvenience and usually something you’d prefer no one else know.

Luckily, you don’t have to worry too much. The explanations and remedies are simple enough!

Why Do Toenails Smell?

The cause is almost always a fungal infection of the toenails. However, it might also be bacteria under the toenail (perhaps an infected cut), debris caught beneath the nail, or just stubborn foot odor.


If you’re sure that the smell is coming from your nails and not your feet themselves, then the answer is almost certainly a fungal infection.

Toenail fungus is something almost everyone will have to deal with at some point in their life and usually isn’t very serious at all.

However, it can cause some pretty bad toenail odor. It’s often described as cheese-like, though some people think it smells like vomit.

If that’s what you’re smelling, then it’s probably a fungal infection.

You can also check visually to see if it’s a fungal infection.

Along with the bad smell, fungal infections usually cause thick, discolored, and peeling nails.

They might even be painful when you try to clip them.

All of these symptoms are easily managed and the root cause cured once you’re able to identify what the cause is.


There are other things that might be causing the smell. If you have a cut, scrape, or another type of open injury beneath or around your toenail, it might be infected.

This will be easy to spot since the area will be tender, often red, and sometimes hot to the touch. It may produce pus when pressure is applied to it. Something like this may need antibiotics.

Debris or Dirt

Debris trapped beneath the nail for a long period of time can cause odors, as well.

The easiest way to determine if this is the problem is to give your nails a thorough cleaning.

Soak your feet, clip your nails, and make sure that there isn’t anything trapped underneath.

If there isn’t, and there’s no pain, then you’re likely dealing with a fungal infection.

Lastly, try just giving your feet a good scrub down, and try some home remedies for foot odor. It might just be particularly stubborn.

Foot Odor Or Toenail Odor?

Foot odor should go away with cleaning and will affect the entire foot. Toenail odor will be confined to the nails and can’t be washed away. The most common cause of toenail odor, fungus, will normally be visible.

There is a major difference between foot odor and toenail odor. It might seem minor, particularly since one is a part of the other.

But the way you treat toenail odor and the way you handle foot odor is different because there are different root causes. To be sure that you’re pursuing the right treatment, you need to know the differences.

Foot odor is normally caused by sweat and bacteria on your feet.

This is particularly true if you spend a lot of time in sweaty shoes and socks.

The trapped bacteria and sweat stay in your shoes and around your feet, where the smell grows worse and worse.

This is why shoes typically smell bad after they’ve been worn.

However, foot odor normally doesn’t follow you around all of the time.

There are home remedies to kill the odor, and a good wash in the bath or shower will usually do the trick.

If not, deodorant sprays and similar products can help.

If the smell gets better after a bath or after being barefoot for a while, it might be just a standard foot odor.

Toenail odor, on the other hand, is confined to the toenails. And no amount of washing will get it to go away.

This is because the root cause, a fungus, has to be treated first. You can also visually check for a fungus since it has signs you can see.

For example, a fungus will usually cause thick, discolored, peeling, and crumbling nails.

They’re signs that you have a toenail fungus, not just standard foot odor.

You’ll have to treat accordingly.

How Do You Get Rid Of Smelly Toenails?

For fungal infections, use over-the-counter remedies to get rid of them. If you suspect an infection, see a doctor for antibiotics. Debris can be removed at home carefully.

The good news is, it’s usually pretty easy to fix toenail odor once you know why it’s happening.

Only rarely does it require a trip to the doctor’s office, and you can buy almost everything you need online or at your local pharmacy.

For the most part, everything will be over-the-counter. The one exception is usually antibiotics.

Treating Fungus

If you have a fungus (the most likely reason), good news!

There are many easy solutions at most stores and even online at places like Amazon!

They’re almost always available without a prescription and are very affordable, even if you can’t afford a doctor’s visit.

Find a product that treats toenail fungus, like this best-seller and highly reviewed product below:

Extra Strength Toenail Fungus Treatment For Toenail Or Fingernail, Nail Repair Solution, Fingernails Renewal Liquid For Damaged & Discoloration Nail(1oz)
  • Repair & Renew - It can radically repair damaged nails, such as nail discoloration, nail thickening, nail splitting, nail crumbling
  • Fast & Effective - It can help you repair bad nails faster, and grow new and healthy nails
  • Easy to Use - You just soak the nail with warm water to soften it, use a nail file to repair the nail, then use the brush applicator to pick up the right amount of liquid to apply to the nail easily
  • Addressing the Root Problem - This product has been tested. Its active ingredients can enter the nail bed to help you, which can help to solve the root problem.
  • Classic Formulation - This product is made of classic formula with over 30-year history. It is carefully made of plant extracts and enjoys great recognition among our customers.

You get to choose what suits you best, whether it’s the type that is painted on or a cream.

Apply as directed by the product, for as long as directed.

If you go through an entire course with no results, consider trying another product.

If nothing is working, it might be worth a trip to the doctor.

Treating Infections

Infections are a different story. The most common kind of infection that you’ll find around your toenails is a staph infection.

These can actually be dangerous, as well as unpleasant and painful. This is something to head to a doctor about.

You can’t really treat this at home.

To recover, you’ll need antibiotics. Your doctor should be able to tell you how to care for your toe properly.

Removing Debris and Dirt

There could also be debris under your toenail itself. There’s no real way to avoid this since it can happen barefoot or in shoes.

You’ll do best to soak your feet and then give your nails a good cleaning.

Don’t hurt yourself, but try to get out whatever is causing you the problem.

What Products Get Rid Of Smelly Toenails?

Fungal infection remedies, antibiotics, soaks, and foot powders.

For a fungal infection, there’s only one thing that’s really going to put a stop to odor: a cure.

You need to get something that will kill the fungus you have growing on your toenails.

Once that’s done, you shouldn’t notice odor anymore. If you do, then it’s a sign that that wasn’t the problem in the first place.

But, before moving on to something else, be sure that you’ve treated for a fungus.

Antibiotics are another must-have to stop odor caused by a bacterial infection.

Both topical antibiotic ointments (such as Neosporin) and prescription antibiotics are given to you by a doctor are good to have when you’re dealing with an infection.

It’s the bacteria causing the smell, after all. To get rid of it, you’ll need to get rid of the bacteria. And antibiotics are a quick way to do that.

Just see a doctor if you think you might need some.

There are many home remedies that involve soaks and other applications.

Epsom soaks, tea tree oil soaks, vinegar soaks, and various herbal soaks are all popular ways to get rid of toenail odor.

As you’ll soon find, there are a lot of options.

Most of these are harmless, and some even work to a degree.

They’re not the best choice medically, but it might be enough for a small problem that you’re trying to nip in the bud.

Foot powders are also on the market.

Normally, this targets foot odor, not toenail odor.

However, if you think the two might be related, or you’re worried about debris under your nails smelling, then anti-odor foot powders might not be a bad idea for you.

They often deal with sweat and bacteria, making it less likely they’ll get trapped under your nail with the debris.

At the very least, it will help cover up the smell!

How To Prevent Toenails From Smelling In The Future

Wash your feet daily, and keep them dry. Clean and clip your toenails. Monitor any open wounds, and keep them clean. Use Neosporin or similar antibacterial ointments.

To start with, be sure that you’re keeping your feet clean and in good shape. Wash them well every day.

Afterward, be sure to dry them thoroughly. Fungi love dark, moist environments, such as your feet and beneath your toenails.

Don’t invite them.

You may choose to occasionally soak your feet, as well. Some common choices are tea tree oil, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and Epsom salts.

They’re all nice, but it’s the soaking that tends to really do the job. Again, be sure to dry them thoroughly after!

Feet get wet outside of the home? Bring a spare pair of socks! It’s worth it.

You should also be keeping your toenails clean and clipped.

Make sure that you clean around and under them regularly, so that debris cannot accumulate under your toenails.

You can also avoid this by clipping them down so that they’re not too long.

It’s harder to get things under short nails than it is with long ones. Make use of that information.

Have any cuts or other open wounds under or around your toenails? Monitor them carefully.

Keeping them clean can mean that you won’t get a bacterial infection.

Add in a little antibacterial ointment, and your chances are better than ever.

With this, you’ll want to give your toes room to breathe, as well as a clean environment.

If you can’t manage at home, there’s only one thing that will help a bacterial infection: antibiotics.

If you notice the symptoms of a staph infection becoming more serious, you need a doctor’s visit.

This includes fever in the area, pus running, swelling, and pain. Notice a red streak traveling up your body?

Skip the doctor’s office. Go right to the emergency room.

When To See A Doctor

You should see a doctor if a bacterial infection is likely, or if a fungal infection will not go away.

Bacterial infections are no joke, particularly if you’re diabetic.

Something as small as an infected toe could have major consequences. You might even lose the toe or foot.

So, while toenail odor usually isn’t serious, this particular cause should be treated as such.

Most infections seen on, around, and under toenails are staph infections.

These can be dangerous. You’ll likely need a course of antibiotics in order to treat it.

For this, you’ll have to see a doctor. They can evaluate the problem and get you the right medication for whatever you need. It’s worth the money to go.

One time when you should not wait for an appointment to see a doctor: if there is a red streak running up your leg from your infected toe.

This is a sign of blood poisoning, a very serious problem that can come from infections.

Any kind of injury with a red “tail” is serious.

Don’t go to the doctor’s office. Go straight to the emergency room. This could be a life-or-death situation, and you want to err on the side of caution.

Even if it isn’t serious, though, you may need a trip to the doctor.

A fungal infection that isn’t going away with treatment should be brought to a doctor.

They can help determine the best treatment for you and prescribe you things you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

A doctor might also notice something you didn’t, which could be the key to solving your toenail odor.

Whatever the case, if you’re worried, a doctor’s visit is a good choice.


Toenails can smell for three main reasons; fungus, localized infections, and the buildup of dirt and debris under the nails.

Each has its own fix and method of treatment, as we have discovered today.

Nevertheless, to prevent your toenails from smelling going forward, good hygiene practices and going to go a long way to ensuring odors are kept to a minimum.

And if your toenails are particularly hard, you may even need to soften them first.

Related Questions

Why Do My Toenails Smell Like Cheese?

Toenails will smell like cheese if bacteria have had a chance to develop and grow. This is often the result of sweat and warm, damp conditions often brought about by prolonged wearing of socks, sport, and activity or unhygienic practices.