Why Do Toenails Smell?

If you’ve ever experienced it, the embarrassing odor of smelly toenails can be an unwelcome surprise. But have you ever wondered why do toenails smell in the first place?

I’ll share some of the potential causes of toenail odor, as well as possible solutions for eliminating the smell. Read on to find out more about the science behind bad-smelling toes and what can be done to restore freshness and eliminate odors.

Why Do Toenails Smell?

Why Do Toenails Smell?

Toenails can smell bad due to the presence of fungi and bacteria growing beneath the surface of the nail.

You might experience the foul odor of these microorganisms when your toenails are discolored or infected.

To reduce the unpleasant odor, make sure to clean your nail beds thoroughly and apply topical antifungal treatments.

Remember, the growth of fungus and bacteria thrives in warm and moist environments, just like the insides of your shoes.

When you wear the same socks or shoes daily, you’re creating a perfect breeding ground for these pesky microbes.

Why Do My Feet Smell?

Feet smell because they’re home to over 250,000 sweat glands. This sweating can lead to smelly toenails. Although foot odor tends to be more common in people with certain skin conditions, anyone can experience smelly feet.

Here are some simple tips to help you manage foot odor:

  • Change your socks frequently: Opt for moisture-wicking materials to keep your feet dry throughout the day.
  • Let your shoes air dry: Rotate between pairs to give each set a chance to dry out completely.
  • Keep your toenails trimmed: Shorter toenails are less likely to harbor bacteria and dirt.
  • Use foot powder: Applying a foot powder can help absorb excess moisture, reducing the likelihood of smelly toenails.
  • Maintain good foot hygiene: Wash your feet regularly with soap and water.

Fungal Infections

You might not realize it, but toenails can be a breeding ground for fungal infections, specifically toenail fungus.

This type of fungal infection occurs when microscopic fungi, which thrive in damp and dark environments, infiltrate your nail bed.

Fungal nail infections often result from athlete’s foot, a common skin infection that affects the moist areas between your toes. As it advances, the infection can spread from the skin to the toenails.

Causes of Smelly Toenails

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Wondering if you have a case of toenail fungus? Here are some common symptoms to look for:

  • Thickened nails
  • Distorted nail shape
  • Brittleness or crumbling
  • Darkening or yellowing of the nail
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed
  • Foul smell emanating from the affected toenails

To accurately diagnose toenail fungus, a healthcare professional may take a small nail clipping or scrape debris from under the nail for lab testing.

This will help to confirm whether the problem is caused by a fungus and to identify the specific type of fungus involved.

When dealing with toenail fungus, it’s essential to be proactive about treatment.

There are numerous over-the-counter antifungal treatments available, but if your fungal infection is severe, a prescription medication may be necessary.

Early detection and treatment are key to preventing the fungal infection from worsening and spreading to other nails.

Causes of Smelly Toenails

Poor Hygiene

One of the main reasons behind smelly toenails is poor hygiene. When you don’t keep your feet clean, it allows bacteria and fungus to thrive.

This can lead to not only smelly feet but also foot odor that resembles the smell of cheese. To avoid this situation, it’s crucial that you maintain personal cleanliness by washing your feet thoroughly, especially after workouts or during hot, humid days.

You need to keep your feet dry. By doing so, you prevent moisture from providing a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.

A good practice is to dry your feet with a clean towel after bathing and make sure that the areas between the toes are well dried.

Another essential hygiene practice is to change your socks regularly to keep your feet fresh.

This will help to get rid of smelly toenails by minimizing the bacteria and fungus around your feet, and in turn, help to prevent any buildup of debris underneath your toenails that could cause them to smell bad.

Moist Environments

Moist environments are another factor that can contribute to smelly toenails. Fungus thrives in damp places, and if you frequently expose your feet to such conditions, you may end up dealing with toenail odor.

To prevent fungus from thriving, avoid staying in damp shoes or socks for an extended period. You can also:

  • Wear breathable shoes, preferably those made of natural materials
  • Use moisture-absorbing shoe inserts or foot powders
  • Alternate between pairs of shoes to allow them to air out

However, if you’re struggling to get rid of smelly toenails even after following these steps or if you’re dealing with persistent issues like an ingrown toenail, it is recommended that you see a podiatrist for professional advice and remedy options. They can help you address these problems that might be the underlying cause of the unpleasant odor.

Prevention and Home Remedies

If you find your toenails smell bad, or the underside of toenails smell bad, there are some helpful tips to keep your feet smelling fresh and clean…

How Can I Get Rid of Smelly Toenails?

Foot Care

Proper foot care is essential, to avoid stinky feet. Make sure to:

  • Wash your feet at least once a day using soap and water, removing a build-up of sock lint, dead skin cells and debris.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly, especially between your toes.
  • Exfoliate dead skin regularly to prevent buildup.
  • Trim your toenails regularly to prevent ingrown toenails and debris under the nail.

Antifungal Treatments

To treat and prevent nail fungus:

  1. Soak your feet in a mixture of vinegar and water.
  2. Apply over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments.
  3. Use foot powder to keep your feet and toes dry.
  4. Wear socks made of moisture-wicking materials.
  5. Change your shoes and socks frequently to prevent a moist environment that promotes fungal growth, and infected nails or ‘toenail cheese’.

How Can I Get Rid of Smelly Toenails?

There are several ways to get rid of smelly toenails, including washing your feet regularly, keeping your feet clean and dry, wearing shoes that allow your feet to breathe, using antifungal foot sprays or powders, and soaking your feet in tea tree oil or vinegar.

What Are the Symptoms of Toenail Fungus?

Symptoms of toenail fungus can include toenails that are yellow or brown in color, thick and brittle, crumbly or ragged around the edges, and with a foul odor that smells like cheese.

In more severe cases, the nail plate may separate from the nail bed, causing pain and discomfort.

Can An Ingrown Nail Give You Smelly Toenails?

Yes, an ingrown toenail can sometimes give you smelly toenails. An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the nail digs into the skin at the sides or edges of your toe.

This often results in swelling, redness and tenderness around the area of your toe. The bad odor associated with an ingrown nail usually comes from bacteria that has built up underneath it.

When moisture is trapped under an ingrown nail, it provides a breeding ground for bacteria that leads to infection and produces a foul smell emanating from the affected area.

If carried out early enough and properly treated, such as using antibiotics, topical creams or laser therapy, this kind of infection can be cleared up before it starts causing any serious problems such as further inflammation or even abscesses forming on your toes.

Can Toenail Fungus Cause a Smelly Odor?

Yes, toenail fungus can cause a smelly odor that is often described as smelling like cheese. This is due to the potential for fungus and bacteria to grow and multiply under the nail, producing a strong and unpleasant odor.

How Can I Prevent Toenails from Smelling?

 To prevent toenails from smelling, it’s important to keep your feet clean and dry and to wear shoes with every step.

You can also take steps to avoid wearing the same pair of shoes every day, as this can lead to a buildup of bacteria and fungus.

You could try using antifungal foot sprays or powders, and soaking your feet in tea tree oil or vinegar to keep them healthy and fresh.

Are Home Remedies Effective for Treating Foot Odor?

Are Home Remedies Effective for Treating Foot Odor?

Home remedies for foot odor can be effective for some people, especially if the underlying cause is poor hygiene or excessive sweating.

Some popular home remedies include soaking your feet in a mixture of water and vinegar or lemon juice, using tea tree oil or baking soda as a foot powder, and wearing shoes made of breathable materials.

However, if your foot odor persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

What Should I Do if My Toenails Have Another Smell Besides Cheese?

If your toenails have a different smell than cheese, it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Other odors may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as a bacterial infection or a hormonal imbalance, and require medical attention.

What Are the Best Remedies for Foot Odor?

The best remedies for a bad smell from your sweaty feet, will depend on the underlying cause. Some effective remedies include washing your feet regularly, keeping your feet clean and keep them dry, wearing shoes made of breathable materials, using antifungal foot sprays or powders, and soaking your feet in tea tree oil or vinegar. 

How Can I Get Rid of Smelly Feet?

To get rid of an unpleasant smell from your feet, it’s important to practice good foot hygiene and to keep your feet clean and dry.

This may include washing your feet with soap and water, wearing socks made of breathable materials, and changing your shoes regularly.

You can also use antifungal foot sprays or powders, and soak your feet in tea tree oil or vinegar to help reduce odor and prevent fungal growth.



Smelly toenails can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable problem. But now that you know why do toenails smell and what can be done to fix the issue, you’ll be able to keep your feet looking and smelling their best.

Maintaining good foot hygiene, wearing breathable shoes, and using antifungal treatments are just a few of the ways in which you can reduce odors and promote healthy nails.

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Gemma Etc.
Gemma Etc.

Hi, my name is Gemma, and I’m the writer behind GemmaEtc.com. I’m a true beauty obsessive, and love writing about anything to do with beauty. In addition to Gemma Etc., I also own MakeupMuddle.com, and love sharing my thoughts and feelings about beauty and lifestyle products.

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