It’s not a very exciting topic, but for those of us who spend a lot of time at a pool – and in the communal shower and changing room – taking care of our feet is an important health topic. These wet and warm surfaces are petri dishes for highly contagious and disinfectant-resistant bacteria and fungus. 

As an instructor, not only as a swimmer, I spend an extraordinary time with wet feet. And, over the years I have had more than my share of between-toe so-called ‘athlete’s foot’ and toenail fungus. But I am happy to say that I have no more ugly toenail fungus and I am able to regularly keep (between) toe skin infections at bay. It is hard to ignore the condition of other feet at the pool and I can say that most guys (for I have much more opportunity to notice men’s feet!) are not doing so well in this.

Since I bring up men’s feet here, I do wonder why women seem to have much healthier looking feet and toe nails? Besides pedicures and nail polish, what are women doing to keep their feet apparently cleaner than men? I would be interested in hearing female tips in the comment section below!

Before we get to that, I would like to share what I do to keep clear of fungus, and really, it’s not that complicated.

Always Wear Sandals

I avoid touching my bare feet to the pool deck, the shower floor, or the changing room floor. I have thin, waterproof sandals with excellent traction that I wear at the pool once I remove my street shoes or summer sandals in the changing room. I wear these sandals only at the pool. 

Next to our laundry machines, I have a rack that is strictly for my swim gear. Every time I come home I immediately go to this rack and hang out my stuff to dry, including my sandals, so they also do not have opportunity to build up stink on them.

Scrub Toes With Soap

In the shower, before changing back into street clothes, I run my soapy fingers between my toes a few times. 

The stinky smell that feet give off is the waste product of the particular kinds of bacteria or fungus, and is an indicator that one of those are building up on the feet or in the socks and shoes. I can tell if my toes are clean enough by rubbing a finger between them and it should come away with no smell whatsoever.

Photo by Joe Pizzio on Unsplash

Dry Toes Thoroughly

I go through a dressing ritual each time. I sit on the bench. I place my socks and shoes on the floor before me. I place my towel over both my knees. I pull one foot up upon the other knee and dry between the toes thoroughly.

Dust With Corn Starch

Then I have a little plastic container filled with simple corn starch. I dip my finger into the starch and place a dab of it between each toe. Then I dust the other surface of all my toes and the bottom of my foot. This instantly sucks up the last of any moisture on my skin. I immediately put on the sock and slip it into the shoe. My barefoot never touches the carpeted floor.

For whatever reason, I seem to have particularly sweaty fingers and toes – they can get wet and then get cold very easily in cold climate sports so I have to be careful. I have found that corn starch feels wonderful because of how dry it keeps my feet and how long it seems to last. And in shoes in cold weather this leaves my feet feeling comfortable longer.

Plus, corn starch is non-toxic. If a little dust drifts in the air and I inhale it, I am not worried about it poisoning my air or irritating my lungs.

I don’t bother using any of the commercial, toe fungus powder concoctions any more. I used all sorts years ago. They seemed to work even less effectively than my current non-toxic approach. I have a simple policy I try to follow: if I cannot eat it, I don’t put it on my skin unless a last resort. Why? Because a great deal of what can be absorbed into the skin can make its way into the blood stream. For any common substance that I might use upon my skin, I try to find an ‘edible’ or at least totally non-toxic, or non-absorbing alternative.  

Treat With Tea Tree Oil

After I have showered, I sit and inspect the toes. After pool time and the shower the skin is saturated and pale, and easily reveals any infected spots between the toes.

If I see that I’ve got a flare up, at bedtime I rub a drop of pure tea tree oil between my toes and let it go all night while I sleep. I use this both as prevention and as treatment.

Powder visible on bare toes might be socially undesirable. Since I go barefoot in sandals nearly half the year, I also use tea tree oil between my toes as both an anti-bacterial and an anti-stink solution. I travel a bit on airplanes and sometimes pull my feet up into my seat to change how I sit. I don’t want to bother my seatmates with stinky feet. So I clean them thoroughly and lightly treat with oil and they are good to go without offense for a whole day.

Wear Socks In Shoes

To prevent my shoes from being infested and stinky with fungus or bacteria, which seems nearly impossible to clear out, I always wear clean socks as a barrier between what’s on my feet and the lining of my shoes. I change socks daily. Unlike my boys who are indiscriminant about dirty sock and dirty bare feet going in their shoes, my shoes have nearly no unpleasant smell to them (at least to me – want to sniff?).

I dry my shoes as soon as possible if they ever get wet.

And, I do not share shoes with anyone.

Cotton Socks? Not For Me

I don’t know if this is from cotton-industry influence or what, but I see the recommendation to wear cotton athletic socks and I see recommendations to wear cotton clothing in tropical climates. I am a sweaty person and from experience I definitely DO NOT want to wear cotton socks and shirts in hot, moist climates if I can avoid it. They soak up moisture, yes, and they hold on to it, stay heavy, and take forever to dry! 

There is such a prevalence of superior, synthetic, moisture-wicking fabrics out there, that cotton seems (to my experience) like a totally inappropriate material to use on my feet and on my torso in warm or sweaty situations.

To stay more dry I use socks that have NO cotton in them, and often have a polyester blend.

Go Barefoot More Often

When possible, I go barefoot and just let the feet breathe fresh air. Letting them get a little cool is good too. Think about where we pick up that stinky infections – in warm, wet enclosed places. So, we can create less hospitable atmosphere when we let our feet be cool, dry and open to fresh air.

Eat Whole Food, Plant-Based

And, lastly, I would like to present a more fundamental solution: eat a whole foot, plant-based diet, and avoid processed foods and sugars as much as possible – avoid them like the plague actually. It is my understanding that this will shift your blood chemistry toward alkali (the typical Western diet keeps the blood chemistry on the acidic side), and that alkali environment will make your whole system hostile to fungal infections. 

For example, it is very hard to treat toenail fungus topically – by putting cream on top of it – because the fungus is getting embedded in the nail before it even pokes out from under the cuticle. I’ve taken a ‘pulse-dosing’ round of anti-fungal medication years ago, and it did knock down my toenail fungus, but it caused other toxic stress on my system that I don’t want to repeat. However, stubborn remnants of nail fungus have disappeared in these last few years since I have altered my diet. The correlation is compelling. 

Years ago, I first learned about this approach when I was dealing with a suspected systemic yeast infection, after taking many weeks of anti-malaria antibiotics on a trip to West Africa. In the years since, I’ve learned a lot more about using diet to make the environment inside the body a lot less hospitable to things we don’t want growing in there, including cancer. But we may share more on that topic later…

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If you’ve got some other ideas on how you keep your feet looking nice, smelling good and fungus/bacteria free, please share!

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