Natural Foot Care with Recipes

Herbal remedies and recipes for foot care from excessive sweat to fungal infections. Use essential oils such as tea tree, thyme, peppermint to create salves and powders to protect feet.

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by AdobeStock/Alena Ozerova

From excessive sweat to fungal infections, lots of problems can plague your “piggies” and keep you from feeling good on your feet. Thankfully, natural remedies made with easy-to-find ingredients can restore your feet and help them feel fresh, healthy, and odor-free in no time.

Odoriferous and Sweaty Feet

One of our skin’s important functions is to keep our body temperature within certain boundaries. The body loses the most heat via the head, armpits, hands, and feet. In fact, there are more sweat glands per square inch in the soles of the feet than in any other part of the body. (A pair of feet contain approximately 250,000 sweat glands, which can release about 8 ounces of moisture each day!) Shoes that enclose the entire foot, no matter what material they’re made of, often accumulate sweat. The lack of ventilation, plus the fairly common combination of moisture, heat, and poor hygiene, can cause the top layer of skin on the feet to soften and break down.

It’s not the sweat that causes the odor; it’s the bacteria feeding on sweat and skin debris. Fungi also thrive in moist, warm environments and can cause odor. Though rarely a health issue, foot odor (the medical term is “plantar bromhidrosis”) can be seriously embarrassing. The rate of sweat production is greatly affected by emotions such as fear, nervousness, and stress.

Additionally, exercising heavily, working at a physically demanding job, becoming overheated, or standing for extended periods of time will cause the feet to sweat. Plus, some folks have a genetic predisposition to foot odor and wetness. This rather distinctive aroma can permeate an entire room when the affected individual removes their shoes. And excessive perspiration will lead to rapid deterioration of footwear; the materials break down prematurely from the day-to-day pressure combined with constant moisture.

Treatment

Be sure not to wear the same pair of closed-toe shoes on consecutive days. Always allow a pair of shoes to dry for 24 hours before wearing them again.

To remedy smelly shoes, fill a pair of thin cotton socks with baking soda (about 1/2 cup per sock) and close off the opening with a rubber band. Insert a sock into each shoe, spreading it out from toe to heel, and leave it for 24 hours. Your shoes will smell much fresher after this treatment, guaranteed. You can dry out and reuse the “soda socks” several times before replacing the baking soda.

Prevention

  • Wear insoles impregnated with baking soda or charcoal in your shoes, and change them often.
  • Spritz or wipe 70 percent isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol onto the bottom of your feet if they get sweaty often. Allow to air-dry. The alcohol kills bacteria and rapidly evaporates the stench. You can do this two or three times a day as a preventive measure or use it as a quick fix for stinky feet.
  • Some folks find that applying antiperspirant to their feet is effective in reducing sweat and odor. Or, try an herbal deodorant; it may not lessen sweat or prevent bacterial growth, but it will help reduce odor.
  • If you’re prone to foot odor, minimize your consumption of sulfur-containing foods, such as garlic, onions, mustard and turnip greens, kale, and eggs. Also, avoid certain moldy cheeses and heavily yeasted foods, such as beer and sourdough breads.
  • Increase your intake of chlorophyll, which is a known internal odor fighter. Spirulina, chlorella, parsley, wheat and barley grass, and green drinks are high in chlorophyll.

Seek Medical Advice

The previous recommendations will often produce positive results, but if they don’t, contact your health care provider for a checkup. Some medical conditions, such as hyperhidrosis, hyperthyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, chronic anxiety and panic attacks, Parkinson’s disease, and hormonal imbalances, can cause profuse sweating. You don’t need to suffer or feel self-conscious because of foot odor. There is a solution.

woman using a dropper to add oil from a vial to a flask filled with yellow liquid

Freshen-Up Foot Soap Recipe

This liquid soap gently cleans and disinfects sweaty, smelly feet and effectively removes odor-causing bacteria without over-drying the skin. It’s helpful for keeping foot and toenail fungus at bay too. I often use this blend to wash the feet of my reflexology clients prior to treatment. Yield: 16 ounces.

  • 12 drops lemon essential oil
  • 12 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 12 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 12 drops thyme essential oil
  • 16 ounces liquid castile soap,
  • peppermint or unscented
  1. In a bottle, combine essential oils and castile soap. Screw the top on the bottle, and shake vigorously to blend.
  2. Store the finished product right in the bottle, or decant it into smaller storage containers, preferably plastic squeeze bottles. Label and date. Store in a cool, dark cabinet or in the shower; use within 1 year. Shake well before each use. It’s highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way! Add a squirt or two to a foot bath of warm water, or use in the shower. Wash feet twice daily.

Afterward, thoroughly dry, and then follow with an application of your favorite foot powder.

man using a small spray bottle of green liquid to spray his foot

Feelin’ Fresh Cleansing Foot Spray Recipe

Witch hazel extract, valued for its astringent, tissue-tightening properties, is the perfect base for this foot spritzer. With the cooling, refreshing, deodorizing, and antimicrobial properties of the essential oils, it’s an excellent blend to help combat smelly feet, especially when a foot bath isn’t possible. Yield: 4 ounces.

  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 6 drops lemon essential oil
  • 6 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 6 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 1/2 cup witch hazel extract
  1. Add essential oils directly to a 4-ounce dark-glass spritzer bottle, and then pour in witch hazel. Screw the top on the bottle, and shake vigorously to blend.
  2. Label and date the bottle. Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 1 year.
  3. Shake well before each use. Spray on your bare feet whenever they’re feeling particularly sweaty or stinky, wipe with a towel, and then spray again. Allow your feet to air-dry before putting on socks or hosiery.

Note: Safe for people 6 years of age and older; if pregnant or breastfeeding, replace the peppermint essential oil with additional lavender, lemon, or tea tree essential oil.

Odor-Neutralizing Herbal Foot Powder Recipe

An effective deodorizing foot (and underarm) powder, indeed! The peppermint essential oil delivers a punch of cooling, refreshing menthol, while the lemon, tea tree, and thyme essential oils bring antiseptic properties and a superb ability to eliminate foot stench and keep it at bay. Zinc oxide powder (available from pharmacies and online cosmetic ingredient suppliers) works as a natural astringent antiperspirant and also minimizes bacterial proliferation. Yield: 2 cups.

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered white clay (also known as “kaolin” or “cosmetic white clay”)
  • 1 tablespoon zinc oxide powder
  • 50 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil
  • 10 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 10 drops thyme essential oil
  1. Combine baking soda, cornstarch, white clay, and zinc oxide in a medium bowl and gently mix with a whisk. Add essential oils a few drops at a time, whisking them in as you go. (You can also pulse dry ingredients in a food processor and continue pulsing as you add essential oils.)
  2. Transfer powder to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for 3 days to allow the essential oils’ fragrance and remedial properties to permeate the mixture. Then, package the blend in small glass, plastic, or cardboard shaker containers. Label and date. Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 1 year. To use, sprinkle the powder into your socks once or twice daily, or apply to dry, bare feet.

Note: Safe for people 6 years of age and older; if pregnant or breastfeeding, replace peppermint and thyme essential oils with lemon, tea tree, lavender, or sweet orange essential oils.


Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot, a common fungal skin infection, is so named because it’s often found on the feet of athletes, who spend time around swimming pools, communal steam baths and showers, and locker rooms, where the infection is easily spread. Nearly 70 percent of the population deals with this infection at some point, though it’s particularly prevalent among men and adolescent boys.
The dermatophytes (parasitic fungi) that cause athlete’s foot thrive in warm, moist places, including closed-toe shoes and outdoor soil. Dermatophytes are opportunistic and will take advantage of any weakness that will allow them to proliferate, such as cracks in the skin or lowered immunity. They can also cause ringworm and jock itch, as well as fingernail and toenail fungal infections.

Sometimes appearing rather quickly, symptoms can include peeling or cracking of the skin between the toes and on the soles of the feet, plus intense itching, heat, redness, and dryness. If the disease is allowed to progress without treatment, it can lead to blisters, bacterial infection, and even ulcers. Athlete’s foot symptoms tend to recur easily once you’ve been infected.
Diabetics are especially prone to athlete’s foot. The abundance of glucose in their perspiration is the perfect feeding ground for fungi, allowing them to proliferate.

Athlete’s Foot Treatment

A cure for this miserable skin affliction is sometimes elusive, because the pesky fungi live in the top layers of the skin and can be difficult to reach with topical treatments. Even oral prescription medications aren’t always effective. All treatments for athlete’s foot must be applied or taken continuously over a period of several weeks to several months. Consistency is key to eradicating the fungus! With any treatment, forgo using nail polish until the fungus is gone.

Go herbal.

Simple, effective herbal remedies do exist. If your toenails appear to have a fungal infection, apply 1 drop tea tree essential oil to each affected toenail, twice daily. Massage in well. This treatment alone is often quite effective, and it helps clear fungus from between the toes too.

Usnea (a lichen), black walnut hull, and oregano all have antifungal properties. They’re easy to apply as tinctures (available from natural food stores and online purveyors of herbal products).

To use, wash your feet with warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly. Massage a dropperful (or more, if needed) of your chosen tincture into the affected areas. It should quickly soak into the skin.

Next, apply a thin coat of Happy Feet Antifungal Drops (recipe below) – the tinctures alone can be too drying to the skin. Follow this procedure twice daily. I’ve seen this double treatment work wonders for stubborn cases of athlete’s foot.

Get some garlic.

Garlic is considered a potent medicinal food, effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and it can be used topically and orally in the war against athlete’s foot. Allicin, ajoene, and other organosulfur constituents are responsible for garlic’s remedial action and odor. Garlic oil is readily available in capsule form. Simply pierce 2 to 4 capsules (depending on the size of the affected area) and rub the oil onto your feet once or twice per day, and then put on socks.

Garlic capsules can be taken orally to boost your immune system and fight the battle from within. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for dosage, and take the capsules with food and a large glass of water. If you love cooking with garlic, feel free to add it liberally to your food.

Gently sautéing it for 10 minutes releases the vital antifungal chemicals.

Garlic has a tendency to upset sensitive stomachs and cause gas, so you can be the judge as to what your tolerance level is. The other issue with garlic is that you’ll inherit its lovely fumes along with the benefits. (A neat trick for removing the odor is to rub your hands on a stainless steel sink or other stainless steel object. Works like magic!)

Try vinegar.

Many of my clients have had success with daily vinegar foot soaks. Vinegar’s antifungal properties are effective against mild forms of athlete’s foot and toenail fungus and help soothe dry, cracked, scaly feet.

Combine 1 part apple cider vinegar with 2 parts warm water in a foot-soaking basin. You’ll only need enough to cover the soles of your feet and toes. Soak your feet for 20 minutes. Yes, the odor is strong, but it will dissipate as your feet dry. Follow with an application of Happy Feet Antifungal Drops.

Athlete’s Foot Prevention

Athlete’s foot can be spread through contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces, such as towels, floors, and bathmats. If you’re dealing with athlete’s foot, avoid spreading the fungus by drying your feet with paper towels or hand towels that you use once and then launder in hot water.

  • Don’t use a bathmat if you share a bathroom with other people. Use a clean towel every time you bathe, and wash your towels in hot water between uses. Clean your shower and tub regularly with a 10 percent bleach solution or a commercial disinfectant to kill any resident fungi.
  • Wash your feet twice daily in warm, soapy water. Dry thoroughly.
  • Change your socks, hosiery, and shoes throughout the day if you tend to perspire heavily.
  • Wear open-toe shoes as often as possible. Your feet can breathe and stay drier this way.
  • Expose your feet to warm sunshine and fresh air as much as possible.
  • Allow your shoes to air out and dry between uses to minimize fungal proliferation.
  • Apply antifungal powder to your feet each day to keep sweat at bay and prevent the fungus from spreading.
  • Wear shower shoes or rubber flip-flops when using public showers, walking in locker rooms and around public swimming pools, or lounging in a steam room.
  • Disinfect all nail-trimming implements, and don’t share them with friends or other family members.
  • If you have professional pedicures, choose a nail salon that uses sterilized tools for each customer, or, better yet, bring your own.
  • Limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates and high-glycemic foods, such as white sugar, white rice, white flour, white potatoes, chips, pretzels, dried fruit, honey, and super-sweet fresh fruits. This is not only good dietary advice in general; it also keeps fungal growth at bay.

Seek Medical Advice

If self-treatment isn’t helping after a few weeks, make an appointment with your health care provider or podiatrist. Rule out other skin problems that can masquerade as athlete’s foot, such as dermatitis or problems resulting from diabetes, circulatory disorders, drug abuse, medicine side effects, or a vitamin or mineral deficiency. If necessary, your health care provider can prescribe topical or oral antifungal medications to use in conjunction with the above treatments and preventive measures. As with any medication, ask questions about potential side effects; antifungal drugs can be toxic to the liver.

person arranging essential oil bottles, a small glass jar, and a bowl of salt on a black table

Fungus Fighter Foot Powder Recipe

I make my own foot and body powders, because they’re so simple to create and the ingredients can be customized to suit my needs and fragrance preferences. This powder smells clean, keeps odor and moisture at bay, and can be part of your daily arsenal in the fight against foot fungus. Yield: 2 cups.

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered white clay (also known as “kaolin” or “cosmetic white clay”)
  • 100 drops eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, tea tree, or thyme essential oil (I like a 50-50 combination of geranium and lavender)
  1. Combine baking soda, cornstarch, and white clay in a medium bowl and gently mix with a whisk. Add essential oils a few drops at a time, whisking them in as you go. (You can also pulse dry ingredients in a food processor and continue pulsing as you add essential oil.)
  2. Transfer powder to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for 3 days to allow the essential oils’ fragrance and remedial properties to permeate the mixture. Then, package the blend in small glass, plastic, or cardboard shaker containers. Label and date. Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 1 year. To use, sprinkle the powder into your socks once or twice daily, or apply to dry, bare feet.

Note: Safe for people 6 years of age and older; if pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid eucalyptus and thyme essential oil.

Happy Feet Antifungal Drop Recipe

This herbal oil blend, with its rather pleasing medicinal aroma, works double duty. In addition to helping to eradicate the scourge of athlete’s foot and nail fungus, it also calms and soothes redness and itching, conditions cracked or peeling skin, and fights odor.

  • 15 drops geranium essential oil
  • 13 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 5 drops lemon essential oil
  • 5 drops thyme essential oil
  • 1/4 cup almond, extra-virgin olive, fractionated coconut, jojoba, or castor oil
  1. Combine essential oils in a 2-ounce dark-glass bottle with a dropper top, and then add your base oil of choice. Screw the top on the bottle, and shake vigorously for 2 minutes to blend.
  2. Label and date the bottle, and set it in a cool, dark location for 24 hours so the oils can synergize. Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 1 year (or 2 years if you used jojoba oil as your base). To use, shake the bottle well and apply a few drops to clean, dry feet. Apply to both feet, even if only one is affected. Massage in thoroughly, being sure to get oil between your toes and on your toenails. Allow the oil to penetrate for a few minutes, and then put on socks. Repeat the application twice daily for several months, or until the condition abates.

Note: This is a concentrated formula, so use it only by the drop, as directed, and wash your hands after applying. Safe for people 12 years of age and older; for children ages 6 to 11, reduce the essential oils by half; if pregnant or breastfeeding, replace thyme essential oil with additional tea tree essential oil.


Stephanie Tourles is a licensed holistic esthetician, has extensive training in the nutritional sciences, and is an avid organic gardener. She’s also a certified aromatherapist, a nationally certified foot and hand reflexologist, and a professional member of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists. This article is excerpted from her book Foot Care Handbook (Storey Publishing).

Additional Resources

Learn to identify, harvest, and use jewelweed, which has fungicidal properties that can treat athlete’s foot, with our seasonal guide to herbal medicine at www.MotherEarthNews.com/Jewelweed-Uses.

If you’d like to read more of Stephanie’s work, check out her book Organic Body Care RecipesDiscover the joy and fun of crafting your own personalized body care products using herbs and other natural ingredients that nourish, pamper, cleanse, and protect the skin without using irritating or harmful chemicals. In just minutes, you can whip up dozens of organic treatments that will make your face radiant, your skin glow, your hair shine, and your hands and nails beautiful. From head to toe, you’ll find the perfect treatment for every part of your body, whether you’re looking for a relaxing bath blend, a stimulating facial mask, a natural bug repellent, a refreshing mouthwash, or a sensual body cream.